Ten Years Ago I Had a Dream

Fall 2000-Spring 2001 I was in NYC, struggling to adjust to new culture and find ways to go to grad school. In the summer of 2001 I made a friend, who got killed two months later in a car accident. When I learned about her death, I was in California, on a spontaneous trip from San Fran to Los Angeles. Running out of money, I couldn’t continue my trip even further, so I remember getting to the Los Angeles Airport and buying a $100 ticket in cash to New York, where I still had some of my stuff. It was the 10th of September 2001.

What is really strange, I remember being on the plane and having the feeling of detachment and emptiness. I wasn’t afraid of anything happening on the flight, as I had nothing to lose, I thought. In a way I didn’t see any meaning in my life. I was just passing by.

When I arrived in New York, I went straight to my friend’s place, who lived in Brooklyn. In the morning of Sept 11, I was still sleeping when the land line phone rang. I didn’t want to pick it up but to continue sleeping. The answering machine was on and I heard my friend saying: “Marina, wake up, wake up, the war has started”. I immediately picked up the phone and still not completely awake tried to understand what she was saying. She told me about the first tower going down. And then I turned TV on and learned the whole story: the terrorist attack on America. My friend’s apartment was in the basement of a small house, the owners, an Orthodox Jewish family, lived upstairs. According to their religion they didn’t watch TV, but on that day, the couple came to watch TV too. We all wanted to know what will happen to the country, to us, to the whole world. We felt horror, grief, shock and fear. We felt compassion for all. As I stepped outside the house, in the middle of the day there were no sun, only grey clouds covering the sky and pieces of ash falling down on us. It did look like the end of the world.

I was scared and wanted to escape, to go back to Massachusetts, but couldn’t do it for several days as all public transportation was shut down between cities .When I finally made it back to the Vineyard, I met up with a friend of mine who knew Lena, the one who died in the car accident. That friend said that we should not worry about Lena, as she definitely went to heaven, not hell. Still horrified by the latest events, I was thinking too much about Lena, the victims of 9/11 and myself… How unfair their deaths are. Who decides who will die or who will live? Are we worth living?.. And right after our conversation I had a dream:

I’m in the office, there are people around me, who are working. I’m doing something as well, probably, work too. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a man dressed as a government official comes to me and says: “Your time is up, you have to go.” Taken by surprise I couldn’t help but ask in return: “Already? And who decided? Where, to hell?” He doesn’t answer, which I interpret as “not heaven”. I try again by asking: “Is it final?” He quietly says: “Yes”. All I could say is “I don’t agree, I demand to see a decision maker”. He, definitely surprised by this turn in our conversation, pauses but then gives me a sign to follow him. I enter some private office, the messenger man leaves and the door closes behind him. And in there I see another man, more established, in gray suit, sitting at the desk. He doesn’t speak, because he knows that I asked for this audience and I’m the one who will be speaking.

I don’t even remember how but I sat in a chair in front of the table and full of emotions I started my emotional speech.”Why do you think that it is my turn that came? Is it because I didn’t do any good deeds in this lifetime? Because I only wasted my time given to me? If I haven’t done anything so far, that doesn’t mean that I will not do anything in the future. You are supposed to give everyone a chance. There are circumstances and a person may experience difficulties, but that doesn’t mean that she is not capable of anything good. I know that I have a lot ahead of me. And may I ask what kind of right do you have to deprive me of my life, when my parents are alive? My mother told me that she will not be able to survive the death of her children. Did you think about consequences of your decision? That by ending my life you will end the life of my mother?”

All that time the man in gray suit, who was the boss of that department or the chief of death, and on whose decision depended whether I’ll live or die, didn’t look at me even once. He was busy writing something in his notebook. I couldn’t see what he was doing exactly or what his was writing. Maybe he was taking notes about my life, or was studying my life case. I was scared as I thought he was calculating and weighing what I’ve done more in my life – good or bad. In every moment he could stop me and say “Enough, your case is closed, not sufficient evidence to let you live…”

And suddenly, I saw him put his notebook on the desk and I peeked in it. In front of me in this whole grayish setting I saw on the paper a big red heart that the man drew while I talked. And in that moment I realized that I’m allowed to live more but under condition that I create more good things in my lifetime. And I woke up.

The Quest for Personal Significance

Another topic I was interested to learn more about is what drives terrorism? At the 119th American Psychology Convention there were several lectures on terrorism and I attended one of them, here are my notes:

In most cases, terrorism is not a psychological disease; it’s not conditioned by economic factors or political oppression. Personality and situational factors are related to terrorism. Key words are dogmatism, rigidity and dependency.

