Tag Archives: Daniel Trussell

Generosity: Inherited or Learned? (Dr. Daniel Trussell)

BTAboutThemIn numerous studies across the globe parents report that their number one goal is to raise children who are prosocial: generous, compassionate and empathetic. High life achievement through material success ranks much lower.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome children are naturally able to express generosity and compassion at a very early age. Most do not. While research from identical twin studies suggests that between 25 and 50% of the propensity to be a generous person is inherited, there is ample opportunity to teach almost all children to become prosocial.

What Studies Tell Us
In a 2015 study, Paulus and Moore observed that when children between the ages of 3 and 6 are guided to talk about feeling of being left out or included related to sharing, those children tend to exhibit greater generosity than children who are merely offered the opportunity to share without a discussion of feelings related to being included or excluded.

Other researchers found that during the first two years of life, children who are encouraged to talk about feelings are more emotionally intelligent and can better anticipate the emotional state of others. This in turn contributes to greater capacity to offer generosity as children age.

And, for 7 to 11 year olds, it has been found that the capacity to express generosity is linked to the development of moral judgment – an ability to experience compassion and mercy.

Two Interventions
Two factors that influence the capacity for generosity are modeling and “preaching.” There is little evidence that preaching or lecturing has much short-term effect, but it has been found to be effective in the long run.

DTrussellCompelling support for these two interventions was demonstrated in a recent study that included elementary and middle school students. A “teacher” demonstrated sharing tokens won in a game by donating them all to a needy family, donating some to a needy family or donating none to a needy family accompanied with a lecture about the value of selfishness or generosity or no preaching at all.

A control group simply played the game without a “teacher” demonstration or commentary. Following the game they were asked if they wanted to donate some tokens to a needy family and this established a baseline of giving.

When the experimental students were given an opportunity to play the game to collect tokens and were then asked if they wanted to donate, results were surprising. When the teacher modeled generosity whether preached to or not, students gave 85% more than the control group. Moreover, when the teacher acted in a generous manner but preached about the value of selfishness, students still gave 49% more than the control group. This certainly suggests that actions speak louder than words.

In all the studies above it is likely that negative bias played a strong role. Negative bias is the concept that behavior is more strongly influenced by the desire to avoid negative emotions than by a desire to make another happy.

Importance of Parental Influence
This leads us to consider the importance of personalizing praise and direction when teaching young kids about generosity. For example, directing your child by saying “don’t lie” is less effective than saying “don’t be a liar.” Likewise repeated statements of “good job” have minimal impact whereas statements like “you are a kind person” when a young child shares or “you are a good helper in the kitchen” send a strong message of ownership and increases displays of future generous behavior. Research suggests that by the age of ten, praising a child’s character or praising a precise action have equal effect.

Additionally the experience of shame or guilt impact the growth of pro-social behaviors like caring and generosity. Multiple studies conclude that when parents express excessive anger at children, withdraw love or exercise frequent threats of punishment, child learn to internalize shame. These children often withdraw socially and curate few prosocial behaviors. Conversely, children who experience guilt rather than shame about poor choices often become more generous as they mature.

While genetics does play a role in how we manifest generosity, kindness, compassion and mercy, the nurture aspect of the nature/nurture dichotomy plays an equally important role. And research indicates that parents have a strong influence from infancy to adulthood. Modeling generosity, helping children associate feelings to actions, personalizing accomplishments and avoiding shaming children all contribute to pro-social behaviors and produce individuals who cheerfully offer generous responses as adults. ###

Daniel Trussell, Ph.D., MBA, LPC, NCC, CPCS is author of The How Families Flourish Workbook and How Families Flourish. He is a certified Professional Counselor supervisor and conducts training for both professionals and families in incorporating the findings from positive psychology into daily life. He can be reached at drdanieltrussell@gmail.com. [website]


The Science of Happiness & Positive Family Psychotherapy (An Interview with Dr. Daniel Trussell)


The Changing Behavior Network caught up with Dr. Daniel Trussell to ask him about his very successful approach to family therapy. Here is what he shared with us.

