Tag Archives: happiness

Concrete Helping Acts Increase “Helpers High” Happiness more than Abstract Goals

Melanie Rudd

Melanie Rudd

People experience greater happiness when they perform specific “prosocial” actions, like trying to make someone smile, rather than pursuing an abstract objective like “trying to make someone happy,” according to University of Houston’s Melanie Rudd, Jennifer Aaker of Stanford and Harvard’s Michael I. Norton.

Jennifer Aaker

Jennifer Aaker

Fifty volunteers were asked to “make someone happy,” or to “make someone smile,” in exchange for a gift card.
When they completed the task, participants described how they accomplished their assignment, and the degree of happiness they experienced.

Michael Norton

Michael Norton

Participants who completed the specific goal, “getting someone to smile,” reported greater happiness than those who worked toward the more abstract, “higher construal level” goal of “making someone happy” – no matter which action they performed to achieve the goal.

Yaacov Trope

Yaacov Trope

Specific goals have a “low construal level”, according to Construal Level Theory (CLT), discussed by NYU’s Yaacov Trope and Nira Liberman of Tel Aviv University.
CLT distinguishes concrete, specific, contextualized, and personal actions from more abstract, distant options based on future time, remote space, social distance, and hypothetical probability.
Team Rudd’s findings demonstrate the emotional impact associated with completing specific prosocial tasks.

Nira Liberman

Nira Liberman

Rudd and team posited that concrete goals reduce the gap between expected and actual impact of one’s actions, and increase goal clarity, measurability, and achievability while setting more realistic outcome expectations.
The team evaluated this speculation by asking participants to rate the degree of similarity between the actual outcome and their expectations before they performed the specific or general task.
Those who performed the more specific action also reported greater similarity between expectations and actual outcomes, as well as experiencing more happiness as a result of their prosocial actions.

Edwin Locke

Edwin Locke

Abstractly-framed goals focus on “why”, broader meaning, and larger purpose, whereas concretely-stated objectives target the “how, found University of Maryland’s Edwin Locke and Gary Latham of University of Toronto.

Gary Latham

Gary Latham

Similarly, smaller expectation-reality gaps were linked to greater satisfaction, happiness, and well-being in research by University of Leiden’s Riël Vermunt and Herman Steensma. 

Riël Vermunt

Riël Vermunt

Rudd’s group replicated Vermunt and Steensma’s findings, for people had a previous friendship or no previous relationship with the beneficiary, and when the prosocial acts varied in magnitude.

Herman Steensma

Herman Steensma

Participants experienced similar degrees of happiness in performing small or large kind deeds, as long as thee specified actions like “increasing recycling of unneeded materials” instead of “supporting environmental sustainability.”

Volunteers were consistently inaccurate in predicting which charitable acts would make them feel most happy 24 hours after they completed the task.

Gal Zauberman

Gal Zauberman

Participants predicted that performing the abstract, “high construal level” task of “making someone happy” would make them happier than the specific task of “trying to make someone smile” – but they actually experienced greater happiness after they did a specific good deed.
Likewise, Wharton’s Gal Zauberman and John G. Lynch of Duke also found that volunteers had inaccurate expectations about future outcomes.

Anyone who has been disappointed when ambitious goals to help others did not result in the desired outcome understands the problems of “donor fatigue” or “helper burnout,” when there is a significant discrepancy between helper expectation and actual outcome.

Carolyn Schwartz

Carolyn Schwartz

This anecdotal experience is confirmed by University of Massachusetts Medical School’s University of Massachusetts’s Carolyn Schwarz, Yunsheng Ma, and George Reed, with Janice Bell Meisenhelder of Emmanuel College, who found that discrepancies between expectations and outcomes are linked to giver unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

Allan Luks

Allan Luks

Rudd and team’s research suggests that much-needed helpers can experience a Helper’s High instead of “helper burnout” when their goals are concretely defined.
Helper’s High is even associated with improved physical health in addition to happiness, according to Fordham University’s Allan Luks.

Helping others is also associated with higher levels of mental health, found Schwartz’s group, although they found less relationship with physical health than Luks.

