Positive Psychology – basics

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is the study of the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions.[1]

In the past decade, psychologists have become concerned with prevention. How can psychologists prevent problems like depression or substance abuse or schizophrenia in young people who are genetically vulnerable or who live in worlds that nurture these problems? How can psychologists prevent murderous schoolyard violence in children who have access to weapons, poor parental supervision, and a mean streak? What psychologists have learned over 50 years is that the disease model does not move psychology closer to the prevention of these serious problems. Indeed, the major strides in prevention have come largely from a perspective focused on systematically building competency, not on correcting weakness.

Prevention researchers have discovered that there are human strengths that act as buffers against mental illness: courage, future mindedness, optimism, interpersonal skill, faith, work ethic, hope, honesty, perseverance, and the capacity for flow and insight, to name several. Much of the task of prevention in this new century will be to create a science of human strength whose mission will be to understand and learn how to foster these virtues in young people.

Working exclusively on personal weakness and on damaged brains, however, has rendered science poorly equipped to effectively prevent illness. Psychologists need now to call for massive research on human strengths and virtues. Practitioners need to recognize that much of the best work they already do in the consulting room is to amplify strengths rather than repair the weaknesses of their clients. Psychologists working with families, schools, religious communities, and corporations, need to develop climates that foster these strengths. The major psychological theories have changed to undergird a new science of strength and resilience. No longer do the dominant theories view the individual as a passive vessel responding to stimuli; rather, individuals are now seen as decision makers, with choices, preferences, and the possibility of becoming masterful, efficacious, or in malignant circumstances, helpless and hopeless. Science and practice that rely on this worldview may have the direct effect of preventing many of the major emotional disorders. They may also have two side effects: They may make the lives of clients physically healthier, given all that psychologists are learning about the effects of mental wellbeing on the body. This science and practice will also reorient psychology back to its two neglected missions– making normal people stronger and more productive and making high human potential actual. [2]

The aim of positive psychology is to begin to catalyze a change in the focus of psychology from preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building positive qualities. The field of positive psychology at the subjective level is about valued subjective experiences: well-being, contentment, and satisfaction (in the past); hope and optimism (for the future); and flow and happiness (in the present). At the individual level, it is about positive individual traits: the capacity for love, courage, interpersonal skill, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high talent, and wisdom. At the group level, it is about the civic virtues and the institutions that move individuals toward better citizenship: responsibility, nurturance, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethic.[3]

Having this in mind, one can say that positive psychology builds the capacities of the community, by helping individuals develop basic but fundamental competences that are neglected in the 21st century lives and educational systems. These competences include the ability to be authentic, grateful, joyful, resilient, mindful, happy and many more!

[1] Gamble & Haidt (2005)

[2] Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi (2000)

[3] Seligman (2000)

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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