Here are five specific techniques from Positive Psychology that you can do regularly (I brought these up in today’s call):

Positive Thinking: Read the APE Method to get yourself out of a bad mood.

Positive Emotions: Do the “Three Great Things” exercise.

Positive Authenticity and Strengths: Go online to and take the Signature Strengths Questionnaire. It’s one of the best exercises I do with my clients. Then choose one strength and use it more this week. Doing this for one week has been shown to increase happiness six months in the future.

Positive Choices: Check out this article and consider limiting yourself reasonably, creating some GOOD constraints.

Positive Habits: Decide to make a great habit this week. For example: exercise a certain number of times this week. Tidy up one of the rooms in your home.

Senia Maymin, MAPP, MBA, is the Editor of Positive Psychology News Daily, and an assistant instructor to Martin Seligman for the master’s positive psychology course at UPenn. Senia is also an executive coach and presents workshops on productivity and engagement at work. Senia Maymin will be interviewed by Dr. Cynthia Barnett.

LINKS: Senia’s coaching website, Senia’s workshops website, Senia’s bio.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Time: 7:00 – 8:00 PM, EST in the USA.
Phone number: (712) 775-7000
Your Access Code is: 122856#.

This call is presented by the Virtual Happiness Club, and is free while normal long distance charges apply. Everybody is welcome to participate. The first 90 callers may participate. The Virtual Happiness Club meets one night each month from 7:00 – 8:00. PM, EST in the USA.

Past Virtual Happiness Club interviews include Tal Ben-Shahar, Chris Peterson, and Rabbi Zelig Pliskin. To listen to past interviews, click here. Here are past announcements on PPND for the Peterson and the Ben-Shahar calls.

Why didn’t I post any blog posts last week?
I don’t know. I just didn’t.

It wasn’t that there was more than usual going on last week. It wasn’t that I was holed in a cave allowing myself little access to the outside world. It wasn’t that I was scooped up by aliens.

I don’t know why I didn’t post. And after bragging about being so into the daily postings that I’ll write at 11:58pm, I’ll take the non-postings as well to evaluate them.

So I thought about it, and you’re not even going to believe me. Why – if nothing was especially out of the ordinary – why did I not post even once?

It’s the same thing I’ve been talking positively about in past posts, and now it’s affected me in the downward direction: self-regulation.

I exercised last week half the number of times that I have set for myself to exercise weekly. Half! That’s pretty bad. I exercised two or three times instead of the five times weekly goal. And there hasn’t been another week since Jan 1 when I’ve exercised this little.

So, that’s why. Self-regulation in one area of life seeps into self-regulation in other areas of life. I wasn’t exercising the usual number of times, and other basic plans and schedules went off kilter as well.

Seems pretty boring as an explanation, right? Well, actually not! Not to me.

  • It’s nice that science says that self-regulation in one area seeps into other areas.
  • It’s nice that I see this in my personal experience – when I am self-disciplined in the area of exercise, other things like the food I eat, how carefully I reply to emails, blogging daily, and other organizational matters fall into place. Other people including Penelope with exercise, Mimi with yoga, and E.N. with working out also see this in their personal experience.
  • Furthermore, it’s nice that I see this in my clients’ experience – when they create self-discipline in one part of their life, two weeks later, they’re ready to create self-discipline in another part of life.
  • And finally, it’s also – strange to say – nice that I see the contrary effect in my personal experience as well – when I drop self-discipline in one part of life, self-discipline in other parts drops too. (There’s no study that I know of that looks at the contrary, but it’s kind of illuminating to see this in action).
  • Similarly, it’s nice to see the contrary effect with clients’ experiencewell, it’s not nice! but it’s intellectually intriguing that this works in both directions – when self-discipline drops in one part of life, other parts have a tendency to follow.

In fact, if I were working with Roy Baumeister on research about self-regulation and self-discipline, I might be interested to learn whether the contrary similarly occurs – that a drop in self-discipline in one area seeps into a drop in self-discipline in other areas.

