Part 2 - Thwart Hedonic Adaptation
Problem though, is that if we go back to our list of things, that we have hedonic adaptation for like awesome stuff that we're going to buy, fair enough, I can use this strategy. The second reason that savoring is really important, is it kind of focuses you on that experience for even longer, and that can also help you prevent adaptation. A similar thing to do, although it works in a slightly different way, is this strategy of pretending as though this day was your last.
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Problem though, is that if we go back to our list of things, that we have hedonic adaptation for like awesome stuff that we’re going to buy, fair enough, I can use this strategy. But what about for everything else? Where you already may have, like eventually, you’re going to have a marriage, you are going to have a great job, you are already here at Yale. You might have awesome stuff you already have, that you can’t sell now to buy experiences, you just have it. So, how do you thwart hedonic adaptation for these other kinds of things? Well, you are in luck because now we have even more strategies that we can use to sort of stop adaptation in its tracks. And we’re going to go through a couple of these, phenomena of sort of savoring your experiences. What I’m going to call negative visualization, a strategy that Lyubomirsky and colleagues have called “make this day your last”. And we’re going to spend lots of time last one is experiencing gratitude, which some of you said was one of your signature strengths. That’s good. We’ll all be boosting this signature strength this week. Let’s start with savoring. What do I mean by savoring? Well, in this psychological context, when I’m talking about savoring, I’m going to be talking about this act of stepping outside your own experience to kind of review and appreciate it. So when we have a good experience we are eating ice cream, some of you might have had some of the goodies that are outside, one of those delicious cookies and so on. You can just have that experience or you could kind of be mindful as you’re having it, instead realize that it is that experience. You can have the moment where you realize this is actually a good delicious experience, I like eating some glucose that is tasting really good right now. And you could have this moment of realization where you’re like this is really awesome. This is the phenomenon of savoring. And it turns out that savoring does a couple of things. One is it forces you to actually notice and enjoy that experience, and keep your attention on it. Our attention is this horrible beast that is going to be moving around all the time. You can be eating your cookie thinking about what your problem set is and so on. Or you could be eating your cookie realizing you’re having this enjoyable experience. And the latter means you notice things much more. That means you start higher on your hedonic adaptation curve and it takes you longer to go down. The second reason that savoring is really important, is it kind of focuses you on that experience for even longer, and that can also help you prevent adaptation. But is it the case that savoring actually helps you. And what specific strategies can you employ when you’re savoring to kind of help you? And so this is a paper by Jose and colleagues, who’s been looking at this. And they really talk to people who either savor or don’t, talk to people who enjoy their experiences or don’t, and have them write down the exact things they were doing during that experience that caused them to savor the experience or not. Specifically what are activities and things you can be thinking while you’re having that experience that help you. And so these are based on their paper, the full list of the best things you can be thinking, that cause you to experience more savoring while you’re having that experience. So the first is that, you talk to another person about how good it felt, like you’re having this wonderful experience and you tell somebody about it. The other is that you look for people to share it with, you amplify experience by being with other people. You think about how lucky you are, you experience this gratitude for the experience, you share it later with others, you think about how you’re going to like, “I’m enjoying it by myself right now but as soon as I get out of here I’m going to tell someone and it’s going to be super awesome”. You show physical expressions of energy that talk about jumping around, like yelling. You say this, you sort of laugh or giggle because you like it so much. You think about how proud you were, specifically for experiences, positive experiences like winning some award and having some thing that you really like that you can be proud of. And finally, you really were just in the present, you were absorbed in that moment. So all the people who had these experiences of these things when you do stuff, it’s going to make you savor those activities. Even in simple things that I said like we’re joking about like the cookies we have here before you guys come in. But if you were thinking about this stuff during that, you would enjoy that experience more. They also look through at activities that kind of decrease or hurt savoring. Like things you can be thinking that make the experience less good, that make you savor it less well. They can increase hedonic adaptation. What are those? Well, the main ones that you see are cases where you’re not in the present moment, but you’re thinking about the future. So I’m focusing on the future. I’m think about what’s going to happen when it’s over. Like soon as this period is over and then we’re going to have another lecture, that’s a bad. Thinking about the future is bad. Reminding yourself it would be over soon, thinking that it wasn’t as good as you hoped. So finding some other reference point and be like it wasn’t as good as I thought, that can really mess you up, and remind yourself that nothing lasts forever. It’s never going to be this good again. I thought it always could be better. Or here’s another thing, that’s kind of the opposite of gratitude, like I told myself I didn’t deserve this good thing. Like a sure way to kind of make you feel bad. So what are we seeing? Getting out of the present moment, thinking like finding other social comparisons of why it’s not as good, and in particular as thinking you don’t deserve these things, these are bad and they’re going to reduce your savoring. So, try to kind of get more of the former and sort of less of the