Positive Psychology and How It Can Help

June 02, 2016

In honor of last month’s mental health awareness month, we wanted to do a post on the importance of how you feel as well as how positivity can improve how you feel and live.

What is mental health?

Mental health is a level of psychological well being or an absence of a mental illness. It is the psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment. Many people tend to neglect their mental health since it may sound very trivial and unimportant. In positive psychology or holism, mental health may include an individual’s ability to enjoy life and create a balance between life activities and efforts to properly adapt to stress and adversity. To put simply, it is the capacity “to work and to love.” Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease. Approximately 30% of all Americans meet the criteria for having a mental illness. As a result, the cost of mental illness is extremely high to treat and diagnose. Evidence from the World Health Organization suggests that nearly half of the world’s population is affected by mental illness with an impact on their self-esteem, relationships and ability to function in everyday life. Mental health is an extremely important part of our daily life and the repercussions of neglecting it can be expensive and dangerous. However, many focus just on the curing part of mental health rather than the maintaining and improvement of one’s mental health, which is just as important! 

Positive Psychology and the focus on a more satisfactory life

Positive psychology uses scientific understanding and effective intervention to aid in the achievement of a satisfactory life, rather than focusing on treating a specific mental illness. Its main focus is on personal growth rather than on pathology, which is common amongst all other branches of psychology. Positive psychology has become increasingly more prominent in mental health now due to its concepts on positivity and the ability to live a more fulfilling and creative life. It investigates how human development can falter and brings the possibility that focusing only on a disorder could result in a limited understanding of a person’s condition.

Positive psychologists are concerned with four topics: positive experiences, enduring psychological traits, positive relationships and positive institutions. They believe that human beings are often drawn by the future than they are driven by the past. Theorists such as L.M. Keyes and Shane Lopez believe complete mental health is a combination of high emotional well being, high psychological well being and high social well being along with low mental illness. Through the success of years of research, many guiding theories have been born such as Martin Seligman’s P.E.R.M.A. One of the more intriguing and important topics covered in positive psychology is emotion. It is said that there are between seven and fifteen basic emotions. The emotions can be combined in many ways to create more subtle variations of emotional experience. This suggests that any attempt to wholly eliminate negative emotions from our life would have the unintended consequence of losing the variety and subtlety of our most profound emotional experiences. Therefore, the notion that eliminating negative emotions completely in an attempt for full positive thinking has the opposite effect than what was intended. Efforts to increase positive emotions will not automatically result in decreased negative emotions, nor will decreased negative emotions necessarily result in increased positive emotions. The goal is to change negative styles of thinking as a way to change how they feel. The thinking processes that impact our emotional states vary considerably from person to person. The ability to pull attention away from the chronic inner chatter of our thoughts can be quite advantageous to well being. A change in our orientation to time can dramatically impact how we think about the nature of happiness. Other possible goals include workplaces that aim for satisfaction and high productivity, producing a family or going to school to aid your development.

What exactly is P.E.R.M.A.?

We wanted to delve deeper into Martin Seligman’s well being theory. It is as follows:

  • Positive emotions include a wide range of feelings, not just happiness and joy. Included are emotions like excitement, satisfaction, pride and awe. These emotions are frequently seen as connected to positive outcomes, such as longer life and healthier social relationships.
  • Engagement refers to involvement in activities that draws and builds upon one’s interests. The task being done needs to be a bit difficult and challenging and yet still ultimately possible. It should invoke to a feeling of intensity that leads to a sense of ecstasy and clarity. Engagement involves passion for and concentration on the task at hands is assessed subjectively as to whether the person engaged was completely absorbed, losing self-consciousness.
  • Relationships are all important in fueling positive emotions, whether they are work-related, familial, romantic or platonic. Humans receive, share and spread positivity to others through relationships. They are important in not only in bad times, but good times as well. In fact, reacting to one another positively can strengthen relationships. It is typical that most positive things take place in the presence of other people. The people around us matter and are important to our well-being.
  • Meaning is also known as purpose and prompts the question of “why?” Discovering and figuring out a clear answer puts everything into context from work to relationships to other parts of life. Finding meaning is learning that there is something greater than you. Despite potential challenges, working with meaning drives people to continue striving for a desirable goal.
  • Accomplishments are the pursuit of success and mastery. Unlike the other parts of PERMA, they are sometimes pursued even when it does not result in positive emotions, meaning or relationships. Accomplishment can activate the other elements of PERMA, such as pride under positive emotion. Accomplishments can be individual or community based, fun or work based.

PERMA not only plays a role in our own personal lives but also can be used for public major news stories. With this model, journalists can instead focus on the positives of a story and ask questions about how conflicts or even tragedies have brought people together or how someone has experienced post traumatic growth. Stories then shift the perspective from a victimizing one to an uplifting one.

Positive Psychology Exercises

With helping you maintain a positive psychology, we have included some exercises below. These exercises can help you be more mindful of your mental health with positive psychology:

  • Acts of Kindness: Random, conscious acts of kindness have been shown to decrease stress and strongly benefit enhanced mental health. It has been found that individuals who complete five acts of kindness over the course of even one day report feeling much happier than controls groups even days after the exercise is over.
  • Appreciation: Thoughts and behaviors that regulate good feelings in response to positive events are known as savoring strategies. Unfortunately, we often fail to appreciate these experiences fully and we may not be consciously aware of the specific things that make these experiences enjoyable. This activity is about becoming more aware of how to savor a positive experience. Try to remember the sights, sounds and smells of the experience. Think about the emotions and thoughts you went through. Reflect on what you enjoyed about the activity, experience, and location or object you chose to savor. Sometimes, the joy in savoring occurs even more intensely after your time with it.
  • Goal/Changes: Every day write a new goal down that you want to achieve (more short term than long term like achieving world peace). In addition, write a change you would like to implement in your life physically or emotionally.
  • Gratitude: (one of the more heartfelt exercises) Express your gratitude to somebody else in writing. Think of someone who has contributed to your well being whom you have never fully thanked. This can be a parent, coach, sibling, romantic partner, friend, mentor, etc. Write a detailed letter to that person describing the benefits you have received from them and why you appreciated them and how the actions make you feel. The kicker is that afterwards, you must read it aloud to that person (in person is preferred) and exchange emotions afterwards.
  • Nutrition/Diet: Create a diet journal for one week. Observe if your diet effects your mood and vice-versa or how monitoring what you have eaten made you feel.
  • Optimism: Studies show that people who stop and reflect on things for which they are most grateful are happier and more content with life. These researchers found that having people write three brief explanations of why they were grateful for said things at the end of each day had particular success.
  • Sleep: For one week, observe your sleeping habits and reflect on it. What makes it better? What makes it worse? What would you change and what would be some of the barriers to changing your sleep habits?

    We are always happy to help you learn more and please feel free to reach out to us at any time if there are other topics that you would like for us to write about! Care+Wear is focused on allowing you to get back to living your life and we’re thrilled to help however we can! Maintaining a positive psychology is quite important and we’re pleased to do whatever we can to help!



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