Positive psychology can help practitioners enhance resources and attributes that contribute
to health and well-being. According to Scott Glassman, PsyD, director of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at PCOM, examples of positive psychology in practice include:
Focusing on your strengths
"When we become negatively self-focused, which can include ruminating on our deficits
and weaknesses, we are more likely to experience distress," Glassman explained. "In
contrast, having an awareness of our strengths, while using them in some way, is associated
with mood improvements. Researchers have also found that identifying our top strengths
and using them actively can increase our happiness. There are a number of ways to
do this. A first step would be to get a better sense of what your strengths are. You
could ask friends or family, explore a list of character strengths, or fill out a
formal strengths survey. After you've highlighted some of your stand-out strengths,
you could plan to use one of them in different ways throughout the week. For example,
if one of your key strengths is creativity, you might decide to make a painting, work
on a short story, and cook something you love in a new way. You can deepen the impact
of this 'strengths experiment' by measuring any positive changes in your mood as a
result of your efforts. Rating your happiness before and after each creative activity
can show you which one was most rewarding."
Recording your experiences
A common practice in positive psychology involves writing about and reflecting on
good experiences to enhance well-being. One form of this practice is the “Three Good
Things” or “Three Blessings” exercise, developed by Dr. Martin Seligman. The exercise
asks you to write down three good things that happened at the end of the day and reflect
on why they happened. Engaging in this activity for at least a week has been associated
with increases in happiness and decreased depressive symptoms, improvements which
were still present six months later.
"The reflection process can also be expanded, as we do in A Happier You, to include what those good things mean about yourself, your relationships, and your
future," Glassman added. "There is reason to believe that the more often one accesses
this kind of positive attentional space, the greater the effect."
There is a growing body of evidence which ties gratitude practice to well-being, with
positive effects on life satisfaction, mood, sleep, and relationships. Gratitude practice
can be entirely self-contained, where someone generates thoughts and feelings of appreciation
but chooses not to share them with others. That appreciation may focus on anything:
self, life, relationships, something in the broader world, or something transcendent.
Gratitude journaling can be a private experience in this way, and research suggests that people greatly
prefer to write about their appreciation versus sharing it. In one study, writing
about one’s gratitude for others for 10 minutes a day for four weeks was associated
with higher life satisfaction, greater inspiration for change, and increased feelings
of connection in relationships. Other researchers have found that writing about feelings
of appreciation more broadly, not limited to others, was tied to lower levels of depression.
Participants did not share their gratitude in either study.
While private experiences of gratitude can be beneficial, so too can sharing it with
one’s benefactors. Dr. Martin Seligman studied “gratitude visits” in which participants
wrote a letter of appreciation and delivered it in person to someone who had shown
them kindness. After completing the visit, participants reported feeling happier and
less depressed, effects that persisted up to one month later. Neurobiological changes
have also been observed in the gratitude expression process. Research reflects increased
activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex when people listened to an expression
of gratitude, an area of the brain involved in processing positive emotions.
Developing skills to increase positivity
While well-being therapy and positive psychotherapy can be appropriate for some individuals,
others may benefit from a psychoeducation-based approach. For example, PCOM’s A Happier You program is a group multi-component positive psychology intervention, one that does not involve
individual cognitive restructuring or problem-focused work. It focuses on skill development
where participants learn to cultivate mindfulness, to expand positive experiences,
and to integrate new practices in the areas of gratitude, personal strengths, humor/lightness,
activities, kindness and love.