Mar 072011

Does Positive Thinking Really Work?

By David Satterlee

Can “positive” thinking affect your life? Our beliefs often seem to be self-confirming, and we commonly believe in self-fulfilling prophecy, a prediction that makes itself come true.  Napoleon Hill wrote a best-selling book years ago called, “Think and Grow Rich,” which has gained renewed interest from the public recently. Also gaining in popularity are the books/CD’s by Dr. Wayne Dyer, Dr. Deepak Chopra, and Mike Dooley regarding one’s ability to think one’s way into health, wealth, and happiness. More recently, a book and movie called “The Secret,” talk about a person’s ability to “think” themselves rich, healthy, and happy and gives testimonies from”real” people. Does this stuff really work?

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Oct 262010

The Question of Human Behavior

by David Satterlee

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths,” Martin Bolt, Introduction

“The stream of causation from past to future runs through our present choices.” —David G. Myers, 2002

Individuals and groups have shown an astonishing capacity for both great good and great evil. World War II produced unprecedented levels of national violence. Individuals who risked themselves to help others escape from certain extermination are our modern heroes. Caretakers of the gravely disabled sacrifice large parts of their own lives in service to others. We honor those able to demonstrate a common levels of virtues such as compassion, commitment, and self-control.

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Oct 262010

by David Satterlee

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths,” Martin Bolt, Preface

The weakness of psychology, during its short history as a science, has been its primary focus on human weaknesses rather than on human strengths. That began to change dramatically when Martin Seligman was elected president of the American Psychological Association. Seligman leveraged his research on learned helplessness and hopelessness into a new focus on learned optimism and happiness.

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Oct 012010

Experience with the VIA Signature Strength Questionnaire

by David Satterlee

I was asked to go to and take the VIA Signature Strength Questionnaire, note my top five signature strengths, use each one in a novel way, and report on the experience.

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Sep 292010

From: Greater Good Science Center

New video: When Dacher Keltner talks about compassion in action, it comes down to one word: TOUCH.

Many of us live in a touch-deprived culture. But in this video Keltner explains how touch is essential to communicating compassion and is a basic form of preventive medicine.

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Feb 152010

Source: “Authentic Happiness,” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., Chapter 7

Bodily Pleasures

Pleasures are transient raw feelings that spring from sensory satisfactions along with positive emotional responses. These may be rudimentary sensations or the product of complex activities that require mental interpretations. Pleasures fade quickly when the stimulus is removed, and one may become habituated to them.

Higher Pleasures

Higher pleasures are likewise, raw, transient, and habituable. The distinction is that although sensual, they require rational cognitive processing to assign meaning.


Gratifications are engaging activities that may be reflected upon with satisfaction. These activities are the products of our human strengths and virtues.

Enhancing the Pleasures

The key to enhancing pleasure is to repeat sparingly, sample widely, and savor mindfully.

  • Habituation and worse
    The transient pleasures of sensation cannot produce lasting happiness. Increasing the intensity or frequency of the sensation only reduces the satisfaction with each event; this is a simple matter of the design of our neurological systems. Addictive responses to habituation can become not only unsatisfying, but damaging.
  • Savoring
    [Ref: Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff, Loyola University] “The awareness of pleasure and of the deliberate conscious attention to the experience of pleasure.”
    To promote savoring:
    • Share with others
    • Memory-building
    • Self-congratulation
    • Sharpening perceptions
    • Absorption
  • Mindfulness
    We usually fail to take notice of most of our experience, acting without much thought. Classically, this is due to allowing our mental activities to be flooded with unregulated stimulation and unsupervised thoughts. Mindfulness is a product of the maturity necessary to give deliberate attention to only the events at hand.
  • “Have a beautiful day”
    A student is assigned to “have a beautiful day.” This is not as easy as it sounds. Use the techniques mentioned above. Don’t let yourself become any more than momentarily distracted.
The Gratifications

Happiness can be obtained from both pleasures and gratifications. [See top of article.] Pleasures are associated with “the pleasant life.” Gratifications are associated with “the good life.” Gratifications are available abundantly to even those disadvantaged who are deprived of many potential pleasures. – “What is the good life?” Aristotle

The reader is recommended to Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Feb 152010

Source: “Authentic Happiness,” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., Chapter 6


Permanence and is about time. Permanence reflects thinking in terms of “always” or “never.” Believing that the causes of bad events are permanent may cause one to give up too easily and give in to feelings of helplessness. Believing that the causes of good events are permanent contributes to optimism.