latter, and that’s going to promote you experiencing positive activities. Another kind of more controversial way to a savor, is one that folks like Kurtz and colleagues talk about, which is kind of taking images or literally taking pictures of this experience to enjoy it later. This is kind of instagramming your life. And so this is a mixed bag for two reasons. And the reasons are that, you can take photos and enjoy them in two different ways. You can be not being mindful and all these things and focusing on your photos, or you can be using your photos to see a different aspect of that thing that you are keeping. Learning about new and better properties within it. And so if you’re out on your vacation and you’re sort of worried about taking this awesome picture and you’re kind of not noticing anything, that’s really bad. But if you’re using the camera as just another lens through which to see things, you’re kind of doing the savoring. I’m so lucky to be here. Look even more beautiful, it’s just in my eyes I’m seeing it in a savoring way, that all of a sudden it can actually boost happiness. So if you’re an Instagrammer or if you’re the kind of person who is using SnapChat, using all these things to kind of think about your experiences, think about the way you’re doing that. Are you really doing those savoring things or is the act of taking the photos interfering with that? Those two give you very different ways of dealing with your own savoring. Finally there is nice work on thinking about savoring, not just in the moment when we are having this awesome positive experience, but savoring stuff that happened in the past. Your memories and bringing them back. Because it is the case that you can enjoy something in the here and now, but we have this wonderful technique as a human, where we can kind of pull up memories from the past and think about them again. And the act of doing that, and doing that as a habit seems to really increase happiness. And that’s what Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues did. They talked to students and they were asked to replay their happy memories in their mind for eight minutes a day, for three days a week. So you set your timer on your phone. You say for the next eight minutes, think about a really happy memory that you had. And their exact instructions are, think about the event as though you are rewinding a videotape and playing it back. So for the next eight minutes re-live the moment when you found out that you got into Yale. Or for the next eight minutes, pick something that was really fun and like the most fun activity you did in the last year at Yale and replay what that felt like. And like literally sit there and think about it. You might think that this is just kind of ephemeral thinking about this thing, eight minutes for three days said 24 minutes total shouldn’t do anything. But it turned out it had really huge effects on subjective well-being. In fact, the people in this study actually increased their positive emotions four weeks later. So four weeks later I survey you, and the idea is still then you’re having more positive emotions than if you didn’t do this intervention. So this is the idea of the power of savoring. Really experiencing our stuff in the moment, and thinking about it and being there and being present can help us. And even if you missed it then, kind of going back and replaying the good stuff can actually lead to happier moments. So that’s one way to break your adaptation. Be there, be present, recall it back so it comes back. You haven’t gotten used to it and then that’s a great way to kind of feel better. The next one is what researchers and folks refer to as sort of negative visualization. You’re kind of thinking about the reverse that could have happened. And the best example of this is the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. So you see It’s A Wonderful Life this holiday movie. But basically the plot is Jimmy Stewart kind of imagines what his life would be like if he were never born, like if it had never happened. And he sees it like had he never been born all these really wonderful things wouldn’t have happened. And he couldn’t have affected people’s lives in a positive way and so on. Sounds cheesy, but it turns out that these like cheesy Jimmy Stewart movies were kind of on to something. That actually doing the habit of negative visualization, thinking about what things would have been if they didn’t go that way, can cause you to kind of break out of your hedonic adaptation because you realize, wow I really do enjoy these things, and you’re kind of back at the top of the curve. And this is what Koo and colleagues did. They did this in the context of romantic relationships. Another spot where we see lots of hedonic adaptation. And they brought couples in, and for 15 minutes they had to write about how they might have never met their partner. And they have this prompt, that’s like you know things in life are just kind of ephemeral. Think of the ways like all the things that could have gone wrong where you’d never met your partner. It’s such a surprise that you got together, so unlikely. Talk about all these other worlds you might not have met them. And then they ask all these measures of subjective happiness, how much you love your partner and so on. In contrast, the controls just wrote about how they met. So tell me how you met? And think about that. But you’re not thinking about the possibility that wow, there was a huge huge probability that I might not have met this person ever. What did they find? Well, what they find is when you look at happiness ratings both of marriage and subjective happiness in general, when you wrote about how it might not have been, you’re getting much higher happiness ratings than in the control where you just write about how it happened. You’ve been boosting your happiness ratings by about a whole point on this scale, which is pretty huge. And so you guys can kind of do that too. You can think about, you can really like literally go home and write about how you might not have gotten into Yale. What are the subtle things that could have gone wrong, that made you just not get in here? You’d be at a different place, and what would that mean for the friendships you made or the stuff that you learned or all the stuff that you got out of this place? You know by just a small quick of luck of a draw. Some of you might not have wound up in Silliman. What a tragedy that would be if you didn’t like get this awesome courtyard and so on. I might not have wound up in