Daniel, you practice positive psychotherapy and positive family psychotherapy. How is that different from traditional forms of psychotherapy?

Rather than looking at the pathology of the family and treating symptoms like behavior or attitude problems, the focus in on teaching the activities and behaviors that flourishing families exhibit. This changes the family dynamic and reduces the likelihood of future mental health problems.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, is positive family therapy your invention?

Not at all. All the work I do is scientifically based on leading academic research found in the discipline of Positive Psychology – the Science of Happiness.

You practiced within a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) model before shifting to Positive Psychology. Why did that happen?

I still find a lot of value in using interventions embedded in cognitive behavioral therapy and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) as well. But over time I saw the limitations of CBT. A lot of my work has to do with attachment, family system dynamics and increasing family life satisfaction. I understood the importance of including a richer therapeutic experience than just diagnosis, symptom management and support to maintain treatment compliance if I wanted to help a family acquire the skill set to build resiliency, improve well-being, support self-determination and reduce tension.

What is the focus of positive family psychotherapy?

The Science of Happiness demonstrates that those who report optimal well-being and highest life satisfaction share common characteristics. Seligman found that optimal well-being only occurs when there are an abundance of positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and purpose and accomplishment. Langer determined that people with highest life satisfaction share the traits of being generous, loving, authentic, direct and open to new experience. Emmons et al show the health benefits from expressing gratitude. Altogether there are eight primary themes in positive psychotherapy.

What is a typical course of treatment in positive family psychotherapy?

First I help the family identify the activities that support optimal family functioning and those that cause the family to flounder. Next, we explore parental expectations and family attitudes along multiple dimensions and push aside barriers that keep the family from functioning well. This requires careful negotiation from each family member. Typically this includes an analysis of family rules, consequences for not following the rules, tasks that each member routinely performs to maintain household harmony and a reward system for successful outcomes. We look at how each individual’s unique strengths contribute to healthy family functioning and insure that activities are set up so each family member thrives.

How can our readership learn more about the Science of Happiness and positive family psychotherapy?

UC – Berkeley provides a fantastic free online course on the Science of happiness. You can go to www.EdX.org to register for this self-paced course. You might also want to pick of a copy of the How Families Flourish Workbook by Daniel Trussell for step-by-step instructions on optimizing family functioning.

Dr. Daniel Trussell can be reached at drdanieltrussell@gmail.com for more information on positive family psychotherapy. [website]
To access Dr. Trussell’s radio-style interviews and articles on The Changing Behavior Network, use the search box on the right, typing in “Dr. Daniel Trussell.”


Creating a Family Charter (Guest: Dr. Daniel Trussell)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFamilies that flourish do well because they work at it. These are families that demonstrate love and respect for all family members, right down to cherished pets. They manage the ups and downs of life with a stability that keeps the family on solid ground. There are rules and guidelines for each family member that are understood and respected.

More often than not, however, these rules and guidelines are verbal; they are not written down.

But why shouldn’t a family have WRITTEN rules and guidelines? If they were committed to a written document, couldn’t this make a strong family even stronger? Our guest on this program, Dr. Daniel Trussell, certainly believes it does. He’s here to tell us about The Family Charter. A good Family Charter explains, clarifies, directs, protects, encourages and empowers each family member. For a family, it’s both a job description and a map. Whenever there’s an issue, decisions aren’t made on the fly or hastily contrived in a moment of frustration and anger; it’s right there in The Family Charter. Dr. Trussell will walk us through the steps of making a Family Charter that benefits everyone involved.DanielBook

Dr. Trussell is a Licensed Professional Counselor and positive psychology coach who has spent his career helping individuals and families reduce and prevent mental health problems using a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, applied positive psychology and mindfulness training. He is the CEO of Webstar Behavioral and author of the new book, How Families Flourish: A guide to Optimal Family Functioning Using Applied Positive Psychology. (28:16)


TO LISTEN, use the player below or left-click the link. To access the file right-click and “Save Target as …” to save to your audio device), CLICK HERE FOR LINK

COMING SOON: GPS Your Best Life (Guest: Charmaine Hammond)