My theory would be that a drop in self-discipline in YOUR MOST IMPORTANT AREA would contribute to self-discipline dropping across the board. And my two most important areas are:
* Sleep
* Exercise
Then come good food habits, organization, cleanliness, cleaning the inbox, and other things. Once the first two are in place, a lot of other things work out too.

What is your most important area that if it’s in balance, other things more easily fall into balance?

Why should there be a stigma against self-help books? After all, “self” is a good word. And “help” is a pretty good word.

But you’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. That little turning up of the nose when people speak about the self-help section.

Sure, in some bookstores, the section has a brand new title with “personal development,” but we still know what it is.

I recently heard professor Angela Duckworth of UPenn speak, and she talked about the words “self” and “help” being good words on their own. She also added that there shouldn’t by definition be anything wrong with self-help books. But, she continued, it may be the fact that a lot of the conclusions and results of the books have not at all been tested in any way that tends to put people off. I’d add that it’s like reading opinion books – “I suggest you do this” versus “Well, I suggest you try this other thing.”

But some books just catch on… sometimes there’s a “vigor without rigor” Angela says. And that’s where Positive Psychology comes in. That’s where Positive Psychology can add bang for the buck.

There are studies that you can get excited about because they’ve been shown to be stable again and again. For example:

  • Business teams function best when the ratio of positive comments in the team to negative comments is about 3:1 (for marriages, the optimal ratio is 5:1). Fredrickson/Losada and Gottman.
  • People who have had episodes of depression are much more likely to have follow-on episodes. Seligman and others.
  • When you improve self-control in one area of your life, it will filter through into other areas of your life. Baumeister and others.
  • When a pilot group of Ann Taylor store employees used their strengths for a whole year, their increase in store sales – if projected to cover all of Ann Taylor – would have resulted in a 10% increase in sales. Gallup.
  • People experience more “flow” at work than at home. Csikszentmihalyi and others.

That’s a good reason to like Positive Psychology – because it adds rigor to those things we’ve always wanted to question and study but just may not have yet.

Penelope wrote recently about finding your fit with the company rather than with the job, and referenced back to a Positive Psychology News Daily article that I had written on using your strengths in the job search.

Stephanie then wrote that using strengths at work makes sense, but only if you’re measuring your strengths objectively.

When should a person should take a self-report assessment and when a person should take a more objective assessment? (BTW, for examples of self-report assessment, please go to, and click on any of the assessments there – you’ll need to login to take these because they save your results for future visits. For examples of objective tests, you may want to try the two recommended by Stephanie here. Other suggestions for objective tests? Please leave a note in the comments). Some guidelines for when to use a self-report and when not to:

Self-report assessments are useful when:

1) You want to save costs. If you want a quick-and-dirty summary of how you’re doing on certain measures – strengths, optimistic explanatory style, pathways to happiness – you can just hop online and take those respective assessments.

2) You want to be quick. Self-reports are useful for giving you results right away – as soon as you’re done, the results are available. Sometimes, “objective” assessments can give results right away also.

3) You believe that you know yourself pretty well. Every person has a degree of self-awareness. Some people have it stronger than others, and each person has it stronger some times over other times. If you are in a mood that you feel confused about your direction and your state of being, then maybe a self-asssessment would only make you more confused as you might not answering the questions from a steady state of mind.

4) You don’t believe that these assessments are gospel. To be a good candidate for self-assessments, you’d usually believe that the way you answered today is not going to be 100% the way that you’ll answer tomorrow, and you’re likely ok with that. If you want to know whether you answered the math test correctly (or whether you know all the latest regulatons in your field), then you’d better get an objective measure of that.

5) You believe that your results can change over time. Some people do not believe this about self-assessments. You may hear people say that if you’ve shown some strengths on the VIA Signature Strengths assessment, then you will likely show them again next time you take the assessment. I don’t believe this. I’ve seen many people have “love of learning” pop up into their top five or top ten strengths when they start taking some professional or personal-interest coursework. Assessments are a reflection of where you are at that time – in that moment.

