You also don't often want to be in this cell which, it turns out, even though it's kind of relaxing, it's slightly more positive than boredom and apathy, it doesn't really feel that engaging, when you have super high skill but your challenge isn't that good. And the idea is that we want to do is seek out careers, activities, et cetera, that plop us in that state, that can kind of maxing out our skills at the right challenge level. The best moments really occur when a person's body and mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."
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Just as a reminder of where we were before and where we’re going, we started with misconceptions about happiness and why our expectations aren’t so good. Then we went to how we could overcome our biases. And now, we’re finally on the stuff that really makes us happy that you’ve been waiting for all week. Okay, so, starting us off. A quick moment to review. You’ve seen this a little bit before, but we have all these things we think we want. We’ve seen we don’t want them as much as we think, or if we want to make them good, we have to put these effortful practices in to get as much out of them as we want, right? And so, what’s going on? Well, we saw that this is this case of miswanting, that we tend to want the wrong things. We say, why does this happen? Well, it happens because of these crazy biases, these annoying features of our mind that mess us up. And last week, we talked about, “Okay, that’s great. But how can we overcome these annoying features? How can we not fall prey to these kinds of things?” And last week, we saw a couple of good things we can do. We can have strategies we can use to intentionally change our biases. And we talked about a couple of those strategies. One set of strategies is that we want to find ways to thwart our hedonic adaptation, we want to savor, we want to be grateful, we want to break off this natural process that makes us stop loving the things that we love. We saw good strategies to do that. We also saw strategies that we can use to reset our reference points, reframe things so that they seem better. Lots of strategies do that. But when we ended last time, we ended on this other annoying feature we didn’t immediately have an answer to, which is the fact that our mind is delivering to us intuitions about what we want that just seem to be wrong. And the question we ended with was this issue. How are there these things that we should be wanting that we don’t realize, and if there are those things, what are they? How can we want the stuff that’s really going to make us happy? And that’s what we’re going to tackle today, things you should be wanting but don’t currently want. And there are going to be kind of two flavors of these things that we’ll talk about today. One, I’m going to call these better ways of wanting. But one set of better ways of wanting are wanting the right parts of the things that we already do want. Those things that we wanted are there for some reason, like we all need a job, and we probably want to be in a relationship, and you’re taking these classes, and you need to do something about grades, and so on. Well, let’s find the right parts of those things. That’s going to be the first part of today’s talk. But then, we’re also going to get to the second part which is totally new things that many of you have not said that you wanted yet or don’t think you want yet that are actually going to give you a lot of bang for your buck; things that you don’t realize are really, really good but are the kinds of things that are going to have a much bigger impact on how happy you are. So let’s start with the stuff that we know that we want some version of, but we kind of get what part we want wrong. And we’ll jump back to one that we talked a lot about, this issue of how to think about a good job. I mean, we all need to probably have jobs unless you guys are independently wealthy. So we’re probably all going to do something for our careers. But what we’ve talked about is that the thing we think we want to get out of our job which is like higher and higher salaries, those things are not going to give us the happiness boost that we want. So, this raises a question. We’re all going to go out and get a job. What factors should be looking for in a job? What should we want when we seek out a job? And today, we’re going to talk about two different things. One is this phenomena you guys have experienced a little bit in your testing so far, which is that you should be seeking out jobs that kind of activate and let you use your signature strengths. And the second one, and then this one comes from a researcher, Martin Seligman. He’s one of the inventors of this field of positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He was the one that kind of first came along to talk about the importance of these, your signature strengths. And it’s in his book, Authentic Happiness, if you want to check it out. But in his book, he kind of catalogs the fact that there exist these things that he refers to as character strengths, and loosely defined, these are just kind of desires or disposition to act or feelings that seem to lead to this recognizable excellence or this instance of flourishing. They are these kind of virtues in the way that we act. Now, when we think about them, we’re like, “Oh, those are generally good things, generally good ways we could be spending our time”. And when Seligman first started looking at these, he noted as he kind of went through what these strengths could be, that they all seem to have these interesting features. They tended to be ubiquitous, so they’re kind of recognized across all different cultures. They tend to be fulfilling, so they need to be kind of things that aren’t just like traits that you have that are just willy nilly, they kind of lead to this lasting satisfaction. They tend to be morally valued in most moral systems of the world. They tend to be the kind of virtues that don’t make other people feel bad. So they’re not something that like you have and it kind of makes other people jealous or something. It’s like things that you can have that actually bring other people up. They seem to always have an opposite. So if you were to look in the dictionary, we would see one of the things that are these character strengths that would have a bad thing associated with it that was its negative. And they tend to be kind of trait-like in his research. They tend to be the kind of things that are stable in