Every week, the Fun Max team highlights a new psychological term to help William & Mary's students flourish. Our hope as student Wellness Ambassadors is that the campus community will use this information to be proactive about their wellbeing.
What is benefit finding?
Benefit finding is a skill that involves finding the positive aspects of a negative situation or experience. This positive coping mechanism helps decrease the negative impact of a stressful experience and promotes learning and growth. It is important to note that honoring our reactions to life experiences is essential, but for some mild annoyances, it can be useful to also see the opportunities within.
How can Benefit Finding make us happier?
We can practice benefit finding by looking for opportunities and things we are grateful for even though we may be upset. For example, Fun Max was looking forward to getting lunch with a friend, but they had to cancel at the last minute. He might be bummed to have lunch alone, but he can also look at the positive aspects of the situation. He could see the canceled lunch as extra time to catch up on work, call his family, or join some other friends he hasn’t talked to in a while. He could also recognize that he has been really busy and be grateful for some moments alone to enjoy his chicken nuggets.
For more on benefit finding:
What is Delayed Gratification?
It is worth the wait! It is with delayed gratification at least. Delayed gratification is the idea of delaying an immediate positive outcome in favor of receiving an even better reward later. In opposition to delayed gratification is instant gratification where you act on the impulse of immediate pleasure seeking. Research points to five domains of gratification delay you can engage in food, physical pleasures, social interactions, money, and achievement.
How to engage with Delayed Gratification?
Delayed Gratification is an investment in you! This could be anything from putting money in a bank and letting it collect interest or deciding to not watch another episode of a TV show in favor of studying to get a grade you are proud of. Any area of life where you can focus on your long-term goals and personal values is a great place to start! For example, Max decided to delay gratification by pushing back the desire to quit at hockey practice and instead keep training to be the best hockey player he can be!
What is emotional agility?
Emotional agility is the ability to recognize emotions and approach them with curiosity, without letting them take control. Everyone has negative or unhelpful thoughts and emotions, but the way we interact with those thoughts can have a huge impact on our wellbeing. To escape the pattern of ruminating and trying to push away uncomfortable thoughts requires emotional agility, where these thoughts are accepted but do not control behavior.
How can we develop emotional agility?
You can develop emotional agility first by simply noticing your thought patterns for what they are: angry thoughts, self-deprecating thoughts, stressed thoughts - and label them as such, just thoughts. Next, allow yourself to feel your emotions with acceptance. Lastly, act in accordance with your values after you are able to create some distance from the strength of the emotion. If the Canes lose a hockey game, Fun Max might feel really frustrated, but emotional agility would let him accept that he is upset without taking it out on others, or letting it ruin the rest of his day.For more on emotional agility: https://hbr.org/2013/11/emotional-agility
What is flow?
Have you ever been doing something you loved and lost all track of space and time? Flow, coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is used to describe a sense of total immersion and engagement in an activity. Flow activities are enjoyable, and challenging, and they deliver a sense of purpose. Flow is also referred to as optimal experience - engaging in flow regularly allows more opportunities for meaning, happiness, and fun!
How can we engage in more flow?
Flow can come from a variety of different activities depending on what is personally motivating and challenging. People in flow states are using their skills in a way that pushes them in an engaging activity. By recognizing and devoting time to the activities that create flow for us, we can create more engagement and fulfillment in our lives. When Fun Max plays hockey with friends, it feels like time is flying by! He gets to challenge himself to improve while also connecting with people who are important to him - which makes his day a lot more fun!
Learn more about Flow here: https://positivepsychology.com/theory-psychology-flow/
Fundamental Attribution Error
What is Fundamental Attribution Error?
Has that lazy classmate of yours still not done their part of the group project? But you know you were late to lecture because your car got stuck behind a colonial horse and buggy on Richmond Road. Fundamental Attribution Error is our tendency to blame others’ actions on their personal failings while seeing that our own actions are often the result of situational factors. Frustration with others for their actions or frustration for not understanding yours can be a major roadblock to our wellbeing.
