We Still Love John

October 13, 2009

Problem Analysis – Self-directed learning on Positive Psychology

Filed under: #2: problem analysis — welovejohn @ 5:06 pm

**N.B: As many of the positive psychology readings that I have researched on are self-explanatory, I have taken the liberty of copying useful passages from the bullet-pointed readings and italicising them for easy differentiation from my personal ‘N.B’ notes. More importantly, I have emboldened the key points and ‘purpled’ the fundamental ones for easy reference.

Whatever the personal origins of our conviction that the time has arrived for a positive psychology, our message is to remind our field that psychology is not just the study of pathology, weakness, and damage; it is also the study of strength and virtue. Treatment is not just fixing what is broken; it is nurturing what is best. Psychology is not just a branch of medicine concerned with illness or health; it is much larger. It is about work, education, insight, love, growth, and play. And in this quest for what is best, positive psychology does not rely on wishful thinking, faith, self-deception, fads, or hand waving; it tries to adapt what is best in the scientific method to the unique problems that human behavior presents to those who wish to understand it in all its complexity.

What foregrounds this approach is the issue of prevention.

However, while building a strong science and practice of treating mental illness, we largely forgot about everyday well-being. Is the absence of mental illness and suffering sufficient to let individuals and communities flourish? Were all disabling conditions to disappear, what would make life worth living? Those committed to a science of positive psychology can draw on the effective research methods developed to understand and treat mental illness. Results from a new randomized, placebo-controlled study demonstrate that people are happier and less depressed three months after completing exercises targeting positive emotion. The ultimate goal of positive psychology is to make people happier by understanding and building positive emotion, gratification and meaning. Towards this end, we must supplement what we know about treating illness and repairing damage with knowledge about nurturing well-being in individuals and communities.


But science can illuminate components of happiness and investigate empirically what builds those components. With that said, a review of the literature led us to identify three constituents of happiness: (i) pleasure (or positive emotion); (ii) engagement; and (iii) meaning.

**(N.B: ‘Positive emotion’ is “heritable” and hence not to be fully relied on; engagement requires 100% immersion and absorption in one’s passions for “gratification”, but because there is “no shortcut” to this, it positively draws on one’s “character strengths” though the emotions experienced there and then might not be hedonistic, e.g. “a runner” going through “gruelling” training finds it generally gratifying;  meaning involves employing our strengths in “service” of larger things beyond our selves, e.g. “knowledge, goodness, family, community, politics, justice or a higher spiritual power”)

Peterson et al. (2005) develop reliable measures for all three routes to happiness and demonstrate that people differ in their tendency to rely on one rather than another. We call a tendency to pursue happiness by boosting positive emotion, ‘the pleasant life’; the tendency to pursue happiness via the gratifications, ‘the good life’; and the tendency to pursue happiness via using our strengths towards something larger than ourselves, ‘the meaningful life’. A person who uses all three routes to happiness leads the ‘full life’, and recent empirical evidence suggests that those who lead the full life have much the greater life satisfaction (Peterson et al. 2005).

We have designed and tested interventions to nurture each of the three routes to happiness (pleasure, gratification and meaning). Positive emotions are increased and the pleasant life is promoted by exercises that increase gratitude, that increase savouring, that build optimism and that challenge discouraging beliefs about the past. Interventions that increase the good life identify participants’ signature strengths and use them more often and in creative new ways. Meaningful life interventions aim toward participants’ identifying and connecting with something larger than themselves by using their signature strengths.

**(N.B: Seligman proceeds to talk about assigning individuals to “placebo controls” to test out his “good things in life” interventionist exercise, and the success of his measures – but I foresee it will not work on John because his situation is too dismal and he is also too pessimistic and psychologically immature to be able to “write down three good things that happened to [him] each day and why those good things occurred”)

Our goal is an integrated, balanced field that integrates research on positive states and traits with research on suffering and pathology. We are committed to a psychology that concerns itself with repairing weakness as well as nurturing strengths, a psychology that concerns itself with remedying deficits as well as promoting excellence, and a psychology that concerns itself with reducing that which diminishes life as well as building that which makes life worth living. We are committed to a balanced psychology.

A thousand therapists were coached in the new science. Their holy grail is the classification of strengths and virtues. After a solemn consultation of great works such as the samurai code, the Bhagavad-Gita and the writings of Confucius, Aristotle and Aquinas, Seligman’s happiness scouts discovered six core virtues recognised in all cultures: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. They have subdivided these into 24 strengths, including humour and honesty.

