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Reflections on the Emotion Revolution Summit

November 4, 2015

By: Marc Brackett, Director, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

This past Saturday, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Born This Way Foundation – created by Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, – hosted the Emotion Revolution Summit to build awareness of the critical role emotions play in young people’s learning, decision-making, academic achievement, and overall wellness. The Summit featured  panel discussions, workshops, and remarks by advocates, educators, nearly 200 visiting Youth from around the country, and Lady Gaga herself.

Throughout the day, Lady Gaga encouraged the youth attendants to take their own mental and emotional health seriously and to proactively seek the tools they need to foster wellbeing. She called on participants to join the conversation around why emotions matter through the #IAmNotJust hashtag on Social Media.

Dr. Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, unveiled the results of an unprecedented online survey of 22,000 high school-age youth. The survey explored how young people currently feel and how they want to feel in school, and the possible reasons for these emotions. Here are some of the highlights of the research:

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The #EmotionRevolution generated more than 618 Million Social Media Impressions worldwide, with the #IAmNotJust hashtag trending globally.

If you were unable to attend or view the LiveStream, you can re-live the #EmotionRevolution by watching both the Opening and Closing sessions online. 

Some Highlights from the Day

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Chris Murchison

Hello, Goodbye: Endings as Positive Opportunities

August 24, 2015


Investing in new employee orientation is a no-brainer for most organizations. A thoughtful beginning sets staff up for success. Positive orientation experiences help create a workplace where employees feel that they belong, where they can show up as a whole person and have a sense of focus and purpose in their work.

While most organizations invest time and resources in beginnings, not all companies make a similar investment in the human side of endings—and the results of that are easy to see. The traditional layoff process is largely a legal and transactional affair, full of practices that are well intentioned but often leave employees feeling startled, hurt and betrayed.

 Is it possible to have a positive layoff?

Like many organizations, we’ve invested in beginnings at HopeLab, helping employees get off to a good start, and we’ve also managed a number of layoffs and terminations. We’ve examined customary approaches to layoffs and tried a number of untraditional practices with the intention of creating a more human experience. Here are some insights and recommendations on how to facilitate goodbyes as positive experiences, even in challenging circumstances.

Transparency. Being laid off is often unexpected. Speak as honestly as you can about the reasons for the decision and acknowledge the impact on the employee.

Allow space. Notification meetings can often be short. Instead allow time and space for connection and conversation. Invite employees to express how they’re feeling, to emote and ask questions.

Presence. Despite what you imagine, you can never fully anticipate how an employee will respond to this news. Slow down, focus your attention on the employee, and be open and responsive to whatever shows up in the moment.

Honor your own emotions. Sometimes leaders have to lay off employees that are dear to them. This can bring up fear, anxiety or sadness. These feelings are human. Rather than tamp them down, express them. It shows that you too are human and builds trust and respect.

Offer Time. Allow time for employees to close out their work with integrity and in support of their legacy – consider allowing days or weeks even, not just a few hours. This is an invitation rather than an expectation. If an employee prefers to leave immediately, that should be a fine option with no judgment associated.

Stay connected. It’s easy for laid off employees to feel disconnected, pushed out or a failure. A layoff does not have to be the end of a relationship. Reach out, check in and see if there’s anything you or your team can do to be supportive. Create time for follow-up conversations. These actions send a strong message that people matter, whether they’re currently employed with you, or not.

Positive does not necessarily mean happy. A positive organization can be joyful and happy, but when we show up fully, warts and all, positive also means allowing the full range of our emotions to be present. No matter how hard you try to create a positive experience, an employee may still feel angry or negative after a layoff. This doesn’t mean, though, that you haven’t planted important seeds that might sprout later.

Be sensitive to the staff “left behind.” Don’t neglect the employees who remain. Layoffs can put them on high alert, wondering if they’re next in line. This energy can undermine morale and productivity. The same transparency, space, presence, and time afforded to laid-off employees should also be carved out for remaining employees.

Layoffs as an opportunity

Layoffs are a critical inflection point for everyone involved, a moment that’s remembered for a lifetime. Transitions out of an organization are an amazing opportunity to reinforce your values and culture, to support connection and humanness, and to foster a healthy sense of control in the face of adversity. A thoughtful and respectful ending can be a profound experience with lasting positive impact.

