Ville

essay

Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

This comment by the 14th Dalai Lama inspired me in my search for a career after I read it for the first time at age 20. It was the time when I had to make the big career decisions and choose what to do after upper secondary school (lukio).

However, I think career development begins much sooner. Through socialization, our family and relatives ask us what we want to do when we grow up. Our upbringing plants the seeds of possibilities and impossibilities; the beliefs that we can or cannot be whatever we want to be.

I remember wanting to be a formula driver at age 6, astronaut and astrophysicist at age 13, visual effects artist and film editor at age 17, and psychologist and therapist at age 21. Now at age 25, I want to be a teacher and educator and work in politics. It appears that already at a young age we are reminded to think about our future career—questions about career concerns all ages. Thus, the ten lessons I tell you are applicable to anyone at any stage of their career.

While studying psychology, along the way I found new interests. Cognitive sciences, neuroscience, social sciences, and more. I had the opportunity to take a course in Perspective in Career Planning in Leiden University. Others thought the course a waste of time or weren't too excited about it altogether, but I liked it. Though I did not like it as if it was the best thing ever. I just think some articles had valuable lessons that I am now going to share with you and give stories from my own life.

Contents:

  1. understand how luck works🍀
  2. generate lucky events on which you can capitalize
  3. embrace uncertainty
  4. use rational and intuitive decision-making styles
  5. good enough is the key to happiness
  6. be aware of your (dis)advantages
  7. believe in yourself you can do it
  8. know that your personality matters
  9. be aware of your outcome expectations
  10. and be resilient

1. understand how luck works🍀

We weave a narrative to explain everything in terms of our own doing. But in fact favourable chance events, or in other words luck, for example economic situations, unexpected information, and unexpected personal events all account for your career development [4]. Sometimes chance can play a bigger role than you anticipated, so don't be guilty if your career benefited from chance. See also Veritasium’s video Is Success Luck or Hard Work?.

People think it has to be either skill or luck that explains success, but the truth is you need both. ― Veritasium

I was accepted to Leiden University in 2018 but I didn’t have a house to live in. I applied through university relatively late and therefore they did not offer me a room in the given price range. I traveled to the Netherlands in search of a room but no luck. Then two weeks before the start of the studies I called the university and they told me to call again after two days. I called and they offered me a room. I was lucky but I did not wait for luck like Gladstone Gander, instead I generated these three events (applying, traveling, calling) and the third time was the charm.

2. generate lucky events on which you can capitalize

Beneficial chance events, lucky coincidences, and happy accidents are events that come about through, for example, taking classes directly or remotely, getting to know and interacting with new people, and surfing the internet [4]. These events can lead you to places paramount to your career growth.

And as you network, don’t just make contacts, make friends. I recently found this Guide to Twitter where Tasshin mentions how Twitter is one of the best places to make new friends. See also Codus Operandi's piece about Luck Surface Area.

It turns out that Twitter is a wonderful place for finding friends. ― Tasshin

I've made good friends who could have helped me in different things, such as recommend me as research assistant, work in a start-up, or get an internship. I did not capitalize on these chance events because they were not in my interest at that moment. But it goes to show that having friends will lead you to new ideas and opportunities. Ask yourself, would you hire a stranger or a friend?

3. embrace uncertainty

Uncertainty is anxiety-inducing. Anxiety is normal when planning the future but it is possible to overcome it. And truth to be told, uncertainty is present despite having a seemingly stable career [4]. You can never know what out of the blue may happen next, as evidenced by the pandemic. And because the future and individual human behavior are impossible to predict, we should therefore humbly accept uncertainty.

My anxiety decreased the more diligently and earlier I prepared and worked toward a goal. I curiously explored possible Master’s studies during my second year of psychology studies. And as the time to apply was near, I found all the possible Master’s studies that I was interested in, ranked them according to my felt preference, “gut feeling”, and then applied accordingly. I wasn't anxious about the results during the application phase anymore because I had done my work toward finding what I was interested in, and also wrote good enough motivation letters.

4. use rational and intuitive decision-making styles

There are five decision-making styles [2,5]:

  • logical and structured approach (rational style)
  • reliance on feelings and impressions (intuitive style)
  • reliance on the support of others (dependent style)
  • postponing or avoiding making decisions (avoidant style)
  • impulsive decision making (spontaneous style)

Dependent, avoidant, and spontaneous styles are all manifestations of nonproductive indecision. In contrast, people who combine both rational and intuitive decision-making styles are in the best place to make the best productive decisions.

It works as follows. First gather as much necessary information as possible, and then let unconscious thought processes carry out their task; that is, don't consciously mull and work on it. After a seemingly inactive period, you will get vague feelings, “gut feelings” rather than explicit thoughts about the direction you are going to follow. For more, see The Theory of Unconscious Thought.

Contrary to popular belief, decisions about simple issues can be better tackled by conscious thought, whereas decisions about complex matters can be better approached with unconscious thought. ― A. Dijksterhuis & L. Nordgren

I have used this method everywhere since I first learned about unconscious thought processes at age 20. I read a book called The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy. The book, and namely unconscious thought processes, helped me to choose to study psychology out of all other possible career paths.

I recount the feeling very strongly. Before I fell asleep, I asked myself the question 'what should I study' a dozen times. When I woke up, I had forgotten about it and went on about my morning. As I was about to make a sandwich, I remember vividly how my mind emanated the words and prompted a cocksure feeling that inspired me to study either law or psychology. (Sounds schizophrenic I know!)

5. good enough is the key to happiness

Having too many or too few options can make you less happy [5]. It is a U-shaped relationship: having limited options is the best, the goldilock zone. Too few options suck, while too many options lead to paradox of choice, which can lead to regret because people want to maximize their options. In other words, the feeling that you could've had or done better because you knew there was or was going to be a better alternative. It all makes sense in hindsight, right?

The key to happiness is to limit desires, and then be happy about the mundane things that you get for free.

