Say goodbye to misconceptions about Positive Psychology!

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Positive psychology aims to study human well-being and to discover a better way to enhance human well-being. Recently positive psychology gained interest from different settings such as personal life, counselling, coaching, clinical psychology, university, school and workplace. However, there are some misconceptions about positive psychology which are worth to discuss here.

(1) Positive Psychology is all about ‘happyology’

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What’s come across your mind when you heard the term called positive psychology? Most people will say: AH HA be positive! AH HA be happy! AH HA a smiley emoticon! AH HA just smile ‘HAHAHA’-showing his or her wonderful smile to you.

Are these comments enough to reflect the field of positive psychology?

We could not ignore that positive psychology is interested in studying positive emotion in term of its functioning, and its benefits, as well as ways to feel more positive emotions. However, positive psychology also focused on a variety of topics related to human well-being such as flow, mindfulness, optimal functioning, creativity, spirituality and religion, meaning, and character strength (that is positive traits such as kindness, love of learning, or bravery).

Overall, positive psychology is trying to understand what contribute to human well-being based on the topics mentioned just now rather than just focusing on positive emotion. You can try to browse a positive psychology book and see what positive psychology is interested for.

(2) Positive Psychology is all about positive thinking

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Always remember that:

Positive psychology is not about positive thinking!

Certain self-help books tell us to think happy or think positively. Then, everything will become perfect as good things come together as a form of attraction when we think happy or positively.

We might think these ideas are similar to positive psychology. However, this is not true. The confusion is still there because both, positive psychology and self-help book, are focusing on cultivating optimism, or happiness, as being optimistic and happy is related to certain positive outcomes.

What make positive psychology difference from self-help book is:

‘Positive psychology is a science which is based on academic research.’

Therefore, positive psychology initiates to explain human well-being based on scientific research. For example:

‘Happier people tend to be happy and productive.’

How do we explain the situation above?

Certain self-help books tend to explain happier people always attract good things as a form of universe pattern. Therefore, we must feel happy and positive!

Now, let’s take a look at broaden and build theory which is scientifically studied; proposed by Barbara Fredrickson. She is a well-known positive psychologists who is interesting in researching the function of positive emotions.

Basically, the theory stated that the positive emotions (for example, happy) directs a person to broaden their perspective of the world and building up personal resources for themselves. In a nutshell, being optimistic helps the person to deal with difficult situations more flexibly, to react openly to corporate changes, and to be supportive of other colleagues and co-workers. Thus, the optimistic and friendly environment will enhance the person’s survival skills and social resources allowing the person as well as his or her colleagues to flourish together in the workplace. Can we see the different explanation from the self-help book and from the positive psychology?

However, this does not mean that we could not read self-help book. We still can read certain self-help books written by positive psychologists; which the content is based on scientific research. Such self-books are ‘Flourish’ by Martin Seligman, ‘The How of Happiness’ by Sonja Lyubomirsky, or ‘Awareness is Freedom’ by Itai Ivtzan.

(3) Positive Psychology is only focusing positive thing

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Positive Psychology emerged because previous psychology has been focusing on negativity and mental illness and almost ignore an objective of cultivating human well-being. In order to understand human well-being, positive psychology has been initiating to offering scientific explanation on what contribute to human well-being. Therefore, the direction of focusing on the bright side of humankind might gave a false impression that positive psychology is ignoring the negativity of humankind.

In addition, positive psychologists such as Itai Ivtzan, Tim Lomas, Kate Hefferon, and Piers Worth also noted that their student has been feeling uncomfortable of sharing pain and difficulty during the positive psychology course. Therefore, they have published a book titled ‘Second Wave Positive Psychology: Embracing the Dark Side of Life’ as an initiative to let their students and public who are interested in positive psychology to feel that they are okay to have negative aspects of life in their journey of practising positive psychology.

They think that some aspects of life often perceived as negative could be conducive to our psychological wellbeing. As they perceived:

The dark side refers to challenging experiences, thoughts, emotions and behaviours which trigger discomfort in us. Such discomfort is frequently avoided as it carries an engagement with fear, pain, distress or confusion. However, engaging with the challenge and discomfort has great potential for growth, healing, insight and transformation. In other words, the dark side contains the seed for a potential positive outcome, even when the path towards this outcome is testing’ (Ivtzan, Lomas, Hefferon & Worth, p.1, 2015)

Therefore, positive psychology does not ignore negativity in our life. Positive psychology also encourage us to go along with negativity as a part of human life which will foster growth.

(4) Positive Psychology is only focus on individual level

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We might think positive psychology is only focus on what the individual can do in order to be happy or to have a better live. However, it does not reflect the commitment of positive psychology as a whole.

Basically, positive psychology focused on three levels:

(a) Subjective level-which is focus on positive subjective states/ positive emotions such as satisfaction with life, relaxation, intimacy, love, contentment, happiness and joy.

(b) Individual Level-which is focus positive traits or behaviour patterns observed in individual over time. For example: courage, persistence, honesty and wisdom.

(c) Group/societal level-which is focus on the development of positive institution (such as school, workplace); try to figure out how institutions could function better in order to support and nurture people in the institutions.

Happiness is a shared responsibility. Happiness is not only an outcome of self-commitment but also commitment from community and government; three elements bind together creating a better live. For example, certain individuals in the United Kingdom have begun to open Happy Café which is a friendly and welcoming place that promote happiness and well-being in local communities.

(5) Positive Psychology is designed for certain population

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Someone might think positive psychology is only design for rich people or people from developed country. However, we don’t have to be rich in order to pursuit happiness and well-being. Happiness is for everyone who is committing action for happiness. It is a matter of action, for example, a simple act of picking up rubbish and throw it into a rubbish bin when we are on the way home is contributing to our well-being and also well-being of the community.

Furthermore, positive psychology intervention is cheap, no charge, and applicable in daily life. For example, an action of saying hello to people as a form of random act of kindness does not require us to pay for performing that action. Moreover, this simple act of kindness contribute happiness for both parties. Does the action of performing random act of kindness exclusively belong to certain population or certain country?

If you are interested in doing some actions that contribute to your happiness. You can visit these websites:

(a) Action for Happinesshttp://www.actionforhappiness.org/

(b) Wheel of Well-Beinghttps://www.wheelofwellbeing.org/

Such websites provide great resources for individuals who are searching action for happiness or wellness.

However, we need to acknowledge that the research from positive psychology is based on certain populations such as university student and people from developed country. The scenario also happen in other field of psychology as well. Therefore, positive psychologists need to broaden their viewpoints in order to understand positive psychology well in other settings (for example, international samples or particular groups).

Hope the discussion give a little bit of explanation on what positive psychology really is.

 

Header image adapted from https://www.managersdigest.co.uk

 

 

Chee Yik Yong
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