Thursday, September 24, 2009

A new positive psychology website

You might want to check out the launch of a new self help website happiness.com. It has the support of gurus in the happiness field such as Martin Seligman, and offers its own particular set of happiness exercises and plans. It's hard to find fault with the simple exercises and suggestions offered; and indeed, whenever I take the attention space to spend some time doing common exercises in the field, like feeling or expressing gratitude or kindness, savoring small joys, forgiving, avoiding over thinking and social comparison, etc. it lightens me up considerably. However, one of the features of these sites that kind of gets to me is their Pollyanna aura, with the apparent goal of being 100% happy 100% of the time - of making 'sad' just go away....it seems to me that the spice of life is having robust highs and lows. I enjoy my lighter moments and I also savor my basically curmudgeonly nature.

5 comments:

  1. Richard (Ret'd).8:04 PM

    G'day Deric,
    Took your advice and checked out the new self help website: the introduction began with a fifty second video clip featuring a po-faced Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., speaking in a monotone voice without once cracking even the faintest of a smile.
    The website conveys the impression of primarily being a money-making concern: I had to register (albeit anonymously) to take the "free tests" and easily managed to score 100% on the "Authentic Happiness Index " by ticking the appropriate boxes ... only to be instructed to take the following "suggested exercises" (at $4.99 per month):
    1. Control Negative Thoughts
    2. Letting Go of Grudges
    3. Mindfulness Journal
    Goodness knows what exercises a 000% score would incur!
    According to an "examiner.com" article, by Ms. Tracy Allerton, the website was founded by Messrs. Andrew Rosenthal and Doug Hensch. In response to ten questions she put to them Mr. Doug Hensch stated publicly that he is a pessimist at heart and that to "consistently score pretty high on our happiness test (...) can be a lot of work for me". He asserted that someone who "consistently scores a 'perfect 10' on a happiness scale is probably a little naïve" and says "the happiest people don’t always see threats or risks" and thus "can be blindsided by unexpected adversity".
    He also said that "recognizing a state of happiness is not always as easy as it seems" and preferred the term "well being"; by which he means "a peaceful state that is achieved when I am able to balance positive emotions, engagement, and meaning while serving others".
    He further claimed that "experiencing negative emotions helps us appreciate the positive experiences in our lives" yet thinks there is "an epidemic of unhappiness in our society".
    Mr. Andrew Rosenthal, on the other hand, thinks he is "a pretty happy person" and that he always looks for "ways to appreciate what's going well in life". He publicly asserted that "happiness is about being challenged" (plus "having the resources on hand to make success realistic") as well as being about "flourishing and working toward our potential". Furthermore, he claims that "happiness isn't some end-state that is reached or trait that builds up" inasmuch "happiness is an ongoing practice".
    Even though he states that "achievement often masquerades as happiness, but isn't" his final words may very well epitomise their entire enterprise ... to wit: "I'm happy when I get to share the story of happier.com with others!"
    *
    Incidentally, Deric, do you realise that, by publicly declaring, endorsing and holding on to your "basically curmudgeonly nature" (which is being an "ill-tempered person full of resentment and stubborn notions" according to the American Heritage Dictionary), you put lie to the last two paragraphs in your online book "Biology Of Mind"?
    Vis.:
    [Dr. M. Deric Bownds, B.A., Ph.D.]: "The best we can do as individuals is (...) aspire to a poise, or process, that presents a logical stance for addressing the sorts of questions raised in this book on mind, as well as for dealing with larger social issues. It permits us to face the dissonance between a psychology that, having evolved under conditions that no longer prevail, can be xenophobic and genocidal and the modern society of minds that we now know ourselves to be. This dissonance mandates the evolution of new procedures for transcending our Paleolithic minds. (...) It is through understanding these details, and their relativity, that we have some prospect for guiding our future in an intelligent way". [www.dericbownds.net/bom99/Ch13/Ch13.html]
    *
    If I may ask the obvious question? How is it "guiding our future in an intelligent way" -- as in "the evolution of new procedures for transcending our Paleolithic minds" for instance -- to so cavalierly dismiss 100% happiness (and, of course, its associated harmlessness) 100% of the time as being a feature of a "Pollyanna aura" (which is to be "a person regarded as being foolishly or blindly optimistic" according to the American Heritage Dictionary)?
    Regards,
    Richard (Ret'd).