This blog is based on a talk given at the 2015 Positive Business Conference, hosted by the Ross School of Business School at the University of Michigan. This talk was also featured in an article in The Atlantic and on KCBS Radio in San Francisco.

Originally published on Huffington Post. 


Kevin Neilson

Vote HopeLab into SXSW 2016

August 19, 2015

Planning to be at SXSW Interactive? PanelPicker voting is now open, and we need your votes! We’ve proposed four talks that will explore health, technology and science:

Community voting is a large part of the PanelPicker process, so we’d love your support. Here’s what to do:

  1. Go to PanelPicker to view our proposals (click on links above)
  2. Log in or create an account
  3. Give us a thumbs up
  4. Post an enthusiastic comment if you want

Voting closes September 4, 2015.

Thanks for your help – hope to see you in Austin!


An Apology: How I Failed Monica Lewinsky

June 26, 2015


I recently watched Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk. I was riveted. The former White House Intern has stepped back into the public arena in order to reclaim her narrative and, as she said, “give a purpose to my past.” She is using her experience as a cautionary tale about the consequences of the “blood sport” of public shaming. I found her talk to be quite courageous.

Like many who were around in 1998 when Ms. Lewinsky became a household name, I was inundated by the media coverage. What I remember are parallel narratives unfolding, with predictable Washington partisan accusations and counter-accusations on one side and a frenzy of personal and demeaning attacks on the other. Ms. Lewinsky took fire from all quarters. What I never heard – and what the TED Talk threw into stark relief for me – was Ms. Lewinsky’s own point of view.

When Ms. Lewinsky’s world was sent reeling, the immediate and widespread availability of information through the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle were still relatively new phenomena. The destruction of Ms. Lewinsky’s reputation through the round-the-clock ubiquity of the news was unprecedented in its magnitude. “I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously,” she told her TED Talk audience.

Beyond the caricature

In 198, Ms. Lewinsky was 22 years old.

It was both astonishing and refreshing to hear the bright, self-reflective, and courageous voice of Ms. Lewinsky, now 41, filling in the void that has so long hobbled our understanding of the entire incident – including a deeper understanding of ourselves. She didn’t provide any missing facts about what happened in 1998 – and I think that’s a good thing; that was not the point of her talk. Instead, she simply showed us that the two-dimensional beret-wearing caricature we had been given of “that woman” was woefully inadequate. In the frenzied rush to report on the affair, just about everyone forgot that Ms. Lewinsky herself drew breath, felt pain, and – like all 22-year-olds – made mistakes. Watching Ms. Lewinsky tell her story and morph from caricature into a living, thinking, feeling, multi-dimensional human being reminded me of how horribly and collectively we failed her. And, now, as a mother of two daughters, I try to imagine what I would do were one of my children caught up in such a nightmare. I’m humbled and horrified by the suffering inflicted on Ms. Lewinsky and her family. Though I do not remember any specific remarks on my part at the time, I’m certain I must have participated in thoughtless speech associated with these events and now deeply regret that I too may have added to that tsunami.

I’m sure many people will point out that by having an affair with a married man the failure was Ms. Lewinsky’s. I believe Ms. Lewinsky has now been held accountable for her acts. But what of the rest of us? What of the lack of care and compassion we took in understanding her, once she came to our attention? What of the limited and derisive vocabulary we utilized in pursuit of that understanding and our individual and collective unwillingness to deepen the conversation? What of our lack of reflection and humility regarding our own behavior, flaws and mistakes at 22? Perhaps most profoundly, what of our gratefulness at being forgiven for our own errors in stark contrast to our unwillingness to forgive her? Personally, I feel I failed her miserably.

Empathy and accountability

For my part, I would like to extend an apology to Ms. Lewinsky and her family. Not because her behavior was excusable or justified, but because it was all too human, and I dehumanized her at the time in my consumption of the story.

This dehumanization, most especially in the form of mindless and reactive speech, is of increasing concern to me in the digital, remote and anonymous environments we frequent. Thanks to a host of incremental and profound changes in the ways we live our lives and the communications tools that enable us, we have diminished our understanding of the consequences of our behavior on the lives of the people we encounter. This reduction in empathy accompanies a reduction in accountability. We are drive-by critics. We make our point, lob our grenades and drive on. Our actions may make us feel self-satisfied, may even garner us “likes” or re-tweets, but do they actually improve insight or understanding into the situation at hand? It is a question to consider before hitting the send button.