6) You are a good practitioner of “the gut test.” Once you get your self-assessment results, the first question you can ask yourself is “Do I believe this? Does this accurately reflect me?” and if the immediate gut answer is “no,” then perhaps this self-assessment didn’t work for you – it might be the day, it might be the assessment, it might be anything. You could then try taking it again on a different day, or you may just say that doesn’t work for you.

Objective assessments are useful when:

1) You want to be more exact. As Stephanie writes here, self-reports do want people to divide into specific categories, no doubt. The questions are often ipsative or on a Likert scale, both of which simplify a person into a stilted few-dimensional form instead of the complex being that the person is. (I would also argue that the point of both self-reports and objective assessments are to simplify a person – to see a specific theme about a person culled down to its simple, describable form.)

2) You want to be more thorough. This is the most effective argument for me for an objective measure. This is the reason that I like to dig into psychology articles – to learn what questions were actually asked. I absolutely believe and agree with Stephanie that questions can be phrased in a way that favors a certain answer, and can be ordered in such a way as to influence the person answering the questionnaire. I wrote here about different ways to study positive psychology (including questionnaires and assessments), and I believe that having a study participant DO something (such as a cause-and-effect experiment) as opposed to SAY something about his/her thoughts (such as an assessment) is often more telling.

3) You are measuring something that can be objectively measured. Some things are not as great at being objectively measured, such as preferences and beliefs. For example, I believe a person is the best judge of whether he or she is happy. If you ask, “How happy are you (1-10) where 1 is very not happy and 10 is very happy?” I would give much more credence to Sarah saying “6” than to Sarah’s husband saying “4” about her because the point is how happy does Sarah believe she is? That’s a subjective response – subjective to Sarah – so self-report is a great method for this.

4) You have the money and/or time. For learning more about an individual manager’s workstyle, it can be helpful to have a 360-degree assessment (i.e. questionnaires filled out by the person’s colleagues, bosses, and direct reports), but these 360-degree assessments come with more cost in money and in time, so there needs to be an appropriate weighting to the importance of these relative to the project. Especially in the case of coaching the leadership and management capabilities of a person, having much more than just a self-report is usually found to be crucial.

Note: There is no particular reason that there are more items for the self-report than for the objective assessment. Please add more thoughts in the comments.

We asked this question yesterday at the first meeting of the Happiness Club NY.

We listed pretty much every method we could think of that’s used to study people. If you can think of other methods, please add them:

  • Asking people: QUESTIONNAIRES. Are you happy, and do you know it? Yes, this is a great method, and this can often lead us to find correlations: we can ask people about their salaries and we can ask them about their happiness. But the one caveat about correlations is that they are not causations – we don’t know which came first – people were happy, and so they got higher-paying jobs or people had high-paying jobs and became happier? One of my favorite studies conducted as a correlation study is this study about very happy people – showing they tend to have strong, quality relationships.
  • Asking people: QUALITATIVE. Some researchers want to get a qualitative sense of a certain aspect of a person’s life. These researchers sometimes ask open-ended questions in order to get more open information. George Vaillant has studied adults of all ages from 20 to 80, and has asked them open-ended questions to get more information. Usually the information is “coded” after the interviews…. for example, an interview about what makes a good life (this is a Paul Rozin example) may yield an answer like “The good life is when you are surrounded by family, when you’ve raised your children well, when you are generally healthy.” This might be coded as “FAMILY, RAISE CHILDREN, HEALTHY.”
  • Having people do activities: CAUSE-AND-EFFECT studies. Inviting college students into the psychology lab to sit in a lab and interact in an experiment. A good example of this is the candy bar experiment that Gilbert writes about in Stumbling on Happiness: on the first day of class, students were allowed to choose candy bars for the following four weeks of the course. Most students chose a variety – M&M’s one day, Snickers another. In following class weeks, they were asked whether they wanted to keep their original choice (i.e. In week 2, they were asked whether they wanted to keep week 2’s choice which happened to be almond joy), and most students changed back to their original favorite choice (say M&M’s). So variety is not always better. This is a case-and-effect study.
  • Beeping people: EXPERIENCE SAMPLING METHOD – Psychologist Mike Csikszentmihalyi is the author of Flow and many other books, and has used the experience sampling method in many studies. The method involves beeping people (and was first used in the 1970’s! when beepers were very uncommon), and asking people to write down at that moment what they were going, how they felt, and other aspects of the experience. Through this method, Csikszenmihalyi learned a lot about times when people are in flow, the state of complete absorption (often in bed with their spouse, at work, at their hobbies, and when driving).
  • Asking people to remember their day: DAY RECONSTRUCTION METHOD – Psychologist Danny Kahneman uses this recently, and so have many other researchers. This is asking a person at the end of the day to divide the day into segments (for example: woke up and did the mornign routine(teeth, shower, etc), commuted to the office, had first meeting with team (1 hour), worked at my desk (3 hours), lunch…), and then to rate different aspects of those segments.
  • Asking people over time: LONGITUDINAL. George Vaillant, author of at least three books on longitudinal studies, including Aging Well, has studied a group of people from age 20 through their 80’s. There is some type of information that is possible to find through longitudinal studies that is not possible to find in other ways. For example, Chris Peterson working with George Vaillant found that optimism in a person’s 20’s can predict physical health at age 60+. How is this possible? The researchers can see whether the people in the study have an optimistic way of writing about events, and then the researchers can examine physical health markers decades later.