I could've applied to a dozen different Master's programmes across Europe. But I limited my options by applying to Finnish programmes that had interesting courses.

In the end I planned to apply to five Master's programmes. Whilst writing a motivation letter I decided not to pursue neuroscience. I was rejected from two programmes, and then finally accepted to the peace programme. Consequently, I decided not pursue clinical psychology because the peace programme was good enough.

6. be aware of your (dis)advantages

People are born to a time, place and parents that they did not choose, with varied weaknesses and strengths that their upbringing and genetics dictate. So described, there exists real limitations, personal and contextual factors that potentially limit what you can and cannot do [4]. Limitations notwithstanding, focus on the positive, the advantages that you can use in your favor.

We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. ― The Last Lecture

I was born in a welfare country and to a family that is not nuts. And I think this is possibly one of the greatest eras in human history to live in. A dozen potential human extinction events in the future and present negative news in the media notwithstanding, humans around the globe, on average, are doing much better now than they ever were in the past. (Then again, humans are doing well, but what about other animals and environment?)

(For more, read Factfulness by Hans Rosling and Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know by Ronald Bailey and Marian Tupy.)

Finally, in the past five years through healthy interpersonal comparison and meditative self-reflection, I have begun to understand my personal strengths and weaknesses that I am not going to elaborate and list further.

7. believe in yourself you can do it

Self-efficacy simply refers to your belief that you can do it. It is extremely important in career development as it is strongly and inversely correlated to career indecision [1]. The more you believe in yourself that you can do it, the better you are at making the decision. Check out the 4 Ways To Improve And Increase Self-Efficacy by Positive Psychology.

[Luke:] I can't believe it. [Yoda:] That's why you fail.

Before applying to entrance exams in psychology in Turku, I had high self-efficacy. After the results I was disappointed to hear that I wasn’t accepted. My belief in my own abilities hit rock bottom. I didn't fix it by trying again because I was afraid of failure. Instead I decided to apply abroad. Studying psychology abroad certainly rebuilt my self-efficacy. I actually had enough confidence to apply to Turku again, but by then I had set my mind to other options.

8. know that your personality matters

The Big Five personality test can predict important life outcomes. High conscientiousness, extraversion, and openness, and low neuroticism are shown to be related to successful career development [1]. Get to know yourself better through these free tests:

When I was 20 I did the Meyer-Briggs personality test. It inspired me, and motivated me to study psychology. I later learned that it wasn't a scientifically proven test. Whatever, because it helped me to understand myself better. Notwithstanding, I now recommend Big-5 personality tests given it is a more scientifically rigorous and more accurate picture of your personality. Then again, you can take the MBTI test to find career inspiration while knowing that it does not reflect your personality.

9. be aware of your outcome expectations

Outcome expectations can take the shape of social, material, and self-evaluative forms. Is it good for my family? Is it good for us financially? Is it good for me? What will happen if I try?

These questions can dictate your behavior [1]. If you think that the outcome is going to be bad, you have already given into pessimism and defeatism that feeds further surrender and inaction. In contrast, if you remain positive and optimistic, there is a larger probability that the outcome is going to be favorable.

While the quote below by Lao Tzu is a slippery slope, psychological science tells us that outcome expectations (thoughts) can influence our actions significantly. I don't know if they can influence your “destiny”.

Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny. ― Lao Tzu

Going to the Netherlands meant leaving family and friends behind, spending money on tuition, and studying psychology that would not promise me the title of psychologist. Alternatively, it also meant new friends and experiences, investing in myself namely education, and opening new opportunities in career development.

10. and be resilient

Given that adverse unexpected events can happen anytime during your career development, it is extremely important to be resilient. To bounce back from adversity, you have to be nimble, protean, and resilient. Career resilience naturally increases as you age and gain experience through the process of persisting, adapting, and flourishing despite challenges, changes, and disruptions over time [3].

Next, notice which personal and contextual factors you can improve to increase career resilience, but also which factors may hinder or block your career growth.

Personal factors:

  • individual's characteristics (The Big-5, internal locus of control, self-efficacy, self-esteem)
  • skills (technical competence, time management, interpersonal and communication skills)
  • attitudes (optimism/pessimism)
  • behavior and habits (physical exercise, self-care, help-seeking, learning about the organization's culture, professional development)
  • career history (prior experience)

Contextual factors:

  • supportive workplace (supervisory support, peer support, psycho-social mentoring, career mentoring, supportive organizational policies)
  • job characteristics (autonomy, feedback)
  • supportive family (spouse/partner support, emotionality of partner)

Together personal and contextual factors form a bidirectional relationship affecting each other. These two then together affect career resilience that impacts your career satisfaction, intentions to change careers, and subjective career success.

In the summer of 2021, I was cutting grass in several districts and motor roads. Then the company hired another person to cut grass. It didn’t take long until I realized that there wasn’t enough work for everybody. (It was a hot and dry summer that burnt the grass.) I made the uncertain, short-term decision to change jobs, and one week later I got a call to work on excavation.


I end this post with my second favourite quote that I live by:

“If you don't know where you want to go, then it doesn't matter which path you take.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

References

[1]. Lent, R. W. & Brown, S. D. (2013). Social Cognitive Model of Career Self-Management: Toward a Unifying View of Adaptive Career Behavior Across the Life Span. Journal of counseling psychology, 60(4), 557-568. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0033446

[2]. Lipshits-Braziler, Y., Gati, I. & Tatar, M. (2015). Strategies for coping with career indecision: Concurrent and predictive validity. Journal of vocational behavior, 91, 170-179. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2015.10.004

[3]. Mishra, P. & McDonald, K. (2017). Career Resilience: An Integrated Review of the Empirical Literature. Human Resource Development Review, 16(3), 207-234. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534484317719622

[4]. Mitchell, K. E., Al Levin, S. & Krumboltz, J. D. (1999). Planned Happenstance: Constructing Unexpected Career Opportunities. Journal of counseling and development, 77(2), 115-124. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1556-6676.1999.tb02431.x

[5]. van Vianen, A. E. M., De Pater, I. E. & Preenen, P. T. Y. (2009). Adaptable Careers: Maximizing Less and Exploring More. The Career development quarterly, 57(4), 298-309. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-0045.2009.tb00115.x

#essay #psychology #experiences

Have you noticed that consistent, right behavior is required to provide something of value. Routinely investing, exercising, painting, composing, and whatever, and if you keep doing it consistently—regularly and every day—you become a master at it and reap the maximum gains. This hold true for consistent lazy behavior too that is a path to becoming the very best procrastinator. I would know.