That was the power of Ms. Lewinsky’s TED Talk for me. Few of us remember the off-handed remarks we made (myself included). Yet, nearly two decades later, Ms. Lewinsky can map in painful detail the shattered landscape of her life, where the mob mentality of the coverage—“public shaming as blood sport,” in her words—obliterated the future she had before her. My heart broke as she described her mother’s insistence that Ms. Lewinsky leave the bathroom door open when she showered, fearful that she might harm herself, that she would be “humiliated to death.” Her courage in giving us a glimpse of this carnage, reminding us that she is a person, was a profoundly humanizing action. I’m so grateful to her for the bravery she showed, the insights she offered and the lessons she taught me.

There is a beautiful quote by Sri Ali Baba that I pulled out after watching Ms. Lewinsky’s talk again last night. It reads:

“Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it kind, is it

necessary, is it true, does it improve upon the silence?”

I’m confident any remarks I offered on Ms. Lewinsky’s situation in 1998 were likely unnecessary. I’m equally confident Ms. Lewinsky’s TED Talk was a remarkable improvement on the silence.

Originally published on Huffington Post.

Nicole Guthrie

TEDWomen 2015: Bold Ideas That Will Move the World

June 22, 2015

By Nicole Guthrie, Research & Development Manager

Every other year, TEDWomen brings together a global community of women and men interested in exploring how social change begins. I enjoyed all of the sessions and was repeatedly brought to tears or belly laughter. And, no, my emotional responses throughout the event had nothing to do with my gender, but everything to do with my humanity. The speakers addressed a broad range of important topics –environmental stewardship, economic equality, empathy in journalism, supporting teens in crisis and more. Issues anyone can relate to.

This year’s theme was “momentum,” and each session explored an intriguing facet of momentum: spark, surface, seduce, sustain, shift and share. Over the course of the two-day conference, I had the privilege of listening to over 30 talks. Here are the talks that have kept me thinking, feeling and wondering in the days since TEDWomen 2015:


It’s nice to be seen—Rana El Kaliouby, chief science officer and co-founder of Affectiva, an MIT Media Lab spin-off, shared the story of what inspired the emotion-sensing algorithms her company uses. It started when she found herself far from her home in Egypt as a computer sciences graduate student at Cambridge and noticed she spent more time with her computer than any living being. She thought it would be so nice if the object she spent so much time with could actually sense her mood the same way a friend or loved one might.  In her talk, Rana ran her program on an iPad to read the face and in real time name the emotions of a volunteer from the audience.  As the volunteer changed her expression the program immediately named the new emotion. What did it see? Happiness, sadness and confusion. Amazing. Before long my computer will look at me and say, “You look tired. Why don’t you close me and go to bed?”


Stepping into the news— Nonna de la Pena, an experienced journalist and CEO of the Emblematic Group, is often called the “godmother of virtual reality.”  And she’s on a mission to revolutionize the way we consume news. Nonna takes news stories, including actual audio and video of events, and turns them into virtual reality experiences, enabling people to actively experience the news instead of just passively listening to it. In one example she shared, a woman was placed in line at a virtual food bank in L.A. where an older man collapsed right next to her. The experience was so real that the woman kneeled down to help the virtual man and shed tears when she realized she couldn’t help him. This wasn’t just a video game; this was witnessing the true story of a man struggling on the margins of society. Nonna’s 21st century approach to journalism could spark millions to take action.


Humanizing the workplace—Margaret Heffernan, author and leadership consultant, explored a topic that organically surfaced in several conversations I had at the conference: the desire for workplace environments that enable people to thrive in all areas of their lives. Margaret talked about the importance of having meaningful human connections with your co-workers that go beyond calendar events and to-do lists. Teams thrive and companies succeed when employees and leaders see each other as human beings. She said it well: “What matters is the mortar, not just the bricks.” I encourage you to check out her new book, Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes.


Texting for life—Nancy Lublin, the CEO of DoSomething.org, shared the story of her newest project, Crisis Text Line. I was familiar with Nancy’s work, and based on her previous presentations, I was expecting to be banged over the head rather than seduced, the theme of her session. However, I was deeply moved by the compassion with which she shared stories of teens in crisis. Nancy told the story of a teen girl who texted a crisis counselor that she had a bottle of pills and was prepared to take them. The counselor gathered as much information as she could and, as trained, tried to talk the girl down from her suicidal thoughts. Then the texts stopped coming, and the counselor made the call to send the police out to the teen’s home. After a long wait, another text finally came. It was from the mother of the teen who had been in a nearby room the whole time, with no idea what was happening with her daughter. The mother was immensely grateful for the Crisis Text Line. I am grateful that Nancy shared this story and that she’s bringing her compassion and drive to this important work.


