If you go to get a doctoral degree in psychology, you spend five years reading a bunch of psychology studies. Or so I'm told. I've never gotten a psychology doctorate. But I have done something more fun - I've written the AllPsych blog for five years. Fifty-five months is about 240 weeks, times three posts a week is 720 - and each of those posts cites at least one psychology study that I found interesting. Many posts synthesize multiple studies on a topic, which leads me to a conservative estimate that I've read and written about over 1,000 psychology studies in the course of this blog. And since psychology research never sleeps, I've posted to this blog every one of those 240 weeks. I haven't even taken holidays off - if you don't believe me, witness my posts on dirty secrets about New Year's resolutions (New Year's), predictors of relationship satisfaction (Valentine's Day), the psychology of believing in ghosts (Halloween), and the inner lives of turkeys (Thanksgiving). Now, though, my streak of writing about psychology studies looks to be broken, with Psych Central changing ownership and all blogs being put on pause. I've already written about that situation on my other Psych Central blog, so what I want to do in this post is take stock of a few things I've learned over here on AllPsych. If AllPsych is "Psych Central's virtual psychology classroom," then you can think of this post as the final review of some key topics. But don't worry, there's not going to be a final exam! This class is taught by that professor where you can't decide if they're cool or just lazy, but they give you an easy A so it doesn't really matter. On that note, a few things I've learned:
- Seeking out the positive makes a difference: Being able to find optimism, a positive outlook and purpose in life brings numerous mental and physical health benefits. Fortunately, adding the appropriate level of rose tint to our glasses is a skill that can be intentionally developed, and positive thinking exercises or new coping strategies can contribute to that process. That said, seeking out the positive doesn't mean we have to enforce constant happiness.
- Helping other people can improve your life: Helping other people is an effective way of helping yourself. In fact, experiencing emotion that goes beyond a sense of self can be powerful: gratitude is associated with higher wellbeing (even though people underestimate the effects of expressing gratitude), and humility is linked with an ability to feel awe at the vastness of the universe. While you're showing compassion for others, just don't forget to also show compassion for yourself.
- Knowing yourself matters: Our individual psychological differences shape our lives, from which jobs we thrive in to which foods we like. Highly resilient people know how to derive strength from their own lives, and people who make sense of their unique autobiographies find more continuity amid major life disruptions.
- Mental health isn't just about individuals: Although we all do what we can to bring happiness to our own lives, happiness is ultimately a society-wide project. Cash transfers to low-income people increase their happiness. Children become less altruistic when they're hungry, and economic downturns bring far-reaching psychological consequences. On the other hand, having exceptionally high amounts of money can lead to dismissive views of others and questionable ethical choices. Ultimately, creating a happy, resilient society is something that has to be done, well, as a society.
- One psychology study can only tell you so much: Almost every post I've written on here has included a sentence saying "the researchers aren't sure why they got these results" or something to that effect. You can show that two things are correlated in a psychology study, but showing that one causes the other gets extremely difficult. On top of that, the process of actually publishing a psychology paper is potentially quite messy, from unprofessional peer reviewers to overhyped media reports. All of which is to say that a single psychology study is never holy writ - it has to be put in the context of other research that has been done and limitations in the study design.
To everyone who has read a post on AllPsych, I hope you've learned something too. And I hope that, like me, you're going to keep learning and keep thinking about how psychology research can shine light on everyday life. Thank you for reading!