In Martin Selgiman’s new book, Flourish, he writes of a wonderful paradigm to increase well being. In my other blog I am summarizing and commenting on each chapter. But in chapter four there is a concept that is fantastically applicable and useful for every person on this planet. So I am copying much of that posting here.
While most of this chapter outlines the Masters in Applied Positive Psychology program at Penn State there are a few really important concepts and ideas that both practical and enlightening. The first has been a favorite of mine for about 25 years. That, in spite of the fact that in psychology it has not been around for more than a few short years. I’ll explain in a bit.
Seligman calls it the “Losada ratio” named after the fellow named Marcel Losada who “discovered” it. Losada looked at communications in companies and found that those firms that had a ratio of better than 2.9:1 of positive to negative statement flourished and those with less withered. Also above 13:1 faltered since the positive seemed more like fluff than substance. Seligman cites that well known (at least amongst marriage counselors) study by John Gottman that a strong marriage is reliably measured by the ratio of positive interaction to negative ones. Generally, if you want to voice any criticism in a relationship you need to have at least five times the amount of positives to each negative.
I have been using this idea for decades in my practice. I’ve often cited Gottman but I learned it when I was first married. One Rabbi told me that I should not consider my wife as more loving than G-d. “Well, OK,” I replied, “What lesson are you trying to tell me now?” “In the Jewish prayer we ask for all sorts of things. But we don’t ask until we first give at least three prayers of praise, and don’t leave until we give at least three prayers of thanks. Wouldn’t one be enough? No. It is to teach us that if you even want to ask or criticize, you must first give at least three times as much praise and thanks, even to people, especially your wife.”
If you think about it, universal human wisdom did not start with psychology. Psychology is just quantifying it.
So the Losada ratio is one great concept that we can apply today. And he tells us stories about people applying it.
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Like all psychiatric diagnoses, depression is defined by its symptoms. Other illnesses are usually defined by the cause. A sore throat is a symptom while strep throat is a disease. Once we realize that depression is a symptom we notice that it is a symptom of numerous conditions.
Depression can be a symptom of thyroid disfunction. We know of SAD which is caused by lack of sunlight. There is post-partum depression. Also, since depressive symptoms are more common in women of childbearing years there seems to be something in thay population that preciptates those symptoms. The same is true for men with sexual dysfuntions.
In all of the above mentioned groups most people never have serious problems. They are resilient. The big question is how to increase resilence. Most psychologist can tell you how to combat depressive thoughts when they invade your mind but only recently have researchers and clinicians focused on prevention of depressive habits.
There are a number of useful habits. One well known exercise (mentioned by Martin Seligman in his new book, “Flourish”) is to write down your daily accomplishments. This type of journal has been shown to produce results in as little as four days. I have seen it work with true skeptics. It works because it forces us to think about what we have done well. And although many of us have been taught that complimenting ourselves is immodest and prideful, we all feel good with a job well done.
The resulting good feelings produce endorphins in the brain which ward off depressive symptoms. It allows you to rejuvenate your immune system and reduce actual stress. And it is more efficient than pleasuable distractions like watching a movie or having a good meal (which is also beneficial.)
This works for most people when they are overwhelmed but it is debatable that they are depressed. People who have too much stress. When responsibilies compete for your attention and you feel that if you do not give your all then things will fall apart.
Try it. You’ll like it.
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