Everything is awesome

Kevin Lewis

August 06, 2017

Does a Culture of Happiness Increase Rumination Over Failure?
Lucy McGuirk et al.
Emotion, forthcoming

Promoting happiness within society is good for health, but could the overpromotion of happiness have a downside? Across 2 studies, we investigate 2 emotion norms associated with an emphasis on happiness — the importance of (a) seeking positive emotion, and (b) avoiding negative emotion — and whether these norms have implications for how people respond to, and seek to regulate, their negative emotional experiences. In Study 1, we used an experimental design to show that emphasizing the importance of happiness increased rumination in response to failure. In Study 2, we drew on cross-sectional evidence to investigate the other side of this equation, finding that emphasizing the importance of not experiencing negative emotional states (e.g., depression and anxiety) was also associated with increased rumination, and that this had downstream consequences for well-being. Together, the findings suggest that the overpromotion of happiness, and, in turn, the felt social pressure not to experience negative emotional states, has implications for maladaptive responses to negative emotional experiences.

The Psychological Health Benefits of Accepting Negative Emotions and Thoughts: Laboratory, Diary, and Longitudinal Evidence
Brett Ford et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

Individuals differ in the degree to which they tend to habitually accept their emotions and thoughts without judging them — a process here referred to as habitual acceptance. Acceptance has been linked with greater psychological health, which we propose may be due to the role acceptance plays in negative emotional responses to stressors: acceptance helps keep individuals from reacting to — and thus exacerbating — their negative mental experiences. Over time, experiencing lower negative emotion should promote psychological health. To test these hypotheses, Study 1 (N = 1,003) verified that habitually accepting mental experiences broadly predicted psychological health (psychological well-being, life satisfaction, and depressive and anxiety symptoms), even when controlling for potentially related constructs (reappraisal, rumination, and other mindfulness facets including observing, describing, acting with awareness, and nonreactivity). Next, in a laboratory study (Study 2, N = 156), habitual acceptance predicted lower negative (but not positive) emotional responses to a standardized stressor. Finally, in a longitudinal design (Study 3, N = 222), acceptance predicted lower negative (but not positive) emotion experienced during daily stressors that, in turn, accounted for the link between acceptance and psychological health 6 months later. This link between acceptance and psychological health was unique to accepting mental experiences and was not observed for accepting situations. Additionally, we ruled out potential confounding effects of gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and life stress severity. Overall, these results suggest that individuals who accept rather than judge their mental experiences may attain better psychological health, in part because acceptance helps them experience less negative emotion in response to stressors.

Buying time promotes happiness
Ashley Whillans et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming

Around the world, increases in wealth have produced an unintended consequence: a rising sense of time scarcity. We provide evidence that using money to buy time can provide a buffer against this time famine, thereby promoting happiness. Using large, diverse samples from the United States, Canada, Denmark, and The Netherlands (n = 6,271), we show that individuals who spend money on time-saving services report greater life satisfaction. A field experiment provides causal evidence that working adults report greater happiness after spending money on a time-saving purchase than on a material purchase. Together, these results suggest that using money to buy time can protect people from the detrimental effects of time pressure on life satisfaction.

Risk of Suicide Attempt Among Soldiers in Army Units With a History of Suicide Attempts
Robert Ursano et al.
JAMA Psychiatry, forthcoming

Design, Setting, and Participants: Using administrative data from the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (STARRS), this study identified person-month records for all active-duty, regular US Army, enlisted soldiers who attempted suicide from January 1, 2004, through December 31, 2009 (n = 9650), and an equal-probability sample of control person-months (n = 153 528). Data analysis was performed from August 8, 2016, to April 10, 2017.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Logistic regression analyses examined the number of past-year suicide attempts in a soldier’s unit as a predictor of subsequent suicide attempt, controlling for sociodemographic features, service-related characteristics, prior mental health diagnosis, and other unit variables, including suicide-, combat-, and unintentional injury–related unit deaths. The study also examined whether the influence of previous unit suicide attempts varied by military occupational specialty (MOS) and unit size.

Results Of the final analytic sample of 9512 enlisted soldiers who attempted suicide and 151 526 control person-months, most were male (86.4%), 29 years or younger (68.4%), younger than 21 years when entering the army (62.2%), white (59.8%), high school educated (76.6%), and currently married (54.8%). In adjusted models, soldiers were more likely to attempt suicide if 1 or more suicide attempts occurred in their unit during the past year (odds ratios [ORs], 1.4-2.3; P < .001), with odds increasing as the number of unit attempts increased. The odds of suicide attempt among soldiers in a unit with 5 or more past-year attempts was more than twice that of soldiers in a unit with no previous attempts (OR, 2.3; 95% CI, 2.1-2.6). The association of previous unit suicide attempts with subsequent risk was significant whether soldiers had a combat arms MOS or other MOS (ORs, 1.4-2.3; P < .001) and regardless of unit size, with the highest risk among those in smaller units (1-40 soldiers) (ORs, 2.1-5.9; P < .001). The population-attributable risk proportion for 1 or more unit suicide attempts in the past year indicated that, if this risk could be reduced to no unit attempts, 18.2% of attempts would not occur.

Conclusions and Relevance: Risk of suicide attempt among soldiers increased as the number of past-year suicide attempts within their unit increased for combat arms and other MOSs and for units of any size but particularly for smaller units. Units with a history of suicide attempts may be important targets for preventive interventions.

Perceived Physical Activity and Mortality: Evidence From Three Nationally Representative U.S. Samples
Octavia Zahrt & Alia Crum
Health Psychology, forthcoming

Method: This study used 3 nationally representative samples with a total sample size of 61,141 U.S. adults (weighted N = 476 million). Data from the 1990 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and the 1999–2002/2003–2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) were linked to prospective National Death Index mortality data through 2011, yielding follow-up periods of up to 21 years. Cox proportional hazards models were used to determine the association between respondents’ perceptions of their relative level of physical activity (compared with other people their age) and all-cause mortality, adjusting for actual levels of physical activity, health status and behavior, and sociodemographic variables.

Results: Perceived physical activity relative to peers was associated with mortality risk. Individuals who perceived themselves as less active than others were up to 71% more likely to die in the follow-up period than those who perceived themselves as more active. This finding held across 3 samples and after adjusting for actual levels of physical activity and other covariates.

Third-person self-talk facilitates emotion regulation without engaging cognitive control: Converging evidence from ERP and fMRI
Jason Moser et al.
Scientific Reports, July 2017

Does silently talking to yourself in the third-person constitute a relatively effortless form of self control? We hypothesized that it does under the premise that third-person self-talk leads people to think about the self similar to how they think about others, which provides them with the psychological distance needed to facilitate self control. We tested this prediction by asking participants to reflect on feelings elicited by viewing aversive images (Study 1) and recalling negative autobiographical memories (Study 2) using either “I” or their name while measuring neural activity via ERPs (Study 1) and fMRI (Study 2). Study 1 demonstrated that third-person self-talk reduced an ERP marker of self-referential emotional reactivity (i.e., late positive potential) within the first second of viewing aversive images without enhancing an ERP marker of cognitive control (i.e., stimulus preceding negativity). Conceptually replicating these results, Study 2 demonstrated that third-person self-talk was linked with reduced levels of activation in an a priori defined fMRI marker of self-referential processing (i.e., medial prefrontal cortex) when participants reflected on negative memories without eliciting increased levels of activity in a priori defined fMRI markers of cognitive control. Together, these results suggest that third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of self-control.

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