Seligman knows his work can be belittled alongside trite notions such as “the power of positive thinking”. His plan to stop the new science floating “on the waves of self- improvement fashions” is to make sure it is anchored to positive philosophy above, and to positive biology below. And this takes us back to our evolutionary past.

At the Royal Institution, Nettle explained how brain chemistry foils our pursuit of happiness in the modern world: “The things that you desire are not the things that you end up liking. The mechanisms of desire are insatiable. There are things that we really like and tire of less quickly — having good friends, the beauty of the natural world, spirituality. But our economic system plays into the psychology of wanting, and the psychology of liking gets drowned out.

In essence, what the biology lesson tells us is that negative emotions are fundamental to the human condition, and it’s no wonder they are difficult to eradicate. At the same time, by a trick of nature, our brains are designed to crave but never really achieve lasting happiness.

Psychologists such as Seligman are convinced you can train yourself to be happier. His teams are developing new positive interventions (treatments) to counteract the brain’s nagging insistence on seeking out bad news. The treatments work by boosting positive emotion about the past, by teaching people to savour the present, and by increasing the amount of engagement and meaning in their lives.

The focus of most psychotherapy is on decreasing negative emotion. The aim of Seligman’s therapy is to increase positive emotion (positive and negative emotions are not polar opposites and can co-exist: women have more of both than men). From the time of Buddha to the self-improvement industry of today, more than 100 “interventions” have been tried in the attempt to build happiness. Forty of these are being tested in randomised placebo-controlled trials by Seligman and his colleagues.

In one internet study, two interventions increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for at least six months. One exercise involves writing down three things that went well and why, every day for a week. The other is about identifying your signature strengths and using one of them in a new and different way every day for a week. A third technique involves writing a long letter to someone you’re grateful to but have never properly thanked, and visiting them to read it out in person.

Seligman and his graduate students weep tears of joy when they do this exercise, but most Brits would probably rather be miserable than do it. So it’s a relief to hear that it doesn’t work particularly well. It has strong, but only brief, effects.


Another piece of the jigsaw fitted this year when a team from University College London tested the happiness levels of 216 middle-aged civil servants in a study of risk factors for coronary heart disease. People who had the most happy moments per day had the lowest rates of cortisol, a hormone that can be harmful if produced excessively, and of the chemical plasma fibrinogen, a predictor of heart disease. The happiest men (but not women) also had the lowest heart rates.

Angela Clow, professor of psychophysiology at Westminster University, is a world authority on the biochemistry of stress. “There is clear evidence that stress makes you susceptible to illness, but I wanted to turn this around and discover how happiness makes you healthier. There’s not a lot of happiness research in the UK, because if you do it, people think you’re trivial,” says Clow.

In one experiment, she and colleagues blindfolded participants and wafted smells of chocolate, water and rotten meat under their noses. Then they measured levels of secretory IgA, an antibody that protects the body against invading cells, in their saliva. Chocolate sent the antibody levels soaring up; rotten meat brought them down. Clow found that pleasant music also boosted the immune system, as did stimulating the left side of the brain with magnetism.

Comparing patients in a day-surgery waiting room with music and art on the walls against one with no music and plain white walls, Clow found that the art and music patients had lower heart-rates, blood pressure and cortisol, and needed less sedation before their surgery.

“But why should happiness have such an effect on the immune system?” asks Clow. She speculates that there is an evolutionary mechanism. Our happiest ancestors were bold creatures who socialised and ventured out to explore. This brought them into contact with infection, so they needed higher levels of antibodies in a stronger immune system.

Laughter and humour are also being studied for their effects on health. Research methods include using a tickle machine, and probing with electrodes to find the funny parts of the brain. Laughter, like stress, increases blood pressure and heart rate and changes breathing. But unlike stress, it reduces levels of chemicals circulating in the body. In one study, people’s cortisol and adrenaline were reduced after watching a favourite comedy video for 60 minutes.


Men often complain about their wives’ volatility. Now research confirms that women really are both happier and sadder. Positive and negative emotions are not polar opposites — you can have both in your life. Women experience more of all emotions except anger. First it was found that women experience twice as much depression as men. Next, researchers found that women report more positive emotion than men, more frequently and more intensely. It all points to men and women having a different emotional make-up. Cognitive psychologists say that men and women have different skills related to sending and receiving emotion. Women are expressive; men conceal or control their emotions. Women convey emotion through facial expression and communication; men express emotion through aggressive or distracting behaviour. Does the difference lie in biology, social roles or just women’s willingness to report emotion? That’s up for debate.


