Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Positive psychology: the husband and his five wives

Many years ago, one of my Polytechnic lecturers imprinted the analogy of the husband and his five wives in my mind. I love stories, they stick in your unconscious and thrive without much or no nourishment.

What is the husband and his five wives?

It is an application of six powerful questions, How? What? Who? When? Why? Where? See the “H”usband and his five “W”ives?:D
I will use analogy of the husband and his five wives on Positive Psychology.

How can Positive Psychology be applied?

What is Positive Psychology?

Who “founded” Positive Psychology?

When did Positive Psychology come about?

Why Positive Psychology?

Where did Positive Psychology originate?

I’m sure lots of other leading questions can be garnered from this analogy, however, I will choose to focus on these for the time being. Questions will be answered soon!

What is Positive Psychology?

In my first post, I defined what Positive Psychology is – “The study of the strengths and virtues that enable[s] individuals and communities to thrive and find happiness” (Positive psychology, n.d.). That is but one of many definitions abundant in this thriving new movement. To me, Positive Psychology epitomises all things optimistic, and naturally, strengths and virtues of people fall into Positive Psychology, as they are “feel-good” kind of things.

Is everything that makes you feel good positive? That is an interesting question I will consider in due course.

Going by psychological convention, manuals are possibly a convenient method of classifying the unclassified. When there is a yin, there is also a yang. After concentrating on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a ray of sunshine is paved with the development of Values in Action (VIA) Classification of Strengths Manual (Seligman, 2003, as cited in Pawelski, 2004). The VIA comprises 24 strengths categorised under six virtues: Wisdom and knowledge, Courage, Humanity and love, Justice, Temperance, and Transcendence (Seligman, as cited in Pawelski). The strengths listed under these six virtues are great fodder for more research which I hope to undertake in the future.

The study of Positive Psychology also seeks to address not only positive individual traits (classified by the VIA), but also on two other related issues: positive subjective experience and conducive environments for positive traits and experiences (Peterson & Seligman, 2003). In a morbid metaphor, the study of traits is the skeleton, and the experience, the flesh on the skeleton. Together, they exist together (that is, the environment) to create happiness.

Traits, experience and the environment are the ingredients of the spectrum of emotions. Be it happiness or sadness, the study of “negative” Psychology, without which, would not have laid the foundation for the current interest and popularity in Positive Psychology.

When, who and where did Positive Psychology come about?
At yesterday’s Toastmasters’ chapter meeting, I spoke on an impromptu topic regarding turtles sticking their necks out and their association with the Word of the Day, “Grow, Glow, Go”.

Where did the adrenaline rush and the flow of high energy which accompanied me when I spoke to my audience come from? How did I get the flow? Is it innate or learned? These are questions within the realm of Positive Psychology.

How did Positive Psychology originate?

In actual fact, the study of the “good life” begun long before the advent of the Positive Psychology movement. Philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle indulged in careful reasoning of the “good life”. Furthermore, Humanistic psychologists such as Carl Rogers (1951) and Abraham Maslow (1970), have also been researching on the “good life” ideas tethered to Positive Psychology. Maslow’s ideas on the striving for human needs (1970) and Humanistic Psychology, paved the way for the birth of Positive Psychology. Upon the undertaking of the role of APA President, Martin Seligman (1998) called for action on building human strengths, remonstrating Positive Psychology.

All in all, I am very happy that the “good life” has been given a name to be studied under. With more study, perhaps we can have a better understanding on how people get their good lives, and we can model ourselves to be like them, living the “good life” that we, and everyone else, deserves to have.

Why Positive Psychology?

This has been a question that challenges many ideals of what “conventional” Psychology really is. Or is there really a “conventional” Psychology at all? Is anything conventional at all?

I was reading Martin Seligman’s Positive Psychology, Positive Prevention, and Positive Therapy in which Seligman was outlining the drivers of the Positive Psychology movement.

Why Positive Psychology?

Tracing the historical origins of Psychology, there was an urgent need for Psychologists to address and remedy people’s pressing problems right after the Industrial Revolution, brought about by World War II. This segregated the task (Seligman, 2007) of happy living and talent nurturing from the more profitable task of curing mental illnesses, a consequence of World War II.

Due recognition should be given to the efforts and knowledge contributed to the understanding of mental disorders (Seligman, 2007). Previously thought to be incurable or unrelieved, several disorders could now be cured or relieved, thanks to the industrious research conduced by several researchers throughout the history of Psychology. Nevertheless, the task of happy living and talent nurturing was neglected, and now is as good a time to pursue these undertakings with zest!

Most people are realistic, and focus on the now, rather than on the future, or the many “what-ifs” in life that crop up every now and then. It is much easier to attend to the tangible present, rather than the intangible future with its many twists and turns in fate. Also, negative emotions and human suffering provide the most tangible and immediate knowledge of the things that go wrong in life, hence, Psychology sought to resolve the root of the problems faced by many people. Almost everything (material or immaterial) stems from the psyche, the mind. However, a constant medicating of the mind will not result in a healthier-in-mind-and-body individual. It is what the Chinese people say, Medicate according to the problem – Dui zheng xia yao. It is perhaps great for acute physical illnesses, and detrimental for the chronic illnesses of the mental state.