Escaping Fundamental Attribution Error
Recognizing when we are engaging in these likely incorrect assumptions about others is the first step to creating a more balanced outlook. The best part about factoring FAE into our daily lives is that events don’t change, but our perspective does. In other words, understanding FAE gives us more control over how interactions affect our wellbeing. So, the next time Fun Max gets cut off while driving, he’ll just tell himself that the person probably needed to get somewhere in a hurry. It doesn't’t change that he got cut off, but it makes it less likely to ruin his day.
Learn more about FAE here: https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/the-fundamental-attribution-error
What is grit?
It’s a marathon, not a sprint… at least with grit it is. The concept of grit can be broken down into finding a passion and putting sustained effort into it. Grit was introduced into academic spaces by Angela Duckworth as a personal characteristic that predicts success when it matters most: when there are high stakes and personal investments. Grit isn’t simply talent, luck, or giftedness; it is a skill that needs to be cultivated over time. Time and time again, studies have shown that the grittier you are, the more successful you will be.
How can I become grittier?
Start by finding your passion. Take that yoga class, write that poem, and bake that cake! Whatever you are passionate about, pursue it! And keep pursuing it. Even when obstacles present themselves (and they will), rededicate yourself to your craft. Because your progress over perfection is what matters in the long run.
What is a Growth Mindset?
Wait watering my brain and pointing it toward the sun will grow my mind? Not quite, but a growth mindset can foster your success as a student and improve your wellbeing. Carol Dweck introduced the concept of a growth mindset, the belief that our mental abilities are not fixed and have the capacity to adapt to new challenges, and the opposite, a fixed mindset, where mental faculties and abilities are unable to change. A growth mindset is possible because of a previous Fun Glossary term: neuroplasticity! It’s all about how you mentally frame a situation or setback!
How to cultivate a Growth Mindset?
A growth mindset is not something you either have or don’t have, it is something you have to work at. Say for example Fun Max did poorly on a test and is feeling down. If he had a fixed mindset, he might believe that he isn’t very smart in that subject and doesn't’t have the ability to do well in that class. However, if he mentally reframes the situation as a minor setback and channels a growth mindset, he knows he can crush the next test by adjusting his study strategy. Like Fun Max, you can take on challenges with a growth mindset that can improve your academic performance and general outlook on life!
What is the Hedonic Treadmill?
The hedonic treadmill is the human tendency to continually chase one source of pleasure after the other. The novelty of a source of happiness fades, and we often find ourselves chasing good feelings that don’t last. Comparison, material objects, and sensory experiences tend to have short happiness lifespans, causing our search for happiness to become a sprint in place. So if after eating lots of donuts and buying all of the coolest new shoes, you don’t feel any happier, you may find yourself stuck on the hedonic treadmill.
How can we escape the Hedonic Treadmill?
If we think about our wellbeing as a numeric value from 1 to 10, hedonistic purchases, such as buying those new shoes, may cause momentary spikes in happiness. For example, if your base happiness is a 5 out of 10, a new purchase may shoot you up to 7 for a few days, but before too long, you’re back down to 5. Our time is better spent trying to raise our base level of happiness because that has a longer-lasting effect. There’s no single trick to do that but Fun Max encourages everybody to find out what works for them. For example, Fun Max was having a rough week and he thought buying a new hockey stick may console him, but he was actually better served to go to yoga and work up a sweat.
What is Negativity Bias?
Ever had a good day that was ruined by one bad thing? That’s because of negativity bias! All humans are engineered to respond to and focus on negative stimuli more than positive ones. In fact, it can take up to five positive interactions to outweigh a single bad one in our minds. In other words, being insulted once has the same impact on our wellbeing as being complimented five separate times. No wonder we all remember that one time we embarrassed ourselves in middle school!
How do we counteract Negativity Bias?
