Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being
What alternatives to cosmetic depression drugs do you think would be effective and how could universities apply them to depressed students?
In Flourish, Martin Seligman describes two forms of medication: cosmetic drugs and curative drugs. He further explains that insurance companies can only reimburse brief treatments because a complete cure generally implies more time and cost. As a result, Seligman concludes, all psychopharmacopoeai drugs are cosmetic, palliative, and only temporary fixes. Thus, the use of positive psychology in the treatment of depressed patients is even more important.
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More and more people today resort to cosmetic drugs to fix their anxiety and depression. Seligman tells how drugs themselves do not cure people of their problems but rather mask the symptoms. It is more effective to instead build skills to deal with depression. These skills are important to those seeking to be happy and relieve their sufferings. One effective exercise is the What-Went-Well exercise.
The theory behind this exercise is that people spend more time focusing on negative events and tend to ignore the positive ones. This is natural for people because we want to think about how they happened and what we can do to prevent them from happening again. The problem with this tendency is that it sets you up for anxiety and depression. This exercise presents a possible solution to the problem. The exercise involves setting aside time each night before bed for a week. You are to write down 3 things that went well that day and for each one answer the question, “Why did this happen”?
Studies show that patients who did this exercised were less depressed and happier in 6 months if they stuck with it. With one patient, they transitioned to recording happy moments that happened every day, in order to help the patient see her life more positively. In a university such as W&L, students are often stressed and overwhelmed with school work and extracurricular. Introducing these exercises to students who seek counseling could help those overwhelmed and depressed students learn to manage and enjoy their lives.
Another alterative to cosmetic drugs, when dealing with depression is identifying one’s signature strengths. Seligman defines a “signature strength” by describing its characteristics, which are as follows: A sense of ownership or authenticity; a feeling of excitement while displaying it; a rapid learning curve as the strength is first practiced; a sense of yearning to find new ways to use it; a feeling of inevitability in using the strength.
Chris Peterson, a professor at the University of Michigan has developed a series of questions which can be found on www.authentichappiness.org that are intended to target the signature strengths of individuals, providing them with clarity when evaluating themselves, in turn leading to a greater sense of self. The abridged questionnaire, found in the appendix of this book, consists of 24 questions broken down into the following 6 sub-categories: Wisdom & Knowledge, Courage, Humanity & Love, Justice, Temperance, and Transcendence. Seligman then advises that after taking the questionnaire and identifying a few strengths, one should designate a time in his or her schedule to exercise one or more signature strengths and record how it makes him or her feel. This positive psychology exercise has been shown to improve happiness.
Universities might be able to issue this signature strengths survey to their students as a prerequisite to matriculation, for example during Orientation Week at Washington & Lee....