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The tiny small behaviours that lead to big implications on wellbeing & happiness

Greet everyone you meet with a warm smile, no matter how busy you are.
Don’t rush encounters with coworkers, family and friends.
Speak softly. Listen attentively.
Act as if every conversation you have is the most important thing on your mind today.
Look your children and your partner in the eyes when they talk to you.
Stroke the cat, caress the dog.
Lavish love on every living being you meet.
See how different you feel at the end of the day.

Stories are powerful. They shape beliefs and culture and we all have them. We believe a story is valuable and can help others. So we’re asking and willing you to start sharing. Here we prove how this story platform of appreciation and sharing can be powerful when reflecting to recent research and psychology study.

Positive psychology marketers’ advice is if you do not buy what we sell, you will face serious consequences to your health, making the threat that if we simply pursue pleasure in our lives rather than meaning, there will be dire consequences for our immune system by way of the effects on genomic expression.

People who are happy but have little-to-no sense of meaning in their lives have the same gene expression patterns as people who are enduring chronic adversity.

In workshops, books, and lucrative talks to gatherings, psychology marketing promises that practicing the loving-kindness meditation and self awareness it will send you on an upward spiral of physical and mental health that ends who knows where.

Loving Kindness upon further investigation analyses finds no evidence that it does infact improve physical health. The simplest interpretation of why is that control groups have deteriorated due to drop out and limited follow up to journal to.

Another queen of positive psychology advice, Sonia Lyubomirsky, proclaims in a highly cited paper:

The field of positive psychology is young, yet much has already been accomplished that practitioners can effectively integrate into their daily practices. As our metaanalysis confirms, positive psychology interventions can materially improve the wellbeing of many.

The existing literature available does not provide robust support for the efficacy of positive psychology interventions. The absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of an absence of an effect. However, more definitive conclusions await better quality studies with adequate sample sizes and suitable control of possible risk of bias. Widespread dissemination of positive psychology interventions, particularly with glowing endorsements and strong claims of changing lives, is premature in the absence of evidence they are effective.

Advice gurus claim that practicing positive psychology interventions will lead to health and well-being without a good scientific basis. But another literature attempts to identify small changes in everyday behavior that can have lasting benefits. These studies are not explicitly evaluating interventions, but the claim is that they identify small behaviors with potentially big implications for well-being and happiness.

Let’s start with an example from the Wall Street Journal (WSJ):

Walk this way: Acting happy can make it so

Research shows people can improve their mood with small changes in behavior

Elizabeth Dunn, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, provides an orientation:

There are these little doses of social interactions that are available in our day” that can brighten our mood and create a sense of belonging. “I don’t think people recognize this.”

In one study, 30 depressed psychiatric inpatients were randomized to instructions to sit in either a slumped or an upright position and then completed a memory test. The idea is that an emotion like depression is embodied. Adopting a slumped posture should increase a depressive negative bias in recall. The abstract of the original article reports:

Upright-sitting patients showing unbiased recall of positive and negative words but slumped patients showing recall biased towards more negative words.

Michalak conducted another study in which the gait of 39 college students was manipulated with biofeedback so as to simulate either being depressed or nondepressed as they walked on a treadmill. During the period on the treadmill, the experimenter read 40 words to them and they were tested for recall. The abstract of the original study reports:

The difference between recalled positive and recalled negative words was much lower in participants who adopted a depressed walking style as compared to participants who walked as if they were happy.

The Happy Walking Style

Michalak claims that these studies point to manipulation of the embodiment of depression as a means of treating depression:

There is a mutual influence between mood and body and movement…There might be specific types of movements that are specific characteristics of depression and this feeds the lower mood. So it’s a vicious cycle.

Presumably, with this as a premise, depressed patients could obtain a clinically-significant improvement in mood if they sat up straight and walked faster.

But let’s turn to the work of Nicholas Epley  who is a Professor of Behavioral Science, University of Chicago Booth School of Business and author of Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want.

According to the WSJ article:

“I used to sit in quiet solitude on the train,” Dr. Epley said. “I don’t anymore. I know now from our data that learning something interesting about the person sitting next to me would be more fun than pretty much anything else I’d be doing then,”

Takings reference to his article

Epley, N., & Schroeder, J. (2014). Mistakenly seeking solitude. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(5), 1980.

Talking to strangers: The study actually involves trains, buses, and taxis and giving different participants instructions to either connect with strangers, remain disconnected, or commute as normal.

Re-enter Elizabeth Dunn, Associate Professor of Psychology at University of British Columbia. Dr. Dunn is the author of Happy Money.

Sandstrom, G. M., & Dunn, E. W. (2013). Is efficiency overrated? Minimal social interactions lead to belonging and positive affect. Social Psychological and Personality Science,

Participants were instructed to either avoid any unnecessary conversation with a barista at Starbuck’s and simply be efficient in getting their coffee or:

“have a genuine interaction with the cashier—smile, make eye contact to establish a connection, and have a brief conversation.”

The journal article reports that participants instructed to make a “genuine connection” had more positive affect and less negative affect than those instructed to avoid unnecessary conversation.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 10.35.00This blog intended to bring a handful of research together for your own self reflection to evidence how the smallest of tiny behaviours can lead to big implications on wellbeing and happiness in the now. Positive literature promoters and programmes have very little robust follow up findings to substantiate their benefits of positiveity. Its the hope of love and joy we buy into, we are led to believe it can give us more. The myth that these interventions are efficacious is perpetuated by a mutually-admiring, self-promotional collective that protects its claims from independent peer review and scrutiny. As with the positive psychology intervention literature, it is a quick leap from the authors submitting a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal to making claims in the media and then releasing products like workshops and books that are lavishly praised by other members of the positive psychology community.

There is no transparency set on publications of these studies backed by science, positive psychology advice givers do not take time out from their self promotion to replicate what are pilot studies say by providing strong robust evidence journals to support it.

So how does this affect you? Use wisdom, use caution, we are vulnerable beings, look to the simple paths like the quote this article opened with. A simple conversation, a simple appreciation can be an incentive to positively. Don’t become a marketeers self help buy in.

Reference article: – Will following positive psychology advice make you happier and healthier? James Coyne PhD
Posted: December 18, 2014

Written by Georgina Land – Founder of A Fat Lot of Good Girls

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