Love and belonging—Linda Cliatt-Wayman, a school principal from Philadelphia, explained in her talk that she grew up going to an urban, poor-performing and chaotic school similar to what she saw when she first walked into Strawberry Mansion High School, where she works. On her first day on the job, she broke up a large fight between several female students. She called a school assembly to introduce herself, and as she shared her vision for the school, she heard the faint voice of a girl, who said, “You keep talking about this school, but this is not a school.” Those words, “This is not a school,” sat heavy with Cliatt-Wayman, and she thought about the chains locking the doors and the truth of the student’s observation. She was determined to transform Strawberry Mansion into a school, where students felt safe, where teachers set high expectations and learning could take place. To support those goals, she ends every morning announcement to the school by saying, “If no one told you today that they love you, remember that I do and always will.” By leading with compassion, she’s transforming the school and the lives of many young people.

Kevin Neilson

Confession: I Loved My Onboarding Experience

June 9, 2015


It’s been over a year and a half since I joined HopeLab, and I’m still wistfully thinking about my onboarding experience. Who does that? Well, apparently I do. It’s one of my idiosyncrasies, but we’ll get to those in a moment.

Typically the onboarding process for a new employee is an uninspired affair, filled with lectures, videos, and other transactional interactions. They can be impersonal and tedious. But onboarding doesn’t have to be that way.

I’d like to share some personal observations of my experience getting started at HopeLab in the hopes that an idea or a practice sticks with you as you onboard someone in the future. I’m utterly convinced that effective onboarding consists of highly repeatable practices that are easy, no or low cost, and can be transferred from one workplace to another, no matter what sector, industry, or business you’re in.

First contact. My onboarding experience at HopeLab actually started in the interview process, long before I accepted or had even been offered the job. Staff treated me with warmth, kindness, and engaging curiosity. They inquired about my interests and talents, my strengths and weaknesses, and my learning and working styles. Past successes and failures (perceived or real) were openly discussed in a spirit of empathy and understanding—and ultimately acceptance. The experience left an overwhelmingly positive impression that deeply influenced my expectations of the company and its organizational culture.

The call. In a simple yet meaningful gesture, the hiring manager called me to offer the job – not a recruiter or an HR business partner, but the actual hiring manager. He shared his enthusiasm for me as a candidate and then asked me to join the team, in a truly human-to-human moment. Next time you want to hire someone, make the call yourself. It starts the relationship off on the right foot and signals the importance of organizational values like respect and accountability.

Hallmark. A few days after I accepted the offer, I received a good old-fashioned card in the mail, signed with personalized notes by everyone I met during the interview process. Even a few people I didn’t meet chimed in to share their excitement and congratulate me on joining the team. I felt welcomed before I was even physically onsite.

Gift. On my first day in the office, I received a small friendly-looking plant, some sort of succulent, I suppose, that I promptly starved of light and drowned with water. No, I’m not a plant guy. But the thought itself took root, and that’s what really counts.

Coffee. In the first 60 days, I met with staff across every major function, typically somewhere out of the office but nearby and almost always over coffee or tea. We talked about work, life, and stuff in general. By establishing personal connections early on, I was introduced to the organization and its work. Plus, those 1:1 interactions helped build relational reserves that I now call on when workloads (and tensions) run high or when projects go sideways, as they invariably do at some point.

Personalization. Some people are parts-to-whole learners. Me, I’m a whole-to-parts learner, all the way. I prefer a broad vista from which to survey the landscape. I’m also an introvert, meaning that extended time with people depletes my energy, turning my attention and focus to mush. When you combine those two quirks, you’ve got yourself a colleague who needs space and time to process things, from strategies to tactics—and beyond. My hiring manager customized an onboarding experience with my temperament in mind, building space into my orientation schedule for time to think, take notes, and prioritize.

From me to we. Like any collaborative effort, effective onboarding takes a village, at least a small village of people who are willing to help new hires get established in their new roles within the company. One of the most frequent questions I met with was, “How can I be of help to you?” This question came to me from all quarters, from R&D, finance, IT, and even the executive team, who knows the importance of setting tone at the top, especially when creating an atmosphere where everyone—including new hires—enjoy a sense of belonging and shared purpose.