So described, consistency/constancy implies regularly occurring phenomena that repeats itself. Human behavior notwithstanding, I can also see consistency in far more exciting and less mundane things. For example, mathematics is the most reliably consistent phenomenon there is. One plus one is three. It is absolutely exact. The end. I think that is astonishingly beautiful.

Computer code without bugs is consistent and has predictable outcomes. For example, depending on the difficulty height and change, Bitcoin pushes constantly out new blocks approximately every ten minutes, as per its code.

fractal

Even as complex as nature is seemingly consistent as evidenced by chaos—constistent feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, fractals, and self-organization.

In addition to the fractal illustration above, fractals are also tree branches spreading out sporadically in the sky, waves splashing violently on a rock and dispersing quietly, and thick smoke dissolving in thin particles in the air. In chaos lies certain familiar consistency.

Relatedly, cycle of birth and death that is shared across the living and non-living organisms, is beautifully constant across time and place.

Moreover, my consciousness—the quality or state of being aware especially of something within myself—is continuously and consistently built out of stimuli that my basic human senses pick from internal and external world. Then my brain decodes and encodes the stimuli and creates consciousness. To be conscious and alive is one of the most underrated reason to be grateful for.

Consistency in art, like symmetry, is pleasant to look at. Then again abstract art can be chaotic just like nature. Chaotic parts in abstract art are in agreement with each other, thus harmony emerges as a whole.

Art is also films, and therefore films that violate continuity are not consistent across the plot anymore. For example, the multitude of plot holes in last few seasons of Game of Thrones TV series lost its continuity.

Continuity is also broken in music when the rhythm breaks and becomes inconsistent. That is why you hear similar-sounding music decade over decade because people are afraid to break cliché, old patterns because, after all, they work.

Mental impairments like depression show abnormal neural activity as evidenced by brain studies. It is not consistent with an ordinarily-functioning brain activity. Though can any brain activity really be inconsistent, given that the brain adapts to situations that demand such activity to survive however maladaptive it is?

So described, human behavior, mathematics, nature, consciousness, art and design, musical rhythm, films, and mental impairments all show consistency. I think it is everywhere we look.

But logic of some women are not always consistent, however. Then again, if she is chaotic then it has consistent elements, as evidenced by chaos theory. (Sorry for the blatantly bland and cliché gender stereotype of women which is obviously not true.)

#essay

I spit upon it because it makes me allergic. I dislike it strongly from the bottom of my heart and curse it to all eternity. I absolutely detest and hate it, the abomination that it is. What is it? Keep on reading.

Inspired by my friend, I realized it is more fascinating to hear when mundane things are disliked than liked. Even more so if the language is more extreme. For example, I absolutely love sports and chocolate but the reasons for it are boringly predictable. Both alleviate stress, replenish energy, and improve cognition and/or mood. We know this, and if not, we have at least heard of this. (And if you haven’t heard of it, now you have.) Frankly, I don't care if you like chocolate or sports. The odds are that you do like chocolate, though less so about sports.

In contrast, when I hear that somebody hates exercise or chocolate, I am flabbergasted and conflicted, which consequently piques my interest and I want to know more. After all, exercising and chocolate are perceived as a good thing by almost everyone, so naturally it makes me wonder why somebody would not like them. Even more so if the other person's words do not express healthy preference or disapproval but passionate hate and regret.

Drawing myself and another person on a Venn diagram visualizes and compares our agreements and disagreements. And I am certain that people share more than they think, which is exactly the reason why I think it is more fascinating to look at where we differ than what we share. The larger a specific dislike gap between us is, the more motivated I am to find out why. Especially if the dislike deviates not only from me but also of the general population, the status quo, and the average.

Mind you that perceiving only differences, whatever tangible or intangible they are, and forming opinions of them can absolutely become harmful. It can become harmful if debates about different opinions lead to me categorising the other person as “one of those people”.

Therefore, I emphasize that we humans are much, much more similar than we are dissimilar. And so the practice of talking about differences is fine as long as we remember our similarities and as long as the outcome does no harm. Otherwise a slippery slope to stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination can happen. I am not concerned about people who use a wide range of verbs and adjectives. I am concerned about those who only use the hate word, because it indicates that the person is not flexible enough to think about his or her attitudes and actions.

If you like and love something: nice. I like and love a myriad of things. Notwithstanding the importance of common hobbies, likes and whatnot between two like-minded people, it is like I said: of themselves, the commonalities are sometimes not as interesting compared to the differences. Heated debates and strong opinions are interesting is all I am saying.

So described, strong opinions and their expression through stern, colorful language is fun and extremely compelling but only up to a point. And I do not know where the point of acceptable threshold lies, except that it cannot verbally harm anyone. So yeah, that said, fuck Tinder.

#essay

Of all its many values, the greatest must be the freedom to doubt

Science enables us to do and make things. Those things may be for good and for bad, so scientific endeavor is also a moral question. But despite the fact that science enables us to do and make horrible things in the world, it is of value because it can produce something.

Science is fun, intellectual enjoyment through reading, learning, thinking, and doing. Enjoying science is important as as to do and make things that people enjoy.