individuals over time. They are good for psychologists in that they’re pretty measurable. We can kind of identify these things. They tend to be distinctive, so they’re individual strengths that aren’t redundant with the other ones. And then they have these features of how they vary across people. There are people for each character strength that we can think of as like kind of paragons of that strength, so people who like really, really have it in some expert way. There are kids who we think of as prodigies of having these traits, so kids who show these things really early in life and really precociously. And there are also folks who like have a kind of selective absence of these traits. We can point to people who lack one of these characters strengths to some interesting extent. Finally, there are ones that seem to be really institutionalized in our schools and our religious institutions. We seem to value these things to some real extent. And so, Seligman’s goal is to say, “Okay, let’s find all the virtues that fit with this, try to identify them, measure them in people, and rank them to try to see how they work”. And when he did this, he came up with a whole set of these kinds of virtues. In fact, in total, he came up with 24 different character strengths that all kind of fit the bill for those stringent criteria. So here’s the kind of big list of them that’s not in the infographic form. Hopefully, some of you guys have seen all of these because one of the tasks that we’ve done in class is to actually measure your ranked order of these different character strengths. And hopefully, you guys have done this as part of this Virtues in Action character strength test where you go to and take this big survey that asks you about these different virtues, and it kind of spits out your own little profile that’s your kind of ranked order of all these different character strengths. And this, it turns out, according to Seligman, is really important. It’s not just that we have these things and we vary in them. We have some that are the ones that we consider most important, that matter most to us, and the ones that we show most strongly. And he referred to those things as your signature strengths, and just defined as these are the ones, these character strengths that are kind of not just that you have really strongly but that you feel are kind of essential to who you are. You feel as almost like meaningful when you think about them. And Seligman’s idea is, if we can identify different people’s signature strengths, and you could put those strengths into action, those are going to be the spots where you do best, you kind of show the most virtue, and the spots where you feel yourself flourishing the most. Those are activities and maybe even jobs and careers where you’re going to kind of experience the most meaning. And so, to test this, what he has done is a few instances where he’s kind of given people the task of just like, for a week, figure out what your signature strengths are first, and then for a week, use those strengths. Do different things that actually activate them in a new and different way. And so, here’s the prompt super simply: “Use one of your top strengths in a new and different way every day for one week”. And at the end of the week, subjects would have to come and give the list of which strengths they used and how they did it in a new way every single day. The neat thing about doing it in a different way every day is it’s kind of getting over the hedonic adaptation, you’re not just like showing gratitude or showing love of learning the same way everyday, you have to mix it up. And so you kind of get the most power there. And he then looked at how this affected happiness relative to some control where you just wrote about your experiences for the day. And so, here’s what we find. We’re going to plot happiness scores here, pretest and how this signature strengths intervention worked across different months. And what you find is that, relative to the pretest, at one month out, three month out, even six months out, you’re seeing happiness effects for this act of using your signature strengths over time. You’re kind of bumping up your happiness scores merely by consciously making sure you’re using your strengths. Even more powerful effects came when you looked at not just kind of your happiness score, your subjective well-being, but really looking at cases of depressive symptoms. So now, bigger bars has more depressed symptoms. When you look at that, you can see effects of this signature strength manipulation even six months out, and kind of relatively big effects, feeling like you’re using the signature strengths in action is going to reduce feeling depressed over time. And so, the idea is given that this is the kind of thing that seems to boost our happiness in our activities, could this be the kind of thing that we should be wanting in our careers? Like should we try to seek out careers that are either allowing us to use our signature strengths in a particular way or spots where we can actually employ these signature strengths even if the job itself doesn’t require them? And that’s what these researchers looked at. They actually had a big set of workers surveyed and they asked them about a couple of things. One is, they had them take these strength tests and they kind of measured and asked them, do you use your character strengths at work? And which ones do you use? How many do you use? And so on. And then they asked them other traits about how much they liked their career. Do you have satisfaction in your job? Are you being productive in your job? Do you experience positive affect when you’re at work? All these things. And what they find is that, as your use of your signature strengths go up, so, too, goes up your productivity and your job satisfaction. And the neat thing is they found what mediates that effect. In other words, what’s the thing that’s kind of causing that effect. And it seems like what it’s caused by is the fact that if you do this, you tend to experience positive emotions in your job, which makes you more productive, and makes you like your job more, and so on. So just the mere act of making sure you’re intentionally using these things seems to make your job kind of more fun for you in a better place. This was followed up on in what I think is a really cool way, which is a set of researchers who asked this question, what makes a particular job a calling? So we could think of some job that we have just calling it a job that we’re doing