What other methods do you know?

We asked this question yesterday at the first meeting of the Happiness Club NY!

QUESTION: If you had been Marty Seligman, Mike Csikszentmihalyi, and Ray Fowler when they met in 1999 to discuss a new subfield in psychology that would study what is right with people, what topics would you have wanted to put on the table? What topics would you want to study?!

Here are the answers from yesterday:

EXPERIENCES we can study – such as thoughts, emotions…

  • Internal vs. external happiness
  • Consistency in Happiness over time
  • Studying hobbies, flow experiences
  • Exercise and happiness
  • Weightloss and happiness
  • How to move on from a bad thought
  • Conscious happiness, awareness
  • Optimism and adjusting thoughts and controlling thoughts
  • Pleasure
  • Meaning
  • How to increase happiness
  • Happiness in marriage, in relationships, in long-lasting friendships (also “group”)


  • Drive, motivation
  • Responsibility, reliance
  • Personal will
  • To what degree is happiness determined at birth? – Chemical and neurobiological components of happiness
  • Generational: if your parents are happy, are you?
  • Focus
  • Studying traits of good leaders
  • Studying traits of successful people
  • Studying traits of philanthropists
  • Studying optimists (also “experience”)
  • Difference between individual and community happiness (also “group”)

GROUP AND COMMUNITY issues we can study

  • Happiness at work, fun at work (LOTS of interest in this topic)
  • Is happiness cultural?
  • Does happiness have socioeconomic factors?
  • Is there a ripple effect to happiness – if you’re happy, then are others?
  • Happiness and children

What’s interesting is that the list we came up with has a lot of questions that the original founders of positive psychology came up with too. And it’s not really a coincidence that even though we were sitting in a Columbia Business School classroom, we came up with the fewest categories for “group.” Similarly, in positive psychology, group and organization issues have been the least studied.

You might be wondering why we separated our questions into those categories. Well, first we brainstormed a lot of topics we would want to study, and then we used the three “pillars” of positive psychology to group all our brainstormed topics.

See you at the next Happiness Club NY meeting on July 11, Wed eve – for a discussion about “Is there any magic techniqut to positive thinking? And what if I don’t want to think positive?”

Link: What is Positive Psychology?

perspectiveThis game is directly from the The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte.*

“I’ve given this proposal to my boss a half-hour late. He was expecting it. I knew when the deadline was. I just wasn’t finished. And now he’ll be freaked out – he’ll yell at me – he might even fire me. I might have no money to live on. I’ll have to go ask friends for handouts. I’ll have to give up renting my apartment.” This type of downhill spiral thinking is a prime example of a situation in which this exercise can be used.

