"The joyfulness of a man prolongeth his days" ~ Ecclesiastes
Positive Psychology is an exciting and relatively new area of psychology. It aims to study scientifically what makes us humans happy and how we can improve our general level of happiness, well-being, and health. Traditionally, the field of psychology has mainly focused on the negative aspects of mental health and how to treat them.
In contrast, positive psychology aims to restore balance by focusing also on the positive. However it is extremely important to note that the goal of positive psychology is not to ignore the negative or to focus exclusively on the positive but to see that objective reality contains both the negative and the positive.
This article talks about 3 ways in which you can use positive psychology to improve your own gratification with life.
The gratitude diary is one of the most important ways I have discovered for increasing my awareness of the positive. It helps by changing my habitual mental attitude from being a fault-finder to a benefit-finder.
There is a natural tendency to look for faults or dangers in a situation probably because from an evolutionary point of view that would be adaptive and enhance our survival. But in our modern complicated society, being a fault finder could lead to anxiety and depression.
One important researcher in this area (Diener) says that in current society, subjective reality usually plays a more important role than objective reality providing the latter has satisfied basic needs. This being the case, we have a certain amount of freedom to choose what part of objective reality we focus on to create our subjective reality.
One of the easiest and proven ways to become happier is to create a diary in which each night you write down at least three things that you are grateful for that occurred that day. Don’t analyze them, just note them down and see if you can re-experience the feeling of joy or happiness you experienced. Make this a nightly habit.
Have you ever noticed how quickly infants and children can change from crying one minute to laughing the next. They have a natural ability to be flexible emotionally. Unfortunately as we grow up, we gradually narrow down our emotional range and become less flexible emotionally. As adults we can cut ourselves off from both positive and negative emotions, thus depriving ourselves of the full range of emotions.
Positive psychological research has shown that we can increase our happiness by allowing and consciously nurturing our range of emotions. It may seem paradoxical in promoting positive psychology to talk about the importance of expressing negative emotions but it is valid because inhibition of negative emotions empowers them. Also it takes a lot of psychic energy to repress them. Moreover becoming aware of negative emotions can help us make constructive changes in our lives; hence the expression “Constructive depression”. The best way to deal with negative emotions is to acknowledge they exist, accept them, and learn what you can from them to improve your life and make youself happier in the long run.
It is important to emphasize that there is no evidence that just expressing negative emotions such as anger, hate or jealousy towards the subject of those emotions is helpful. For example, it has not proven helpful for someone who has been abused to directly express their anger in a face-to-face confrontation with the childhood abuser. However the person who was abused can benefit greatly by giving themselves permission to acknowledge their emotions resulting from the abuse and to move past them. With time, the abused can perhaps come to forgive the abuser to complete the healing process.
Do you take time to enjoy and celebrate your victories even if they are relatively small ones? Have you taken time to allow yourself to simply appreciate the beauty of a sunset at the beach? Actions can change attitudes and change your mental state to a more positive one.
“Whistling to keep up courage is no mere figure of speech. On the other hand, sit all day in a moping posture, sigh, and reply to everything with a dismal voice, and your melancholy lingers... Smooth the brow, brighten the eye, contract the dorsal rather than the ventral aspect of the frame, and speak in a major key, pass the genial compliment, and your heart must be frigid indeed if it does not gradually thaw.”
Positive psychological research and psychological research in general has shown that just smiling can improve your mood. The explanation is that smiling activates certain facial muscles that changes blood circulation to the brain centers controlling mood (the “facial feedback hypothesis”, Ekman, 1983).
In a similar way, just changing your posture can change your mood. For example depressed people tend to walk slowly in a slightly stooped fashion. It seems likely that walking briskly with your spine straight might improve one’s mood. This basic idea has been summed up by the phrase “Fake it till you make it.” (Myers, 1992). Myers emphasized active acceptance of emotions and that despite feeling a negative emotion e.g. sadness, you consciously take time to ask yourself what is the right thing to do. For example if depressed you might ask yourself it is best to socially isolate or to go out and be with friends who will cheer you up.
These are just three examples of strategies from positive psychology for making yourself happier. If you would like to learn more about positive psychology please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will email you a bibliography.
Oh my god I didn't even have to get past the picture of the dog to be super happy! lol. Nice article, thank you for it.
July 25, 2012 05:27:07
Dr. Brian Scott says:
Yes the picture of that dog still makes me laugh.
By the way I have a variant of the the gratitude exercise. Instead of selecting three things to be grateful for just select one but IT MUST BE DIFFERENT EACH DAY! This helps develop the habit of nearly continuous mindful awareness of positive experiences that we have in our daily lives.
Thanks again for your kind comment.
July 28, 2012 03:06:08