Positive Psychology: What it is, theory and how to apply it
Useful manual on positive psychology: Find out what it is, its authors and how to apply techniques and strategies in our everyday life. In this article, we will teach you interesting dynamics to practice at home, in the working environment, and how to use it with children. It enhances personal strengths, optimism, and creativity. Learn fun games and positive psychology exercises for children and adults. Improving psychological well-being and happiness is easier if you know how.
Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that studies happiness. What makes us happy? In this article, we define positive psychology and give advice and exercises to apply positive psychology.
Experts maintain that happiness depends on three factors:
- 50% of our genetically determined character
- 10% of events in our lives
- 40% of what we do to be happy.
It is in that 40% where positive psychology intervenes.
What is positive psychology? Definition and concept
For decades psychology has focused on disorders, psychopathologies, behavioral problems, illnesses, but now it has begun to worry about what makes us feel good. Beyond seeking treatment to stop being ill, psychology begins to seek answers about what makes us happy. It does not ignore mental health problems but also looks for what gives us satisfaction.
Positive psychology could be defined as the scientific study of what makes our life worthwhile, but without forgetting our personal problems.
Positive psychology promotes the balanced empowerment of our strengths, to give us a more objective view of ourselves. This is necessary because some strengths are not good either by excess or by default, such as positivity. Being too positive can make us believe that we are invulnerable. It can lead us to believe that we are going to achieve everything, and lead us to take too many risks, to involve ourselves in too many projects at once, more than we can carry out. If we are negative, on the other hand, we will not be able to enjoy life.
What isn’t positive psychology?
Positive psychology is often underestimated because it can convey the image of cheap self-help. However, it does not overlook people’s real problems. It is concerned with both strengths and weaknesses, in building the best of life and fixing the worst, in making people’s lives satisfactory, as well as treating the pathology. Nor does it seek to give universal solutions of happiness to all people. Each person is different and what pleases one person may not satisfy another. Their goal is not to make us happy all the time. To be happy is to accept that there are sad moments, that we get angry, we get disappointed and we argue. But it helps us not to focus on the bad and to find what gives us well-being.
And happiness can be taught.
Why do we focusing on the negative? Selective filtering
It is true that in our daily life, many times positive things are forgotten, go unnoticed by our mind and we only remember negative events. You may think:”I was in a horrible traffic jam”,”the shower water was freezing”,”I’ve gained weight again, I look terrible!”,”I’ve argued with my co-worker”, etc. On the contrary, we forget those “little pleasures” that happen in our day-to-day life: enjoying a meal that we like, a pleasant conversation, a hot shower.
This tendency that most of us have to pay more attention and remember the negative aspects more and to underestimate the positive is called selective filtering.
Some experts consider selective filtering to be an adaptive mechanism or beneficial for our survival. This is because negative or unfavorable events require a response on our part in order for us to confront them and solve them. However, positive events, as they don’t compromise our survival, do not require a response and go unnoticed for our attention and memory.
However, if we only focus on the negative, our mood will get worse and we run the risk of anxiety, depression and other psychological problems.
Seligman and Positive Psychology
Martin Seligman is considered the father of positive psychology. He was one of the first to explore happiness from a scientific point of view.
In the following video, Seligman himself explains how the vision of psychology has been changing from the medical model, from curing illnesses to positive psychology or providing happiness.
According to Seligman, there are three dimensions of happiness that can be cultivated: pleasant life, good life, and meaningful life.
It consists of seeking the pleasures of life, experiencing as many positive emotions as we can and enjoying every moment. The problem is that the ability to experience positive emotions and amplifying them is not very modifiable and depends in part on genetics. Although we can learn to get more out of them.
We achieve this when we discover our virtues and strengths, and when we use them to improve our lives. We feel it when we really feel nothing when we are focused on one task and abstract from everything else. It is what Csikszentmihalyi called flow.
The purpose of the flow is to keep on flowing, not looking for a peak or utopia but staying in the flow. It is not a moving up but a continuous flowing; you move up to keep the flow going. There is no possible reason for climbing except the climbing itself; it is a self-communication- Csikszentmihalyi
According to Seligman, the third step of happiness is to find a deep sense of fulfillment, of satisfaction by employing our strengths in a purpose greater than ourselves.
Practical exercises and positive psychology techniques
A study replicated Seligman’s findings to find out if positive psychology exercises worked. They found that positive psychology interventions did indeed enhance happiness. Although the effects on depression are more modest than previously found, they do appear to be helpful.
How do we apply positive psychology?
1. Positive Psychology Exercise: Strengths
According to Seligman, a very important part of learning to enjoy the positive aspects of our life is knowing our strengths. Below is a table to help you identify them. If you have trouble doing so, you can ask someone close to you to help you. Sometimes others can see our virtues more clearly.
1. Wisdom and Knowledge
|Creativity||Thinking about new and productive ways of doing things|
|Curiosity||Be interested in all the experiences that are taking place|
|Open-mindedness||Thinking about things in depth and from all angles|
|Desire for knowledge||Seek the development of new skills and knowledge|
|Perspective||Being able to provide wise advice to others|
|Courage||Not afraid of the threat, challenge, difficulty or pain|
|Persistence||Finish what was started|
|Integrity||Saying the truth and presenting oneself genuinely.|
|Vitality||Approach life with energy and motivation|
|Love||Value close relationship with others|
|Kindness||Do favors and help others|
|Social Intelligence||Be empathic of others’ feelings|
|Citizenship and Teamwork||Work well as a group or team member|
|Justice||Treat everyone in the same way according to the notions of justice and equity|
|Lidership||Organize group activities and get them done|
|Ability to forgive||Forgive those who have hurt us|
|Humility/Modesty||Let your own achievements speak for themselves|
|Prudence||Be careful about one’s own decisions; not doing or saying things one might regret later.|
|Self-regulation||Regulate what you feel and do|
|Appreciate beauty||Perceiving and appreciating beauty and excellence in all areas of life|
|Gratitude||Being aware and grateful for the good things that happen|
|Hope||Expect the best and work to achieve it|
|Humor||Generate smiles in others with jokes and laughter|
|Spirituality||Have coherent beliefs about a higher purpose and meaning in life|
2. Positive Psychology Exercise: Social Relationships
People who have at least a close friendship are happier. It is important to have people to count on, to feel loved and supported. It is important to be able to express ourselves freely with our loved ones, to experience how we feel and what we want. It doesn’t seem so important how many friends we have, but the frequency of interactions and activities shared with them. It is important to cultivate the ability to express an interest in what others tell us, and to respond in an encouraging way.
3. Positive Psychology Exercise: Physical Activity
Physical well-being is important to our mental well-being. Maintaining a level of physical activity and a healthy diet can help us improve our mood. Physical exercise has a big impact on depression.
However, many times when we exercise we have in mind the goal of being more attractive and losing weight. This should be secondary and we should exercise for the simple pleasure of doing it. Many times we don’t like to do physical activity but there is a great variety of activities that we can do to suit us, even walking at a good pace can be beneficial. Find out how exercise benefits the brain.
4. Positive Psychology Exercise: Humor
Humor increases our well-being, lengthens life and makes us happier. It’s important to have a sense of humor, but like everything else, you can train it.
- Surround yourself with people with a sense of humor, it’s contagious.
- Learn to take yourself less seriously and laugh (without ridicule, of course).
- Learn to use humor intelligently, not indiscriminately. Not every moment is right.
5. Positive psychology Exercise: Gratitude
Practicing gratitude is one of the things that brings most well-being to people. Sometimes we don’t realize it, but we always have something to be thankful for. Cultivate gratitude with these exercises:
- Keep a gratitude diary and every night, before we go to bed, write down in it at least three things of that day that we feel grateful for.
- Write a thank-you letter to a special person. Write down good things you feel for them. Find the person, and if possible, read the letter to him or her personally. Allow yourself to enjoy the feelings and emotions that come from thanking them.
- Be grateful. If you give thanks at all times, the brain makes a habit out of it. Actively seek out the details and actions to help others and always give thanks when you are the one who receives it.
6. Positive Psychology Exercise: Three Good Things
This positive psychology exercise consists in carrying out a “pleasure diary”. Write down every night three positive things that have brought you pleasure, happiness, satisfaction. Reflect on what you have felt and why. Don’t judge, and don’t be negative. This will help you to be more aware of the good times as well as to discover what has brought you happiness and you will be able to replicate it in the days that follow.
Positive psychology at work
How to apply positive psychology in the workplace? For many, their workplace is a place of torture. It’s that terrible place that you can’t escape because you need a salary to support your family. However, even if it is not the most desirable place in the world, it is possible to make it a less hostile place.
1. Practice gratitude
As in the positive psychology exercise proposed above, you can also practice gratitude at work. Think of a person who has done something to us that we really appreciate. Write a letter and read it aloud giving thanks. This exercise gives you a sense of well-being while strengthening your relationship with that person.
2. Take perspective on your tasks
If we give our work meaning beyond the obligation to do so, it is possible to increase our levels of happiness and satisfaction. Try to visualize how this task contributes to the greater good. Run away from negativity, because you can think “this will only make the boss rich” but these thoughts don’t help. Think about what service you give people, what it’s necessary for and if you can’t find anything, think about what it gives you (economic security, resources for your children, knowledge for future projects, etc.).
3. Think about the positive aspects of the day
As we did before, you can think of three positive things that have happened to you at work. It may be a “thank you” and a smile from someone, it may have been a coffee with a friend or a compliment from someone.
4. Spend time with your co-workers
Make an effort to meet your co-workers, talk to them, have a coffee or plan activities outside of the workday.
5. Use your strengths
Knowing our strengths and using them daily in our work increases our happiness and sense of accomplishment.
Positive Psychology Exercises for Children
How can we apply positive psychology to children? Incorporating positive psychology into your child’s life can be quite simple. It is simply to adapt the exercises previously mentioned to the child.
1. The Gratitude List
A positive psychology exercise for children is to encourage your child to write three things that he or she is grateful for every day. You can practice this exercise as a family. At the end of the week, review it together and reflect on those wonderful things to appreciate in life.
2. Act of Kindness
Help your child to do an act of kindness to another person every day. Help them find out how good it feels to be nice to others. You can also plan what good things to do for others next week and write them down.
3. Three good things
Another interesting positive psychology exercise for children is to help your child reflect on three positive things that have happened to them during the day. Perhaps a compliment from the teacher or a friend, a fun time during lunch or a comforting walk.
4. List of fortresses
Together, find out what strengths your child has and think about how they can use them to improve their day or help others.
Instead of rushing through the daily routine, slow down and try to savor and enjoy a pleasant activity or moment. Practicing mindfulness with your child can increase your awareness at the present time and decrease worries and anxiety.
6. Social relations
Having meaningful social relationships contributes significantly to our overall well-being. Throughout the week, make sure your child spends quality time with a good friend or special family member, or you can even meet a new friend you want to know better.
7. List of goals
A good positive psychology exercise in children can help the child create a list of short and long-term goals that are feasible and not necessarily complicated. Seeing how we are getting what we propose makes us all feel good and helps us to be a little happier.
This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.
Psicóloga General Sanitaria y sexóloga. Deseosa de mejorar la calidad de vida de las personas mediante la práctica clínica y la comunicación a través de la red.