Pervasiveness is about space. Pervasiveness reflects the degree to which good or bad events affect unrelated aspects of life. Pervasiveness distinguishes between universal and specific explanations.


Hope is associated with permanent and universal explanations of good events as well as temporary and specific explanations for misfortunes. Hopeful people recover from troubles more rapidly and are better able to sustain successes.

Increasing optimism and hope

Most people never hesitate to accept negative self talk. To build optimism and hope one must recognize and then dispute pessimistic thoughts.

Martin Seligman uses the ABCDE model of disputing pessimistic thoughts. A – Adversity is the event that stimulates negative self talk. B – Belief is the set of established assumptions that contribute to negativity. C – Consequences… D – Disputation… E – Energization…

Learning to Argue with Yourself
  • Evidence – A negative belief may disappear if you consider it analytically and demand supporting evidence from yourself.
  • Alternatives – Consider alternative causes. These may indicate different meanings to an even that what you previously assigned. Especially seek alternatives that are changeable, specific, and nonpersonal.
  • Implications – Realistically, how bad are the implications? What would have been the worst possible outcome? It could have been worse. Decatastrophize the event.
  • Usefulness – Is this belief useful? Does it produce good? Am I expecting something that is unlikely? What factors of the event are under my control?
Disputation record

During future adverse events, keep a record of your mental steps. Pay attention to your thoughts, consider alternative beliefs and meanings, observe possible consequences of various beliefs, and observe the energy of choosing alternatives to negativity.

Feb 142010

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths” Martin Bolt, Chapter 8

Optimism and Psychological Well-being

Optimism is associated with a positive mood, a higher morale, and psychological health. Optimism helps us to resist distress from a wide range of sources.

Optimism and Physical Well-being

Optimistic people feel better, are healthier, and live longer. They have stronger immune systems recover faster from trauma.

Realistic Optimism

Realistic optimism avoids wishful thinking while maintaining a positive future outlook. Unrealistic optimism underestimates risks and may discourage appropriate preventive actions such as using contraceptives or quitting smoking.

Explanatory Styles and Coping Strategies

Optimists tend to explain problems in terms that are temporary, specific, and external, leading to initiatives to resolve the problem. Pessimists tend to explain problems in terms that are stable, global, and internal, creating a feeling of helplessness.

Charles Holahan and Rudolph Moos identified three coping strategies: active-cognitive strategies affect thoughts, active-behavioral strategies modify situations, and avoidance strategies inhibit awareness.

Psychology of Hope

We are intrinsically goal directed and readily imagine possibilities. Hope reflects both willpower and perceived ability (waypower).


Strategies for goal setting include clearly establishing desired outcomes in all major areas of life. Bowls should be periodically reviewed, added, and deleted as necessary. Goals should be visualized as vividly in concretely as possible. Goal should be prioritized, with important ones receiving the most attention.

Learning optimism

Reflecting on previous successes reaffirms our potential for future success. We must understand adversity, and create beliefs that have real consequences.

Communal hope

Hope and happiness usually exist within the context of a community. Social support networks increased hope in all manner of situations. Individualism can be damaging to hope. Hopeful goals are best when they seek to serve and benefit others.

Feb 142010
Source: “Authentic Happiness,” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., Chapter 5

Gratitude Survey

(Michael McCullough and Robert Emmons)

1 = Strongly disagree – 7 = Strongly agree

  1. I have so much in life to be thankful for.
  2. If I had to list everything that I felt grateful for, it would be a very long list.
  3. When I look at the world, I don’t see much to be grateful for.
  4. I am grateful to a wide variety of people.
  5. As I get older, I find myself more able to appreciate the people, events, and situations that have been part of my life history.
  6. Long amounts of time can go by before I feel grateful to something or someone.

(Reverse scores on 3, 6)
6-35 Lower Quarter, 36-38 bottom half, 39-41 top four, 42 top eighth

Gratitude journal

Suggestion to keep a record for 14 days, noting the things for which you are grateful. Racket the exercise with the Life Satisfaction and General Happiness scales to compare scores. But

Feelings about the past depend on memory interpretation and assigned meaning. Gratitude amplifies good feelings about the past. The opposite is also true.

As a South African leader, Nelson Mandela redirected past bitterness toward reonciliation.

Some believe that righteous anger honors the victim and promotes justice.