Behavior is goal driven, and it could be explained by:

1.Psychological state – the tipping point (black widows of Chechnya)

2.Theologies (sacred values)

3.Social networks

Slippery slope, love, risk and status, unfreezing, group grievance, personal grievance…

Some need to do more about emotions. Humiliation is significance suffering.

So is it all about emotions or meaning or beliefs?

Action and opinion pyramid:

– At the top of the opinion pyramid – people who feel they have to act,

– In the middle – those who have opinion (they justify),

– And in the bottom – those, who have no opinion.

At the top of the action pyramid are the most violent, then activists, then supporters, then in the bottom those who do nothing, and it is all conditioned by beliefs and attitudes.

The quest for personal significance:

– Loss of significance (loss of honor, exclusion, humiliation,)

– Threat of significance (loss, kamikaze)

– Significance gain (quest for immortality)

You feel part of the group and regain significance due to collective shift:

– Personal failure and collectivism

– Less fear of death if collective

– If failure then identify aim interdependence

Insignificance issue is when you feel sinful compared to your values/beliefs.

Right after that lecture I went to the Crime and Punishment museum, I liked the exhibits, but what I thought the museum needs is deep analysis on why people commit crime, especially murder. The majority of killers are not psychologically sick, more often they have experienced some trauma in the past and were not able to recover, as they lack resilience, so they suffer and try to get revenge, or in their words to gain significance. That would also explain instances of teenagers killing their classmates – lack of personal significance according to their values.

Let’s now go back to suicide. From Martin Seligman lecture, we remember that suicide is linked to the lack of meaning in person’s life. What about depression? It is the same. When you have nothing that drives you and fulfills you, nothing that makes your day worth living for, you lose interest in life, and everything turns in black and white movie that you have no control over, you are just a by-stander hoping it all passes soon.

So there are four main components people may struggle with and need help:

  1. Values/Beliefs – should be achieved through education
  2. Resilience – need to teach resilience at schools, as we all in our lives encounter some problems, even traumas, but we need to know how to overcome them
  3. Personal Significance/Meaning – need to teach how to recognize and engage in meaningful activities in our lives
  4. Social Support – need to create and teach social support groups

So the moral of the story: don’t commit suicide or kill others, just discover your life’s meaning, and believe me, it is not that difficult to do, you just need to start searching.

The Happy Movie Review

Another highlight of the 119th American Psychology Convention in Washington, DC was the “Happy” movie. It was full of lessons, cutting edge findings and real life examples. Some things I already knew but to see them again as a confirmation of my knowledge on this topic was very uplifting. There were a lot of quotes from happiness studies and at the same time it was engaging and moving. And yes, I was taking notes, wiping off my tears during the most sad parts and savoring every moment of “Happy”.

Several books on happiness and their authors were mentioned, including Happiness and How to measure it, Flourish, Anatomy of an epidemic, etc.

Current research shows that in our happiness:

50% – genetic, 10% – circumstances, 40% – intentional (you choose)

Variety is a spice of life, so we should try different things, and various things make us happy. For some it is physical activity or being close to nature, for others – spending time with their children or pursuing a hobby. Being engaged in a flow is what makes us happy. Example, fulfilling your creativity need by composing music.

Daniel Gilbert says “you can’t predict happiness”, so you might as well enjoy what you like now instead of chasing what you think might make you happy tomorrow.

The most shocking moment of the movie was a story of a beautiful woman, who got into a car accident and was severely injured, especially her face. Some people spend their lives trying to understand why … “why did it happen to me?”, others say – “I don’t need to understand, I just need to make a choice to move on”.

That woman was able to find courage to continue with her life and take care of her child, even though she lost her husband. She found courage to live, to move on, even though it was not easy, and now she is married again and her husband calls her pretty.

The most important is close support of family and friends, not focus on external (image, status, money), but intrinsic values (personal growth, relationship, community, meaning, change the world).

Speaking of values, a lot of it has to do with cultural background. Japan is the least happy among most developed nations. And it turns out that they cultivate Karōshi (過労死) – work to death or jobs for life or death. So people literary become workaholics to the detriment of their own health and wellbeing. In a culture like that people need to create support for anyone who wants to be happy, they need mass media to avert attention from material success to success of a different kind. Otherwise they compromise happiness of all of their citizens. GDP is not enough, there should be other measures to help understand life and what is really important. If not happiness it could be contentment.

