Almost all human beings have a tendency to focus on the negative. This is a bit of a bummer when you think about it. Enter then, positive psychology, which is the science of thinking, feeling and acting yourself into a happier state of mind. Want to know more?
Positive psychology is the study of human strengths and virtues; it’s a field founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, cultivate what is best within them and enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.
It began in 1998 when Martin Seligman chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association. Positive Psychology focusses on mental wellness. It was (and still is) a reaction against psychoanalysis and behaviourism, which focus primarily on mental illness. It is intended to complement but not replace traditional areas of psychology.
This is important because of the human-disposition towards the negative, even when they don’t have psychological issues to deal with.
Loosely translated, let’s say you leave your house for work in the morning and throughout the day, nine nice things happen to you and one bad thing happens to you. What do you think you will talk about when you get home at the end of the day? Yep, that’s right. One bad event can overshadow nine nice ones. But, why is that?
Current thinking has it that this is a survival technique, going back 10,000 years, to when we were all living in Hunter Gatherer societies. We’d leave camp in the morning to go out hunting and gathering. When we returned at the end of the day, it didn’t make much sense to talk about how lovely everything was, but it did make sense to talk about all the dangers. “Don’t go that way, there’s quicksand!” people would say; or “look out for the cannibals!” they would warn; or “oh no, poor Ogg!” they would lament.
Fast forward to the modern day, and we are still leaving in the morning to metaphorically go out hunting and gathering and we are still returning home to talk about the dangers, only this time we are saying, “what? Working late? Again!” or we are warning, “look out for the traffic wardens” or we are lamenting, “oh no, poor Steve!”
Happiness, however, is a habit that you can cultivate, step by step and exercise by exercise to help fight this negative nelly predisposition. But, why is that important?
Well, for one thing, by definition, you will feel better. However, there is more to it than that. Happiness does not just make you enjoy life more, it actually affects how successful you are in both your personal and professional life (and studies back this up). Happiness makes you more sociable and altruistic, it increases how much you like yourself and, by default, other people. It can help you resolve conflict and improve your immune system functioning (again, this is all backed up by scientific research).
I’ll be giving a talk about positive psychology and the things you can do to build a happier mind-set on 26thJune at the Bristol Rovers Football Club as part of the Time to Change mental health campaign (click here for more details on that). Led by mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, Time to Change is a national venture that aims to eliminate the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health whilst also offering support, advice and resources in abundance.
Positive psychology is the art and science of living life more fully, helping you to identify your strengths and values and to develop more meaningful goals.
And that’s paramount, really. As the Happy Talk song goes, “you gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?”