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Your Guide to Positive Psychology: What It Is About and 10 Questions to Ask Yourself For Self-Reflection

Your Journey to Positivity and Greater Self-Awareness Starts with the Following Questions...

By:
Jesus Carmona Sanchez, PhD
|
Reviewed by:
Alexander Tokarev, PhD
Questions About Positive Psychology – PSYCULATOR
Clay Banks | unsplash.com

Best Questions on Positive Psychology

1. What is Positive Psychology?

Traditionally, Psychology focused on recognizing mental illness symptoms and addressing problems. Freud's aim was to transform 'misery into common unhappiness.'

In contrast, positive psychology is the discipline that uses robust empirical methods to explore strengths, strategies for their development, and aims to unveil the potential for thriving in individuals, whether they are struggling, functional, or already doing well.

The term "Positive Psychology" goes back to at least 1954, when Abraham Maslow published Motivation and Personality with a final chapter titled "Toward a Positive Psychology." Fast-forward to the present time, the field of positive psychology today is most advanced in the United States and Western Europe.

Recent scientific efforts within the discipline explicitly tackle the fundamental question: 'What constitutes the good life?' The implications of these discoveries extend significantly to various aspects of our lives, including religion, government, families, workplaces, and the future of humanity, with transformative potential.

2. Why Can’t I Get Happy Just by Getting Rid of Problems?

In simple terms, the lack of negative things doesn't automatically translate to the presence of positive ones. To illustrate, experiencing joy isn't just about not feeling sad, and hope goes beyond the absence of fear.

Both positive and negative aspects can coexist abundantly or be entirely absent. Strengths and positive emotions have distinct physiological and psychological impacts that don't merely mirror those of mental illnesses.

Consequently, it's crucial to independently investigate and intentionally nurture personal strengths and positive thinking. Devoting a lifetime to problem-solving without cultivating appreciative intelligence—recognizing and building upon the positives in our lives—may lead to limited progress.

3. What is the Difference Between Positive Psychology and All the Self-help-positive-thinking Material that is out there?

While the subject matter may seem similar, self-help books and positive psychology diverge significantly in their approaches.

Self-help literature relies on the personal insights of authors like Norman Vincent Peale, Stephen Covey, and even Donald Trump. In contrast, positive psychology is a specialized field within psychological science, focusing on the empirical investigation of 'how does human flourishing happen?'

It employs rigorous scientific methods, including hypotheses, experiments, randomized controlled trials, correlational studies, and publication in peer-reviewed journals. Positive psychologists, often holding PhDs, work in esteemed university research labs, possess substantial intellectual capacities, engage in critical peer reviews, and participate in theoretical debates.

However, the overlap with self-help arises from the considerable interest in positive psychology within the self-help market, prompting positive psychologists to make their research more accessible to the public.

Notably, this accessibility sometimes results in books that, while popular, may lack the literary finesse typical of non-fiction bestsellers. Nevertheless, the widespread public engagement with positive psychology underscores its value in aiding individuals. Many experts in the field produced a large number of peer-reviewed publications, authored best-selling books, and even delivered TED talks.

For instance, Dr. Martin Seligman, a prominent figure in positive psychology, authored the best-selling book "Learned Optimism", and delivered a widely viewed TED talk, exemplifying the trend of influential experts in the field achieving success in both literature and public speaking.

4. What are the Three Most Important Findings in Positive Psychology?

  • 'Other people matter' — Chris Peterson's famous three-word summary.
  • Happy individuals use their strengths daily.
  • Our happiness often depends more on our interpretation and perception of circumstances than the circumstances themselves.

5. Who are the Top 3 Researchers in the Field?

I. Martin Seligman is often acknowledged as the father of positive psychology.

Dr Seligman has extensively researched optimism and co-authored with Christoper Peterson the categorization of 24 strengths known as Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV)[1]. This serves as a positive counterpart to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM 5 TR) – the widely used handbook for identifying mental disorders, that is commonly used by insurance companies, health practitioners, government, and researchers[2].

Dr Seligman - PSYCULATOR

II. Barbara Fredrickson, renowned as a positive emotions researcher, operates a lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She posits that positive emotions play a dual role as both the cause and result of a thriving mental life[3].

III. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has created the concept of 'flow', representing a state of complete engagement where a task demands full attention, creating an immersive experience like losing oneself in music[4]. Time seems to accelerate, and the aftermath brings about a multitude of positive psychological effects.

6. What is the Difference Between the Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV), and Gallup’s Strengths Finders?

Both tools, rooted in scientific principles, are used for different purposes. Gallup Strengths Finder, designed for professional contexts, identifies talents relevant to work, while CSV strengths, though applicable in the workplace, delve more into personal and core aspects of an individual's character.

7. What is One Recommended Thing that Could Help Me Become Happier?

Take the free and globally recognized Big Five Personality Test, the only psychometrically valid personality test of its kind. Discover your top personality characteristics and strengths, commit them to memory, and seamlessly incorporate them into your daily life. The test should take less than 10 minutes to complete. Alternatively, take the free VIA Me strengths test.

How Do You Retrain Your Mind to Focus on the Positive?

In medicine, there's a prevailing tendency to start with what is wrong. Understandably, most individuals seek medical attention when they sense something is wrong. Acknowledging that suffering is often the primary motive for seeking help is crucial, and a key objective of treatment is alleviating that suffering. However, can we aspire for more? Is there space to cultivate curiosity about the distinctive and beautiful aspects that make each of us unique, healthy and happy?

This is where the power of positive psychology emerges. Traditionally, medical professionals predominantly concentrate on symptom reduction and preventing future symptoms. Unfortunately, considerations for promoting wellbeing and prevention tend to be sidelined.