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  2. Wow.... I guess I don't take myself as seriously as you do (My main reaction on reading your comments is to think "he should lighten up".) The curmudgeonly and 100% happiness statements are meant to be a bit tongue in cheek. This post was not very thoughtful or studied, the result of wanting to get something off my list.

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  3. Richard (Ret'd).1:11 AM

    G'day Deric,
    Thank you for your prompt response.
    Is your "the spice of life is having robust highs and lows" statement also meant to be a bit tongue in cheek (which means "meant or expressed ironically or facetiously" according to the American Heritage Dictionary) as well, then?
    If so, then does "guiding our future in an intelligent way" -- as in "the evolution of new procedures for transcending our Paleolithic minds" for instance -- also include finding the way of "making 'sad' just go away" (and, of course, its associated harmfulness) or not?
    *
    A salient point to bear in mind is that, in just the last one hundred years, an estimated 40,000,000 persons killed themselves (aka committed suicide) ... and that a further 160,000,000 peoples were killed by their fellow human beings, in wars alone, during the same period.
    *
    Whilst your explanatory note, that the post was not very thoughtful or studied, is appreciated some sincere observations, on the topic of a 100% happiness (and, of course, its associated harmlessness) 100% of the time, would be very welcome at this stage.
    Regards,
    Richard (Ret'd).
    ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••
    P.S.: Thank you for informing me of your main reaction -- what you guess and think in regards to my disposition and/or temperament -- as receiving a gratuitous character analysis like that, gleaned solely from a mere six hundred or so words, was not at all expected.
    (Especially so in view of the information provided in my second paragraph about having easily managed to score 100% on the "Authentic Happiness Index" at the new self help website).
    For the sake of emphasis, then: I do not take myself (or life itself for that matter) at all seriously ... sincerely, yes, but seriously?
    No way ... life is too much fun to ever be serious!
    ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

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  4. Deric – thanks for the post on MindBlog about happier.com. And Richard - thanks for the time you put into your comments and for visiting the site.

    Deric - I saw your comment about the pollyanna aura, and it’s something that we’ll definitely be addressing internally. The reason that we decided to call the site “happier.com” was because we want people to have skills to become happier — not to work toward becoming a “happiest” person. We don't mean to imply that everyone ought to be 100% happy 100% of the time, so we'll review things on our end.

    Richard - Thanks again for visiting http://www.happier.com and registering for the free happiness tests. One of the other things we’ve been trying to communicate is that much of the site is free. We require a registration since it’s what allows people to track their happiness over time – part of our promise to help users “measure, track and improve” happiness. Without accounts on our system, there’s now way for users to track their own results. And, as you point out, it’s free and you can register anonymously.

    Also, while you report scoring 100% on the Authentic Happiness Index, most people certainly do not end up doing so. The Index is licensed from the researchers behind AuthenticHappiness.org where over 1 million people, worldwide, have participated in the research project. We didn't design the index nor is it in any way supposed to be a sales tool. It's just a way for people to measure happiness. I'm sorry you didn't get what you were looking for — maybe you'll find better results with Barbara Fredrickson's Positivity Test, also available for free at happier.com.

    If you have additional questions or concerns, feel free to email me directly at andrew.rosenthal@happier.com.

    All the best,

    -Andrew
    Part of the team at happier.com

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  5. G'day Andrew,
    Thank you for taking the time to address my comments.
    The point I am making is that to be advised to take those "suggested exercises" (Control Negative Thoughts; Letting Go of Grudges; Mindfulness Journal) at $4.99 per month, despite scoring 100% on the "Authentic Happiness Index", conveys the impression of the website primarily being a money-making concern.
    (In short: a person scoring 100% doesn't have any negative thoughts to control, any grudges to let go of, or any need for a mindfulness journal).
    Maybe it is a glitch in the software?
    *
    Now to the main issue (the "pollyanna aura" topic): as it is indeed possible to be 100% happy -- and, concomitantly, 100% harmless -- for 100% of the time it is not at all a case of it "being foolishly or blindly optimistic" (American Heritage Dictionary) to have such marvellous felicity/innocuity as one's goal in life.
    Please, do not be too easily dissuaded by any nay-sayer aura (to coin a phrase) ... else peace-on-earth will remain stillborn.
    Regards,
    Richard (Ret'd).
    ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

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