Reflection Post (Jitsy)

Filed under: #5: review and evaluation — Elizabeth Hope @ 4:43 pm

I rather enjoyed the PBL process, because it reminded me a lot of the project-based presentations we used to carry out in school, particularly the slant towards Eduactional Psychology. Doing the project reminded me of how much I miss learning about Psychology, all its crazy theories and the limitations of all the theories. But it also reminded me that there’s a need for practical experience to supplement these theories, otherwise it’s very much armchair Psychology. Which is a pity, because I wouldn’t mind doing armchair Psychology for the rest of my life, debating about qualia and cognitions and how “all of our sorrow is real, but the atoms of which we are made are indifferent,” and other problems of consciousness.

Back to PBL, I think it’s great because it puts the learning in the students’ hands, and gives you a real-life problem to find a solution to. In this sense, it’s slightly less armchair than presenting strictly on theories and how they should be applied, and their limitations and so on. I like that we’re given a very realistic picture of John, but one thing that might be a disservice to us is that in the real world, in the classrooms, we probably won’t have so much knowledge given to us. In fact, many of us might be stuck at the level of the teacher who dismissed John as a lazy, unmotivated student, unwilling to see deeper into his family situation, and doing something to motivate John, instead of ignore him. PBL thus might paint a bit of a rosy picture, though it equips us with the relevant skills on what we should do in the event that we meet such a situation.

Our group worked well together, efficiently and consistently. While we split up the parts at times, we constantly touched base with one another to ensure that we were all on the right track. I enjoyed the experience, and the amount of time given to us was sufficient, as we were allowed to work on the project in the class, and check with our tutor constantly to ensure that we were on the right track.

When Children Refuse School

Filed under: #2: problem analysis, #3: discovery and reporting — Elizabeth Hope @ 4:30 pm

Looking at John, it struck me that he could possibly be at the start of a more serious set of problems of school refusal, if it gets worse.

I found this very good book about the reasons children begin to refuse school, or display disinterest in learning, and possible solutions we can employ to help them in such a situation.

The author covers four reasons for school refusal: to avoid negative social or evaluative situations at school, to receive attention from a parent or a significant other, and to obtain tangible rewards outside of school. Positive support at school for John would therefore be very important, because school refusal can contribute to a child’s academic, social, and psychological problems, impact a child’s chances for future educational, financial, and personal success, and significantly affect family functioning.

Fortunately, the recommended solution is in line with our project — CBT!

“This manual includes tools for assessing a child’s reasons for school refusal behavior and is based on a functional, prescriptive model. It presents well-tested techniques arranged by function to tailor treatment to a child’s particular characteristics. Each treatment package also contains a detailed discussion of special topics pertinent to treating youths with school refusal behavior, such as medication, panic attacks, and being teased. A corresponding workbook is also available for parents, who often play an important part in a child’s recovery. This comprehensive program is an invaluable resource for clinicians treating school refusal behavior.”

It’s recommended for use with children who are completely absent from school, who attend but then leave school during the day, who go to school following intense morning behavioral problems, or who display unusual distress during school days leading to pleas to parents or others for future non-attendance.

The book is: When Children Refuse School: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Approach Therapist Guide (Treatments That Work), by  Christopher A. Kearney and Anne Marie Albano.

Christopher A. Kearney
Christopher A. Kearney (Author)
› Visit Amazon’s Christopher A. Kearney Page
Find all the books, read about the author, and more.
See search results for this author
Are you an author? Learn about Author Central
(Author), Anne Marie Albano

Jocelyn’s Reflection

Filed under: #5: review and evaluation — welovejohn @ 1:51 pm

Since my focus was on resilience and the effect of positive versus self-defeating thinking, I believe that this is what I’ve learnt the most about. I have become convinced of the importance of positive thinking and am quite resolved in finding out how I may continue to incorporate this amongst the children I will teach. From previous experience, I have encountered children just like John. While circumstances may differ slightly, the gist of struggling with negative thoughts hangs heavy among all of them. It is of concern that the young today seem to be more prone to anxiety and depression and as teachers, we should be equipped to address this issue.