William Harbaugh

William Harbaugh

The Helper’s High has a physiological basis: “Pleasure centers of the brain” are activated when people make voluntary charitable donations as well as after receiving money for oneself, and even more than when individuals agree to a tax-like transfers to a charity, reported University of Oregon’s William T. Harbaugh and Ulrich Mayr, with Daniel R. Burghart of NYU.

Individuals can increase their experience of happiness by engaging in specific kind acts toward others, and philanthropic organizations can increase volunteer retention by framing requests as concrete, “low construal level” actions.

-*To what extent do specific prosocial actions increase your personal happiness?

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Loneliness, Happiness Affect Gene Expression, Health

Loneliness not only feels bad, but it’s also bad for your health.

Steve Cole

Steve Cole

Subjective social isolation is a known social epidemiological risk factor that has been linked to heart disease, viral infections and cancer.

In addition, loneliness has physical effects on gene regulation and expression, according to DNA microarray analyses of 209 gene transcripts (the first step in synthesizing a protein) out of more than 20,000 in white blood cells of 14 volunteers.

Louise Hawkley

Louise Hawkley

UCLA’s Steve Cole, Jesusa Arevalo, and Caroline Sung collaborated with Robert Rosen of University of Texas and University of Chicago’s Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo to report that individuals who reported high loneliness on Daniel Russell’s UCLA Loneliness Scale showed different gene expression in circulating leukocytes than volunteers who did not report loneliness.

Daniel Russell

Daniel Russell

Lonely individuals were less able to ward off inflammatory responses and viruses, and less able to produce antibodies because controlling genes were under-expressed.
In contrast, lonely individuals were at risk for greater inflammatory responses and more active immune systems  because the related genes were over-expressed.

These volunteers showed “down-regulation” of genes supporting mature B lymphocyte function and type I interferon response, when researchers controlled for effects of circulating cortisol levels, demographic, psychological, health risk, medications, or social network factors.

The social experience of loneliness desensitizes glucocorticoid receptors and reduces cortisol’s immune control and anti-inflammatory effects.

Cole’s team found that loneliness was more dependent on the number of close relationships rather than the total number of acquaintances.
This suggests the importance of cultivating meaningful social relationships for both social support, reciprocity, and for enhanced health.

Barbara Fredrickson

Barbara Fredrickson

Cole, and Arevalo collaborated with UCLA colleague Jeffrey Ma and University of North Carolina’s Barbara Fredrickson, Karen Grewen, Kimberly Coffey, Sara Algo, and Ann Firestine to consider the impact of different types of happiness on gene expression in 80 adult volunteers.

They evaluated two types of happiness:

  • Eudaimonic well-being,“ a Socratic ideal based on leading a virtuous life, striving toward a meaningful purpose, pursuing “worthwhile” service, and more fully developing personal capabilities
  • Hedonic well-being,” focused on pleasure, consumption, and enjoyment.
Karen Grewen

Karen Grewen

Fredrickson’s team compared leukocyte basal gene expression profiles for volunteers who reported hedonic well-being in contrast to those who reported eudaimonic well-being.
The team also considered negative psychological and behavioral factors.

People with high levels of hedonic well-being showed “up-regulated” pro-inflammatory genes and decreased expression of genes involved in antibody synthesis and type I IFN response in peripheral blood mononuclear cells during stress [conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA)].

Kimberly Coffey

Kimberly Coffey

In contrast, volunteers with high levels of eudaimonic well-being showed CTRA down-regulation, suggesting less stress on body systems.

Fredrickson and team concluded that “genes can tell the difference” between a purposeful life and a more pleasure-centric life, even when self-reports do not distinguish between these two types of happiness.

Ann Firestine

Ann Firestine

These finding suggest the importance of pursuing prosocial purposes and developing meaningful, trust-based relationships with others to experience greatest health and happiness – down to your genes.

-*How have you seen social relationships and mood affect immunity to illness and stress?

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Explicit Gratitude Increases Well-Being, Reduces Materialism

Robert Emmons

Robert Emmons

Gratitude, or appreciating a beneficial outcome, has significant benefits to physical and emotional health, according to Robert Emmons at the University of California.

