February is a difficult month for many, as the grey landscape of winter stretches out before us. Although daylight is slowly creeping our way, the spring with her sunshine still seems a long way off. What can we do I wonder, to stay upbeat and positive? How can we find happiness and live a good life, even when everything around us seems grim and depressing?
These two questions led me down the rabbit hole to a place, a sub-field called Positive Psychology. Martin Seligman was the first in 1998 to propose this new sub-set of Psychology. Its focus was to study life-giving (as opposed to life-diminishing) processes and on health and well-being instead of illness and suffering. Seligman felt that traditional Psychology had for too long, had too narrow a focus. Of course, he contends, we must examine mental illness, trauma, emotional pain and suffering. However, we should also provide balance in this large scientific domain, by examining happiness and well-being, as well as optimism and hope.
Twenty-five years later a whole industry has emerged that represent the off-shoots of Seligman’s research and findings. Focusing on the positive, having gratitude and showing kindness are just a few examples of new psychological explorations. Many reknown Psychologists are stepping into the subject with renewed curiosity.
Roy F Baumeister for instance, identified that happiness and meaningfulness were not necessarily the same thing. Happiness he discovered was a present-oriented emotion. It is rooted in this moment. Whereas, meaningfulness is a feeling that is more often associated with events from the past or the future.
Christopher Peterson, on the other hand explored the concept of having a good day. His studies indicated that all ‘good days’ had three things in common. The individual having a good day reliably described feeling a sense of autonomy, competence and a connection to others. These findings are valuable as they draw a template for those of us who seek to be hopeful and experience happiness and well-being.
Seligman went on to devise PERMA, a new theory of well-being, that encompassed his findings regarding Positive Psychology. He noted that those of us who were truly happy had all of the five components associated with his PERMA model. First, we identify and experience Positive emotions. Then we understand and enjoy Engagement, to the point that we lose track of time or become absorbed in a topic, discussion or activity. We also have deep, meaningful and positive Relationships with others. There is recognition or acknowledgement that life isn’t just about us. There is a greater purpose or Meaning to our lives. Finally, we have persisted in something long enough that we feel Accomplishment, success or achievement. Together these five elements define a good life, a sense of well-being and predict an optimistic outlook with healthy future prospects.
There is so much more to this subject! Psychologists now know that there are huge benefits to injecting even a little bit of optimism and gratitude into our lives. These simple changes can radically shift our focus away from depressing or debilitating thoughts to things that are more constructive and supportive. Perhaps, the most critical finding is that shifting our perspective to one that is more positive can alter our outlooks for the better, for years to come. Researchers have also learned that happiness is contagious. Seek out and surround yourself with light-hearted, caring people. In short, finding and living the good life is achievable for all of us with a few simple adjustments.
Are you feeling overwhelmed and discouraged by the February blues, your current circumstances or anything else and would you like to hear more about how to shift your perspective and live a life of happiness and well-being? If so, please call to book a 30 minute phone call with Simone Usselman-Tod at simoneusselmantod.com/book/.
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