I stand at the seashore, alone, and start to think. There are rushing waves, mountains of molecules, each stupidly midning its own business, trillions apart yet forming white surf in unison. Ages on ages before any eyes could see, year after year thunderously pounding the shore as now. For whom, for what? on a dead planet, with no life to entertain. Never at rest, tortured by energy, wasted prodigiously by the sun, poured into space. A mite makes the seas roar. Deep in the sea, all molecules repeat the patterns of one another till complex new ones are formed. They make others like themselves and a new dance starts. Growing in size and complexity, living things, masses of atoms, DNA, protein, dancing a pattern ever more intricate. Out of the cradle onto the dry land, here it is standing, atoms with consciousness, matter with curiosity. Stands at the sea, wonders at wondering, I a universe of atoms, an atom in the universe.

Science is thrill and awe and mystery of the deep unknown. The more we know, the more we realize that we do not know and how much there is to know. It is a deep rabbithole, a grand adventure. The scientific age is when poets write and artists portray about the wonderful questions, mysteries, and marvels of science.

Science tests us with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty. Often we do not know the answer to a problem so we are ignorant. Then we are uncertain when we do not know the result. Doubt arises when we get sure of what the result is going to be. To progress, we must recognize insightful, conscious ignorance and give room for doubt.

Our freedom to doubt was born of a struggle against authority in the the early days of science.

Science does not teach good and bad. Education, applied sciences, and even peace can be good or bad depending on how you use it. Because there are no clear instructions on how to use these forces, we are left with life devoid of meaning. We must frankly admit that we do not know the meaning of life. And in admitting we become open-minded and not descend into ideology battles, but instead follow reason, doubt, and develop ideas by trial and error.

We must leave the door to the unknown ajar.

Science dies if we let authority dictate. We must resist authority that inevitably limits our imagination. We have to be responsible to do what we can, learn what we can, and improve the solutions and pass them on. We have to be responsible not to suppress philosophy of ignorance, freedom of thought, and freedom to doubt.

http://faa.unm.edu/P302.041.SU17/Resources/Reflections/feynman.pdf

#essay #science

The association between mindfulness and student well-being during 15 days of ecological momentary assessment

Abstract

Coronavirus disease 2019 has negatively affected the general population, and especially university undergraduates. Attending to and being aware of the present moment in an open, accepting and compassionate manner (i.e. mindfulness) has been shown to decrease depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms, and increase positive affect. In our present study, we used network analysis to examine the associations between anxiety, depression, stress, mindfulness and joy. An observational research design was used with a convenience sample of 66 undergraduate students aged 18 to 34 years who completed an ecological momentary assessment (EMA) on their phones. They were asked eight questionsーtwo psychological constructs and six subclinical psychopathology symptomsーfour times a day for two weeks. Network analysis resulted in temporal and contemporaneous network models, indicating that mindfulness at time t does not significantly predict any variable at later time t+1 on the temporal level. At the contemporaneous level, mindfulness is associated with depression, anxiety, stress, and joy. Given the limitations of the present study and the hypothesis-generating nature of network analysis, we conclude that the significant partial correlations between mindfulness, psychological well-being and joy in the contemporaneous network may indicate potential causal relations worth following up on in future research.

Keywords: mindfulness, joy, psychological well-being, COVID-19, ecological momentary assessment, network approach

As of early 2020, a virus named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19; Pascarella et al., 2020) has wreaked havoc all around the world (WHO, 2020). To curb the spread of the infection, nations have restricted their citizens' movement and closed all non-essential services and events except grocery stores and pharmacies. COVID-19 has directly and indirectly worsened the general population’s psychological well-being compared to before the virus outbreak (Salari et al., 2020; Twenge & Joiner, 2020; Vindegaard & Benros, 2020). In specific to students, there is evidence that depression and anxiety symptoms have increased compared to prior academic terms (Huckins et al., 2020). Therefore, it is of great interest to find protective factors that can prevent the deterioration of psychological well-being in these hard times. One such protective factor against psychological distress could be mindfulness (Di Giuseppe et al., 2020).

Mindfulness is elevated by meditating, which has been touted for its positive effects on well-being. The history of meditation dates back to a 2500-year-old Buddhist tradition, until the 1970s when Jon Kabat-Zinn (2003) introduced and integrated the concept of mindfulness and the practise of meditation into Western psychology (for a more extensive review of mindfulness, see Keng, Smoski & Robins, 2011). These days one can choose from a variety of guided meditation apps on the digital marketplace and they can bring about positive short-term benefits, like reduced depression, anxiety, and stress, and increased psychological well-being. However, there is not yet evidence for their long-term effects (Gál, Ștefan & Cristea, 2021).

Meta-analyses conclude that mindfulness-based interventions (MBI; for a more comprehensive review, see Creswell, 2017) elevate mindfulness, which in turn, increases psychological well-being. In particular, MBIs reduce depression, anxiety, and stress (Eberth & Sedlmeier, 2012; Fumero et al., 2020; Goyal et al., 2014; Grossman et al., 2004; Kallapiran et al., 2015; Keng, Smoski, & Robins, 2011) and increase positive affect (Enkema et al., 2020; Gotink et al., 2016; Hill & Updegraff, 2012; Spears et al., 2019). Though, Goyal et al., (2014) found low evidence that an MBI would increase positive affect. In specific to our population of interest, there is also evidence that secondary and post-secondary students benefit from meditation (Breedvelt et al., 2019; Halladay et al., 2019; Lahtinen & Salmivalli, 2020; Regehr, Glancy & Pitts, 2012).

