The science of happiness was the focus of our community workshop this week. Together with New Life director Julien Gryp, who led the workshop, we investigated positive emotions and how we can make use of our strengths to live a more meaningful life, all of which gave us plenty of food for thought over the weekend!
So what exactly is positive psychology?
While traditional psychology is mainly concerned with mental illness, weakness, or dysfunction, positive psychology is concerned with studying behaviours and therapies that increase a person’s sense of well-being. The field of research is spearheaded by Professor Martin Seligman (famous for the theory of ‘learned helplessness’) and his colleagues at the Positive Psychology Center over at the University of Pennsylvania.
One of their crucial findings is that increasing our gratitude and forgiveness corresponds significantly with an increase in our overall happiness. Another is that the past does not necessarily have to determine the future. Additionally, we can build optimism by recognising and disputing pessimistic thoughts. Meditation is an excellent tool for practicing all these qualities, especially the latter.
Furthermore, how we experience the present moment involves either pleasure or gratification. Pleasures are fleeting and sensory, e.g. enjoying ice-cream, a good song, or having a hot shower at the end of the day.
On the other hand, gratification involves the concept of “flow”. Flow involves being engaged in a task that requires use of our skills and strengths. It is a kind of deep, effortless involvement in which time stops and our sense of self vanishes.
Advocates of positive psychology suggest that a pleasant life can be had with an abundance of pleasures, a good life can be had through engaging one’s skills, strengths, and virtues, and a meaningful life – the most enduring kind of happiness – can be experienced through adding meaning and purpose to a good life, through harnessing one’s skills and virtues in service of something greater than oneself.