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Courtship of Positive Psychology

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

Positive Psychology aims to nurture all that is alive, human, and hopeful. It doesn't eliminate the negative emotions. The emphasis is on building optimism and wellness which act as a protection against stress.

Positive Psychology advocates that environment is the medium within which people exist, think, and act. The traditional way of perceiving the world directs attention at the people, not their environment. We label and look at the world through our biases. The glare in on students, not classrooms. On mentally ill, not their relationships. On patients, not hospitals or clinics. We look at juvenile delinquents, not the prison environment.

An Environment - focused Approach

“When you go out into the woods, and see all these different trees, some of them are bent. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. You don’t get all emotional about it. You allow it. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. The judgement comes in. I practice turning people into trees” ~ Ram Dass

To understand the concept of Positive Psychology, I needed to look at this quote. I’ve experienced irritation and righteous anger in all of my relationships. When I’m fighting with my boyfriend, I feel that he interrupts way too much, is really loud, opinionated, and a know – it – all. When I’m discussing career choices with my best friend, she seems self – centered, profit – minded, and plays it safe. These judgments are in reaction to the frustration I’m facing in communication. Eventually, this becomes the way I start to define these people, finding more and more truth in it.

People don’t exist in isolation. In any relation, one comes to a realization that 2 cultures are coming together, 2 backgrounds are interacting, and environments are clashing with each other. I blame somebody to be loud because in my environment, loud is associated with authority (over me). I blame somebody to be a safe – player because I value having a vocation as my career for the reasons of pure interest. And here’s the Scorpion in the box; I’ve had the financial means to take risks in my career. My friend chose a so – called secure path because her family had always struggled financially. Hence, communication with my intimate relations made me realize that all my judgments are coming from my context, and that people’s choices, behaviors, and ways of living are determined by their environments.

These are not my words. It was highlighted by Beatrice A. Wright & Shane J. Lopez in the chapter “Widening the Diagnostic Focus; A Case for Including Human Strengths and Environmental Resources (2019).” They call this a figure – ground relationship, “salience of the person as the figure and the eclipse of the environment as the background.” It’s to be noted that Positive Psychology isn’t deterministic. It is sensitive to the role of “social” in our lives. When I secretly judge my friend as being a safe – player and myself a being a risk – taker, there is social at work. The institutions we exist in are the essential elements of our growth.

Positive Psychology in a Nutshell

1. At the subjective level, positive emotions and experiences are studied. It includes,

· Subjective Wellbeing

· Resilience

· Flow

· Positive affectivity and Emotions

· Emotional Intelligence

· Creativity

· Personal Control

· Optimism

· Hope

· Self-Efficacy

2. At a deeper level, the fundamental question is, "what makes a good life?" This includes traits and states which make life worth living and thriving. This consists of,

· Authenticity

· Humility

· Intimacy

· Compassion

· Forgiveness

· Gratitude

· Empathy and Altruism

· Loss and Growth

· Work and ethics

· Humor

· Meaning

3. Lastly, the emphasis is on the environment, the social or communal level. Here, principles of positive psychology are applied at a macro, institutional level. MindVit, for instance, customizes your feed with content related to hope, humor, or well-being, because it recognizes the role of digital atmosphere in affecting one's mood and thoughts.

How does Positive Psychology encounter a problem?

“Positive Psychology is the scientific study of optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive.” ~ Martin Seligman

  • (1) There is no “fixing”

Our emotions, habits, and behaviors can't be eliminated. They're a result of constant interaction with the environment. Seligman had remarked, “Treatment is not fixing what is wrong, it is building what is right”. For instance, if we look at our habit of being constantly exposed to negative news from the digital media, and are unable to look away, then deleting those apps from the phone is only a temporary way. Other way can be that of customizing our feed with positive content.

  • (2) Nurturing inner strength

The only way to face the storms of life is to build inner strength and resilience. The approach of Positive Psychology focuses on identifying and fostering inner strengths into dealing with problems, rather than attacking the problem. For instance, if we’re constantly stressed, feeling the effects in our head, heart, and body, a view of Positive Psychology will never blame the stress as the villain. It’ll seek to find if we’re satisfied with our jobs, fulfilled in our relations, or have a healthy self-esteem. If that’s not the case, then the focus will be on building these inner reservoirs which ultimately buffer against stress.

  • (3) Learned Positivity and Optimism

What’s the meaning of “learned”? It means that we weren’t born with a particular skill or competency, we developed it through practicing. Seligman (1999) talks about “learned optimism”, saying that all of us have an intrinsic positivity and optimism, but we’re unable to use it when needed, deploying it at the wrong place. It has everything to do with beliefs. For instance, he said that if someone accuses you of being bad at your job, you can defend yourself pretty well and gather all the evidences showing that you’re actually a success at your job. However, if you yourself believe that you’re failing at your work, then you won’t be able to practice optimism. To target catastrophic thinking, Positive Psychology views optimism or resilience as something which can be learned in the face of difficulty, especially if that difficulty is of an intrinsic nature. This brings us to,

  • (4) Approach of Positivity

It’s not that the negative emotions are disregarded and the positive emotions are preferred. Positive Psychology is all about the approach. We treat difficulty with the same curiosity, inspiration, and compassion as we treat ease. We rely on our inner reservoirs for energy. We practice positivity in our environments. Ultimately, this helps in building resilience. This is the core concept of this domain. It’s a way to thrive, a way of life and living.

Application of Positive Psychology

This field is of relevance in many sectors. In the Education domain, students can benefit greatly from learning optimism and hope. Clinical practice has seen an increase in Positive Psychotherapy and building resilience. Corporations and workplaces are encouraging interest in the Flow research; a state of complete absorption and joy while doing an activity. Digitally, there's a lot of scope in curating content full of hope, inspiration, and creativity.


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