Interesting post and link to a NYT article on happiness, depression, and introspection.
Timothy Wilson writes:
In one study, mildly depressed college students were asked to spend eight minutes thinking about themselves or to spend the same amount of time thinking about mundane topics like "clouds forming in the sky."
People in the first group focused on the negative things in their lives and sunk into a worse mood. People in the other group actually felt better afterward, possibly because their negative self-focus was "turned off" by the distraction task...
What can we do to improve ourselves and feel happier? Numerous social psychological studies have confirmed Aristotle's observation that "We become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage." If we are dissatisfied with some aspect of our lives, one of the best approaches is to act more like the person we want to be, rather than sitting around analyzing ourselves.
Social psychologist Daniel Batson and colleagues at the University of Kansas found that participants who were given an opportunity to do a favor for another person ended up viewing themselves as kind, considerate people - unless, that is, they were asked to reflect on why they had done the favor. People in that group tended in the end to not view themselves as being especially kind.