We first heard the term Positive Psychology a few months ago and were intrigued as to how it could help the wellbeing of both ourselves and our children! We started to read more about it and decided that we’d use it as the basis of our ‘happiness is’ campaign. If you’re like us and hadn’t heard of it before, take a read below….

What is it?

“Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living.” (Peterson, 2008)

Positive psychology is a scientific approach to studying human thoughts, feelings, and behaviour with a focus on strengths instead of weakness, building the good in life instead of repairing the bad, and taking the lives of average people up to “great” instead of focusing solely on moving those who are struggling up to “normal” (Peterson, 2008).

Positive psychology focuses on the positive events and influences in life, including:

  1. Positive experiences (like happiness, joy, inspiration, and love)
  2. Positive states and traits (like gratitude, resilience and compassions) 
  3. Positive institutions (applying positive principles within entire organizations and institutions)

Who was the founder of Positive Psychology?

Martin Seligman’s research in the 1960s and 1970s laid the foundation for the psychological theory of ‘learned helplessness’ which he then connected to depression. His work on the subject provided inspiration, ideas and evidence to back up many treatments and strategies for depression.

He then turned his attention to other traits, characteristics and perspectives that could be learned, developing a widely administered resilience program to children and members of the military.

He grew frustrated with psychology’s focus on the negative – so much attention was given to mental illness, abnormal psychology, suffering and pain – with only a little attention on happiness, well-being, strengths and how to flourish.

In 1998, he was elected president of the American Psychology Association and used the opportunity to alter the direction of the field. He proposed a new subfield with a focus on what is life-giving and the foundational paper, positive psychology was published in 2000 by Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Since then, tens of thousands of studies have been completed on positive phenomena and establishing a base for the application of positive principles.

What are its benefits?

By thinking about character strengths, optimism, life satisfaction, happiness, well-being, gratitude, compassion, self-esteem and self-confidence, the idea is that people will flourish. There are so many benefits of Positive Psychology but here are some of the main benefits:

  1. Happiness is contagious; those with happy friends and significant others are more likely to be happy in the future (Fowler & Christakis, 2008).
  2. People who perform acts of kindness towards others not only get a boost in well-being, they are also more accepted by their peers (Layous, Nelson, Oberle, Schonert-Reichl, & Lyubomirsky, 2012).
  3. Gratitude is a big contributor to happiness in life, suggesting that the more we cultivate gratitude, the happier we will be (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).
  4. Oxytocin may provoke greater trust, empathy, and morality in humans, meaning that giving hugs or other shows of physical affection may give you a big boost to your overall well-being (and the wellbeing of others; Barraza & Zak, 2009).
  5. Happiness, character strengths, and good social relationships act as buffers against disappointments and setbacks.
  6. Spending money on experiences provides a bigger boost to happiness than spending money on material possessions (Howell & Hill, 2009).

What is the PERMA model?

The PERMA model is a widely recognized and influential model in Positive Psychology. Seligman proposed this model to help explain and define wellbeing in greater depth.

P – Positive Emotions: Even though seeking positive emotions alone is not a very effective way to boost your wellbeing, experiencing positive emotion is still an important factor. Part of wellbeing is enjoying yourself in the moment, i.e., experiencing positive emotions.

E – Engagement: Having a sense of engagement, in which we may lose track of time and become completely absorbed in something we enjoy and excel at, is an important piece of wellbeing. It’s hard to have a developed sense of wellbeing if you are not truly engaged in anything you do.

R – (Positive) Relationships: Humans are social creatures, and we rely on connections with others to truly flourish. Having deep, meaningful relationships with others is vital to our wellbeing.

M – Meaning: Even someone who is deliriously happy most of the time may not have a developed sense of wellbeing if they do not find meaning in their life. When we dedicate ourselves to a cause or recognize something bigger than ourselves, we experience a sense of meaning that there is simply no replacement for.

A – Accomplishment / Achievement: We all thrive when we are succeeding, achieving our goals, and bettering ourselves. Without a drive to accomplish and achieve, we are missing one of the puzzle pieces of authentic wellbeing (Seligman, 2011).

How can you use Positive Psychology at home?

There is often too much emphasis on ‘what’s wrong’ with our children so here are 7 ways that you can use Positive Psychology at home to think about ‘what’s right’:

  1. The Good Things List – Get your child to write down 3 good things that happened that day. If they are older, they can think about why a good thing happened. His will help shift thinking from bad things to good things.
  2. Relationships – Make sure your child has quality time with you, a special relative or friend.
  3. Random Acts of Kindness – Get your child to do one thing a day as an act of kindness for someone else. Talk about how doing nice things for others made them feel. Discuss things that they might do next week!
  4. The Gratitude Jar – Get your child to write down five things every day for which they are grateful for and pop into a jar. Discuss each week, reflecting on all the wonderful things they have to appreciate.
  5. Goal Chart – Create some short and long term achievable goals with your child, Keep reviewing them…..they’ll feel really good as their list of achievements grows!
  6. The Strengths list – Discuss and write down your child’s strengths. Focus on some each day to help them improve their day or help someone else.
  7. Savouring the moment – Take a part of your child’s routine that you both enjoy and slow it down so you can really enjoy the moment.

Thank you for reading – we all want our children to be happy, successful and to have a good life. By using some of these tips above, we can make sure we are providing them with some tools to help make it happen. Let us know some of the things that you do at home!

Jemma & Gill xxx

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