Psychologists throughout the years have always been intrigued by what makes people flourish despite their dire backgrounds. They’ve discovered that resilient kids share key traits: the ability to trust and form caring relationships, a sense of independence, good problem-solving skills, perseverance, and a belief that their lives have meaning and purpose. These are precisely the skills that we wish to impart to our children! While others may be skeptical about whether such skills can really be taught and argue that resilience is instead “caught” when one undergoes a trial, the Penn Resiliency Programme proves this otherwise.

During the programme, children learnt to “de-catastrophize” – which was to look at their problems from a different perspective and think about “what was the worst that could happen” given the circumstances they were in. And this is the main concern that our group will be addressing with John. We believe that having this positive/resilient mindset will help John climb out of the rut that he’s in as well. What we hope for him (and other children like him that we’ll possibly meet when we fly the NIE coop) is that John will be able to have the capacity to make realistic plans (i.e. for his coming PSLE) and take steps to carry them out. We would also like John to have a positive view of himself and confidence in his own strengths and abilities. Above all, John also has to work on skills in communication and problem solving as well as his capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses. If he remains there, John will continue with his negative thoughts about himself and the people around him who genuinely care, and will also probably continue to struggle with it for the rest of his life.

So we really hope that John will learn the difference between positive and self-defeating thinking…and be able to master the former! 🙂

Revisiting Resilience

Filed under: #3: discovery and reporting — welovejohn @ 1:46 pm


Definition of Psychological Resilience: An individual’s capacity to withstand stressors and not manifest psychology dysfunction, such as mental illness or persistent negative mood.

Risk factors: Major acute or chronic stress such as death of someone else, chronic illness, physical or emotional abuse, fear, unemployment, community violence and instability in the family.

Resilience is a dynamic quality, not a permanent capacity.  In other words, resilient individuals demonstrate dynamic self-renewal, whereas less resilient individuals find themselves worn down and negatively impacted by life stressors.

Characteristics of resilient people:

  • Ability to “bounce back” and “recover from almost anything”
  • Have a “where there’s a will, there’s a way” attitude
  • Tendency to see problems as opportunities
  • Ability to “hang tough” which things are difficult
  • Capacity for seeing small windows of opportunity and making the most of them
  • Have deep-rooted faith in a system of meaning
  • Have a healthy social support network
  • Has the ability to competently handle most different kinds of situations and manage strong emotions
  • Has a wide comfort zone
  • Able to recover from experiences of a traumatic nature

Formula for resilience???

growth = challenge + support

“Any level of challenge can be provided if the support is corresponding. But even a small amount of challenge may be too much and lead to traumatic experience if the person isn’t well supported.”

The Penn Resiliency Programme – An inspiration for John

Filed under: #3: discovery and reporting — welovejohn @ 1:41 pm


In a 1990 pilot program, Penn graduate psychology students showed 70 children ages 6 to 12 how to back off from pessimistic or habitually negative assumptions.

For 12 weeks the Penn researchers taught the kids how to tell the difference between productive and self-defeating thinking.

Researchers then instructed the children to look at their own fears and ask, “What’s the worst that can happen?” and “How likely is it that this will pan out?” “The kids had to test their expectations and see if they were realistic,” Shatte says.

In one exercise, students examined the case of Tim C., a ten-year-old who believed that people didn’t like him, that he wasn’t very good in school, and that he would never get decent grades. The students looked for evidence supporting or refuting Tim’s assumptions.

The group also learned how to analyze a difficult situation, then make a list of options and alternatives. Says Shatte, “We taught them the basic skills of problem-solving.”

All the kids were at risk for depression because of conflict or instability in their homes. Two years later, Shatte and his colleagues found only 22% of the kids in the program still felt depressed, compared to 44% of kids from similar backgrounds in a control group.

Some interesting findings from the Penn Resiliency Programme:

  • Girls tend to become resilient by building strong, caring relationships, while boys usually bounce back by learning how to problem-solve.
  • Kids can learn how to be more resilient, regardless of their IQ.
  • Children learn resilience from their parents up to the age of 11; after that, they learn from their peers.
  • Parents and caregivers find it easy to teach resilience when a child is young, vulnerable, and helpless, yet they find it difficult when dealing with rebellious kids.
  • Affluence doesn’t seem to matter. Parents in developing nations teach resilience as often as those in affluent countries.
  • Punishment and blame are counterproductive.

