This chapter begins with a discussion of the difference between determinism and free-will. Determinism is characterized by a belief in cause-effect relationships. This was initially a theory of physical science that was then adopted by the social scientists in order to explain human behavior. With regards to human behavior, determinists deny that individuals have free will. Those social scientists who believe solely in free will as the basis of behavior lie at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Deterministic theories fall into three categories: biologically-based theories, Behaviorism, and Cognitive-Behaviorism. The Cognitive-Behaviorists posit a model of human behavior that contains three elements: stimulus, organism, response. In this model, an individual is presented with a stimulus. As a result of this stimulus, the individual has a series of thoughts which then lead him/her to respond to the initial stimulus. The authors contend that the best explanation for human behavior (the cognitive-behaviorist theory) lies somewhere between the two ends of the determinism – free will spectrum.
The authors argue that free will, or proactivity, is a trait that characterizes highly effective people. More specifically, proactive individuals conceive of the word “responsibility” differently from less effective individuals. While some might consider responsibility to be tasks or chores that must be accomplished, proactive individuals break the term down into two parts: “response” and “ability. ” Hence, proactive individuals have the ability to control their responses to stimuli. Another way of viewing proactivity is as a locus of control.
Some individuals have an external locus of control and see themselves as victims of circumstances; while other individuals have an internal locus of control and see themselves as in control of their own destinies. Effective individuals have an internal locus of control. The authors describe three ways to increase one’s proactivity. First, they suggest focusing our thoughts on things that could go right and how to make them happen, rather than worrying about all of the things that could possibly go wrong.
Second, they recommend focusing on language, using words in such a way that we acknowledge our own control over our actions. Finally, they talk about focusing on actions: making and keeping promises, and setting and reaching small goals. Changing thought and language patterns can be accomplished by learning to deal with irrational self-talk. Central to this change is the acknowledgment that, following the cognitive-behaviorists, our thoughts (and our self-talk) lead to our emotions. Cognitive restructuring techniques can be used to change our irrational thought patterns.
We must recognize that just because two events occur at the same time, one does not necessarily cause the other. One essential characteristic of effective individuals is the manner in which they perceive problems. These individuals interpret problems in such a way that gives their life meaning and gives them a sense of control. The field of Positive Psychology has uncovered techniques that allow individuals to accomplish this task. In this chapter, the authors focus on one of the tenets of Positive Psychology: positive emotions.
First, the authors dismiss many of the traditional ideas of what leads to happiness: money, physical appearance, health, and intelligence. These qualities do not lead to happiness because of what has been termed by Seligman, a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, as the hedonistic treadmill. Seligman has developed a formula to account for all of the factors that lead to happiness: happiness equals an individual’s genetic setpoint plus his/her life circumstances plus his/her mindset.
This last factor is the one that can be effectively controlled and can lead to greater happiness. Of the three temporal categories of positive emotions (past, present, and future), those of the future – optimism in particular – bring about the most substantial increase in happiness. In fact, optimism has been shown to correlate with increased levels of general health and effectiveness. The authors summarize Seligman’s four techniques for becoming more optimistic.
The first of these techniques is to look at the evidence because pessimists tend to overreact and misconstrue the facts. Second, when faced with a problem, Seligman advocates looking at all of the possible causes for the problem because problems are typically caused by the interaction of a number of factors. Third, in order to get rid of pessimistic thoughts, Seligman suggests that an individual realistically asses the implications of the problem he or she is facing.
Finally, an individual should evaluate the usefulness of the negative, pessimistic thoughts he or she holds on to because it would be more effective to distance oneself from these thoughts in order to focus on what needs to be accomplished. The authors also discuss how to improve levels of happiness with regards to the past and the present. In terms of the past, the authors suggest choosing not to believe that past traumas necessarily mean that the future will be bleak. One should adopt an attitude of gratitude and should learn to forgive.
The authors suggest keeping a daily journal to record things for which one is grateful. With regards to the present, the authors divide positive emotions into two categories: pleasures (short-lived and possible addictive) and gratifications (more long-term and healthy). They suggest not becoming over-reliant on pleasures and instead focus on savoring pleasures by being mindful of them. Gratifications, on the other hand, allow an individual to discover his/her strengths and weaknesses and lead to a greater sense of satisfaction because one can become completely lost in the moment.