Luckily, being aware of Negativity Bias is already half the battle! Recognizing our mind’s tendencies while they happen helps mitigate their impacts on us. For example, the next time Fun Max cooks dinner for himself and his friends, instead of focusing on how terrible a cook he is, he should recognize that his brain is being mean to him and try his best to remember that he’s still getting to sit down and talk with his friends, (and that they’re polite enough to eat the food anyway).
What is neuroplasticity?
A lot of us think that our brains stop developing after we turn 30. However, that isn't actually true! In the past decade, neuroscientists have learned that our brains are plastic, and can change throughout our entire lives. When we spend time practicing something new, our brains go through three phases of development. First, the chemicals in our brains change to aid short-term memory. After some more practice, our neurons start connecting to each other in different ways, making this new skill easier next time. Eventually, our brains get so used to these new skills, that they function in an entirely new way.
How does Neuroplasticity affect our wellbeing?
This newfound ability to train our brains means we can teach them to be happier and healthier. Our brains respond much more when trying to learn something that matters because we feel rewarded when we succeed. So, every time we try something new, we get immediate benefits, but we also make it easier to feel fulfilled the next time. For example, Fun Max began practicing gratitude journaling six months ago. At first, he'd feel really happy when he thought of three good things in his day. Within weeks, he found it easy to list ten things a day. Now, a few months later, his practice has become ingrained into his worldview!
For more on neuroplasticity:
What is the PERMA+ Model?
Want a recipe for wellness? The PERMA+ model was introduced by Dr. Martin Seligman as intrinsically motivating elements that contribute to overall wellness individually. The model is as follows:
P: Positive Emotion
+: Add-ons such as physical activity, nutrition, and sleep
How to use PERMA+ to improve wellness?
Start by picking just one aspect of the PERMA+ model to focus on for a day at a time. Take engagement for example; maybe you sign up for a FitWell class or really try to be invested in your classes that day. For relationships, grab lunch with a friend and catch up on the good, bad, and ugly parts of life or call a family member. Over time, work up to incorporating all aspects of the model into your daily life, because evidence points out that each part of the PERMA+ model is associated with improved life satisfaction.
More information: https://positivepsychology.com/perma-model/#relationships
What is savoring?
To savor is to pay attention to and appreciate the positive emotions that come with an experience. This can take the form of past, present, and future; reminiscing about fond memories, focusing on a joyous experience, and anticipating a future exciting event can all be part of savoring. Savoring can also take varying levels of depth, from simply enjoying the positive experience, to converting it to a positive emotional state, to responding positively to the experience. Savoring can be applied to a multitude of experiences! One can savor ice cream, a compliment, spending time with friends, a funny joke, or an accomplishment - the possibilities are endless!
How can savoring make us happier?
Savoring amplifies positive emotions and is connected to a myriad of benefits. Savoring increases life satisfaction, happiness scores, self-esteem, and relationship quality. It has been shown to cause a decrease in depressive symptoms and reduce unpleasant emotions during stress. Some strategies for savoring something awesome are: staying engaged and aware in the moment, talking about your experience with a friend, expressing gratitude, and taking a mental picture of the experience. Fun Max practices savoring when he eats his Sadler soft-serve - after he’s loaded his cone up with sprinkles, Oreos, and chocolate syrup, he tries to appreciate how yummy his creation is - om nom!
For more on savoring: https://positivepsychology.com/savoring/
What is social buffering?
Social buffering is the ability of our social support groups to protect us from some of the negative impacts of stress on our physical and mental health. High-quality and varied social supports mediate our ability to be resilient and cope with difficult stressors. These supports could include family, friends, neighbors, and classmates.
How can social buffering make us happier?
Keeping in touch with friends, even during stressful times, prevents feelings of isolation and helps us cope. Reaching out to others has tangible effects on our wellness. For example, if Fun Max has a really bad day, he could sit alone in his room and listen to sad music, but he would be better able to deal with his stress by grabbing dinner with a friend and talking about what he’s dealing with.