He found that volunteers who kept a gratitude journal exercised more frequently, reported fewer physical symptoms of pain, were more optimistic about the upcoming week, and showed greater progress towards personal goals over a two-month period than people who kept journals that reported events factually or allowed them to complain.

Jeffrey Froh

Jeffrey Froh

Emmons worked with Hofstra’s Jeffrey J. Froh and Giacomo Bono of California State University, Dominguez Hills to consider gratitude in contrast to happiness among 700 middle school students, who completed measures of gratitude, prosocial behavior, life satisfaction, and social integration, with re-measures after 3 months and 6 months.

Giacomo Bono

Giacomo Bono

Emmons and team found that students who expressed gratitude initially showed greater social integration after 6 months, and these dimensions enhanced each other.
Theyposit that gratitude may help young people develop greater emotional and social well-being, and prosocial contribution to their communities.

Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer Wilson

This team was joined by Hofstra’s Jennifer Wilson and Noel Card of University of Arizona in another study of young adults who practicing daily gratitude exercises.

These volunteers reported higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to people who focused on social comparisons with people in better or worse life situations than they.

Noel Card

Noel Card

The year-end holiday season often provokes reflections on materialism and gratitude.

Emily Polak

Emily Polak

Materialistic strivings have been implicated as a cause of unhappiness, whereas gratitude as a trait and as a temporary state can be related to happiness, according to Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Emily L. Polak and Michael E. McCullough of University of Miami’s.

Michael McCullough

Michael McCullough

They note that gratitude may reduce materialistic strivings and reduce associated unhappiness to increase well-being.

-*How effective is conscious gratitude on increasing happiness, well-being, and social integration?

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Buying Happiness: Satisfaction and Material Purchases vs. Experiential “Investments”

-*Does acquiring possessions lead to happiness and satisfaction?

Leaf Van Boven

Leaf Van Boven

“Not so much,” according to University of Colorado’s Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich of Cornell, who reported that material purchases are less satisfying than experiential purchases.

Thomas Gilovich

Thomas Gilovich

They suggest that experiences make people happier because experiences are:

  • Subject to positive reinterpretation
  • Central to one’s identity
  • More positively valued by others as having “social value.”
Travis Carter

Travis Carter

Gilovich collaborated with Travis Carter of University of Chicago to survey diverse respondents from various demographic groups.
These two cross-sections of the public reported that purchases to acquire a life experience made them happier than “hedonic” or “utilitarian” material purchases.

In Gilovich and Carter’s related lab experiment, volunteers said they had more positive feelings after recalling an experiential purchase than after thinking about a material purchase.

Eunice Kim

Eunice Kim

Participants also expected that experiences would make them happier than material possessions when they adopted a future, “big picture” perspective in contrast to a present-oriented view.
This finding echoes Eunice Kim Cho and team’s decision-making conclusions highlighted in the last blog postReframing Non-Comparable Choices to Make Them Simpler, More Satisfying

Volunteers reported that material purchases are less satisfying because they can lead to focusing on unchosen options, and comparing to other people’s choices, which contributes to doubt and rumination about alternate choices.

Russell Belk

Russell Belk

In addition, most people “maximize” when they make material purchases in an exhaustive, time-consuming process of considering all possible options, then selecting the optimal-seeming alternative.

Marsha Richins

Marsha Richins

In contrast, most people “satisfice” when selecting experiences by setting a minimum standard for decision quality, then selecting the first option.
This more rapid approach typically leads to less regret.

Scott Dawson

Scott Dawson

People who strongly agree with statements like “Some of the most important achievements in life include acquiring material possessions” and “Buying things gives me a lot of pleasure” report lower levels of life satisfaction according to York University’s Russell Belk as well as to University of Missouri’s Marsha Richins and Scott Dawson of Portland State University, in separate studies.

Many people intuitively sense that possessions don’t buy happiness, and these studies confirm that life experiences tend to be more satisfying than material objects.

-*How do you choose among “utilitarian” items, experiences, and “hedonic” possessions when making purchases?

