How to Bring More Positivity into Your Life:
4 Practical Actions to JumpStart Your Happiness, Well-Being and Potential
You’ve probably heard of positive psychology – sometimes called the science of happiness, positivity, or flourishing. This growing area of psychology is transforming the ways we think about life’s possibilities for individuals, organizations, communities, and nations.
On a personal note, positive psychology has rocked my world, personally and professionally, inspiring and reshaping my life – as a coach, teacher, speaker, writer, partner, parent, friend, spiritual seeker, and social change agent.
In a Nutshell, What is Positive Psychology?
There are many ways to describe the rapidly growing field of positive psychology. Chris Peterson, PhD, (2008) one of the leading figures in the movement, explained:
“Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living.”
Positive psychology is evidence-based with solid scientific research to help us live our best lives. The focus is on strengths – what’s right with us rather than what’s wrong with us. Positive psychology helps us shift our perspective and create action – not asking us to ignore what’s wrong, instead inviting us to bring out the best in ourselves and others with applications in every facet of our lives – relationships, leadership, workplaces, healthcare, education, coaching, personal development, and much more. Positive psychology offers practical applications and clear steps to inspire us to turn potential into action.
What’s New and Different about Positive Psychology?
In the past, psychology primarily studied people’s problems and how to fix them. The positive psychology movement is turning some of these perspectives upside down by studying what’s right with us, defining well-being, and focusing on what makes people resilient, able to bounce back from life’s challenges. Positive psychology asks – What makes a good life? How can we live well, targeting strengths, well-being, and resources, rather than weaknesses or deficits?
Psychology’s roots evolved with experts who offered important ideas about becoming our best selves. Father of psychology, Sigmund Freud, understood love and work as two factors needed for a person to do well (Erikson, 1968). Humanistic psychologist, Abraham Maslow, proposed a hierarchy of needs suggesting that when our basic needs are met – biological, physical, safety, and connections – we are able to grow toward becoming our unique selves, building on our capabilities and creativity toward “self- actualization,” the ability to become our fullest, happiest selves (Maslow, 1987). Carl Rogers (1961) postulated that we have a natural tendency to develop toward our best selves facilitated by relationships that are genuine, accepting and support our personal growth.
Then in 1998, as president of the American Psychological Association, Martin Seligman, PhD laid the groundwork for what became the science of positive psychology. He called for an intensive focus on the factors contributing to resilience, well-being, happiness, personal strengths, and flourishing. Seligman with his colleague Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2000) began assembling multifaceted, evidence-based building blocks outlining ingredients for flourishing and living happier, more meaningful lives. And it’s not just about the individual – these life-affirming benefits extend to our relationships, communities, and social action – making a positive difference beyond ourselves.
What Can Positive Psychology Offer Me?
Here are 4 practical actions to wake up your happiness, well-being and possibilities:
- Best Possible Self Activity – Pause to look toward your future. This activity offers an expansive vision for developing your life, inspiring you to set relevant, meaningful goals (Niemiec, 2018). Take a few moments to imagine yourself in the future – set a time period (3 months, 1 year, 7 years). Include all the relevant pillars of your life, such as relationships, profession, learning, play, spirituality, finances, home, physical health (Dean, 1999-2005). Think about engaging your fullest potential in the life you imagine for yourself. Reach toward the sky as you visualize your best possible self. Write down the details. This activity can help you move from vague, fragmented thoughts to real ideas and possibilities.
- Three Good Things Activity –This practice can help you train your brain to notice life’s positives. Each day for a week write down three good things that went well for you. For each item, write about either why you think it happened, what it means to you, or how you could have it happen again in the future (Seligman, 2011; Seligman et al, 2005). If you like the activity, you might continue it.
- Generate more Kindness – Set a goal for yourself to do something kind for someone each day – or several days per week. Alternatively, positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson (2009) suggests planning a single day goal to do 5 new kindness acts. She recommends targeting acts of kindness that will make a significant difference and require some effort from you. For example, help a relative clean the garage or take an elderly friend to an appointment. You might create a kindness day on a recurring basis. Kindness can help you feel better and make a difference to the person(s) you are impacting.
- Learn more about positive psychology, flourishing and potential – Information about these topics is abundantly available. Here are a few ideas:
- Achor, Shawn – The Happy Secret to Better Work.
- Duckworth, Angela – Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
- Seligman, Martin – The New Era of Positive Psychology.
- Berns-Zare, llene. Flourish: 12 Tips to Improve Well-being and Resilience.
- Boniwell, I, (2012). Positive psychology in a nutshell: The science of happiness. New York, NY: Open University Press.
- Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity: Top-notch research reveals the upward spiral that will change your life. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.
What Do You Think? I am contemplating this blog as Part 1 in a series on positive psychology and the science of strengths, flourishing, and potential. I’d love to know what you’d like to read about.
Resources and References:
- Dean, B. (1999-2005). Pillars of a Balanced Life. Bethesda, MD: MentorCoach, LLC.
- Erikson, E. (1968). Identity: youth and crisis. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co.
- Maslow, A.H. (1987). Motivation and personality. (3rded). New York, NY: Harper & Row.
- Niemiec, R. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for practitioners.Boston, MA: Hogrefe.
- Peterson, C. & Seligman, E.P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
- Peterson, C. (2008). What is positive psychology, and what is it not? Positive psychology studies what makes life most worth living.
- Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
- Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: NY: Atria Paperback.
- Seligman, M.E.P. & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14.
- Seligman, M.E.P., Steen, T.A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.
How Can Coaching with Ilene Help You Call Yourself to Action?
Ilene Berns-Zare, PsyD is a life and leadership coach, psychologist, and educator. Ilene has dedicated much of her career to the personal and professional development and integrative well-being of others. As a life and leadership coach, psychologist, and educator, she inspires others to find fresh perspectives and access their full potential as creative, resourceful, whole persons. Find Ilene online and access free resources at http://ileneberns-zare.com.
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