How Science Reveals that “Well-Being” Is a Skill

The title of this post is the title of an article by the eminent psychologist Richard Davidson that was published in the e-letter by Mindful Magazine (you can subscribe to the e-letter by going to www,mindful.org).  Dr. Davidson identifies four components of well-being.  They are resilience, outlook, attention, and generosity.

Resilience refers to how well someone recovers from adversity.  People differ on this dimension, with some recovering quickly and others taking a long time to recover.  Obviously, the ability to recover quickly is a definite plus, and it is good to rate high on this resilience dimension.  Remember that well-being is a skill, so resilience can be developed.  Research indicates that this cannot be done quickly, but with dedicated practice one can gradually progress on this dimension.

Outlook is the ability to savor  positive experience such as  enjoying a coffee break to seeing kindness in every person.  Research has shown that modest amounts of loving-kindness and compassion meditation can positively impact outlook.  Davidson cites a study  in which individuals who had never meditated before received 30 minutes of compassion training over two weeks.  Davidson said, “Not only did we see changes in the brain, but these changes in the brain actually predicted pro-social behavior.”

Attention refers the ability to control attention.  Davidson said, “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” which is a paraphrase of the subtitle of an article published by a group of social psychologists at Harvard.  These researchers found that almost half the time, we’re not actually paying attention to the present moment.  Davidson asks us to envision a world where distractibility goes down a little.   He said that if we could turn down distractibility by just 5% it would positively impact productivity by being present, showing up for others, listening deeply, and so forth.

Davidson says that when individuals engage in generous and altruistic behavior, they activate circuits in the brain that are key to fostering well-being..  Moreover, these circuits get activated in a way that shows more enduring activation than other kinds of positive incentives.  Research research also suggests that compassion training can positively alter  our own response to suffering.

There have been many previous healthy memory blog posts on the research of Davidson that can be found by entering “Davidson” in the healthymemoy blog search block.  He defines six dimensions of emotional style.  He also provides exercises for improving one’s performance on each of these dimensions of emotional style.

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