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Positive Psychology



Positive Psychology is the study of how humans excel, flourish, grow and fulfil potential. It seeks to understand how we build resilience and achieve happiness; educating us about the impact of life choices and the importance of strengthening the qualities needed to allow us to embrace all that life offers and enable us to thrive.


Whilst positive psychology does not ignore mental illness, it tends not to focus on cause and instead seeks an alternative way to positively support clients, enabling them to find and practice ways of thinking and behaving that will help them enjoy a greater sense of well-being.


Positivity and quality of life is not a new phenomenon. There have been countless studies into the correlation between healthier, happier individuals and the impact of a positive mindset on our happiness. We know research has shown, amongst other things, that happy people tend to live longer, have more successful relationships, greater occupational and financial success, have stronger immune systems, and are better able to deal with stress.

So, from a psychological point of view, there are a lot of reasons we should be teaching people how to be happy!


But what is happiness and how do we achieve it?


Many psychologists agree that happiness is found when we experience positive emotions.

Evidence suggests that happiness is influenced by several factors including levels of positive vs negative emotion, physical health, social status, personal wealth, how we relate to one another, feelings of attachment, the goals we set for ourselves, as well as our innate personality (Ryan and Deci 2010, cited in Celestine 2017).

So, quite a lot of things!


Happiness is undoubtedly a feeling - but why are some of us better equipped to conjure up that sense of well-being? What do these cheerful individuals have that the more melancholy in society might be lacking?


Martin Seligman, renowned psychologist and founder of the PERMA model of positive psychology (2011) began to assess and measure precisely what was needed by an individual to find and maintain happiness. Defined as far back as Aristotle, he found that hedonic happiness (life’s simple pleasures) and eudemonic happiness (more closely associated with purpose and meaning) are equally important and apparently, we need a combination of both to really hit that happy sweet spot!


Now widely recognized as one of the most influential models in the field of positive psychology, the PERMA model states that to achieve happiness and feel fulfilled, individuals need to pursue the following (Seligman 2011, cited by Madeson 2017):

Positive Emotions

to feel emotions such as joy, gratitude, love and pride.

Experiences

to engage in positive pursuits, getting into the flow of what we are doing so we are really living in the moment.

Relationships

to connect with others around us in healthy and positive ways.

Meaning

to seek fulfilment and find greater significance in our lives.

Achievement

to continue to strive, achieve and celebrate positive gains.

Supported by research, Seligman (2011) has shown that the ability to establish these behaviours and endeavours in our day-to-day lives has a positive psychological impact on well-being and happiness, providing all the tools necessary for an individual to flourish (Positive Psychology Centre, University of Pennsylvania).


The PERMA model is used worldwide in positive psychology, and findings are reinforced by a range of other positive psychology theories that support and enhance Seligman’s research. These include but are not limited to:

  • Flow theory (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, cited Oppland 2016) – focuses on the importance of fully immersing oneself into an enjoyable activity, similar to Seligman’s Engagement state.

  • Hope theory (Charles Snyder, 1991)– recognises the importance of establishing and maintaining hope in difficult situations.

  • Resilience theory (Norman Garmezy, 1991, cited IPL 2023)– helping us to understand that we all face challenges and can choose how to respond in a more positive way.

  • Strength theory (Donald O Clifton, 1999, cited Gallup) - identifying key strengths and learning how to focus on them to gain the best outcomes.


So, we know what positive psychology is, but why is it so important and how can it be applied to coaching psychology?


Well, the good news is that positive psychology can be used alone or alongside most theoretical models, including coaching.


As a coaching psychologist, the goal is to enable clients to see alternative viewpoints and tap into existing resources, both personal and experiential, to help them navigate a challenging situation more effectively. Educating clients and helping them to identify existing resources, building on strengths they already possess but perhaps haven’t been using efficiently. By focusing on personal strengths and positive emotions, we can teach clients to pursue a happier life. Aided by evidence, I think it becomes easier to encourage others to actively change behaviours to positively influence emotion; it becomes our job to teach clients a way of living that has been proven to lessen psychological distress.


Martin Seligman found that writing three things you were grateful for at the end of every day brought about an improvement in anxiety and increased mental health after just 6 months.


Practices such as these are simple and effective and can become part of daily rituals quite successfully if there is willingness from the client.

The PERMA model gives us the power to explain the importance of healthy relationships, achieving goals, and connecting with our deeper sense of self and purpose. We have in our repertoire, the tools to find positive emotions such as joy, excitement, pride and love and to seek meaning in our lives, alongside a healthy dose of accomplishment.


That some clients will be looking for stability when they come to us doesn’t reduce our capacity to seed these pointers toward a more positive existence; to educate about the importance of not just managing negative emotions but striving for positive ones too.


Every individual and client will have their own ideas about what they need to make them happy, they will bring their own authentic meaning of their unique lives to sessions. But the theory behind the PERMA model allows everyone to use scientific insights, moulding them into something that aligns to their perspective. Clients can develop coping strategies and success can be measured. The science creates credibility which gives the client confidence to embark on the journey.


It can help all of us who work in a therapeutic sense to understand where clients are lacking and what strengths and attributes they need to work on to gain a greater sense of well-being.


Happiness is achievable, we can all learn how to embrace it.


 

References

Celestine, N (2017 modified 10 March 2023) The Science of Happiness in Positive Psychology, https://positivepsychology.com/happiness (Accessed 25th April 2023).


Madeson, M (2017, modified 2023) Seligman’s PERMA+ Model Explained: A Theory of Wellbeing https://positivepsychology.com/perma-model (Accessed: 27th April 2023)



Internet Public Library (2023) https.ipl.org/essay/Norman-Garmezys-Theoretical-Framework-For-Resiliency-PJF5AUY3XG (Accessed 25th April 2023)


Snyder, C. R. Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind. Psychological Inquiry, vol. 13, no. 4, 2002, pp. 249–75. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1448867 (Accessed 9 May 2023).


Sutton, J (2016, modified 2023) Martin Seligman’s Positive Psychology Theory https://positivepsychology.com/positive-psychology-theory/ (Accessed 26th April 2023)


Oppland, M (2016, modified 9 March 2023) 8 Traits of Flow according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi https://positivepsychology.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/(Accessed 26th April 2023)


Positive Psychology.com (no date) https://positivepsychology.com (Accessed 26th April 2023)


University of Pennsylvania (2002) https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/home (Accessed 26th April 2023)


University of Pennsylvania, School of Arts and Sciences (no date) https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/learn-more/perma-theory-well-being-and-perma-workshops (Accessed 24th April 2023).






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