Originally published on Huffington Post.

Kevin Neilson

6 Reasons Why Purpose Is Good For Your Health

May 13, 2015

1. Longer life.
Having a strong purpose in life is correlated with lower risk of mortality, disability, and Alzheimer’s disease.


2. Less stress. Living life in a full and satisfying way is correlated with lower stress.


3. Less inflammation. Living a meaningful and purposeful life is correlated with less chronic inflammation.


4. Pro HDL. Living with purpose and meaning is correlated with higher levels of “good” cholesterol.


5. Sweet dreams. Living life in a full and satisfying way is correlated with improved REM sleep.


6. Unlock potential. Living life with meaning and purpose can help improve your engagement and performance at work.


Fredrickson, B.L. et al. (2013) (Online references: 1, 2, 3, & 4)
Ryff, C.D., Singer, B.H., & Love, G.D. (2004)
Wrzesniewski, A., Dutton, J.E., & Debebe, G. (2003)

Janxin Leu

One Word Holds the Key to Health and Happiness

April 6, 2015


Eudaimonia: if the word is new to you, it might sound like a style of electronic dance music or a pharmaceutical. No, eudaimonia can’t be downloaded from the cloud or packaged in a pill. But eudaimonia is a remarkable type of experience that can improve health and well-being, for yourself and others.

Sounds important, right? It is.

What is eudaimonia?

Definitions of eudaimonia date back to ancient philosophers. According to Plato and Aristotle, eudaimonia is the sense of living life in a full and deeply satisfying way, beyond fleeting emotional states. Think of it this way, if you answer “yes” to the question, “Am I living in alignment with my values and purpose?” you’ve certainly had a eudaimonic experience or two. Aristotle considers eudaimonia the highest human achievement. The ultimate goal of existence, he believes, is human flourishing.

Now, most of us are quite familiar with a different kind of happiness: hedonia, or the sense of satisfaction that comes from the pursuit of pleasure.[1] When we answer “yes” to the question, “Are my needs and wants being met right now?” we’re often having a moment of hedonistic satisfaction. Like eudaimonia, hedonia delivers a certain type of happiness that can be rewarding. But science suggests that the effects of hedonia on our health and well-being are different than the effects of eudaimonia. More on that in a bit.

Mixing the two

Although eudaimonia and hedonia are different, they’re highly correlated experiences, which often overlap in interesting ways.[2] Eating a piece of cake might put a smile on your face, but it’s not terribly meaningful in the long run. On the other hand, eating a piece of cake in celebration of a friend can be a deeply satisfying experience, one that’s more meaningful than simply feeling good.

Eudaimonia doesn’t always relate to happiness in the moment. Navigating difficulties and challenges in life—struggling through a job search, nursing a sick relative, studying for a tough exam—can connect us to a satisfying sense of meaning and purpose during tough times. Intriguingly, there’s evidence that eudaimonic experiences, even when they’re uncomfortable, can be good for your health.

The health benefits of eudaimonia

As researchers explore the connection between psychology and biology, scientific evidence increasingly points to the health benefits of eudaimonia. People with a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life report greater life satisfaction, stronger emotional ties with others, and less stress, anxiety, and depression.[3] Clearly, eudaimonia is good for your mental health.

But the benefits of eudaimonia stretch even further, affecting not just your state of mind but even your physical health at the genetic level. Research suggests that eudaimonia, compared to hedonia, is associated with less inflammation in the body, lower levels of stress hormones, better sleep, healthier weight, and lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  [4] , [5]  Not only is eudaimonia good for your well-being, it’s good for your physical health, too.

So if you’re going to chase one type of experience—eudaimonia or hedonia—choose eudaimonia.

Your mind and body will be more resilient for it.

Originally published on Huffington Post 

[1] Ryff, C. D., Singer, B. H., & Love, G. D. (2004). Positive health: connecting well-being with biology. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 359, 1383-1394.

[2] Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., Aaker, J. L., & Garbinsky, E. N. (2013). Some Key Differences between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(6), 505-516.

[3] Zika, S., & Chamberlain, K. (1992). On the relation between meaning in life and psychological well-being. British Journal of Psychology, 83, 133-145.

[4] Ryff, C. D., Singer, B. H., & Love, G. D. (2004). Positive health: connecting well-being with biology. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 359, 1383-1394.

