Positive Psychology – basics

Broaden and build theory

(Adapted from http://www.sicotests.com/psyarticle.asp?id=246 )

According to the “broaden and build theory”, formulated by Fredrickson (1998), positive emotions often initiate a cycle of more positive emotions. Specifically, positive emotions can facilitate the development of skills, networks, resources, and capacities, which in turn promote wellbeing and fulfillment.

Negative emotions tend to correspond to specific inclinations (Frijda, 1986& Frijda, Kuipers, & Schure, 1989& Lazarus, 1991& Tooby & Cosmides, 1990). Fear tends to coincide with the inclination to escape or avoid the immediate context. Anger is associated with the inclination to attack or maintain a course of action. Disgust is associated with the inclination to expel or shun some stimulus, and so forth. The corresponding physiological reactions facilitate these behavioral tendencies (Levenson, 1994).

In contrast, positive emotions seldom correspond to threatening contexts and thus such feelings do not need to evoke a specific set of inclinations or responses. In particular, positive emotions amplify the breath of attention and thinking-called the broaden hypothesis. Specifically, in contrast to negative emotions, which direct the attention of individuals towards potential threats and problems, positive emotions broaden the attention of individuals. For example, attention is directed towards a more extensive set of objects in the environment (Wadlinger & Isaacowitz, 2006). Similarly, individuals will consider a more extensive repertoire of possible actions in response to some event (Fredrickson & Branigan, 2005)& joy, for example, corresponds to playful creativity and exploration (Ellsworth & Smith, 1988). In addition, individuals are more receptive to novel and exciting experiences (Kahn & Isen, 1993). Finally, individuals will embrace feedback and criticism (Raghunathan & Trope, 2002).

When the breadth of attention is extensive, individuals can develop skills and capacities that enhance their resilience, wellbeing, progress, and satisfaction–called the build hypothesis. That is, individuals might develop more intellectual skills, enabling these individuals to solve problems. Second, they could also cultivate psychological capacities, such as the ability to regulate their emotions. Third, they might develop more stable and trusting relationships. Finally, even their physical health tends to improve.

Several studies have shown that interventions designed to promote positive emotions do indeed enhance resilience, relationships, wellbeing, and satisfaction. Here are a few examples of how positive emotions broaden and build our human capacities:

  • Positive emotions trigger flexible thinking. Positive emotions seem to motivate a focus on global, broad patterns rather than specific details and features.
  • Positive affective states can also influence the memory of individuals. Specifically, when individuals experience a positive mood, their memory of peripheral or extraneous details tends to improve
  • Positive emotions also seem to facilitate openness to information, feedback, and advice. For example, when individuals experience positive emotions, their decisions are especially likely to incorporate subtle cues and sources of information
  • Positive emotions facilitate the formation of relationships. Specifically, positive emotions activate mechanisms that facilitate the acquisition of additional resources, including the formation of close relationships.
  • Positive emotions cultivate resilience. Positive affect might facilitate the development of psychological capacities that enhance resilience (see Tugade & Fredrickson, 2007). The flexibility and repertoire of action plans that coincide with positive affect might facilitate the capacity to regulate or overcome negative affect-called the undoing hypothesis (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998). That is, over time, individuals who experience many positive emotions might acquire the capacity to recover rapidly from possible adversities.
  • Positive emotions contribute to moral reasoning. When individuals experience a positive mood, their moral judgments tend to be more nuanced and sophisticated.

You can see the table of positive emotions in the previous section to see what resources each particular emotion accrues in human.

The Positive Psychology – basics is part of online learning tools for personal and professional development of youth workers. The course is developed under the project “ACHIEVE” – innovative methods for training and development of youth workers (2016-2-BG01-KA205-023835) funded by European Erasmus + Programme. The content of the course is based on a literature review.

“There is only one person who could ever make you happy, and that person is you!”

David Burns

In this course you can find out the key elements of positive psychology, the study of happiness.

Being happy is something that all people want, no matter where or how old they are. But are the benefits of happiness a worthwhile goal or is it just about feeling good? A review of the available literature has revealed that happiness does indeed have numerous positive effects, which appear to benefit not only individuals, but also families, communities, and the society at large (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). The benefits of happiness include higher income and better work outcomes (greater productivity and higher quality of work), larger social rewards (stronger social support and richer social interactions), more activity, energy, and flow, and better physical health (a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, and less pain) and even longer life. Happy people are more creative, helpful, charitable, and self-confident, have better self-control, and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities.

The science of happiness has flourished the last 2 decades. It has been applied in various fields of science, in psychology, business, health and more importantly in education. It is called “Positive Education”. Positive education focuses on developing both well-being and social responsibility, without changing its primary goals. It contributes in identifying and developing strengths, nurturing gratitude, and visualizing best possible selves (Seligman et al., 2005; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006). It is proven that it makes people more successful and showed to have a more lasting impact and change on having pro-social behaviour. It increases happiness and reduces depressive symptoms significantly (Sin and Lyubomirksy, 2009). Compared to unhappy learners, happier learners pay better attention, are more creative, and have greater levels of community involvement. It increases engagement, creates more curiosity and helps develop and overall love of learning (Fisher, 2015).

With this course we aim to introduce positive education into youth work and initiate a “Positive Non-Formal Education (NFE)”. Having unhappy youth who focus on the complains and the hassles will not solve the problems of unemployment, inactive participation and social exclusion. Instead, having happy youth will contribute in reinforcing their learning, their personal development, their professional progress, their authentic self, their health state, their sense  of initiative, volunteering and involvement in society and their connection with people and nature. We believe that this time has come!

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