As Seligman (2007) suggests, a more feasible, cheaper, and healthier alternative would be Positive Prevention. It is to prevent the mental illnesses from forming, that is, to teach people how to buffer themselves from life’s hard knocks. Liken Positive Prevention to armour worn in battle, it is the first line of defence from psychological damage. The best part is this alternative already exists in every one of us. We only need the tools such as techniques and knowledge and an inherent desire to utilise these self-reinforcing tools. With this utility, we are able to identify, harness and amplify our strengths and virtues in every aspect of our lives, in work, play, relationships and health.

Positive therapy and psychotherapy lends support to this interesting notion of Positive Prevention. There are myriads of therapies abounding, and there are huge contentions over the efficacies and side-effects (and placebo effects) of these therapies (Seligman, 2007). Hocus-pocus, mumbo jumbo, the what-not, all of these therapies have something in common.

They all employ Positive Psychology.

The “feel-good” tactics and strategies such as trust-building, rapport, relationship-building, authority recognition, public relations techniques, are the common element in these therapies. Furthermore, strength-building such as optimism-enhancing, courage-building, pleasure-finding, purpose-finding is employed particularly in psychotherapy. Evidently, Positive Psychology is nothing new, it is already in use in many areas of our lives, just that we do not seek it out consciously.

I urge everyone in this current age to seek out our strengths and virtues, harness and accentuate them to the best of our abilities. There is no better time than the present to start. Why procrastinate? What is stopping you? Reach your inner potential and maximise your functioning in life, not only to buffer against the disasters in your life, but to savour every pleasure and happiness you richly deserve.

 How can Positive Psychology be applied?
The birth of shanshine.com was kickstarted with a series of questions with the intention to delve into the intricacies of the Positive Psychology movement. First off was the question, what is Positive Psychology? Second, when, who and where did Positive Psychology come about? Third, why Positive Psychology? This brings us to the perhaps, most interesting question in this enlightening series, how can Positive Psychology be applied?

It is only now that I realise that how is imbued with other subtle “W”ives (Yip, 2008). Who can Positive Psychology be applied? When can Positive Psychology be used? Where can Positive Psychology be utilised? These “W”ives are indeed fantastic tools to explain the “H”usband in a clearer manner!

How can Positive Psychology be applied? Firstly, it can be applied to virtually anyone who is interested in making a positive difference in their own lives. Secondly, Positive Psychology, in terms of positive interventions (for example, exercises and questionnaires) can be used whenever needed. You are only limited by your choice of utilising interventions and motivation in employing them. Thirdly, positive interventions can be used in any location, with my recommendation of the exercises for application to be completed in an environment conducive for meditation and reflections.

Seligman’s (2004, September) latest newsletter on Authentic Happiness reported on an investigation on three positive interventions. The three blessings exercise, the gratitude visit, and the identification and innovative utilisation of signature strengths, demonstrated increased positive emotions and reduced depression with a follow up of six months.

Firstly, the three blessings exercise comprises listing three things which happened to you (and why) during the day for which you feel grateful and blessed. The goal of this exercise is to increase your self-awareness of the great things which happens to you. With this conscious awareness, seek to magnify the quality and/or quality of these blessed things in your life!

Secondly, the gratitude visit comprises composing and reading a testimonial to someone important from your past who has made a positive difference in your life, and you have not formally expressed your appreciation for. Pay a face-to-face visit to the person and reminisce about the things that this person has done to make it so important for you.

Thirdly, the identification and innovative utilisation of signature strengths comprises identifying your signature strengths with the VIA signature strengths questionnaire. Reflect on your top five strengths, and use each strength in a new and different way for seven days.

Try out these exercises and see what happens! If you are an altruistic person and want to contribute to research in this field, or just want to find out how positively savvy you are, there are several interesting studies in the Positive Psychology Center Online Research Program where you can participate in!

Most probably, when you apply and teach Positive Psychology, your happiness is inadvertently increased as well (Seligman, 2004, September). What a wonderful win-win situation! Are you ready for embracing Positive Psychology in your life?

Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new Positive Psychology to realise your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2004, September). Positive interventions: More evidence of effectiveness. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/newsletter.aspx?id=45
Yip, P. S. (2008). Positive psychology: the husband and his five wives (Part 1). Retrieved February 26, 2008, from http://www.shanshine.com/positive-psychology/positive-psychology-the-husband-and-his-five-wives-part-1
Pawelski, J. O. (2004). The promise of positive psychology for the assessment of [and building] character. Retrieved January 24, 2008, from http://www.lifeskillstraining.org/seligman.htm
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2003). Values in action (VIA) classification of strengths. Retrieved January 24, 2008, from http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/viamanualintro.pdf
Positive psychology. (n.d.). Webster’s New Millennium™ Dictionary of English, Preview Edition (v 0.9.7). Retrieved January 17, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/positive psychology


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