However, researchers do not yet know the specific mechanisms behind mindfulness or meditation, though there are some proposals (e.g., Hölzel et al., 2011; Shapiro et al., 2006). Indeed, mindfulness has remained somewhat of an umbrella term (van Dam et al., 2018), which is not uncommon for complex, multifaceted psychological constructs (e.g., emotion, intelligence). What makes matters worse is that there are an array of complex meditation practises that all share similar benefits to psychological well-being (Ospina et al., 2007). In any case, some researchers define mindfulness as a psychological process, a trait, or a practise (Keng, Smoski, & Robins, 2011), but as far as the aim of this paper goes, we consider mindfulness a temporary state of mind (Brown & Ryan, 2003). Indeed, the most common and shared definition of mindfulness is a state of mind whereby a person directs his or her attention to and awareness of the present moment in an open, accepting and compassionate manner (Bishop et al., 2004). While this operational definition of mindfulness has two components (i.e., the self-regulation of attention and the adoption of a particular orientation towards an experience), Baer (2003) argues that mindfulness is a five-facet construct (nonreactivity, observing, acting with awareness, describing, nonjudging). Nonetheless, both parties agree that the awareness of the present moment is a fundamental facet of mindfulness.

We adopt the operational definition of mindfulness by Bishop et al. (2004) and use a particular item from the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) that measures ‘Acting with Awareness’ subfacet of mindfulness (Baer, 2003). This subfacet can predict improvement in depressive and anxiety symptoms (de Bruin et al., 2012; Enkema et al., 2020; Soysa and Wilcomb; 2015; Webb et al., 2019). Essentially, to act with awareness, one attends to current activities and is not in “automatic pilot” mode, absent-minded, or dissociated with the present moment (Baer et al., 2006).

Given that mindfulness and positive affect go hand in hand (Enkema et al., 2020; Gotink et al., 2016; Hill & Updegraff, 2012; Spears et al., 2019), we investigate whether there is an association and if they can predict one another. We are especially keen on how positive affect, namely the experience of joy, is associated with mindfulness. Essentially, when a person experiences positive affect, they undergo a brief, emotional state (Sander & Scherer, 2009) that has a certain emotional valence and arousal attached to it (Russell, 1980; Lang, 1995, as cited in Nummenmaa & Tuominen, 2018). Whereas laypeople call this ‘feeling’, scientists refer to ‘affect’ that is the experience of emotion. And to not confuse ‘feeling’ for ‘emotion’, the difference lies in the fact that emotion is a complex construct made out of multiple components─behavioral, expression, cognitive, physiological and affect/feeling components (Scherer, 2005).

In line with the componential view of emotion, joy is defined as a positive affect where physical movements are more fluid than normal (behavior); smiles are difficult to suppress (expression); one’s attention and thinking broadens (cognitive); and where bright and light feelings, and vivid colors are present (feeling) (Fredrickson, 1998, as cited in Sander & Scherer, 2009). Surprisingly, there is no research done on physiological markers of joy (Johnson, 2020). We made our own item that measures one’s experience of joy.

Since mindfulness and positive affect vary moment-to-moment (Enkema et al., 2020), an ecological momentary assessment (EMA) presents a useful methodology to measure such changes (Shiffman, Stone & Huffort, 2008). During EMA, participants are prompted multiple times throughout the day to answer questions about their thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors, usually through a smartphone. As such, EMA collects real-time data in real-life contexts, which provides ample data on how daily experiences and psychological processes develop over time (Moskowitz & Young, 2006). EMA provides excellent ecological validity, and thus results are generalizable to real-life situations (for a detailed review of EMA, see Shiffman, Stone & Huffort, 2008). In their systematic review, Enkema et al. (2020) looked at EMA studies where mindfulness, affect and well-being were of focus. They concluded that EMA is a sensitive and valid measure to spot small changes in mindfulness, affect and depression, but not for anxiety as there was not enough evidence.

EMA coupled with a network analysis presents a novel way to approach and understand mental disorders. In its essence, the network approach posits that there is no latent, mental disorder that causes the symptoms (Borsboom, 2017; Robinaugh et al., 2020). Instead, there are only symptoms and whence they interact, they create a state of mind that we call “mental disorder X” (Borsboom & Cramer, 2013). In other words, the “mental disorder X” does not cause the symptoms—how can it—for it does not exist! Only the symptoms exist, and the mental disorder emerges from the relations among symptoms. To be specific, mental disorders are seen as complex, dynamic symptom networks that causally, and possibly in self-reinforcing-ways interact together, rather than as effects of a latent disorder (Borsboom, 2017; Bringmann & Eronen, 2018). Thus, network theories of mental disorders have a philosophical advantage compared to the traditional latent variable theories (Kendler, Zachar & Craver, 2011), which makes baseless reification of mental disorders redundant (Hyman, 2010).

A network is made out of nodes and edges. Nodes are visualized as circles and can represent basically anything from symptoms to ecosystems. In turn, edges are visualized as lines that represent any conceivable association, for example, partial correlations or Bayesian probabilities (Borsboom, 2013). Nodes and edges connect to each other creating a network structure that informs us about associations, though not about causal relations. Albeit, network structures can answer Granger-causal hypotheses; that is, how well does a variable predict another variable at the next time point when controlling for other variables (Granger, 1969).

There are two elements to consider when it comes to networks: estimating the network structure and assessing its characteristics (Robinaugh et al., 2020). Estimating a network of symptoms creates a model that can inform us about contemporaneous, temporal and between-subjects associations, and tell us about the network’s stability and accuracy. In contrast, assessing the network’s characteristics refers to node centrality, node predictability, node clustering, and community structure (ibid.). In this study, we focus on network estimation, namely contemporaneous and temporal networks. Furthermore, these network structures represent partial correlations, which means there is no opportunity for multicollinearity or predictive mediation. As such they are “exploratory hypothesis-generating structures” (Epskamp & Fried, 2018, p. 4) that can indicate potential causal relations.

The present study is limited not only in how many items we can ask from the participants (i.e., risk of attrition and diminished statistical power), but also by the complex, multifaceted nature of mindfulness and emotion. And while we are not able to study them in their entirety, we can mitigate this problem by focusing on two specific subfacets of these respective constructs. A subfacet named ‘Acting with Awareness’ is part of the psychological construct ‘Mindfulness’, and therefore we will continue referring to mindfulness with the full knowledge that it is not the whole picture but a part of it. And the same applies to the experience of ‘Joy’ that measures positive affect but is only one of many positive affect that people can experience.