to have money. We can think of a career which is kind of like more a long term thing. Or we can think of what we’re doing as like a true calling, like it’s this part of our identity; it gives us meaning. What turns a job into that? And their hypothesis, as you might guess, is that it has to do with your signature strengths. And so to test this, they tested the number of signature strengths that people used in their job throughout the day. The idea is you could use one, like say you have a love of learning, maybe you’re using that one, you have creativity, you’d have other things. And so, what they find is that they’re tracking the number of strengths individuals are using on the X-axis, and on the Y-axis, all kinds of scores about positive affect and productivity on the job. And what they find looked something like this. So as the number of strengths you use goes up, so, too, does all your reports of positive affect. And they also found, there seems to be the sweet spot and using four of your highest seven strengths for whatever reason. Seems like if you can kind of put them together and this nice little note of a bunch of strengths that once, it gives you this big boost. And so, the neat thing is not only did this increase positive experiences at work, but if you use some fancy statistical techniques, known as mediation models, you can find that not only does using your strengths increase your positive experiences at work, but both using your strengths and those positive experiences tend to contribute to you thinking your job is a calling. Basically, the idea is, the more and more signature strengths you use, typically, this awesome point around four, the more likely it is that you call your job not a job but a calling. And so, if you want to find a job that’s a calling, it might not be a particular thing. It might just be finding ways to use multiple of your signature strengths at once, which is kind of cool. Merely using these things is kind of making you feel like that’s your dream job, which is pretty cool. And so, that is one thing that I think we don’t think about often when we’re looking through a job. What we really want to do to get the job that’s our dream job that’s going to give us positive affect, job satisfaction, and so on, is just pick one in which we can use our signature strengths. And the cool thing is, you guys have seen from using your signature strengths and thinking about them is that there’s lots of different ways we can use them and lots of possible jobs in which we can do that. So, it really buys us a certain amount of flexibility to think about how we’re using them. So that’s factor one that seems like actually is the thing that makes your job feel meaningful. The second thing that seems to increase satisfaction on the job is finding jobs that give us what I’m going to call flow. And flow comes from a concept invented by the positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which is how you say his name I think, but he has a fantastic book on flow, which he refers to as the optimal experience. So what is flow? Some of you might be able to guess from the term. But it’s this idea that we have this mental state in which you’re performing an activity where you are fully immersed, where you feel energized, focused, you’re fully involved, and you’re enjoying it as you go. It’s like being in the zone. It’s like this period where you’re so losing track of time in this deep enjoyment of something. And so, some of you who participate in sports activities might experience flow there, particularly, if you’re expert in some of these things. Some of you students were on the ski trip yesterday, so, I hope some of you experienced flow maybe when you’re skiing if these things were going well, maybe not if things weren’t going well. This is the thing that athletes report experiencing when they’re at peak performance and performing super well. Musicians can talk about this, but this is also the kind of thing that we experience when we are working sometimes, and the work that we’re doing is just like feeling on. Like we’re losing track of time. It just feels really good. And so, researchers have tried to document what are some of the features of flow. And it’s hard, because it’s this esoteric thing you kind of know it when you’re feeling it. How many from this description feel like they’ve felt that in something that they’ve done in their life? Okay, so lots of guys. So, here’s some features of it. It feels like you’re doing something that’s challenging, so your attention is engaged, but it seems manageable. It’s not kind of stressing you out, you’re just doing it at your peak level. It also seems like you’re just really, really focused on concentrating on the activity. You’re incredibly in the moment. The activity is also in it of itself, intrinsically rewarding. You’re not doing it to get some grade or get some performance. You’re just loving it while you’re doing it. You have this feeling of serenity when you’re in that moment. You can even lose a sense of self-consciousness. You often lose track of time passing. So, you do this activity for a while and then you realize, “Whoops, two hours went by. What’s going on?” And that means that sometimes, when you’re doing this, you can lose awareness of your physical needs. So, you come up for air and you’re like, “Gosh, I haven’t eaten or gone to the bathroom in like forever. I should deal with that”. But the most important thing is that you have this complete focus on the activity itself, like you’re completely in the moment. And so, this is flow. And the question is really, okay, it seems pretty awesome, how do I pick activities that achieve that? What is the sweet spot where we start to feel in the moment so much when we’re feeling in flow? And what Csikszentmihalyi has looked at is the kind of relation that flow has to this task you’re doing, the challenging-ness of that task, and the amount of skill you bring to it. And so, he comes up with this cool graph where it’s like we’re plotting how hard the activity is on the Y-axis, from really low, it’s super easy to super, super challenging. And also, how much skill you bring to the table, whether you don’t have that much skill in it or you have lots of high skill. And the idea is that we want to be in certain points on this graph to experience flow. Some of the things he talks about are bad states, when you’re low in skill or low in challenge, that can lead you to apathy or boredom. Those aren’t states that when I experience, sample