How to forgive – REACH

  • Recall the hurt objectively
  • Empathize with others
  • Altruistically give the gift of forgiveness
  • Commit to forgive publicly
  • Hold onto forgiveness that

Weighing up your life

Find a time annually to evaluate your life satisfaction and compare it with previous years.


3 ways to feel happier about the past

  • Intellectual-determined that the past does not dictate your future
  • Become more grateful for the good things in your past
  • Learn how to forgive past wrongs
Feb 132010

Source: “Authentic Happiness,” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., Chapter 5

Satisfaction with Life Scale

1 = Strongly disagree – 7 = Strongly agree

  • · In most ways, my life is close to my ideal.
  • · The conditions of my life are excellent.
  • · I am completely satisfied my life.
  • · So far, I have gotten the important things I want in life.
  • · If I could live my life over, I would change nothing.

30-35 Extremely satisfied, much above average
25-29 Very satisfied, above average
20-24 Somewhat satisfied, average for American adults
15-19 Slightly dissatisfied, a bit below average
10-14 Dissatisfied, clearly below average
5-9 Very dissatisfied, much below average

Emotions about the past

May include: contentment, serenity, pride, satisfaction—bitterness, anger

Determined by thoughts and assigned meaning

Freudian view: The content of thought is caused by emotion

Aaron Beck – The leading theorist of cognitive therapy: emotion is generated by cognition

The thinking/feeling connection

There is evidence for both thought driving feeling and for feeling driving thought

Dwelling in the past – does the past determine the future? (Generally no)

The more you believe that the past determines the future, the more passive you’ll be.

Charles Darwin believed that successful individuals contributed to species evolution through reproductive success.

Karl Marx believed that economic forces contributed to future developments.

Sigmund Freud believed that childhood experiences created later psychological characteristics

Effects of negative childhood events on adults

Effects of childhood on adulthood are probably overrated. The evidence is minor. Many studies did not control for genetic influences. This is the nature vs. nurture issue.

Cognitive therapy: Aaron (Tim) Beck invented cognitive therapy, a popular talk therapy for depression. It attempts to redirect negative talk about the past into positive thought about the present and future.

Venting anger: Venting has recently been considered authentic, honest, and healthy. It turns out that venting anger is not productive. Gratitude and savoring are, in fact, more healthful.

Feb 102010

Do you ever get involved in something so deeply that nothing else seems to matter and you lose track of time?

Yes, frequently.

Throughout life, I have been prone to be introspective, voraciously curious, and a creative problem solver. I enjoy “disappearing into the problem.” I am more of a craftsman then an artist. Nonetheless, my explorations and projects easily consume my full attention. By the early 1990s I had discovered and read Csikszentmihalyi’s book on “Flow” and quickly recognized the altered state of mind that I cherished. Armed with a theoretical foundation, I have been able to more deliberately produce flow experiences.

I read and study more slowly than most. I often experience flow while working to understand, organize, and incorporate new knowledge into my belief system. This can be more difficult because I have a historically poor retention for details and I take the time to acknowledge and consider levels of ambiguity. I usually experience the deep-involvement of flow during this type of independent self-study; classroom instruction generally requires the opposite: waiting, diffusion, and disassociation.

Technical work has frequently produced flow experiences. These include designing electronic circuits, programming, analyzing systems, troubleshooting, computer programming, database design, and many others. In one programming project, I arranged with my supervisor to work for three weeks in an unmarked locked room outside of my departmental area, with no telephone or meetings. I brought a bag lunch and was usually able to stay in focus while walking to the restroom head-down and refusing to interact with anyone. I consider the result to be some of my best work. I tend to advance into a new technology or field of interest every two years or so. Early on, in an attempt to stay focused, I specifically excluded brain surgery from my potential career path.

I often find myself tackling new projects that challenge my existing knowledge and skills. At work, I have advanced and receive promotions, including directing the work of and teaching technical classes to engineers, by mastering new technologies almost exclusively through self-study. In one case, I was given full responsibility for designing and installing a new generation of plant-wide process data acquisition system at Amoco’s largest refinery. I frequently lobbied for and successfully introduced innovations.

I have replacing a diesel engine in my Oldsmobile station wagon with a computer-controlled later-model gasoline engine. I have undertaken home additions, outbuildings, and complex remodeling projects. At one point, I set and achieved the goal of becoming “a nationally recognized natural health educator.”

These are just a few examples. Essentially, I thrive on, and continually seek-out flow experiences. My current quest is to move beyond mastering technologies to building a better intellectual framework for understanding complex systems, especially the many strands and stages of human development. I find flow more and more often while writing to explain and interpret specialist-level material for interested laymen.