In line with previous research, the aim of the present study is threefold: (1) the first aim is to find out the dynamical associations between mindfulness and psychological well-being (operationalized as depression, anxiety, and stress); (2) the second aim is investigate the dynamical associations between mindfulness and joy; (3) and the third aim is exploratory in nature and seeks to understand at what time students are most mindful. We hypothesize that (H1) mindfulness is significantly negatively associated with depression, anxiety, and stress on the contemporaneous and temporal level. Next, we hypothesize that (H2) mindfulness is significantly positively associated with joy on the contemporaneous and temporal level. Finally, we set out one research question to explore (H3) at what time students are most mindful.

Results

A convenience sample of 63 (86% women) undergraduate students from Leiden University, whose age ranged between 18 to 34 years, participated in the baseline questionnaire. There were 9 different nationalities, though the majority consisted of Dutch (N=30) and German (N=21). Most of them studied psychology (71%). Almost a third (30%) reported having a clinically diagnosed mental disorder either currently or in the past. DASS-21 at baseline indicates mild depression (M = 6.29, SD = 4.60), mild anxiety (M = 4.86, SD = 3.58), and mild stress (M = 7.83, SD = 4.24). MAAS at baseline indicates below average mindful attention to the present moment (M = 2.81, SD = 1.25).

There were three students who did not fill the baseline questionnaire. As a result, there were 66 students who participated in the EMA. If a participant had >50% missing data, we excluded them from the network analyses. On the rest of the sample we used the Kalmar filter to impute the missing data. We ended up having 51 students in the network analyses. The assumption of stationarity was met by detrending the data.

Mindfulness and psychological well-being

We hypothesized that (H1) there were significant negative associations on the contemporaneous and temporal level between mindfulness and psychological well-being. The network models showed partially confirmed evidence in favor of the hypothesis H1 (See Figure 1.). Namely, there were no temporal associations between mindfulness and psychological well-being, but there were contemporaneous associations, albeit relatively weak: mindfulness was significantly negatively associated with depression (anhedonia; r = –.10), anxiety (worry; r = –.07), and stress (relax; r = –.09). The associations were computed at significance level of α = .05.

Mindfulness and joy

We hypothesized that (H2) there was a significant positive association on the contemporaneous and temporal level between mindfulness and joy. The network models showed partially confirmed evidence in favor of the hypothesis H2 (See Figure 1.). The temporal network model displayed no significant partial correlations, whereas the contemporaneous network model showed a significant positive partial correlation (r = .15). The associations were computed at significance level of α = .05.

Figure 1. The temporal (left) and contemporaneous (right) network models. Note. Depression (Ftr. and Anh.), anxiety (Nrv. and Wrr.), and stress (Rlx. and Irr.). Red indicates negative association and blue positive association. The thicker and more saturated the edge, the stronger the association. Only significant edges are shown (α = .05).

Mindfulness and time-of-day

Our research question (H3) explored at what time students were most mindful. The average level of mindfulness over each day and each participant was 1.73, 1.77, 1.84 and 1.82 at 12:00, 15:00, 18:00 and 21:00, respectively. It seems that students tend to become more mindful toward the evening. We computed a two-sided t-test between the highest (1.84) and the smallest (1.73) average level of mindfulness, which pointed toward a non-significant difference (t = 1.83, p = .07). (1)

Discussion

Discussion of the key findings

COVID-19 has weakened the general population’s psychological well-being (Salari et al., 2020; Twenge & Joiner, 2020; Vindegaard & Benros, 2020), and therefore it is of great importance to find protective factors against negative effects of COVID-19. One such protective factor could be mindfulness (Di Giuseppe et al., 2020). Accordingly, our goal was to find out whether students being more mindful could not only protect against psychological distress by being more aware of the present moment, but also increase positive affect. Lastly, we explored at what time students are most mindful during the day on average.

Because of the complex, multifaceted nature of mindfulness, we chose one node that represents mindfulness in the network. This node measures 'Acting with Awareness’ subfacet of mindfulness, which has been shown to predict improvement in depressive and anxiety symptoms (de Bruin et al., 2012; Enkema et al., 2020; Soysa and Wilcomb; 2015; Webb et al., 2019). We examined the association between mindfulness and joy. Past evidence suggests that mindfulness and positive affect have a self-reinforcing effect on each other (Enkema et al., 2020; Gotink et al., 2016; Hill & Updegraff, 2012; Spears et al., 2019). That is, feeling good makes you attend to and be more aware of the present momentーand vice versaーin a spiraling fashion.

However, the temporal network model revealed no associations (i.e., partial correlations) between mindfulness and psychological well-being or joy. This implies that mindfulness at time t does not predict improvement in psychological well-being nor increased joy after three hours. However, this is not evidence against such associations but rather our analyses failed to estimate such significant edges in the network models. We talk about this in the limitations.

Be that as it may, the estimated edges in the contemporaneous network model do show unique associations between mindfulness, psychological well-being and joy. This means that at the same time interval, mindfulness is uniquely associated with psychological well-being and joy. In specific, mindfulness seems to be weakly yet significantly associated with one of two nodes of depression, anxiety, and stress. The largest association between mindfulness and psychological well-being is relatively low (r = –.09) and the association between mindfulness and joy is medium (r = .15), when compared to the maximum association in the network (r = .33). Again, the estimated network models are conservative in the sense that they reveal only significant partial correlations. Therefore, we do not have evidence that there does not exist other associations in the networks. But we can be certain that the aforementioned associations on both network models do exist.

Finally, we explored at what time students were most mindful on average. Students felt slightly more mindful toward the evening. It could be that students are more in touch with the present moment toward the evening after the day’s work is over. But on closer inspection, we computed the significance of the smallest (1.73 at 12:00) and largest (1.84 at 18:00) average level of mindfulness, and found this difference to be non-significant (t = 1.83, p = .07). As of now, we do not have evidence that the time of day has any impact on how mindful students are in the present moment. Further research is warranted.

