What is Positive Psychology?
In the past, psychologists focused on studying psychological dysfunctions and mental problems with the intention of finding effective ways to treat these dysfunctions and problems. In recent decades, researchers and psychologists started to have interest in studying how to help people to achieving well-being and fulfillment in life through exploring the positive domain of human psychology. A field, Positive Psychology, is gradually developed after Dr. Martin Seligman introduced a concept learned optimism in 1990s. Positive psychology is a field studying positive emotions, strengths of human beings, engagement in meaning activities, as well as attainment of well-being in life. It is a field with growing scientific evidence and now being applied widely by mental health professionals.
How manifesting one’s character strengths leads to well-being?
According to Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, author of the manual “Character Strengths and Virtues” (2004), character strengths are positive traits that are personally fulfilling. They are capacities for thinking, feeling, and behaving across different contexts. They are also the building blocks for a flourishing life and aspects of personality that lead to well-being. In the manual, Peterson and Seligman described six universally valued virtues, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, transcendence and wisdom. Within each virtue, there are a number of associated character strengths that representing the different qualities of an individual. Everyone possesses these character strengths to a greater or lesser extent. Those character strengths that we exhibit more easily or naturally are our signature strengths.
These character strengths are:
|Humanity||Social or emotional intelligence|
|Transcendence||Appreciation of beauty|
|Love of learning|
In order to achieve a flourishing life and well-being, an individual needs to identify one’s signature strengths. Research showed that identifying one’s strengths and use them in new and different ways every day could enhance happiness and reduced depression. At workplaces, employees who use their signature strengths at work had better work performance, organization citizenship behavior and stress coping. At schools, educational programs focusing on working with students’ signature strengths promoted students’ well-being and positive classroom outcomes. Character strengths are also applied in many other domains, such as physical health, addictions, marital relationships, etc.
A person can use one’s core signature strengths and at the same time, develop one’s lower level character strengths. Although not yet thoroughly studied, it is apparent that working on signature strengths is more self-reinforcing and leading the person to be more authentic. The person allows the core self to be expressed and will be more connected in relationships and more accomplished in life. This explains why identifying and using our signature strengths can enhance our well-being.
What is happiness? What is the paradox of seeking happiness?
Happiness has been studied widely since ancient Greek period. When we think about the term happiness, we can at least include hedonia and eudaimonia. Hedonia can be defined as pleasure or reward obtained from a certain activities. For example, we obtained pleasure or reward by having a delicious meal in a nice restaurant. Eudaimonia is obtained from living in meaningful life and being engaged in contributing to the well being of others. For instance, through volunteer work, a retired teacher was able to obtain happiness by contributing her strengths to the community and living a meaningful life.
Is it true that we are walking away from happiness when we expect more of it? In 2011, psychologists from the University of Denver and University of California, Berkeley have done a research about happiness. They tried to measure the correlation between the degree of people valuing happiness and the degree of happiness they actually feel. First of all, participants were divided into 2 groups. People in the first group were asked to read an article about the importance of happiness, then to watch a video about happiness. After watching it, their degree of happiness would be measured. For the second group, participants were asked to read an article not related to the importance of happiness before watching the same video.
The result is that participants from the first group feel less happy than the participants of second group do. It implies that people actually feel less happy when they value happiness more. This can also make their obtained pleasure less than one expected. Psychologists estimate that this is the case of ‘the higher the expectation, the greater the disappointment’. When people overly value gaining happiness through certain events, they will focus more on pursuing happiness. It may lead to an over-expectation of gaining happiness, and thus a greater disappointment in the end.
The results of the research do not imply that we should not value happiness, but not to set happiness as the ultimate goal. If we can change the goal to other aspects, trying to enjoy the process of attaining the goal, we will gain and enjoy more happiness from it. For example, if my friends, the couple mentioned before, changed the goal of travelling Europe to taking nice photos and having tasty food, they could enjoy the process of travelling more and feel more happiness from it.
Furthermore, if we value less the importance of happiness, it helps us tackle other negative emotions, such as irritation, anger, worry etc, by embracing and accepting them. We can also find the peace and acceptance, as well as savoring every moment of our life.
What is Flow? Why is it beneficial for our well-being?
According to a distinguished psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is an optimal experience in which the person is fully engaged in the activity with no awareness of oneself engaging in it. The activity becomes spontaneous and, almost automatic. The person has a clear goal for the present moment but not focused on the final goal. The skills required to perform the activity match with the ability of the person. During flow experience, the person is fully present without being distracted by mind wandering. The person also lose the awareness of time during the experience. As flow is a rewarding experience, the person would like to repeat the experience.
Flow experience can be obtained in various domains in our lives, such as work, leisure activities, or relationships. Enhancing our ability to increase flow experience in our lives in various domains can contribute to increase in happiness and our overall well-being. It is interesting to know that even in day-to-day work activities, we can increase flow experience if can enhance those elements of flow into our ordinary work tasks that usually do not result in flow.