Positive psychology takes a different route by exploring ways to enhance wellbeing through a focus on strengths, positive characteristics, emotions, and behaviors. Though challenging, this approach opposes our inherent instincts, shaped to prioritize negative events or traits.

Our brains tend to magnify negative emotions over positive ones (known as the negativity bias), fostering a tendency to ruminate on stressors while swiftly forgetting positive experiences.

Related: What is Neuroticism in Psychology: Definition, Benefits, Examples

The key lies in retraining ourselves. By emphasizing strengths, compassion, social connections, and community, positive psychology facilitates healing. Integration with traditional treatments, including talk therapy, yoga, meditation, exercise, and self-reflection practices, allows for a holistic approach.

This integration creates space for wellness within the context of illness. It doesn't demand a Pollyanna perspective; rather, positive psychology and positive psychiatry can serve as a gentle reminder to be mindful of these meaningful aspects in our lives.

10 Questions to Ask Yourself for Self-Reflection From Positive Psychology

1. Love

Love is a powerful and transformative emotion that fosters a strong sense of connection, both with others and within ourselves. How do we experience love in our lives? In what ways do we show our affection and concern for others? How can we make our relationships with others more fulfilling? Do we need self-compassion? Explore the dimensions of love and connection for a richer and more satisfying life experience.

2. Kindness

Engaging in acts of kindness has a strong positive impact on both the giver and the recipient. Numerous studies demonstrate that practicing kindness can enhance overall life satisfaction[5]. Consider incorporating small acts of kindness into your daily routine to boost your social and emotional wellbeing. Equally, practice empathy and active listening to help others.

Related: What is Agreeableness in Psychology: Definition, Benefits, Examples

3. Resilience

Resilience is the ability to navigate and bounce back from challenges, demonstrating adaptability in the face of adversity. This trait is flexible and can be learned. Inevitably, there will be factors beyond our control, and occasionally, within our control, that may not go as planned.

It's essential to assess situations realistically and avoid letting negative aspects overshadow the positive ones. Can we find a way to acknowledge and cope with negative feelings? Additionally, are there activities that can still bring joy or meaning despite the challenges? Embracing resilience involves a realistic perspective and finding sources of positivity amid difficulties.

4. Hope

Hope plays a pivotal role in overcoming challenges. As noted by positive psychologist Charles R. Snyder, hope is a motivational state encompassing the ability to set goals and devise various strategies to achieve them[6]. Can you pinpoint two to three goals for yourself? Consider exploring diverse pathways to reach those goals and cultivate a sense of hope in navigating your journey.

5. Courage

Courage extends beyond the mere absence of fear; it is the capacity to act authentically and with strength, especially when confronted with significant challenges or peer pressure. How do you respond in situations that evoke fear?

Identify your sources of courage, whether they stem from admired individuals, personal values, or commitments. Additionally, reflect on any potential obstacles hindering you from acting courageously. Embracing courage involves understanding your reactions, drawing inspiration from meaningful sources, and addressing barriers to authentic and strong actions.

6. Spirituality & Religion

For many individuals, spirituality or religion holds significant importance in their lives and personal identities. Embracing spirituality, which involves focusing on elements beyond oneself, can enhance awareness and mindfulness.

Research indicates that engaging in spiritual or religious practice contributes to the alleviation of psychological distress and medical symptoms[7]. How do you connect with spirituality or religion, and what role has it played in shaping your life? Explore the impact of these aspects on your wellbeing and identity.

Related: What is Openness in Psychology: Definition, Benefits, Examples

7. Gratitude

Gratitude involves acknowledging the positive aspects of life that result from the actions of others. Research indicates that positive psychology interventions emphasizing gratitude can enhance overall wellbeing and life satisfaction[8]. Reflect on three specific aspects of your life or individuals for whom you are grateful. Practicing gratitude has the potential to positively impact your perspective and satisfaction with life.

8. Friends & Family

Building strong social support is crucial to our personal development and feelings of security and stability. Consider ways to strengthen your connections with those around you. Examine if you've been dedicating the desired amount of time to friends and family, and if not, identify any obstacles hindering this.

Insights from a comprehensive 75-year Harvard study found that nurturing good relationships is a key factor in promoting both happiness and overall health[9]. More specifically, the key highlights from the study were:

I. Social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, physically healthier, and live longer than people who are less well connected.

II. It is not just about the number of friends or relatives in one’s circle, it’s all about high-quality relationships. Furthermore, high-conflict marriages are worse than getting divorced.

III. Quality relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. That is, being in a securely attached relationship with another person when entering into your 80s helps to retain stronger and sharper memories.

9. Community

Establishing a community that provides a sense of belonging and support requires dedicated time and effort. Identify the places where you feel the most comfortable and the people with whom you feel the most connected. Explore opportunities to broaden and enhance your sense of community. Search for like-minded people who share the same values and similar interests. Investing in these aspects can lead to greater mental wellbeing and overall life satisfaction.

Related: What is Extroversion in Psychology: Definition, Benefits, Examples

10. Individuality

Each of us has distinct and special qualities. Whether it's excelling in singing, dancing, remembering birthdays, or efficiently managing teams at work, we all bring unique "superpowers" to the forefront. What do you excel at? When do you experience a sense of "self-efficacy" or self-mastery?

Answering these questions may not be simple and can be a gradual process for many. However, initiating this thought process, even in small increments, can set you on a journey toward self-awareness. The take-home message is: Acknowledging your unique strengths and abilities can give you the tools to achieve a positive shift in attention, and propel yourself toward greater self-awareness.