Addendum: I was recently delighted to discover a fictional model for my own life experience while impulsively reading a 1950s middle-school novel set in the period of the American Revolution.

Feb 092010

1. The weather report warned of snow and it looked like we were going to be locked in for the weekend. Dianna decided to pick up vegetables on the way home from teaching 3rd Grade and make a batch of soup. She has owned a restaurant, a catering business, and raised a family; she is a master cook. Although I have never thought that I could like turnip or rutabaga, her soup makes your mouth water as it cooks down. The spices permeate all of the vegetables and make every bite a delight. All three cats wait patiently for their turn at the empty bowls. We know they will turn their noses up at our broth so we open a real people can of tuna and sit, holding hands while we watch them enjoying their favorite meal too.

2. The new snow started falling in the late afternoon, approaching dusk. The huge round flakes drifted slowly down, hanging in the trees and carpeting the leaves on the forest floor. The work of the day was past and there was time to draw breath and pause. The snow clouds had been building all afternoon and it was Friday. Dianna and I stood on the back porch silently watching and listening. Everything was silent except for the subdued burbling of the spring-fed cascade falling down the hill to make its was past our cabin on its way to join John’s Creek.

3. The snow had accumulated deeply at 3,200 feet and, anticipating a slick gravel drive, we had put both cars about 50 yards above the parking area at our cabin. Trying to get Dianna’s car out to the top of the rise, I had, with repeated runs through the snow and slush, managed to get within 200 feet of the rise and had spent the last hours of the afternoon using a 12’ come-along to winch her car another 100 feet closer. I had given up and would call for a tow truck tomorrow. Sweating profusely I returned to the house, removed my coats and fell onto the couch.
Our bowling ball cat, Miss Skitty, has the prettiest pink nose and is a lover. Crawling to the back of the couch behind my head, she proceeded to give me a thorough cat bath. Starting at the hairline around one ear, she cleaned my sweat, including most of my bald head. Rolling my neck to help her find the next spot that needed attention from the sharp rasp of her tongue, I didn’t just allow her attention, but intensely enjoyed the service. When she was done, I leaned back so that she could rest on my chest while I cradled her with my arms.

4. The full moon was up, transforming the darkness of our hole-in-the-woods into a wonderland of shadows. On an impulse, we moved bedding to the pull-out couch in the windowed family room. It sags a little in the middle, but that just snuggles us closer and keeps us warmer. I know that Dianna goes to sleep better before a school day when she has me against her. We called the cats, who sometimes like to camp out on top of us at night, and dropped off to the flickering shadows of moonlight through the trees, the singing of the stream, and the purring of the cats.

5. The wood pellet stove has been shutting itself down. Using the schematic on the back cover and a voltmeter, I dive in and start troubleshooting. It is a tedious and difficult process. There are some errands that need doing in town and I include a trip to Radio Shack where I buy some small indicator lamps and splicing clips. Back home, I install them at vital points in the control wiring, plug the stove in, and press start. I quickly discover that several minutes into the start-up cycle, a forced-air discharge over-pressure switch is opening. It has to be an obstruction in the chimney. Raising a ladder to the roof, I knock old creosote loose from the mesh grating around the chimney cover. Besides enjoying the satisfaction of the trouble-shooting work itself, I treat myself to the pleasure of reading a good book, my feet propped up in front of the warmth and dancing flames of a balky appliance that has fully and readily submitted to me.

6. I attend two classes (Positive Psychology and Creative Writing) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They are both electives and both centered on student participation. Only those students who are sufficiently interested in the subject end up in class, and most all of them are comfortable opening up and contributing. The environment is upbuilding, intensely satisfying, and usually over much too soon. I enjoy being there and feel especially fond of the people with whom I share that time.

7. Last night was popcorn night. A light supper lets us indulge the extra carbohydrates. We chose the movie “Saint Ralph,” which turned out to be better than expected. The plot featured coming-of-age, triumph-over-adversity, and rightness-over-authority themes; it doesn’t get any better. Our routine works like this: It is my job to pick a popcorn moment—that unexpected twist or really quirky event that happens about thirty minutes into the show. That’s when I hit pause, get up, bring back two glasses of water, and make two bowls of fresh (not microwave) popcorn with extra real butter. Dianna always gets effusive about the smell and the taste. We snuggle into our places, restart the movie, start munching, and throw little pieces of corn to the cat that we refer to as Gretta Carbo for the occasion.