Positive Psychology was first introduced at the turn of the century and was founded by a man called Dr. Martin Seligman who set out to focus on what contributed to people’s happiness or wellbeing, rather than focusing only on how to “fix” mental illness after it had occurred. Dr. Seligman pioneered the view that optimists would fare much better than pessimists in many areas of life including handling stress, physical health and general wellbeing. He identified 5 key elements to increase wellbeing:
- Positive emotions
- Positive Relationships
Barbara Fredrickson (2009) has done extensive research and found that these ten emotions color people’s day to day lives the most with love heading the list of the most frequently experienced form of positivity.
Being deeply engaged in our lives will foster feelings of satisfaction and wellbeing, just as being disengaged will produce the opposite. The concept of “flow” has been studied extensively by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) and he has found that spending time doing something that produces the following state is greatly beneficial to our mental and physical health:
- We are totally absorbed in the activity
- We are not aware of time passing
- We are challenged to the right extent – not too much, not too little
- We have a sense that we would like to do the activity again when we stop
Having people who care about us, who listen to us and support is crucial to our chances of experiencing life satisfaction. Forging bonds with people is what we are hard-wired to do, yet in today’s busy world, relationships are often one of the first things to be neglected.
How we find meaning in the world defines our identity. Once we lose this sense of meaning we can flounder and feel insecure about our reason for being. Making sense of our world is essential and often big changes can throw this out of the window and put us in a temporary state of insecurity and even depression. Finding meaning is one of the most profound and challenging issues we can face as individuals as it requires a great deal of self-awareness and introspection, questioning our values, our deepest dreams and our sense of purpose.
Having something to work towards and the opportunity to feel the satisfaction that comes with having achieved whatever goal we have set for ourselves is an important part of wellbeing. This is just a short introduction to the area of Positive Psychology with the main aim of introducing the reader to a world of resources and research that show what factors can help us thrive.
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