The science of “Aha” moments

aha moment
aha moment

I am reading through the “Hope Circuit”, the latest book by Martin Seligman. It is a bit of a biography, taking up through the ups and downs of this great man, on the journey of his doubts and extraordinary achievements. In this book, he shares some of the “aha” moments of his life, the instants of insight and realisation, like a famous Nikki story – the conversation with his 5 years old daughter that was responsible for the creation of the field of positive psychology in 1998.

This brought me to think about my own “aha” moments. My first encounter with Positive Psychology goes back to 1999. I was still an undergraduate and was trying to organise a conference for fellow students. Wondering what the main theme for the conference should be, I threw the question open to my colleagues. One of them suggested Positive Psychology. I can’t say it was a thought-through decision, as I had never heard the term before. It was rather like an instant recognition – it just ‘clicked’. Finally, there was a branch of psychology dealing with topics that felt real to me. Nothing before had grabbed my attention in the same way. The idea that you could focus on people who were ‘normal’, and try to map out what was involved in optimal functioning, was intriguing, exciting and life changing. At the time, this approach was a really radical idea, you could not imagine having “positive psychologist” as a job title at the time, it simply didn’t exist. Yet even through the pessimist or pragmatist in me was doubtful, from this moment on, I trusted my insight and oriented my work and study in the direction of positive psychology. Needless to say, I never stopped. 

An “aha” moment may appear as a superstition, wishful thinking or almost a mystical experience, but it is a phenomenon well known to the science. Research finds enhanced brain activity 8 seconds before we realise we have found a solution (Sheth, Sandkühler & Bhattacharya, 2008) and concludes that not thinking too hard and being in a positive mood actually facilitates these moments of realisation (Danek et al, 2014). So, it makes sense why these realisations seem to just appear from nowhere, not as a result of conscious thinking and the weighting of the pros and the cons.

How about you? What “aha” moments have shaped your life?

 

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