POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY – THE SCIENCE OF WELLBEING
While traditional psychology is primarily concerned with the science of addressing psychological problems and disorders within individuals and groups, positive psychology is concerned with the science of well-being and optimizing life experience. Further, the principles and practices of positive psychology empower individuals and groups to flourish in work, play and relationships – producing authentic happiness, feelings of well-being, and optimization of life experience. Positive psychology then is not so much concerned with fixing the negative as it is with building upon the positive. In addition to the positive effects within individuals, there is a substantial and growing body of evidence showing when individuals flourish within an organization that same organization is much more likely to flourish in its entirety, as well.
POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY PRINCIPLES ARE BASED IN REAL SCIENCE
The science behind positive psychology has been developing over many decades, but has seen great advances since the 1990’s. Much of that advancement has been driven by the work of Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D. at The University of Pennsylvania; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D. at The University of Chicago and Clairmont Graduate University; Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. at the University of California, Riverside; Corey Keyes, Ph.D. at the University of Georgia; and Ryan M. Niemiec, Ph.D., at The VIA Institute. Although there have been many contributors to the field of positive psychology, these scholars have been at the forefront in the academic research, scientific validation, and practical applications for positive psychology.
Positive psychology is rooted in Well-being Theory, described by Seligman as having five measurable elements labeled PERMA:
Positive emotion | Engagement | Relationships | Meaning | Accomplishment
The five elements of Well-being Theory (PERMA) above all have a very important factor in common – people use their free will to experience them for their own sake. Each element in PERMA is an important part of attaining a sense of well-being:
POSITIVE EMOTION – there are potentially many positive emotions, but some of the most profound in our lives – and that have the largest impact on our sense of well-being – are: Love and Affection; Optimism and Hope; Gratitude and Appreciation; Joy and Amusement; Tranquility and Serenity; Interest and Enthusiasm; Pride and Dignity; Awe and Wonderment.
ENGAGEMENT – oftentimes referred to as Flow, we all experience episodes of engagement. Engagement happens when we are immersed in an activity – project, work, play, etc. – and we lose our sense of self, time seems to slow, and we experience a high level of concentration.
RELATIONSHIPS – as humans are naturally social beings, positive relationships are very important to our sense of well-being. While Engagement can be attained during a singular and solitary experience, most life experiences involve other people on some level. To the extent that these experiences and interactions are fulfilling and satisfying to us, our sense of well-being is enhanced.
MEANING – having a sense that there is something bigger and more important than just existing, gives meaning to our lives – meaning to the thoughts that we have, the emotions that we experience, the decisions that we make, and the actions that we take. That sense of something larger than our individual selves often comes from religion or spirituality, but it can also come from believing in a cause. Meaning provides a broader context to our lives as well as purpose to many of the activities we engage in throughout our lives.
ACCOMPLISHMENT – Accomplishing a valuable goal can generate powerful positive emotions. Feelings of satisfaction, pride, and even honor can follow the attainment of a goal. These feelings can be in the context of small achievements, such as winning a game or excelling on a test, or much larger accomplishments like raising a large sum of money for your favorite charity or building the top company in your industry. And, although accomplishment alone has significant impacts on positive emotion and well-being, when the endeavor utilizes other elements of PERMA, such as Engagement, Relationships, and Meaning, the positive emotions are potentially that much more numerous and profound.
It is important to understand that we seek these five elements in our lives naturally and intuitively, although we do not always – or even often – succeed in attaining them or truly understanding their impact on our lives. Unfortunately, many of us go through life feeling as if we are missing something important or that we feel we are supposed to somehow be “doing something differently” or “doing something more”. These thoughts and feelings are a sign that we may be lacking a high level of life satisfaction and authentic happiness. Particularly, when our lives are lacking regular or robust positive emotions, we almost certainly lack a strong sense of well-being. It is this lack of life satisfaction that positive psychology is uniquely suited to address and rectify.
What it means to live a life well-lived has been the subject of philosophers and theologians for thousands of years. From that perspective, positive psychology is concerned with virtues and character strengths that span across all major cultural and religious traditions. Researchers have identified six virtues that make up the core characteristics endorsed by nearly all philosophies and religions. Within these six virtues are found twenty-four character strengths that underpin and reinforce the virtues and, taken together, they can be considered the essence of good character:
WISDOM & KNOWLEDGE
The degree to which each of these character strengths are present in any one individual can vary significantly. An individual’s top five to seven character strengths are known as signature strengths. It has been demonstrated that when a person consistently uses their signature strengths they can attain a stronger sense of well-being and life satisfaction. Utilization of character strengths is also closely associated with the positive human experience known as Flow, closely tied to the PERMA element of Engagement. Additionally, there are effective processes for developing a person’s lesser strengths so that they become stronger and more easily accessible.
YOU CAN FIND OUT WHAT YOUR CHARACTER STRENGTHS ARE
Largely due to the efforts of researchers at major universities and institutes, relatively accurate testing has been developed to reveal the relative makeup of strengths in an individual person’s character. Perhaps the most comprehensive and useful of these assessments is the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. This survey provides valuable personal insights into one’s character strengths and is a primary evaluation tool used for positive psychology consulting and life coaching at Flourish for Life. The results of these evaluations are then used by the consultant to help build and enhance life experience, sense of well- being, and authentic happiness.
HOW CAN POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY HELP ME PERSONALLY?
Our goal with positive psychology is to gauge your level of life satisfaction and well-being, identify your unique makeup of character strengths, and then guide you in creating a flourishing life. Positive psychology can help you to build the best life that you can. It can help you to create a more meaningful and fulfilling life. It can help you to live a happier, healthier, more prosperous life. Simply put, positive psychology can help you to create a life well-lived – and FLOURISH!
HOW CAN POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY HELP MY ORGANIZATION?
Work stress management has increasingly become a concern to leaders of organizations both large and small in recent years. This concern is for good reason. The individual health impacts of chronic stress are quite significant. Chronic stress can lead to depression; anxiety; heart disease; sleep deprivation; weight gain; memory impairment; difficulty in concentrating; muscle & back pain; and even digestive problems. Not only do these health problems quite obviously have serious impacts on the individuals concerned, they have potentially enormous organizational impacts. Employees that are experiencing high levels of chronic stress are far more likely to take sick time. Stress related disabilities make up an estimated 30% of disability claims. Further, productivity can suffer greatly, employees are much more prone to workplace accidents, and their health care costs are significantly higher due to chronic stress. The World Health Organization estimates that chronic stress costs American businesses as much as $300 billion per year. Given this organizational health epidemic, stress and anxiety management should be a primary concern – a concern that Positive psychology is uniquely suited to address.
Applying positive psychology practices within an organization allows individual team members to best utilize their signature character strengths, which in turn enhances the enjoyment and fulfillment derived from their work. This can have dramatic positive impacts on work stress management and productivity, as well as physical and emotional health. With these types of positive changes, the potential positive impact on the organizational culture is self-evident.
Forward thinking organizational leaders are wise to take a keen interest in the positive impacts that positive psychology can have on their workforce and organization as a whole. When individuals flourish within an organization, that same organization in its entirety is much more likely to flourish, as well.
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