Jan 262010

Source: “Authentic Happiness,” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., Chapter 3

In 2000, Barbara Fredrickson won the $100,000 Templeton Positive Psychology Prize. Her winning paper, “claims that positive emotions have a grand purpose into evolution. The bride and are abiding intellectual, physical, and social resources, building up reserves we can draw upon when a threat or opportunity presents itself.”

In one experiment, the subject is given gifts, amused, and exposed to positive words. The subject is more likely to respond creatively. In another experiment, the subject is asked to identify related words. The subject is more likely to respond quickly if they have been “jollied up.” In another experiment of four year olds, the happiness environment improved their ability to learn.

Earlier psychological experimenters such as C. S. Pierce, equated cheerfulness with a lack of trouble or lack cognitive capacity to acknowledge and address troubles. In another experiment, depressed people were “sadder but wiser” in their ability to judge their level of control.

Depressed vs. Happy Thinking Skills

There’s also experimental evidence that depressed people are more realistic and accurate judges of their abilities. Less-happy people have more accurate memories of both good and bad events; they are “evenhanded in assessing success and failure.”

All of this evidence might seem to make a case for the benefits of depression. However, Lisa Aspenwell demonstrated situations in which happy people had an edge over more-unhappy individuals in certain types of life situations. An integrated conclusion is: “a positive mood jolts us into an entirely different way of thinking from a negative mood.

Less happy people tend to be more skeptical and able to respond with critical thinking. Their benefit it is the ability to “focus on what is wrong and then eliminate it.”

It seems reasonable to conclude that happy people tend to rely on positive past experiences and maybe better act repeating their previous behavior. Less distracted by a defensive stance, they are better able to be creative, tolerant, constructed, generous, and defensive, and lateral.”

Building Physical Resources

Positive emotions promote play, which is important to creative processes such as the building of physical resources such as increased muscle and cardiovascular capacity. People with predominantly positive emotions can to enjoy better health and greater longevity.

Happiness is associated with increased productivity and worker income. (This may reflect their ability to interact better with others.)(one might ask if a less-happy affect facilitates concentration problem solving.)

In some experiments, happier people are better able to tolerate adversity such as holding their hands in ice water. Also, a happier general disposition makes it easier for people to overcome the effects of temporary fear or sadness.

Building Social Resources

Strong bonds of affection and attachment between people are facilitated by a positive disposition. They are better able to express their positive feelings and others are more likely to respond positively to them. The happiest of the happy are much more likely to have a “rich and fulfilling social life” and spend the least time alone. They are also more likely to display empathy and be altruistic.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line seems obvious: extroverts are more likely to form relationships outside of themselves, attracting friends. A happy disposition is of special benefit in win-win situations where creativity may win the day. It is about growth. The less-happy disposition is of special benefit in win-lose situations where grim determination may win the day. It is about slaying dragons.