Positive Psychology – The scientific study of wellbeing
Positive Psychology is not about trying (unsuccessfully) to force yourself to be positive all the time. No, it is the study of the things that make people feel good and valuable. For example, it investigates people that are enjoying life. It identifies what makes them happy and it recommends how others can do these things so that they might increase their wellbeing.
It has shown that happy people are high on one or more of the following dimensions:
- Positive emotion – They frequently experience positive emotions. For example, successful relationships tend to have 5 or more positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction. Savouring positive experiences, looking to do new things, looking on the bright side, not taking ourselves seriously and having a laugh are ways of increasing positive emotions.
- Engagement/flow – Some happy people often get really absorbed in any activity. When they stop the activity, they realise they have lost track of time and feel that they enjoyed that experience. So, finding one or more activities that absorb our attention increases wellbeing – it really doesn’t matter what the activity is – it just has to absorb our attention.
- Achievement – Making a step towards some goal makes us feel good. It’s important to go for goals that are challenging but possible for us – going for impossible goals just makes us feel bad because we have failed again.
- Relationships – Having relationships with people that appreciate us and that we appreciate makes us feel good. Relationships often need a bit of attention – they often require effort. For example, going to a headway meeting can require effort when you are new to the group, but it is so rewarding to establish connections with people who know where we are coming from.
- Meaning – Many people are happy because they do things for a purpose outside themselves. For example, they volunteer their services for a charity or they do what they can to help their family or friends. The important thing is to give to others and/or a valued cause.
Different people are strongest in different dimensions. For example, one person might be happy because they experience a lot of positive emotion and achieve a great deal, while another person might be happy because of their relationships and because of their determination to do things for others. So, the way forward is to think of the dimensions that you can most naturally develop – and trying to work out how you can do more in those areas. That’s true if you don’t have an injury – and it remains just as true if you do have one.