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Productivity and Work Motivation Affected by Small Gestures – Meaning, Challenge, Mastery, Ownership

Small gestures and verbalizations by managers and organizations can have a large impact on employee productivity, motivation, engagement, and retention – for better or worse.

Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely’s research at Duke University showed the small changes in task design dramatically increase or diminish persistence, satisfaction, and commitment to tasks.

The good news is that by simply looking at something that somebody has done, scanning it and saying ‘uh huh,’ [you] dramatically improve people’s motivations…. The bad news is that ignoring the performance of people is almost as bad as shredding their effort in front of their eyes. …,” according to Ariely.

Ariely’s lab experiments found that volunteers valued and liked their work product more when they worked hard and managed obstacles to produce it.
In addition, most people believed, often inaccurately, that other observers shared their positive view of their work product,

His research concluded that people seek meaning, challenge, and ownership in their work, and that these elements can increase work motivation and persistence.

Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl

Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankel articulated this existential perspective in his examination of the critical role that meaning played in the enabling survivors of concentration camp prisoners in Man’s Search for Meaning.

In the less extreme circumstances of the workplace, finding and assigning meaning to work efforts enables people to persist in complex tasks to achieve satisfaction in mastering challenges.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Harvard’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter concurred that both meaning and mastery are productivity drivers, and to these she added a social dimension, membership, and a distant runner-up, money.

Frederick Herzberg

Frederick Herzberg

In contrast, one of the early though leaders in business management, psychologist Frederick Herzberg, developed a classic formulation of motivational factors contrasted with “hygiene factors.”

Frederick Herzberg - Motivation-Hygiene factorsHis two-factor theory of motivation did not include meaning or money as driving job satisfaction or productivity.

Shawn Achor, formerly of Harvard, argues that happiness is the most important work productivity lever.

Shawn Achor

Shawn Achor

To support his contention, he cited research findings that happy workforces increase an organization’s sales by 37 percent, productivity by 31 percent and accuracy on tasks by 19 percent.

Whether you work for mainly for meaning, money, or other motivations, you may agree that an ideal workplace and manager would foster all of these contributors to employee engagement and productivity.

-*What is the most important work motivator for you?
-*How have you seen managers increase employee engagement and performance through words and actions?

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Why Organizations Care about Employee “Happiness”

“Command-and-control” managers of the past might have scoffed at current business research on happiness.
Under their spans-of-control, employees ought to have been happy to have a job from which they derived an income.
This view has been supplanted by widespread recognition that desirable outcomes like innovative problem solving, flexible decision making, and workplace productivity are associated with employees’ positive mood.

GallupResearch by the Gallup Organization offers further justification in its finding that disgruntled employees disengage and cost the American economy up to $350 billion a year in lost productivity.

Therefore, organizations can increase financial performance by improving operational efficiency in the many processes involving people.

Sigal Barsade

Sigal Barsade

Sigal Barsade of the Wharton School of Business contributed to the investigation of happiness’s impact on organizational productivity.
She found that positive moods prompt “more flexible decision-making, wider search behavior and greater analytic precision,” which enable the organization to take considered risks.

Jennifer Aaker

Jennifer Aaker

On the other coast, Jennifer Aaker, award-winning professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, links workplace happiness and a sense of meaning.

She asserts that having a meaningful impact on the world is a strong predictor of happiness and that it’s possible to cultivate mindfulness and awareness of meaning in work and personal activities.
This cultivated awareness, she said, influences people’s subjective well-being and may positively affect that of others in a contagion effect.

Jonathan Haidt

Jonathan Haidt

New York University’s Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist in the Stern School of Business, takes a more philosophical view of happiness.
He redefines “wisdom” – other might say “leadership” or “self-management” – as the ability to adapt, shape the environment, and know when to move to new environments.

