Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pollyanna and Judy Moskowitz

I listened to Judy Moskowitz's lecture on UCTV yesterday. She is a researcher at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine.

One of the main points of her talk was that people who could find even little things to be happy about - esp. in the face of difficult problems (like having AIDS, or caring for those with AIDS) - would have less stress and therefore better health - and may live longer.

From an article on the web from when she talked about this on Fresh Air:

"The idea of positive thinking has been a part of pop psychology for a long time," Moskowitz explains. "But I wanted to examine it from an empirical perspective." She got this idea while part of a team studying the coping of those under severe stress, each week visiting study subjects and asking them a prescribed set of questions about their stress. But the subjects of the study challenged her research team by asking, "Why don't you ever ask us the good things that happened?"

That may have surprised the researchers, since their subjects were under severe emotional stress, caring for dying loved ones. But the team rose to the challenge, changed the protocol to include collecting positive data, and thereafter observed that those people who were able to pay attention to positive events during difficulties seemed to cope better.

"So we hypothesized," Moskowitz explains, "that it was this positive emotion that helped them to cope." From that evolved the present study in which individuals under severe stress are taught a range of positive practices, from mindfulness exercises to gratitude journals, as a means of improving their ability to cope. "It's not a magical list and not all the skills are attractive to all people," Moskowitz says. "It's a buffet. You don't have to try them all."

What seemed funny to me was how she stressed that this was not some sort of Pollyanna kind of thing. While I didn't read the book, Pollyanna, the sorts of things that Moskowitz suggested people do is exactly the kind of thing that Pollyanna recommeded in the Disney movie. Pollyanna noticed that various people in her world only saw the negative side of life - so she encouraged them in various ways to appreciate little things. Like hanging the crystals in the window and seeing the rainbow effects. And basically finding whatever sort of thing a person could be grateful for.

Especially with this being supported by research - it's odd to me that people insist that "Pollyanna" is a negative thing.

Word Origin & History

"one who finds cause for gladness in the most difficult situations," 1921, in allusion to Pollyanna Whittier, child heroine of U.S. novelist Eleanor Hodgman Porter's "Pollyanna" (1913) and "Pollyanna Grows Up" (1915), noted for keeping her chin up during disasters.

Got to meaning:
Pol·ly·an·na   [pol-ee-an-uh]
an excessively or blindly optimistic person.
(often lowercase) Also, Pol·ly·an·na·ish. unreasonably or illogically optimistic: some pollyanna notions about world peace.

I think some people need to watch the movie again.

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