Limitations

This study has generated new insights into the predictive and potential causal associations between mindfulness, psychological well-being and joy. However, there are limitations. First, while the use of a single item measure of mindfulness was methodologically suboptimal, it was required so as to keep the daily questions minimally demanding to the participant. As a result, one node representing mindfulness in the network was not only an oversimplification of mindfulness, but also its subfacet ‘Acting with Awareness’. Studying a complex, multifaceted psychological construct like mindfulness with one self-report item is crude (Friend & Nesse, 2015), and it does not say much about mindfulness as a whole. As a result, our content validity is compromised. And while we had the benefit of studying one specific aspect of a subfacet of a complex psychological construct multiple times throughout weeks and revealing its dynamics, it would be more interesting to find out how mindfulness and its basic components interact with psychological well-being and joy at the contemporaneous and temporal level.

Second, our temporal network model failed to estimate edges between mindfulness and other variables. This could be due to a number of reasons. One, because of different sized lag intervals, we may not capture the full impact of our mindfulness variable to other variables (Epskamp et al., 2018a). Indeed, there is no reason why mindfulness should take a few hours to impact psychological well-being or joy. In the same time window, mindfulness was significantly associated with other variables, when controlled for temporal effects and all other items. So there may actually be a different sized lag interval at play. Two, our mindfulness variable simply does not predict other variables temporally. There may not exist a causal relationship. Although, our mindfulness variable might be more central to other mindfulness symptoms in the network than psychological well-being or positive affect. Or three, our temporal network model lacks statistical power to reveal significant associations between mindfulness and other variables in the network (Epskamp et al., 2018a). Small sample sizes often lead to low statistical power wherein detecting true edges becomes hard (low sensitivity), while at the same time estimating false edges (high specificity) is extremely unlikely (Epskamp et al., 2018a).

Future directions

To our knowledge, this is a first study estimating the network structure between mindfulness, depression, anxiety, and stress, and joy. Since our study had a correlational design, with the caveat that we had the opportunity to make Granger-causal predictions, we cannot explain the unique associations as causal. Therefore, future studies could look into experimental manipulation so as to evaluate its impact on the other nodes in the network, for example, a mindfulness-based intervention. Such studies are important to understand how symptoms relate amongst themselves (Robinaugh et al., 2019). In time, a network theory of mindfulness should emerge.

Finally, if and when the network structure of mindfulness has been accurately estimated, it is natural to explore how it functions in relation to psychological well-being. However, answering 15 questions from the MAAS and 21 questions from the DASS-21 four times a day is awfully demanding resulting in high participant attrition. Therefore, our recommendation for the future studies is to study one subfacet of mindfulness like ‘non-judging’ and one aspect of psychological well-being, like ‘anxiety’. This way participants are not flooded with too many questions.

Conclusion

Our goal of the present study was to examine the complex, dynamic network structures of mindfulness, psychological well-being and joy on the contemporaneous and temporal levels. This goal was motivated by the dire need to find a protective factor against the psychopathological symptoms caused by the presently ravaging COVID-19. Prior research has elucidated on the benefits of mindfulness on psychological well-being as well as the self-reinforcing relationship with joy. The results of the network analyses partially confirmed the two hypotheses: there are contemporaneous associations between and amongst mindfulness, psychological well-being and joy. However, mindfulness does not seem to predict increased psychological well-being nor joy.

Unquestionably, our study has many limitations that alter the significance and interpretation of the results. Our study is limited in that the network in which mindfulness is depicted as a node is only one aspect of a subfacet of a complex psychological construct. Be that as it may, “all models are wrong, but some are useful” (Box, 1979, p. 202). Accordingly, we opine that our study generated new insights into the possible causal relationships between mindfulness, psychological well-being and joy, as evidenced by the significant partial correlations in the contemporaneous network model.

Methods

Participants

We aimed to recruit 100 undergraduate students from Leiden University through online advertisements in social networking sites. The participants had the option to receive SONA credits proportional to how many questions they answered throughout the weeks or a chance to win one of four VVV gift cards, if the participant showed at least 80% participation in the study. Participants were eligible for the study if they met the following criteria: 1) older than 18 years of age, 2) regular undergraduate student (full-time attendance at Leiden University), and 3) fluent in English.

Procedure

The study took place between 29.03.2021 and 12.04.2021, and consisted of three parts. First, the participants completed a 25-minutes-long baseline questionnaire. In the second part, a 15-day EMA was conducted. Lastly, we conducted a 10-minute post-assessment.

Baseline assessment

We instructed participants to fill a baseline assessment containing 13 demographic questions and 7 scales regarding psychological well-being, social media use, physical activity, fatigue, loneliness, joy, sedentary behavior, and mindfulness. Thus, our study was part of a larger study.

Ecological momentary assessment

We instructed the participants to download an EMA app called “Ethica Data” (https://ethicadata.com/) and complete daily questions four times a day in three hour intervals (12:00, 15:00, 18:00, 21:00) for 15 days. Each assessment lasted approximately two minutes. Participants had to answer the prompts within a 30-minute time window after which it expired. The questions measured how much the participant endorsed a certain thought, feeling and/or behavior (1 = Not at all, 2 = Slightly, 3 = Moderately, 4 = Very, 5 = Extremely) or how much time they spend on a certain activity (0 minutes, 1-15 minutes, 15-60 minutes, 1-2 hours, over 2 hours).

Table 1. Ecological momentary assessment items queried 4 times per day for 15 days. Note: Item options were: 1 = Not at all, 2 = Slightly, 3 = Moderately, 4 = Very, 5 = Extremely.

