What is Positive Psychology?
Positive psychology is a relatively new branch of psychology, it began in 1998 when Martin Seligman developed it during his time as president of the American Psychological Association. Positive psychology is, as Martin Seligman puts it, "the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life".
The field of psychology has traditionally focused on the defects and shortcomings in the human personality. Positive psychology is the science of optimal human functioning positive aspects of human life, such as happiness and wellbeing.
Rather than being focused on fixing problems, positive psychology is orientated to examine what it is that causes some people to reach their potential. Its research base focuses on well-being, personal strengths, wisdom, creativity, psychological health and characteristics of positive groups and institutions. In short Positive Psychology is the study of mental wellness rather than illness.
Through this research there have been great strides made in quantifying what it is that can really foster the positive experience of feelings like love, joy, fulfilment, and peace. In this article we will look at the applications of positive psychology, how you can apply it in your own life.
Why do we need Positive Psychology?
Many of us seem to lack the skills needed to produce adequate positive emotions, hence the prevalence of myriad mood disorders and unhealthy coping mechanism. There is also a well-documented link between social deprivation/social and economic marginalization and mental ill-health.
Can we build our Happiness Repertoire?
This is the million-dollar question for many people. Without changing our external circumstances – that is without depending on external change how can we start to foster feelings such as joy, love, peace, and self-esteem?
Positive psychology brings us the happy news that , it is eminently possible to feel better, to broaden and build your capacity for joy, happiness, love, and security.
If we are preoccupied with negative emotions, fear of impeding doom or anger about the terrible things which have happened to us, our thinking constricts like a snake around its prey. Focusing on that which is threatening our well-being closes us off to the light of new ideas and the love for, and of, other people.
Even when of equal intensity, negative events have a greater impact on our psychological state and our processes than do neutral and even positive things. This negativity bias has been essential for survival as a species. It has been imperative that we respond harder and faster to perceived threats.
What can we do about this tendency toward negativity?
To feel happy, we need to be able to counteract this weighting of importance by becoming and more adept at practicing behaviours which foster positive feelings, and better at really savouring those precious moments.
The wonderful Positive Psychology scholar Barbara Fredrickson conducted research that defined the optimum level of positivity to negativity ratio as 3 to 1. This ratio would lead people to achieve optimal levels of well-being and resilience. We fail to nurture our ability to appreciate the good at our peril.
Positive Emotions Open Us Up
Positive emotions are necessary for survival. Positive emotions improve our physical well-being, our overall mental health. They make us more effective at work and they make our relationships richer. Our ability to experience gratitude, love, affection and joy helps us to build connections with others and to engage creatively with our lives. When we feel something positive, we open up.
Positive Emotions and Relationships
The opportunity to both receive and give moments of love and of acceptance of the other is so precious. Sometimes we can feel as though our lives are devoid of love, but we do not need to be experiencing that exclusive, romantic sort of love, to foster and savour the love that is in our lives. You do not need to have a ‘significant other’ for your life to be full of love.
Through real moments of connection, bonds are created and friendships are formed. Pay attention to those moments in your life that offer the opportunity for connection. Life is full of opportunities to care for one another, and to be grateful.
Ways to Practice Positive Psychology
1) Practice loving kindness meditation– There is significant evidence that practicing loving kindness meditation can help develop your ability to foster warmth and love. Just ten minutes a day can significantly improve your life.
2) Connect with other – Savour the feelings of warmth and connections in moments with friends, family, even strangers. Smile at people who are serving you in the shop. Look into each other’s eyes. Thank people for the service they are providing you. Each small moment of appreciation is working out our ability to feel positively.
3) Daily Gratitude – As the day winds down many of us reflect on the pain of the past or worries about the future. Instead of doing that end your day by noting what can you be grateful for there and then - either on your Growth Journal or pen and paper. This will help to turn around the habit of negative thinking.
4) Work Out Your Feelings
You can ‘work-out’ your ability to be loving, happy, and grateful. In the same way that working out in the gym builds muscle memory, so working out positive feelings builds neurological memory, strengthening the pathway. Thus, positive feelings become easier to access and to experience.
Let’s have a conversation
What are some things in life that you are grateful for? Leave us a comment!
About the writer: Zoe Southcott MA, MNCSAccred, PsychCounDip. Zoe Southcott is a writer and therapist, working in Oxford UK. For more information please visit www.southcottpsychotherapy.co.uk