All about positive psychology

When we think about psychology, we often view it as a means to alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms found in disorders such as anxiety and depression.   In fact, much of the modern field of psychology has been devoted to researching and treating pathology and focusing on people’s weaknesses and deficits.   Only within the last decade, there has been a shift in the field towards finding out more about the traits, characteristics, and practices that increase people’s experience of happiness and well-being….the things that make life worth living!  There is an explanation for why psychology has been so one-sided in its approach.  In the 1940s, the Veteran’s Administration hired numerous psychologists to counsel World War II veterans, who had experienced significant trauma and stress on the battlefields.   In addition, The National Institute of Mental Health granted substantial monies to university professors researching mental illness.  Curing mental illness quickly subsumed the entire focus of psychology for the next 50 years until 1998, when prominent psychologist Martin Seligman, selected positive psychology as the theme for his tenure as president of the American Psychological Association.


While traditional psychology focuses on moving you from a negative state to a neutral point, positive psychology aims to elevate you to your highest level of contentment, from wherever your starting point may be.   Approximately 15% of Americans will experience clinical depression, and while the substantial majority of the population does not have a mental illness, many of us are also not thriving.  We can take comfort in that there are specific research-based (as well as enlightening and enjoyable) exercises and strategies that we can use to raise our happiness set-point.  Positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky has described how 50% of what determines your happiness set-point is per-determined by genetics and 10% is determined by circumstantial factors such as health, marital status, living environment and attractiveness.  This means that approximately 40% of what makes you happy is comprised of specific activities that are within your control!  Hence, this book will teach you how to utilize a myriad of strategies in order to capitalize on that 40%.


Exercise #1: : Reflect on or write down your thoughts to the following questions as you consider your level of happiness.  Are you thriving, surviving, or totally unhappy with your life right now? What does happiness mean to you?  What do you think needs to happen for you to be happier with your life?