Daily Archives: August 11, 2009

Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.

smileIt has long been assumed that positive affirmations are the key to happiness. In fact, there are countless books, websites, and resources dedicated to encouraging people to engage in positive thinking by repeating favorable statements about the self. Oprah Winfrey, one of the most iconic social figures in the United States, often encourages her viewers to engage in self-affirmation. However, recent work has found that these practices may actually undermine self-esteem for certain people.

Joanne Wood and colleagues found that when compared to high self-esteem individuals, people with low self-esteem who repeated positive affirmations (e.g., “I am a lovable person”) actually experienced a worse mood and expressed feeling less lovable. Moreover, when low self-esteem individuals were asked to focus on the ways in which positive affirmations were true of them (positive focus), they actually experienced worse mood, lower state self-esteem, and lower happiness than individuals who were instructed to think about how the affirmation may or may not be true of them (neutral focus).

These findings indicate that while positive thinking may be somewhat effective for people high in self-esteem, it is likely to be detrimental for low self-esteem individuals, the group these affirmations are supposed to help. One can hope that with further research, the next wave of self-help products will be beneficial for the ones who need it most.

square-eye The Oprah Winfrey Show: The Secret and Positive Affirmation

square-eye Wood, J. V., Perunovic, W. Q., & Lee, J. W. (2009). Positive Self-Statements: Power for Some, Peril for Others.

Cubicle-phobia in the 21st century

cubicleThere is nothing new about a concern for losing touch with nature. “When we get piled upon one another in large cities,” wrote Thomas Jefferson to Uriah Forest, “we shall become corrupt as in Europe, and go to eating one another as they do there” (p. 479 in J.P. Boyd (Ed.) The papers of Thomas Jefferson). Cannibalism or not, Europe seems to be doing just fine.

Yet New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently took a break from Darfur and wrote two get-back-to-nature pieces. The first is a report on Richard Louv’s book detailing “nature-deficit disorder,” which along with obesity and autism is what Louv suggests will happen to kids who are stuck indoors. Kristof’s second piece describes “how to pry yourself and your family off the keyboard and venture into the wild.”

The implications of needing access to nature are rather unpleasant. Namely, those who recreate the most are white and middle- to upper-class – the same people who can both afford to hike and camp (“Try the ‘ultralight’ gear,” suggests Kristof), and who have the means and leisure to leave the city.

Nevertheless, some wilderness lovers both praise the essentialness of their experiences, and account for why they sleep under a tent while a guy in Philadelphia sleeps under an overpass. Attribution theory explains how people link the outcome of having access to nature (and others’ lack of access) to internal rather than external attributes. Kristof’s how-to guide is meant to give people the extra motivation for that trip to nature. And rather than because of structural conditions, Louv suggests a major reason children stay away from nature is fear.

Kristof’s how-to guide is said to be for readers who responded to the first article, “Camping in the woods sounds gloriously refreshing! But I wouldn’t know where to begin, and, ugh, what if I get eaten by a bear?”