Measures

Baseline assessment

Depression, anxiety, and stress

Depression, anxiety and stress were assessed with the adapted version of the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS-21) (Oei et al., 2013). DASS-21 is a 21-item questionnaire with 7 items per subscale that are rated on a four-point Likert scale from 0 (Did not apply to me) to 3 (Applied to me very much, or most of the time). A sum score of the respondent is calculated by adding up the items. The total score varies between 0 to 60. The higher the score on a subscale, the more severe the symptoms. The severity score is categorized as normal, mild, moderate, severe, or extremely severe. The total scale score of the DASS-21 shows excellent internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha) of .93 (Henry & Crawford, 2005), as well as for the separate subscales: depression at .94, anxiety at .87, and stress at .94 (Antony et al., 1998). Furthermore, there have been studies with clinical and non-clinical samples that show good convergent and discriminant validity (Cheung et al., 2016; Gomez et al., 2014).

Mindfulness

Baseline state mindfulness was assessed with the Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS), which is a 15-item self-report questionnaire that measures mindful attention in daily life (Brown & Ryan, 2003). Participants rate each item using a five-point Likert scale from 1 (Never or very rarely true) to 5 (Very often or always true), with higher scores reflecting higher mindfulness (these answer options were an adaptation of the original MAAS). To score MAAS, one has to compute a mean of the 15 items. The MAAS shows great internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha) of .82 in the student sample and .87 in the general adult sample (ibid.). The MAAS is in public domain and no special permission is required for research or clinical purposes (Brown, n.d.).

Ecological momentary assessment

Depression, anxiety, and stress

To avoid inundating participants with too many questions, we decided to use six items from the DASS-21 subscales of depression, anxiety, and stress. The items for depression were “I felt that I had nothing to look forward” and “I couldn't seem to experience any positive feeling at all”; for anxiety items “I felt nervous, anxious or on edge” and “I was worried about different things”; and for stress “I found it difficult to relax” and “I felt very irritable” (See Table 1.). The six items were assessed on a five-point Likert scale from 1 (Not at all) to 5 (Extremely). A higher score indicates more severe symptoms of depression or anxiety, or higher stress.

Mindfulness

State mindfulness was measured using a single item derived from the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) (Baer et al., 2006). This item asks if “It seems I was “running on automatic,” without much awareness of what I was doing” with five-point Likert scale options from 1 (Not at all) to 5 (Extremely). The tense was changed from present to past, and the answer options were an adaptation from FFMQ by Baer et al. (2006). Therefore, in pre-processing we reversed the scale so that higher scores indicate higher awareness to the present moment.

Joy

Joy was measured using a single item created by us. The item measures positive affect, and asks if “I experienced joy” with five-point Likert scale options from 1 (Not at all) to 5 (Extremely). Higher scores indicate a stronger experience of joy.

Post-assessment

After completing the study, the participants received an email where they could share their opinions about the study, whether they had any technical difficulties, and give open feedback. Thus, post-assessment was created to improve the subsequent studies in the future.

Ethical statement

Ethical review of the study plan was conducted by Leiden University Ethics Committee. The Committee approved the research proposal (number 2021-02-28-E.I. Fried-V2-2990). All procedures performed in the studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all participants included in the study.

Statistical analysis

Full code and syntax is available online, as well as full data, excluding the data we erased to guarantee anonymity (see https://osf.io/n4xw6/?view_only=7740db5988d149bb9020f72841b73891).

Pre-processing

We used the free statistical program R version 4.0.3 to pre-process the baseline and EMA data. In doing so, we ensured anonymity, and removed duplicate data. We also reversed the baseline MAAS scale and the mindfulness EMA item scale to match with the original scale.

Network estimation

We estimated the networks using a two-step multi-level vector autoregression (two-step mlVAR; Epskamp et al., 2018b). This function is suited for intensive longitudinal data, and can compute three networks: temporal (i.e., lag-1 regression weights), contemporaneous (i.e., partial correlations) and between-subject networks. The present study focuses on temporal and contemporaneous networks. The temporal network is computed directly from the model and the contemporaneous network is estimated post-hoc by correlating the residuals (for a more technical description, see Epskamp, 2020; Haslbeck, Bringmann & Waldorp, 2020). The contemporaneous network computes unique statistical associations between the items in the same window of measurement (akin to partial correlations), whereas the temporal network computes these associations across time (lag-1, i.e. from one time point to the next). Thus, the statistical associations in the temporal network can be seen as Granger-causal (i.e., how well an item predicts another item at the next time point when controlling for other items) (Granger, 1969).

One important assumption for mlVAR is stationarity (Haslbeck, Bringmann & Waldorp, 2020). This means that while data can fluctuate over time, there should be no overall, consistent means over time (i.e., a variable should not significantly decrease or increase). This assumption is achieved by detrending the data (Fried, Papanikolaou & Epskamp, 2020; Raffalovich, 1994). If significant slopes were present for a given variable, we multiplied the time series by its slope to achieve stationary parameters across time. Lastly, we used the Kalman filter to estimate missing time points in the time-series data if less than 50% of time points were missing (Hamaker & Grasman, 2012). If more were missing, the participants were removed from all analysis regarding EMA data. Kalman filter is a statistical algorithm that uses collected data from before and after the missing time point, to estimate the unknown measurement. By considering a series of measurements at different time points, the estimation of one missing measurement is more accurate. The Kalman filter estimates values for missing time points of one person on one variable (ibid.), and we therefore loop the filter over all participants and variables.

Network visualization

The networks were visualized using the R package qgraph (Epskamp et al., 2012). Items are treated as nodes (circles) that are connected with edges (lines). The thicker the edge, the stronger the statistical association. The color red indicates a negative association whereas the blue a positive association. We do not make strong assumptions about directionality, and thus we are able to visualize reciprocal associations and feedback loops. Reciprocal associations are directed edges (e.g., Xt-1 → Yt) and feedback loops are edges that attach to one self (Xt-1 → Xt) (Haslbeck, Bringmann & Waldorp, 2020). All variables were treated as continuous.

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(1) This should have been analysed through MANOVA.

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