[5] Frederickson et al. (2014). A functional genomic perspective on human well-being. PNAS, 110(33), 13684-89.


Say What? How Power Words Reveal Our Resilience

March 10, 2015

Guest blog post by Lusann Yang 


When I met Dr. Steve Cole, I didn’t know what to make of his hypothesis. It’s easy to imagine poetic, heartfelt words as a window into the soul, but can the way we speak every day reveal meaningful insights into our health and well-being? Cole is the VP of R&D for HopeLab and a professor of medicine at UCLA. At HopeLab, he develops tools to promote human resilience, an innate capacity that enables people to thrive in the face of adversity. Drawing upon research by Dr. James Pennebaker, Cole hypothesized that data analysis of a person’s natural language style—not what they say, but how they say it—could provide a measure for the key psychological ingredients of resilience. And he was going to let me dig into the data.

What Makes Us Resilient

Psychologists who study resilience have identified three attributes that are common among resilient people: a sense of purpose in life, meaningful connection with others, and a sense of control or agency in shaping our future. The first ingredient in this resilience formula, having a sense of purpose in life, is related to what’s known in academic circles as eudaimonic well-being. The second, connection, is the experience of deep connection with others – the opposite of loneliness. The third is self-efficacy, a can-do spirit reflecting a person’s confidence that they can take action to overcome challenges and reach their goals.

Psychologists often measure these markers of resilience through surveys. But surveys are notoriously unreliable—people interpret questions differently, or answer in the way that they think will please the researcher or present themselves in a positive light.

This is where Cole’s idea came in: he wanted to borrow the big-data analytics tools we use in my field, applied physics, to explore resilience and natural language. He theorized that people’s word choices in essays about mundane things, like descriptions of images or places, could provide insight into resilience markers. This idea grows out of research by Pennebaker that suggests that how people say things might be as revealing as what they say.

 Investigating New Measures of Resilience

Cole collaborated with Pennebaker’s group at the University of Texas, Austin, to collect survey data and natural language samples from 800 resilience2undergraduates, including demographic information, self-reported survey measures of loneliness, self-efficacy, and eudaimonic well-being, and five essays written by each student. The essays included stream of consciousness writing, responses to an ambiguous picture (the Thematic Apperception Test), and descriptions of places.

Our first step toward analyzing the language data was to look at it through the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) toolkit developed by Pennebaker, et al. The toolkit counts the number of times specific types of words are used, and includes a dictionary to categorize words, such as personal pronouns, self references, and terms that connote positive and negative emotions.

Once we had the LIWC data, we developed language-based prediction algorithms for the three resilience markers (purpose, connection, control) using support vector machines (SVM), a classification tool popular in machine learning. Our goal was develop a system of data analysis for language that could match, and therefore potentially predict, the outcomes of standard psychological surveys about loneliness, eudaimonic well-being, and self-efficacy measured through self-reported data by subjects. Figure 1 shows results using a metric called “percentage swapped,” in which values below 50% mean our data is more accurate than chance. There was a definite signal, especially for the stream-of-consciousness writing samples. Our algorithm showed as much predictive power as demographic information, including age, sex, ethnicity, health, religion, and employment.

The Predictive Power of Our Language Analysis Algorithm To Match Psychological Surveys













Exploring Opposite Extremes

Psychologists are especially interested in people on the ends of the spectrum—those who are extremely resilient and those who struggle. With this in mind, we wanted to explore the accuracy of our SVM language predictors to identify the top and bottom 20% of students in each trait of our resilience formula. A perfect algorithm would achieve 100% accuracy; random chance would achieve 20%. Our SVM algorithms far outperformed chance (see Figure 2), especially when we analyzed creative storytelling (the Thematic Apperception Test) and sample essays that described places.













Glen Coppersmith, a scientist at Johns Hopkins’ Human Language Technology Center of Excellence, gave us another inspiration. He suggested that we explore the specific words that are more or less likely to be used by the 20% of our sample with the highest resilience scores, compared with the lowest 20%. These results were especially intriguing. Cole noted that the people who scored high for resilience used words that suggested being in motion – striving and moving forward.

Some Key Words Used by Resilient People


Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 2.46.08 PM

Next, we moved from words to phrases, so we divided our sample essays into word-windows, analyzed phrases for their relationships to the markers of resilience using LIWC, and put the data through our SVM-rank model. For the samples in Figures 4 and 5, we coded the phrases associated with loneliness in red; phrases that are less lonely are blue. Stand back and squint, and you get a good picture of which person might be lonelier.



Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 2.47.19 PM


Finding Resilience in Natural Language

Our exploration of natural language through the tools of big data analysis yielded intriguing results. We found clear links between the words people use and psychological measures of their well-being, which opens the possibility for supplementing notoriously problematic psychological surveys with a new strategy for measuring resilience.

For Cole and his colleagues at HopeLab, this new approach to resilience measurement might be used both to create new resilience-promoting interventions and to evaluate their efficacy. That’s exciting, ground-breaking work – a great example of how insights from scientific inquiry can be translated into practical tools for people everywhere.

Words, as it turns out, may indeed be a window into our well-being.

Works referenced

Pennebaker, James W., R. J. Booth, and M. E. Francis. “Linguistic inquiry and word count: LIWC [Computer software].” Austin, TX: liwc. net (2007).

Vladimir N. Vapnik, The Nature of Statistical Learning Theory. Springer, 1995.

T. Joachims, Training Linear SVMs in Linear Time,Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (KDD), 2006.

Janxin Leu

Purpose: How to Help Kids Find Their Way in the World

February 20, 2015


If you’re curious to know what purpose is and how you or a loved one can get it or discover it, you’re not alone. The topic has grabbed the attention of everyone from psychologists to HR managers, making a splash in self-help books and influencing corporate recruitment practices. And why not? Cultivating a sense of purpose early in life is a powerful way to support long-term psychological and biological health, even at the genomic level.

Pursuit of purpose

Last week, Echoing Green—a nonprofit best known for sourcing and supporting social entrepreneurs—hosted the world’s first 360 degree review of a burgeoning, new field dedicated to purpose. Thought leaders from different sectors—ranging from business and religion, to higher education, and beyond—gathered at the event to map the emerging field of purpose and identify themes and opportunities for future exploration. I attended with avid curiosity, feeling on the edge of a social movement.

There is emerging consensus: Purpose is a way of living, a north star, a steady goal that’s meaningful to an individual yet, importantly, reaches out into the world.

Finding what is right for you and right for the world has long-term health benefits. So how might we help teens and young adults find theirs as they explore their way into adulthood? It seems like such a noble yet daunting goal, even for ourselves.

Here are a few ways you can encourage the development of a purposeful life among kids, whether you’re a parent, mentor or a friend.

  1. Ask questions, listen deeply

While friends, hobbies, and interests may change, there are deeper patterns to what enlivens us. But it’s tough for a teen or young adult to recognize those patterns in themselves. Ask big bold questions and listen deeply to their answers: What would you change about the world if you knew you could not fail? What makes your heart sing? Encourage kids to find opportunities for stillness in their lives (i.e., hiking, cooking, journaling, worshipping, etc.) so they can wrestle with those big questions and begin answering them, slowly, over time.

  1. Just do it

Doing is often a fantastic path to purpose. Especially for kids who are starting out in life. They cannot be expected to think or reason their way to a meaningful path. They have to live their way on to it. Do first, reflect second. By behaving as though they hold a particular purpose, teens and young adults can try, fail, and learn from life, while envisioning what that future looks and feels like from the inside out.

  1. Disrupt tradition

Just as we can mindlessly drive a car, we can mindlessly live our lives. Encourage teens and young adults to break their routines in ways that expand their perspective: Volunteer at a national park or a retirement home; study abroad for a year; join a summer program. By immersing themselves in new experiences, teens and young adults snap out of their routines and discover new ways to engage the world and discover themselves.

  1. Get out of the way

Parents are great at many things – including putting many well-intentioned roadblocks in their children’s way. Love and worry are powerful drivers of adult behavior. But at the end of the day, there’s only one person who will make your child’s decisions for the rest of their lives. And it’s not you. So kindly get out of the way. Let them try, fail, and learn, with you nearby for support.

  1. Don’t confuse purpose with happiness

Happiness is sometimes about feeling good, like when I buy a new dress. But feeling good in the moment isn’t the same thing as the satisfaction that comes from leading a deeply meaningful life. A purposeful life can be profoundly gratifying without always being pleasant. No one wants their child to suffer, but learning to successfully navigate life’s challenges can be deeply rewarding in ways that a rush of happiness is not.

Originally published on Huffington Post