Home All In-the-News: Happy Lives, Self-Control, and the Opposite of Placebo

In-the-News: Happy Lives, Self-Control, and the Opposite of Placebo

written by Editor S.M. 16 May 2009

Senia Maymin is the founder and editor-in-chief of PositivePsychologyNews.com. She was the series editor for the Positive Psychology News book series that recently published the first book, Resilience: How to Navigate Life's Curves. (Bio, Articles)

Three major articles this week about positive psychology: The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and New Scientist. If you want to stay in-the-know about the latest findings, here are three intriguing and well-written articles.

  • The Atlantic What Makes Us HappyWhat Makes Us Happy? by Joshua Wolf Shenk
    The Atlantic, June, 2009
    George Vaillant’s decades of research on healthy lifetimes, including details on healthy adult defense mechanisms. This article really comes to life in three ways:

    • Video interview with George Vaillant
    • Glimpses into peoples’ lives that author Shenk pulls from Vaillant’s books and actual cases studies
    • Intersection of the researcher and the research: how does one study a group of people for 72 years? George Vaillant and the study
  • New Yorker Don’tDon’t! The Science of Self-Control by Jonah Lehrer
    The New Yorker, May 18, 2009
    This article features positive psychologist Angela Duckworth and well-cited researcher Walter Mischel (remember the marshmallow study?).

    • “Instead of getting obsessed with the marshmallow—the “hot stimulus”—the patient children distracted themselves by covering their eyes, pretending to play hide-and-seek underneath the desk, or singing songs from “Sesame Street.”… In adults, this skill is often referred to as metacognition, or thinking about thinking, and it’s what allows people to outsmart their shortcomings.”
  • New Scientist VoodooThe Science of Voodoo: When Mind Attacks Body by Helen Pilcher
    New Scientist, May 13, 2009
    Everyone knows about the placebo effect. What about the “nocebo” effect? When people get hexed, cursed, or tainted with voodoo, sometimes they program their bodies to change for the worse. Author Pilcher writes, “Many patients who suffer harmful side effects, for instance, may do so only because they have been told to expect them. What’s more, people who believe they have a high risk of certain diseases are more likely to get them than people with the same risk factors who believe they have a low risk.”

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Christine Duvivier 1 June 2009 - 3:48 pm

Hi Senia, Thanks for the great list! I had read both Vaillant articles, but hadn’t seen the other two and I look forward to reading them. I’m particularly interested in Lehrer’s article because I based one of my PPND articles on a previous article of his (on daydreaming), but I haven’t read anything of his since then.

LeanRainmakingMachine 1 June 2009 - 3:55 pm

The Shenk article in Atlantic is insightful. It was itself the subject of an opnion piece in the NYTimes by David Brooks this past week. Of course, I believe that if one really wants the subtlety and depth of what Shenk is talking about, one should read Dr. Vaillant’s (i) book on Aging, which is entirely devoted to the Grant and other studies and (ii) his new work on the evolutionary basis for spirituality, which he describes as composed of positive emotions and which also focuses on his love for Alcoholics Anonymous. Very excellent reading on all fronts. For those with relatively tragic childhoods, there is very great news in Dr. Vaillant’s work. Those who were gravely damaged in childhood can find their way to a very rewarding and seemingly happy later adulthood…..
Thanks for calling these thoughtful works to our attention…


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