His moral and ethical framework includes high-level philosophical “virtues” associated with a sense of well-being and shared across cultures:

  • Courage
  • Humanity
  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Transcendence

The Happiness HypothesisHaidt’s book, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom , specified contributors to well-being:

  • Strong marriages
  • Physical touch
  • Meaningful relationships
  • Religious affiliation
  • Autonomy
  • Meaningful engagement in work
  • Contributing to a community through voluntary effort

Engineering organizations analyze issues according to “Is-Is Not.
Using this approach, Jonathan Haidt’s research offered some surprising happiness detractors or “is-nots”:

  • Persistent noise
  • Long commutes
  • Lack of situational and person control
  • Shame
  • Dysfunctional relationships
Matthias Mehl

Matthias Mehl

Matthias Mehl of the University of Arizona offered an additional contributor to happiness: Interpersonal dialog.
He found that volunteers who engaged in a meaningful conversation create shared meaning, strengthened their connections, and reported feeling happy.

Jennifer Michael Hecht

Jennifer Michael Hecht

Jennifer Michael Hecht’s The Happiness Myth, offers a framework for types and levels of happiness:

  • Good day, awareness, savoring, and gratitude for the fortunate conditions of one’s life
  • Good life, engaging in meaningful and challenging tasks that help provide a material quality of life and doing one’s best in any endeavor
  • Peak, choosing experiences that inspire awe and a sense of the eternal, connect to families and communities.

The Happiness MythShe cites familiar recommendations to:

  • Cultivate self-knowledge
  • Develop a clear view of one’s worth
  • Moderate desires
  • Appreciate mortality and time limits
  • Try new things
  • Increase involvement with others and the community.

Organizational policies can contribute to employees’ sense of well-being through establishing:

  • Opportunities for career movement and development
  • Regular acknowledgement and praise for a job well done
  • Focus on well-being as individuals through health and work/life integration programs

The payoffs to organizations include increased productivity, innovation and engagement.

-*How have you seen efforts to increase organizational “happiness” result in improved employee engagement, productivity, or decision-making?

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Happiness-Money Connection: Halo Effect of Happy Mood? Part 2

Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman

The Happiness-Money Connection: Halo Effect of Happy Mood? Part 1 outlined studies by Nobel Prize winner and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, with Angus Deaton and by British researchers Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and Andrew Oswald, documenting the long-term positive impact of subjective positive emotions on life outcomes including academic attainment, employment status, and income over time.Michael Norton’s research added the insight that money can buy happiness – if it’s used for other people.

Taken together, these findings point to the value of cultivating positive emotional states.

Martin Seligman

Martin Seligman

Distinguished psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman was one of the first researchers to empirically investigate correlates of happiness and well-being, and his recent book,

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being recasts his

Flourish

earlier emphasis on Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment.
He opined that “well-being” is a more accurate concept, defined by the acronym PERMA:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

Authentic Happiness

Though this is largely a conceptual model, he offers several exercises like considering one’s “signature strengths” and “three blessings” or things that have gone well during a day.

Sonja Lyubomirsky of UC Riverside synthesized happiness-enhancing recommendations from self-help books in The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want,  and provided familiar happiness-enhancing strategies:The How of Happiness

  • Cultivate optimism, consciously stop negative thoughts
  • Avoid “overthinking“, social comparison
  • Practice kindness
  • Invest time in social relationships, family
  • Develop coping strategies
  • Forgive self, others
  • Increase “flow” experiences, do enjoyable things
  • Savor life’s joyful experiences
  • Live in the present
  • Commit to goals
  • Organize space, work, life
  • Participate in religious or meditative practice
  • Keep self-reflection Journals

The Happiness Project

Gretchen Rubin combined some of these recommendations with erudite references to great philosophers’ and thinkers’ guidance, health recommendations, and time-tested common sense in The Happiness Project.

Daniel Gilbert of Harvard’s bestseller, Stumbling on Happiness , synthesized social science research about imagined expected future outcomes and control over them in relation to the experience of happiness.Stumbling on Happiness

He noted that human imagination and prediction are inaccurate, so he suggested using “surrogates” of future events to more accurately test future satisfaction with real-life choices like having children, moving to a new home, or working in a new job.

Other ways to cultivate the Emotional Intelligence capabilities of positive emotional experience are highlighted in related Posts:

-*How have you cultivated happiness?
-*How have happiness and money been related in your experience?

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