What is the most happy country on Earth? Is it Bhutan that really cares about spirituality, physical exercise, community and human/nature balance? Or is it Denmark with free education and medicine, and popular co-housing communities with shared amenities and values?

In contract to the main island of Japan, one community in Okinawa is a small one. There is something different about it. They have a big number of over 100 year olds. They sleep a lot, farm, drink sake, talk to grandkids, give vegetables to neighbors, communicate with others via dance, music, getting together for tea. In that village they are one family. “When you meet someone for the first time you are already brothers and sisters. We really see with our hearts.” Happiness is having a lot of friends. It is social interaction.

I found another review of this movie and the episode about Benicia middle school is best described here:

“One especially moving section of the film for me was a demonstration of how love and connectedness can replace bullying in a school. Michael Pritchard, an emotional healer and stand-up comic, was shown giving a class on cultivating emotional intelligence to an assembly of middle-school children. He asked students to get up and tell their feelings about being bullied. As a result, there was an immediate and profound transformation from separateness to connectedness in the whole room.” Indeed, we all win together.

One volunteer in India said that fashion is not important to him anymore, sweetness is in helping someone, meaning is in what he does and that it is important for others. Life is precious, when someone cares about you.

We can change our brain and its reaction by education and experiences to learn love. Gratitude journals, acts of kindness, loving kindness meditation… Complete interdependence with each other and nature, laughter, the value of compassion… When we cultivate them – we can change our brain. There is more in life and to life.

It is all about gratitude, compassion, love, altruism and building blocks of happiness. Check it out for yourselves: http://www.thehappymovie.com/

At the end of the movie, the formula for happiness was mentioned, simply that every person will find its own. I was really happy to hear that as I’m working exactly on the customized version of the formula so I wanted to talk to the Happy team about it. To my surprise the young man I spoke to was very unenthusiastic and skeptical, he said that too many people approach the team with the same idea, they all claim that they found the right formula and it’s the only one and that they want it to be mentioned in the movie or promoted somehow. The Happy team guy thinks that it is impossible to measure every person’s happiness and do it in one formula correctly…Even though I tried to explain my approach, he quickly dismissed it.

He said if you want to help promote the movie, feel free. I already did it voluntarily by posting a note on my blog and by coming to the Convention just to see the movie as I knew it would be featured. I wish the director Roko Belic was there so that I could talk to him instead. For now, I’m still perfecting my formula for happiness to be ready for the big audience and correctly measure our state of happiness. Yes, we can measure our happiness and increase it. Stay tuned 🙂

119th American Psychology Convention Highlight

I didn’t make it to the Second World Congress on Positive Psychology this summer, but I decided to attend the 119th American Psychology Convention in Washington, DC on Aug 4-7, 2011. It was overwhelming to say the least to choose right workshops and talks among hundreds of them every day.

One of the highlights of the Convention to me was the talk by the founder of Positive Psychology Martin Seligman. Here are some of my notes from his talk:

Human goal is not to be miserable and national goal is wellbeing of all citizens. Seligman’s new book Flourish presents up-to-date view of positive psychology which is different from the original called Authentic Happiness. Instead of three, there are five components – positive emotions, engagement, relationship, meaning and accomplishment (PERMA).

Accomplishment (progress, competency and responsibility) and positive relationships are new to this view of positive psychology which is focused on well-being rather than happiness. Each of the components is measurable, teachable, gameable and buildable, either online or via mobile. All should be built into therapy and educational curriculum at schools.

GDP is inversely related to happiness (that was new to me). Positive emotions include optimism and positive health, including mental health and physical health (lack of disease).

The US Army asked him to help develop training on building resilience, positive attitude, and create ways to identify the strongest candidates to invest more time in their training and promotion!

So Penn Resilience Training (PRP) was created. It was decided to change negative literature to positive literature. Interesting finding based on the results of the test is people who were in the bottom 1% of life meaning satisfaction were the ones who would commit suicide in the next year or two.

Another research finding – self-discipline/resilience is higher on strength list than intelligence. The army management wants to know who has grit and who never gives up. Consequently, those will have the most accomplishments and will most likely be promoted to generals. There is correlation between resilience and meaning.

Gallop wants to have PERMA dashboard vs. single measure. Seligman also works with Google to see if there are changes in search words for PERMA (media and data mining). There are also ways to have subjective vs. objective measures of your wellbeing (others evaluate it for you). There will be development of the right lexicon for Perma games.

Seligman launched Flourish 51 program, but unfortunately he will not be around to see the results of it in 51 years, but he hopes that others will carry the torch of positive psychology after him.

Next Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: