Positive psychology is a new branch of psychology that scientifically studies what we need to do in order to live a fulfilled and happy life. It does not look at concepts like happiness, as just an absence of psychopathology or problems. It is not about one person’s untested theory about what we should do to live the good life. It is an ongoing effort to understand, based on carefully done research, what makes us feel that our life is worth living. Positive psychology, and the even newer, positive psychotherapy, have a goal of helping people to learn how to maximize their potential and feel more contented.
I started to write about this topic in 2009, in an effort to provide patients with information that could make their life more fulfilling and satisfying. Providing coping strategies was very effective at lessening the negative impact of many clinical issues, but a completely different set of concepts needed to be identified by the relevant research in order to help people to understand how to create the good life.
Now, a whole field of positive psychotherapy is emerging. New therapeutic approaches are being developed to help teach people how to live the good life.
Central to this effort are findings that contented people seem to possess 5 main characteristics, called PERMA. This concept was developed by through the research of many people, including Dr. Martin Seligman, who recently wrote a book about positive psychology called Flourish. The key elements are the following:
- Positive emotion. This involves being able to experience positive feelings from your everyday life. It is often useful to keep a gratefulness journal and to record 3 things that you were grateful for that occurred that day. This will help you to keep focused on the positive aspects of each day and to make it a habit to think this way. Being positive in life leads to better outcomes in your relationships and at work.
- Engagement. When we are fully engaged in a task, we tend to lose the sense of time and our sense of self recedes. We are totally in the “Now” and are completely focused. Our productivity and performance are at their maximum or peak. We experience engagement as time well spent.
- Relationships. Most well contented people enjoy at least one close relationship. Someone we can talk to and who can share experiences with us. Relationship satisfaction or feeling positively connected to someone makes us feel good. Every day we need to be thinking about how can we get closer to the people who are most important to us.
- Meaning. Contented individuals report that they get significant meaning from what they do in life. In other words, that what they do is valuable and worthwhile. This can involve doing many things in life. Some examples include raising children, spiritual pursuits in one’s religion, or being of service to others in some way.
- Accomplishment. People who are feeling fulfilled in life state that they do things that give them a sense a sense of accomplishment. This can involve simple things like doing home improvement tasks or more complex goals, like doing well in school or work. Accomplishment leads to a greater sense of control and mastery in life, which usually increases self-esteem and self confidence.
Living these concepts, coupled with a positive psychology mindset, can create a sense of well being. This will make you more psychologically resilient when tough times occur.
Psychotherapy can help you to eliminate negative thinking and emotional states. Then, you can learn skills, like mindfulness, concentration skill training, and distraction control training, to increase your ability to get and stay more engaged in your everyday activities. Indeed, you can learn specific ways to increase your ability to have more positivity and vitality in your life.