you, you’re feeling good about, you’re kind of not liking those activities very much. There’s the one that I think Yale students wind up in a cell up there a lot, which is that you have high challenging things, but you don’t feel like you have the skills to do them so that produces a lot of anxiety. It’s not just high challenge states, you have to feel you have the skills to do them, and it’s really feeling like you have them, saying many of you have them, that’s a side point. But you don’t want to be in that cell. You also don’t often want to be in this cell which, it turns out, even though it’s kind of relaxing, it’s slightly more positive than boredom and apathy, it doesn’t really feel that engaging, when you have super high skill but your challenge isn’t that good. What you want to do is zoom in on that sweet spot at the top. Even better than being aroused but not really having a skill or feeling under control, is this point where your skills are getting tested by the max challenge. And that is flow. And the idea is that we want to do is seek out careers, activities, et cetera, that plop us in that state, that can kind of maxing out our skills at the right challenge level. And so, he has his wonderful quote about this where he notes, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing ones. The best moments really occur when a person’s body and mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”. You’re not being forced to do it. Your skills are at their max pushing level to accomplish something that you really dig, that you find intrinsically rewarding. And so, can we actually see this in the context of people’s jobs? I think this is another spot where our predictions, our forecasts about what we like, seemed to actually be wrong. And there’s a lovely study looking at this which actually just does this experience sampling to test when are people most in flow. When are they most in this state that they really are getting something out of? And so, in this study, a bunch of workers were surveyed during their day. This experience sampling, basically, at the time in the 80s when the study was run, you have a Pager. Nowadays, you have an App on your phone. It pings you and it just says, “How are you feeling?” And it asks you certain questions. But it turns out this is a really good way to tap into people’s moment by moment feelings and happiness. And so, they did this during people’s days when they are at work, when they are at home, when they’re watching Netflix, whatever they were doing, and they get lots of data. And so, the questions they ask in this case are, “How are you feeling? How much are you concentrating? And what would you rather be doing? Would you rather be doing something else?” And so, they’re measuring people’s happiness, they’re measuring people’s challenge, but they’re also asking people’s prediction of what you would rather. Here’s the interesting thing they find. For most folks who are having interesting jobs is that when they’re at work, they describe being happy, they’re in this high challenge situation, they’re really being challenged, but probably because they’re at that job, their skills are about the right fit to handle it. And they actually report having these feelings of efficacy, feelings of self-confidence. They don’t ask them about flow but what people are reporting are those states. Basically, you are more likely to be at flow when you’re at work, because those are the times where you face these challenges and so on. For you guys, you’re most likely to be at flow when you’re doing some challenging academic activity because that’s what’s challenging your skills. The interesting thing, though, is that when people were surveyed when they were doing leisure, they’re watching Netflix, or they’re sitting around joking, whatever, those are things where folks are reporting that they’re experiencing low challenge, and often don’t have the skills to be doing that sort of thing. And when you ask people how they’re feeling, you haven’t pointed out to them, “Hey, you’re at leisure, this is great. How are you feeling?” You just ask, “How are you feeling?” People report like well, they have some apathy and some boredom. When you’re really sitting around clicking through Netflix shows and you haven’t decided what you want to watch, you’re not often in a really good state. The amazing thing though is that these often are the states that we are choosing to put ourselves in. When we have free time, we often do these boring, low skill, low challenge kinds of things that doesn’t actually make us very happy. And we can see that even in this dataset, because as I noted, they also asked subjects, “What would you rather be doing?” And what folks, by and large said, if they’re at work, they would rather be at leisure. They would rather be choosing the kinds of things they could do. But in practice, it seems like the leisure is not making folks very happy. By the same token, if you ask, “Would you prefer to keep doing what you’re doing?” If they’re at leisure, they say, “Yes, I prefer to keep watching Netflix. I don’t want to go to work”. But if you’re at work, you say, “No, I want to get out of here as soon as possible”. And this is just an interesting disconnect, where it seems like we’re not very good at predicting the kinds of things that are actually making us happy. Like being at work and doing problem sets and doing the stuff you guys complain about are probably actually, in the moment, giving you a little bit more feelings of flow and feelings of getting your challenges accepted and feeling meaning in that, than a lot of your leisure. And so, the message from this is your homework’s not so bad or your job is probably not so bad. It’s particularly not bad if you can find ways to challenge yourself at that sweet spot of your skill set. The other message from this is that sometimes the leisure activities we choose are more apathetic and boring than we think. If we could have leisure activities that allowed us to gain more skill and challenge us a bit more, we probably would like that a little bit more as well. And so, that is the data that we’re getting on what makes a good job. What we really want to be looking for are our signature strengths, and also thinking of activities that would give us some flow. So that’s the case where we want this thing but want it for the wrong reasons. Those are good reasons to seek out, good reasons to want stuff, stuff that we should be seeking out.
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