Reflection (Ange)

Filed under: #5: review and evaluation — qi @ 8:37 am

I have experienced the Problem-based Learning process and can better understand the benefits and limitations. I can use it for planning of authentic and meaningful learning lessons with my pupils that involve solving real life problems.

With inquiry-based learning as the pedagogical approach used here, pupils learn through asking questions and solving their own problems through interacting with their classmates. The different stages of the PBL process serve as a good guideline for pupils to self-direct their own learning. I am also aware of my role as a coach rather than teacher, and have acquired some questioning techniques on asking questions to facilitate further inquiry.

I learnt that different people in the group offers you with different perspectives and fresh ideas that one person might not have thought about.

One of the strength of PBL is the use of authentic problem scenario stimulate learning by creating curiosity in the learner. We can make boring topics fun by using PBL to “teach”. High ability pupils who like to be challenged especially, would like this type of activity that activate their higher order thinking skills. With learning more fun, pupils will be able to learn better.

However, one limitation of PBL is that the progress of the pupil’s learning is very reliant on the individuals in the group. If the group did not seek help/advise from the coach when they are faced with a problem which they are unable to solve that hinders them from progressing, the problem would accumulate making it harder to solve at the end.

Our group is effective as we are supportive and open towards each other’s ideas. We are creative and are not afraid of trying out new approaches in solving our problem. I have learnt that the problem solving approach can be used to teach almost any subject, not only psychology.

After learning PBL, I will adapt a teaching style different from that of my contract experience when i go back to schools for my practicum. This experience has made me more aware of how to design and ask questions in class. I will use real life examples to stimulate the pupils thinking at a higher order. A boring topic can become interesting because of this approach. My role as a teacher has also changed into that of a facilitator when this learning is taking place.

Just a Recap :)

Filed under: meeting minutes — Elizabeth Hope @ 8:36 am

Just a recap! 🙂

1. We’ll post up all our information on the blog first — please be responsible for categorising your entries appropriately, and re-categorising your old blog entries in accordance to the format! 🙂 I’ve bulk edited some of the categories already, but I haven’t gone to look at each individual post. Note that one entry can belong into several categories 🙂

2. We’ll organise this into a Word document (which I should send out by 5pm today — now I’m trying to rephrase the instructions given in the template so we’ll be clearer about what they want us to do).

3. We’ll touch up our Presentation slides, check through tomorrow (after Math), and then burn it into a CD for submission on Thursday!


  • A possible script or acting out of the therapy for John
  • Incorporating the new table into the CT slides

The end is near! 😀 Oh and I’ve changed it back to banana smoothie for nostalgia’s sake 😉

Overall Plan Plan

Filed under: #1: problem encounter, meeting minutes — qi @ 8:07 am

John’s Belief ->  Thoughts -> Emotions -> Behaviour -> Belief (Vicious Cycle)

Coping Strategies -> Increase his Resilience

Suggested Solution for John consist of 2 parts.

Solution focused therapy , is a type of talking therapy which focuses on what clients want to achieve through therapy rather than on the problem(s) that made them to seek help.

The approach does not focus on the past, but instead, focuses on the present and future. The therapist/counselor uses respectful curiosity to invite the client to envision their preferred future and then therapist and client start attending to any moves towards it whether these are small increments or large changes. To support this, questions are asked about the client’s story, strengths and resources, and about exceptions to the problem.

1) Teacher talks to John (focused on telling him about the positive benefits of positive thinking) to change his defective cognitive thought patterns (details below)

2) A plan of different coping strategies for him to practice in his daily lives.

Diagnosis of John from the Case:

We will study the internal mental / mediational processes that lie between the stimuli (his environment) and the response John make)

– Automatic Thoughts:

– Emotions: Depression

– Situational Factors

– Core Belief

– Conditional Belief

– Behaviour

Our Solution: Resilence through Cognitive psychology

Step 1: Counselling by Teacher to change John’s defective Cognitive Patterns to improve on his coping strategies and resilence:

Step 2: A Plan for John to Follow:

1) Assertive Training – Role Play Pg 342 (Aileen’s Texkbook)

2) Activity Scheduling – Restrict his computer behaviour so as to let him regain control of his life.


October 12, 2009

So what do you have to do to find happiness? – Times Online

Filed under: #3: discovery and reporting — welovejohn @ 4:45 pm

So what do you have to do to find happiness? – Times Online

Shared via AddThis

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.