Positive Psychology

08 April, 2015

What is Positive Psychology?

Traditionally, psychology has focused on people’s problems and how to solve them. Positive psychology is one of the latest movements within psychology and instead it studies happiness and offers proactive steps to increase happiness levels. Being positive is NOT the same as positive thinking where you may not quite believe these forced positive thoughts. Within Positive Psychology being positive is HEARTFELT and genuine because you do it by increasing the quantity and intensity of your actual positive experiences. Normally our positive experiences slip under our radar when reflecting on our day, week, year or indeed life.

The term “flourishing” is used within Positive Psychology to describe someone who is not just getting by, but who is doing very well. People who have positive emotions in a ratio of 3:1 in relation to negative emotions are more likely to flourish. Studies have shown that when people achieve the 3:1 positivity ratio, they tend to become more generous, caring and dedicated in their actions and their thoughts become more creative, insightful, expansive and clearer. This in turn causes people to achieve greater success in their work and personal lives, and the upward spiral of feeling good, and thinking and acting constructively continues. People with a 1:1 ratio tend to be more depressed and lacking vitality. This ratio applies to individuals, couples, organisations and communities.

The Positivity Toolkit

To improve your positivity ratio, you can either decrease your negative emotions or increase your positive emotion (Positive Timeline and Memory Management). Positive psychologist Barbara Frederickson developed a twelve item toolkit to help achieve this ratio. All of the items in the toolkit are backed by science. You can try just one of the tools or you can try all of them and see which works best for you.

1. Be open: This first tool invites us to temporarily put expectations and judgements aside and allow ourselves to be mindfully present in the moment. For example, on your morning walk, ignore the mental to-do list and practice being open to nature. Use your sense to be present, rather than in your head.

2. Create high quality relationships with others: Be present, attentive and affirming. Show support for what the person is doing. Demonstrate trust. Spend time with this person occasionally with no outcomes in mind.

3. Cultivate Kindness, appreciation and gratitude: Commit five acts of kindness everyday.

4. Demonstrate healthy distractions to break the grip of rumination: Distractions break the grip of negativity. Frederickson suggests making two lists, one of healthy distractions and the other list of unhealthy distractions.

5. Dispute negative thinking, gather the evidence against, like a good lawyer: This exercise is adapted from research at Pennsylvania University and teaches us to dispute our negative thoughts. The purpose of this exercise is to ensure that negative thoughts are nipped in the bud as quickly as they occur.

6. Enjoy nature and the great outdoors-life force: Locate a dozen natural spots that you can get to in a matter of minutes that connect you to trees, water, skies or greenery when the weather is good. Connecting with nature has been shown to boost positivity. Make these places a regular destination.

7. Know your strengths and find ways to use them: You can take a free online strengths text at viacharacter.org and learn your 24 signature strengths and how to apply them. Once you have established your strengths plan to use them every day.

8. Meditate mindfully: Sit in a quiet place for a few minutes and take several deep breaths. The goal is to practise being present in the here and now. The effect of meditation on positivity levels increase with time.

9. Meditate on loving kindness: Reflect on a person for whom you have warm, tender or compassionate feelings. Your goal is to connect to warm and natural feelings by visualising how being with this loved person makes you feel. Once this positivity has been created within you, let go of the image of the individual and hold the feeling.

10. Ritualise gratitude: Being grateful means you notice gifts and appreciate the people around you. Use this tool to take stock of what is good in your life.

11. Savour positivity, past, present and future: Increase the quantity and intensity of the positive deposits in your personal memory bank.

12. Visualise the future: In this journaling exercise, imagine yourself in five years from now after everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have accomplished all the goals you set yourself. Write down where you will be and how it will feel when all of your goals have been achieved.