* When a situation appears overwhelming.
* When you get into a 3am discussion with yourself ruminating and catastrophizing about things that can go wrong.
* When you may be blowing up a very nasty concrete situation into a prolonged many-year huge-consequences event.

Goal of the Game:
To “take the edge off” (as Karen Reivich says in trainging teachers in resilience techniques). To nip anxiety before it grows into self-created stress. To be able to function in a situation even when it seems overwhelming.

How Long to Play: 20 minutes.

Players: Alone, with one person, or with many.

Materials Needed: Paper and pen. Or a new Word document.


Worst Thoughts – Best Thoughts – Most Likely – Preparing for Most Likely.

1) Write down your worst thoughts.
* Write down the triggering situation (e.g. I handed in the proposal a half-hour late), and all the resulting possible worst-case situations.

2) Estimate the probabilities of your worst case scenario.(optional: Karen and Andrew are very big on this step, but I don’t think this step is as important, so I call it optional).
* Getting fired 1%
* Having no money at all .001%
* Etc.

3) Write down your best-case scenarios.
* In the above example, “I handed in the resport late, but the boss’s boss was there, and he saw it at the time it came in, and he thought it was wonderful and offered me a promotion, now I make 26x more than I ever did, and I live in a $5 million home, and I go to the race track on the weekends.”

4) Write down the most likely implications.
Forget the worst, forget the best. Now, write down what are really the most likely implications. Will the boss get angry? Yes, likely. Will he fire you? No, not likely.

5) How can you handle these most likely implications?
Write down some steps so that you can handle the most likley implications. If you expect your boss to be angry, maybe send him an apology by email in advance. If you expect that the proposal may not get out on time to FedEx, offer to drive it to the last-closing FedEx in your state. Think of rational, actual steps you can take.


After you take the above steps, what often happens is that you … feel better.
What the above game does more than anything else is it can take the edge off a situation. It can make a situation more manageable. And in that time, you can take action, and more your life forward in other ways! Enjoy.

Image: Perspective.

The full version of the “Putting It in Perspective” exercise can be found on pages 168-185 of The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles.

I’ll be teaching a class on Wednesday in Greenwich, CT.
WHEN: 7-9pm
WHERE: Greenwich High School
REGISTER: Here (preferred) or at-the-door.

The Science of Happiness

In 1998, Positive Psychology was launched by then American Psychological Association president Martin Seligman. Positive Psychology is a branch of psychology that studies what makes people happier, more productive, and more successful . What is this new “science of happiness”? In this two-hour workshop, we will go through the basics of the science of happiness and its applications to your life. We will cover physical happiness, mental happiness, emotional happiness, and self happiness. Some particular topics that we will address:

* How does optimism increase focus and affect physical health?
* You are what you say: how can you respond to people most effectively, how can you praise people and children well?
* How can you open up your creativity and decision-making skills?

* How can you create new successful habits?

Senia Maymin, MBA, MAPP, is an Executive Coach and Editor-in-Chief of Positive Psychology News Daily ( In addition to coaching, she has a background in high-tech and finance. She completed her AB in Mathematics and Economics at Harvard University, her MBA at Stanford University, and her Master in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania (Martin Seligman’s program, the only such master’s degree in the world). Website:

My favorite Seth Godin post so far this year:

[Rather than helping beginners get better at something,] you’re way better off helping the perfect improve. You’ll also sell a lot more management consulting to well run companies, high end stereos to people with good stereos and yes, church services to the already well behaved.

With Positive Psychology News Daily, we’re targeting people who work in and do research in Positive Psychology as well as people new to the field (“What is Positive Psychology?“) This Seth post is illuminating to me because yes, the people who get most excited about what we’re doing on are the people passionate about the field to begin with: our best comment discussion people, our best guest articles, our best email responses – all come from people in the field and in the process of expanding the field!