Silliman. A year later, I might have been the head of like Franklin or Murray, or something terrible like that, but you might not, apologies those in the room, but you might not have met your suitemates. What was the luck of your draw, that let you just happen to me these particular people, become friends with those particular people? Right? All of these things sound a little cheesy, but the act of doing them does an important psychological thing, which is that, it breaks you out of the here and now. You’re at this point of adaptation with being here at Yale, knowing your friends, being in this college, whatever. And having the moment where you do this, can pop you out of it in this really powerful way. A similar thing to do, although it works in a slightly different way, is this strategy of pretending as though this day was your last. And I don’t mean your last in terms of like you have a terminal illness, and you have to think about why everything’s great, I’m talking about for specific situations in your life, what if those situations were going to end, in like a real way? What if, for example, tomorrow was you were to lose this thing that you loved a lot? The act of being just about to lose something, where you’re just going to let the balloon go, that’s the moment where you really tend to realize it. And you can simulate and frame the things in your life like that. What if, fast-forward, like in two more days it’s graduation. Like in two more days, you’re leaving Yale, right? What are the feelings you’re having? What are the things that you’re going to miss? How would you think about that? This is exactly the manipulation that researchers use, not at Yale, but at UVA. But I’ll give you the Yale version. Kurtz presented it to students, he actually did this with seniors at UVA who were just about to graduate. And he framed thinking about how happy they were, and how much they loved their friends, and how much they love their classes, either in the normal way, where you just think how much do you like that stuff or as something that was about to go away very soon. And so, he said, you will be taking part in this ten minute writing exercise, you’re going to write on topics related to your Yale college experience. As you write, keep in mind that you either have a short amount of time, or a significant amount of time left to spend at Yale. And he noted, in fact, you have, only, because these are seniors, twelve hundred hours which feels like, oh my God, I’m going to leave really soon. Or a quarter of a year left, which kind of feels longer because it’s a year versus seconds. So he’s framing it either like, it’s going to end really soon, or you have a lot of time left. And seniors in the room, just a reminder, you actually have about double that amount of time. You have about 2,400 hours left to be a Yale student. So let that sink in and leave here appreciating this place. But the question is, as they wrote that, did the students appreciate things more? And so here’s what they find, and you plot subjective well-being. This is if I just sort of ask you to talk about a typical day in the middle. So like you just talk about your day, it kind of doesn’t change very much. If I frame things like you’re graduating far away, your happiness actually goes down from pre to post-test. But if I tell you, look, you’re graduating soon, you have to think about all the good things, your friends and so on. Then all of a sudden your subjective happiness is bumping up. Thinking about losing something is the clearest way to pop out of your hedonic adaptation because you’re putting your attention on what is going to be like not to have that and then all of a sudden the good things start popping up because you worry about losing those. And so that is kind of a technique of negative visualization. You’re holding this thing, what would it be like if you didn’t have it? And so finally we’re going to end this section with thinking about one of the most powerful techniques for thwarting your adaptation. We’ll see also a powerful technique for resetting your reference points and that’s the phenomena of gratitude. What do we mean by gratitude? Well, we’re going to define it here as a quality of being thankful, and this tendency to be appreciative of the things that you have. Like you take the things you have and you not only notice them, but you feel this real sense of thankfulness that you have it. And so, it seems like we go through thanksgiving and we think about what we’re grateful for and it’s just kind of a thing. But it turns out that it has incredibly powerful psychological effects. Even just the act of listing a few things that you’re grateful for during the day. And this was a super famous paper by Emmons and McCullough where they first looked at this. They said, really could this actually change people’s subjective well-being, just literally writing down five things that you’re happy about in your life. And so here is the prompt they used with subjects, they said look there are many things in our life, both large and small, that we might be grateful about. Think back over the past week and write down on the lines below five things in your life that you’re grateful for. Just like one, two, three, four, five, just write this, and you do this once a week, for a few weeks. You’re either in that condition or you’re in a condition that sounds funny, but I think this is what we tend to list all the time, like when we’re hanging out with friends or in the dining hall, which is the hassles condition. So these folks said, look, hassles are irritants things that annoy or bother you. They occur in various domains of life including relationships, work, school etc. Think back over today and in the lines below give us the five hassles that occurred to you, right? I feel like this is the thing you complain about with your friends in the dining hall but you’re like, listing these five hassles. And just have a control, they actually just had you doing events continues kind of boring. So, what were some events that took place over the last week? Just write a few things that had an impact on you down. And when you find in this condition is, sometimes people will put positive things, sometimes they put negative things, kind of doesn’t matter. Because the power of the approach is that gratitude seems to increase subjective well-being relative to these other cases. So if I ask you later having done this once a week for a week, how do you feel your life as a whole is going? You get almost a half a point higher, your whole life as a