Today I am answering the question “what is positive psychology” and how it differs from positive thinking and WHY positive thinking doesn’t really work to help you bust stress & self doubt but how positive psychology really does and how it also makes you feel more fulfilled EVERY DAY—regardless of whether you have time to meditate, or take a vacation.
I’m a mind body medicine doctor and one of my main areas of focus is ‘anti-stress and burnout.’ What I started noticing talking to my clients, and what the research evidence actually tells us about women (and men) on their way to feeling burned out, overwhelmed and just not loving ice any more, is that when you lose your sense of meaning and excitement about your life, it causes more stress, blue moods and feeling more overwhelmed and even helplessness to chart a new course. It’s like a vicous cycle!
Authentic happiness research, that started with depressed university students int he 70’s, has now moved into an entirely evidence based positive psych framework that can help you beat stress and self doubt and avoid burnout without ever taking a pill or going to ‘therapy.’
But just telling yourself that ‘life is awesome’ I am amazing, I love my life, i love my job,’ etc etc isn’t all that effective because your brain knows that it isn’t the truth, when it isn’t. This is where positive psych comes in and saves the day and can actually change your life.
Pos pysch is not just ‘think nice thoughts.’ it’s a step by step system to actually generate more positive emotion and positive brain networks to counter the stress and worry loops in the limbic system and your amygdala, the centre for fear. One of the pioneering researchers in this area is Dr. Martin Selligman and his coullgues at Penn State university. They are leaders in this field and they have identified 3 key ways that positive psych is different from just positive thinking.
1. Positive psychology is not just a nice theory. It has dozens of rigourous scientific and medical studies to support it
2. Second, positive thinking urges positivity on us for all times and places, you’ve probably heard someone say, ‘you just have to stay positive’ at the most in appropriate moment!, but positive psychology is different. Positive psychology recognizes that there are times when negative or realistic thinking is appropriate, it doesn’t necessarily have to be negative but being realistic can be more helpful in generatng a POSITIVE OUTCOME!.
Dr. Seligman’s research has found that optimism is associated with better health, performance, longevity, and social success (Seligman, 1991; Lyubomirsky, King & Diener, 2005). However, there area also studies showing that in some situations negative thinking leads to more accuracy and being accurate can have important consequences (Alloy, Abramson, & Chiara, 2000). For example, unrealistic Optimistic thinking can be associated with an underestimation of risks (Peterson & Vaidya, 2003). For example, if you are trying to make a decision whether to have knee surgery and the surgeon gives you an overly ‘optimistic’ view of the chances of success of that surgery, you may not be able to make the best decision whether or not to have the surgery, you want to have a clear understanding of the risks and benefits to you.
3. And the last way that positive psych differs from ’thinking happy thoughts’ all the time or differs from ‘motherly positive advice’ is that the researchers, doctors and health professions who work with positive psychology and use it to help people have usually spent years studying and working with the ‘negative side of things—problems like depression, anxiety and burnout and they realize that ‘thinking positive’ alone is not a cure or a quick fix for these serious issues.
So positive psych can actually help give you more meaning back so your brain can start to get on board with feeling more positive, so you don’t have to ‘fake it to make it.’ So, to get started using pos psych today, I’m going to give you one exercise that focuses on what researchers called savouring. This is one the of key techniques proven to work wonders in the treatment of drepsson and anxiety using pos psych. It is one of my favourites because it can involve anything you love already, but don’t take enough time regularly to enjoy or appreciate fully because you get busy. It’s also great because it’s so easy to commit to and it has major ‘bang for buck’ factor, i.e. it will give you a few minutes of zen in a hectic day to allow you to hit the ‘reset button’ and stop the overhwhelm spiral. ………….