The Benefits of Positive Psychology
The area of Positive Psychology is relatively new to the study of human behaviours, well-being and happiness. This branch of psychology has gained increasing interest over the last decade in part due to the work of ‘the father of positive psychology’ Martin Seligman (http://www.ted.com/talks/martin_seligman_on_the_state_of_psychology?language=en)
So what is Positive Psychology?
Positive psychology is the study of the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions. Simply put positive psychology is the study of what works. In principle it looks to bring focus to strengths and build upon the best things in life. This is opposed other historic areas of psychology which have focused on healing pathology for weakness and negative mind states.
Happiness, optimism, mindfulness, flow, character strengths, hope, positive thinking and mental resilience all come under the banner of positive psychology based upon the understanding that people at the core are generally happy.
This may sound ‘new age’ and unrealistic but it is important to note that positive psychology is not simply the same as positive thinking (which was popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s) and does not involve ignoring the very real problems people face and that other branches of psychology look to treat.
Positive psychology has grown with the intention to complement and extend upon ‘problem focused’ psychology, to expand upon the area of focus people bring to working with varying levels of pain, suffering and illness.
While positive thinking is an aspect of positive psychology the latter, although certainly focusing on optimism, also notes that while there are benefits to thinking positively, there are also times when more realistic thinking is advantageous.
Key themes for positive psychology include:
- Strengths focus – Focusing on what you are good at produces better results than constant attention on what you do not do well
- Positive emotions – Shifting to a positive state more frequently bringing resourcefulness and greater scope for action
- Finding a state of flow – Identifying conditions required to access high performance states
- Resilience – Developing the ability to cope with pressure and deal with adverse circumstances in a resourceful way
- Mindset – Reframing attributions and assumptions about what is happening to you or the context you are in
Strengths based focus
Strengths can be defined as……………
“The presence of performance and energy.”
Intuitively most people understand that focusing on our individual and collective strengths is advantageous in just about all ways. So why don’t we take this path?
One reason may include our adapted evolution, which calls upon us to be vigilant for problems, problems that all to often consume our consciousness and become all encompassing.
In other cases, social norms dictate that we take the sometimes overly modest approach (particularly relevant to Brits!!)
And lastly, we may not always be aware of strengths, but much more highly attuned to our weaknesses or perceived faults and it is these weaknesses that we often believe, rather misguidedly, are our greatest areas for growth.
Tapping into strengths
When do you most feel like the real you?
What activities come naturally to you?
What motivates you?
What activities boost your energy levels?
When do you say “I love to….’ or “It’s just great when….”
Where do you naturally pay attention?
When we tap into areas that answer some of these questions, we have the potential to move into states of ‘Flow – a state of self-forgetfulness, the opposite of rumination and worry’.
In this state people perform at their best at a point where the sheer pleasure of the act itself provides motivation.
Strengths focus: The evidence
So what could positive psychology and a more clearly defined strengths based focus do for you?
Evidence shows people who use their strengths more:
- Are happier
- Are more confident
- Have higher levels of self esteem
- Have higher levels of energy and vitality
- Experience less stress
- Are more resilient
- Are more likely to achieve their goals
- Perform better at work
- Are more engaged with work
- Are more better at developing themselves and growing as individuals
With even just a small bias towards positive attributes and strengths there is no doubt that individuals, teams and organisations could improve levels of performance.
They may also be able to build some level of joy and happiness into the process!!
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