whole is going better. If you think about what you’re grateful for. If I ask you, how do you think the upcoming week is going to go, have you think into the future of how you think things are going to go, get almost a half a point higher with gratitude. Interestingly, if you have any negative physical symptoms, if you’re sick or you have things bothering you, those symptoms go down when you’re feeling grateful. Just kind of crazy that you can actually feel better. But you also put your body through better things, you take better health habits in general. So if I look at just the number of hours you exercise, you’re getting almost a whole hour of extra exercise just because you’re thinking about the things that are grateful. And here’s the power of this gratitude manipulation. Is that it’s affecting all kinds of things that it shouldn’t affect. Writing down five things that you’re grateful for, probably you don’t have the intuition that it’s going to affect how much you want to exercise in the morning, but the data suggest it’s going to pop you into wanting to exercise a whole extra hour every week, just because you’re more grateful. It’s pretty crazy. In addition, what we know is that the act of taking gratitude to one next level, not just experiencing it yourself but sharing it, can be even extra powerful. In addition to just writing these five things down, if some of the things you’re grateful for are other people, what if you actually told them? What if you actually shared like, look here, I’m really thankful for you, this means something to me, with other people. Could that have an effect? Well this is what Marty Seligman did. He uses this intervention that he calls a Gratitude Visit. Which is that in addition to writing down what you’re thankful for, you literally write a letter to somebody about how grateful you are. It doesn’t have to be long and it can just be like, you did this nice thing for me, this really meant something to me. And you actually physically go give it to that person. Does that increase happiness? And does that have a longstanding effect? Well this is what he did, here’s the prompt from the gratitude visit. In the next week your to write a letter of gratitude to somebody who’s helped you or has been especially kind to you, but you never properly thanked them. And you just deliver that letter to the person in question. And it’s best if you do this physically don’t e-mail them, actually physically show up and hand it to them. And what does he find? Relative to some placebo control where you’re thinking about things that make you happy and so on. If you look at pretest there’s no differences in those condition. The white bars and the gratitude visit. Here is immediately post test. There’s a huge increase in happiness, but the amazing thing is that this increase in happiness sticks around for a long time. So you visit last week, but a week later, two weeks later, one month later, even barely three months later, you’re still seeing this effect of that visit. This one short visit of expressing gratitude, can increase your subjective well-being for a long, long time. This is the power of not just experiencing gratitude but sharing that with other people. And this kind of thing can increase subjective well-being not just in the context of how you feel, it can actually enhance your personal relationships such as in the context of actual romantic relationships like marriage and so on. And so researchers have been looking at whether or not you can use gratitude as an intervention to fix some marital problems that come up. One is a problem of communication, when people aren’t communicating with others they have these behaviors where one spouse is reaching out and other spouse is not paying attention and so on. You can categorize couples is like doing that bad communication a lot or not. Are they healthy communicators or not? And you can ask, does gratitude affect that? Can it prevent the problems that even bad communication can have in a marriage? And this is what Barton Et Al looked at. He plotted couples and their communicative styles, and then he looked at whether or not gratitude could help that. And so here’s what he finds. He’s plotting proneness to divorce. So this is the percentage increase that you have of being more divorce prone across these bad couple indicators. So whether you withdraw, so high withdrawers are worst communicators. And what he finds is that if you have a lot of gratitude, you can basically almost nullify the effects of all these other bad things that can happen in your marriage, bad aspects of communication and so on. And so the idea is that the folks who are feeling grateful, actually don’t see the effects of other bad things in their marriage. And this is just like having gratitude for your partner and being thankful that he’s there and expressing it, can actually fix other problems that happen to be there too. This happens not just in the context of marriage, but can also happen in a work context. So this is something you guys can use yourself, both in your jobs that you experience but also in other interactions you have with people, like doing problem sets together and so on. What Grant and Gino did was to try to see can just the simple expression of thanking somebody make them work harder? So if you’re at your job and your superior comes in and says, thank you so much, I really appreciate your hard work. Does that actually make you work harder? And in particular does it make you work harder in a volunteer context? You’re not getting paid extra, you’re just doing it out of the goodness of your heart. That was what they tested with fundraisers at a university. And half of those folks who are fundraising received this sort of note of gratitude from their superior. Their superior physically came in and said, look, I’m really grateful for your hard work, we sincerely appreciate your contributions to the university. And then they allowed these folks to stick around after and see if they would do extra calls beyond what they’re paid for to help the university. And what you find is that these fundraisers who received their gratitude increase their calls by 50 percent. So you’re increasing your work ethic by 50 percent. 50 percent more calls are happening just for the simple moment of one sentence, was like, thank you so much for all your hard work. It really increased it. So I have a moment to thank all our crew who comes here on their Sunday. Thank you guys so much for all your hard work.
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