Paper of the Month: Evidence-based interventions to promote wellbeing
I’m doing the one-paper-per-day challenge. Some papers will be hot off the press, others will be classics. Some will be relevant to what I’m working on at the moment, others will be from other areas. Each month I discuss my favourite paper here.
Dahl, C. J., Wilson-Mendenhall, C. D., and Davidson, R. J. (2020). The plasticity of well-being: A training-based framework for the cultivation of human flourishing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(51), 32197–32206. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2014859117
A lot of the applied research in psychology has traditionally focused on treating mental health disorders, e.g. by devising therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). While the treatment approaches are effective, they do not work for everyone and even in the case of successful treatment, people may relapse at some later time. Consequently, many lead thinkers have argued for a more proactive approach. This could include interventions that strengthen mental health to prevent mental health disorders from emerging. This paper provides a framework of potential approaches from the field of positive psychology. The authors also review the available evidence for the effectiveness of these approaches.
What I learned from this paper
- Don’t judge a paper by its title: When I first came across the paper, I almost dismissed it because the “flourishing” in the title sounded a bit too New Age for me. However, I found the review very informative and scientifically rigorous. Reading the paper opened my eyes to new approaches that can promote mental health.
- Being kind and caring is good for mental health: According to a meta-analysis mentioned in the paper, training prosocial emotions through kindness and compassion medication leads to lower anxiety, depression, and stress.
- Personal values are valuable if they are not about valuables: Research reviewed in the paper shows that affirming one’s personal values reduces stress and depression, and increases resilience. Unless, these values self-centred or materialistic.
“Distractibility, loneliness, depression, and anxiety are all on the rise, creating an emerging crisis in mental health and a growing deficit in our collective well-being. The scale of this crisis calls for new approaches to the study of well-being and innovative solutions to strengthen it.”
“There is overwhelming evidence that well-being can be learned and that core dimensions of well-being may thus be likened to skills and trained through various forms of self-regulation”
Related further reading
Diener, E., Oishi, S. & Tay, L. Advances in subjective well-being research. Nature Human Behaviour 2, 253–260 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-018-0307-6