It would be hard to open a popular magazine or psychology journal these days without finding some reference to a new advance in positive psychology.
The research is pouring in from all over the globe indicating that sustainable ways to shift our thinking and perception toward a more optimistic perspective of life has amazing health and well-being benefits — not the least of which include a longer, healthier, and more productive life.
Here are six questions about some of the findings that may intrigue you and test your knowledge. The good news? You can’t fail a positive psychology quiz! Use this as a guide to learn more about the developing field. Or, if you got them all right, you know how good it is to be kind — so get out there and help someone!
1. True or false? Negative thoughts are more powerful than positive thoughts.
Barbara Fredrickson’s (2009) work on positivity created a way of measuring internal dynamics by using a Losada ratio, a measure of positive to negative thoughts. She found a ratio of 3 to 1 seems to be a tipping point of sorts for positivity. In other words, we need three positive thoughts to counteract the effect of one negative thought.
This is the equivalent of the discovery that we have good and bad cholesterol, HDL and LDL, and that the ratio between the two determines cardiovascular health. We need more positive than negative thoughts in the same way we need more HDL, the good cholesterol, than LDL. You can assess your current ratio at her website.
2. What percentage of our happiness can we actually change?
- About 40 percent
- About 50 percent
- About 10 percent
- About 60 percent
A: No. 1
Leading researcher Sonya Lyubomirsky has been able to determine that about 40 percent of our capability for happiness is underdeveloped and within our power and ability to change. About 10 percent can be attributed to life circumstances and 50 percent of our happiness is set.
Lyubomirsky developed an assessment of personal happiness through a brief 4-item scale called The Subjective Happiness Scale. It assigns you to an activity that helps to bring a little more joy into your life.
3. True or false? We can accurately predict how happy we will be in the future.
Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard psychologist and best-selling author of Stumbling on Happiness has wrestled with the problem of defining and predicting happiness and has drawn some interesting and instructive conclusions (Gilbert, 2007). Instead of talking about predicting our future happiness, he says that we make systematic errors in what he calls “nexting.” In essence, our brains are continuously “nexting.” When we try to determine how stable it will be when we walk on the sand, or what we have to do to catch a ball or a Frisbee, we are constantly nexting into the future to imagine ourselves there.
The problem with nexting is that we are pretty well immersed in the now, and we have a hard time nexting to the future using anything else but the information we have right now. Since we don’t actually know what is coming, we take our best guess based on what is in front of us. This is why we are often surprised and don’t always get it right when it comes to what will make us happy. We are actually not very good at imagining how happy we are going to be because our sense of tomorrow’s happiness can only be based on what makes us happy now.
But the future isn’t made up of what we know now. We can’t take into account what circumstances will come into our life to make us feel different in the future. Consider these examples: Christopher Reeve, after becoming a quadriplegic, reported that he was in some ways better off, as did Lance Armstrong after having cancer. In fact, cancer patients in general are more optimistic than those who are healthy.
The functional result of all of this is that we delude ourselves just enough to get by. It would appear that in order to be happy we have to fudge the data a little, just enough so we aren’t overwhelmed by the daily disappointments, unwelcome surprises, and the evening news.
The point of all of this is that mental well-being might be a matter of faking ourselves out to suggest we are happy enough now, and will likely be happy enough in the future. Ironically, the accuracy of our perception of the now may be one of the biggest obstacles in assessing exactly what may make us happy.
4. Experts say when we do something kind, it causes others to be kind, creating a cascading effect.
According to researchers Fowler and Christakis, kindness spreads. They have determined there is a mimicry process at work. Watching others engaged in acts of kindness, or knowing that they have done so, tends to inspire us to be kind.
5. What are the three top strengths of good teachers?
- diligence, intellectual curiosity, fairness
- social intelligence, zest, humor
- willpower, verbal ability, compassion
- trust, honesty, bravery
A: No. 2
Research has shown that the students who gained the most on standardized tests rated their teachers’ top strengths as zest, humor and social intelligence. When you think about the teachers that have inspired you the most, wasn’t it the ones who had energy, a sense of humor and sensitivity to others? This research comes from measures of character strengths.
To learn more about what yours are check here.
6. In 2011, which country was ranked happiest?
- United States
While the reasons for this are still being researched, one likely possibility is that the communal / social nature of living in Denmark has created a closer connection and less sense of economic disparity among its population. Here is a listing of the top ten.
By the way, the United States did not make the list.