Positive Psychology (PP) is generally considered to be a subfield of psychology. Refreshingly, PP focuses on what is positive about human beings, instead of what our deficits are. The PP movement is global and at the moment flourishing, with an abundance of newly researched positive psychology interventions (PPIs) and master degree courses popping up across the globe (the last count being 12 different programs). Every year I delight to watch PP's continued growth.
We can see how its theories, research and practices are filtering into all areas of our society, policy and culture. From the way we think about eduction to what we value as a community, PP is everywhere!
I am reminded of the recent statement by the progressive officials from South Australia (SA) who declared their region, a 'state of wellbeing' for its millions of citizens. Deciding to measure the success of the region - on the wellbeing of it people and creating policy to promote this aim. These top-down positive changes are encouraging.
Leaving no-one behind, the purpose of PP was declared by Dr Carol Kauffman in 2006 when she wrote, "The mission of positive psychology is to develop sound theories of optimal functioning and to find empirically supported ways to improve the lives of ordinary and extraordinary people."
This can be achieved through the practice of one or many PPIs. These interventions are universal, they can be learned by anyone and become second nature quickly when practiced. The results are subjective but this could truly be a life changing moment. Let's explore...
1) Best possible self -
"Logic will get you from A to B but imagination will take you everywhere." Albert Einstein
We often are are too busy to really stop and focus on what we want. We might ponder frequently notions like "Will I get that promotion next year?" or "Does my boss like me?". However, asking yourself these questions can at times just create more unanswerable questions or progress you towards a state of uncertainty. Ultimately causing unnecessary anxious thought.
This PPI involves you imagining and then writing about yourself achieving everything that you want. Interesting research by Lyubomirsky and Sheldon in 2006 showed a striking impact on positive emotion with practiced.
CHALLENGE: Imagine yourself 3 years from now and you have achieved everything you want for your life. Write down this future you, then imagine it and see if you can embody the state of being that you would experience in this future desired state. Normally, the best possible 'YOU' is reread and imagined repeatedly for a 2 week period.
TIP: To help embody this, ask yourself while imagining "What will it feel like when I achieve this in my life?".
2) Three good things -
"In order to carry a positive action, we must develop a positive vision." Dalai Lama
Many people have a predisposed way of seeing the bad things in life. We could look to evolution for some of the reasons why we do this. Eg: it makes sense for our ancestor who lives in the wilderness to be keenly focused on what could be negative or dangerous in order to survive. However, I could argue that on the whole we are now quite safe, compared to our early (perilous) ancestors.
This well researched PPI has been shown to have a very beneficial impact on subjective well-being (Seligman, 2005) and I believe its practice could provide a more balanced view our daily experience.
CHALLENGE: It is very simple, effective and there are many variations but in its essence, it involves noting on paper three positive things that happened during your day. The positive effect comes from taking the time to reflect on your day with this positive lens. Repeat this everyday for 2 weeks.
TIP: Best to do this reflection in the evening, after dinner and before bedtime.
TIP 2: Download the '5 minute journal' app to your phone.
3) VIA strengths -
"Too many people undervalue what they are and overvalue what they are not." Malcolm Forbes
We all too often forget how strong we actually are and what actual strengths that we have. The VIA (values in action) survey is a free online tool used to build a classification of your character strengths.
On completion of the survey you will receive a prioritized list of your strengths and a detailed description of each one. It will take you 15 minutes to complete. The output of this survey is a downloadable and printable list of your key strengths. The evidence for this way researched by Biswas-Diener and co in 2010.
CHALLENGE: Go here to complete your VIA survey here. Once you've completed the questions and downloaded the file. The goal then is to reflect on how you can use your key strengths to enhance other areas of your life or actively use your strengths to overcome a challenge you may be facing.
TIP: Print out your list and hang them on the fridge or in your study. Ask yourself, "How can I use these strengths today for X or Y?".
4) Random acts of kindness -
"How do we change the world? One random act of kindness at a time". Morgan Freeman
The goal of this PPI is to increase positive affect, not only of the potential recipient of a 'random act of kindness' but for the giver too. Interesting research by Otake and co carried out with students in 2004 showed the impact on wellbeing when this PPI was performed. Recording increased satisfaction for the giver and increased wellbeing for the receiver. It's a Win/Win.
This intervention has proven to bolster self-regard, increase social interactions in a positive way and develop charitable feelings towards others. It is contagious too with increases in wellbeing logged of people just overlooking the act of kindness. Eg: 'holding someones door open' or 'paying a strangers bus fair' or 'making someone a cup of tea'.
CHALLENGE: Carry out 5 'random acts of kindness' over the next week. Remind yourself each day to seek out an opportunity for kindness and watch what happens.
TIP: Keep a journal of how you feel throughout the week.
MY CHALLENGE TO YOU: Pick 2 of the above PPIs and experiment with the practice. The empirical research is of course available in the references below however I encourage you to find the evidence for yourself as it translates into your life through practice.
I leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Carl Jung,
"I am not what was given to me, I am what I choose to become."
Please comment on your experience with this below, share your story. Enjoy!