It's called "positive psychology" because of the PRESENCE of wellness - not the absence of illness
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
I've previously mentioned the very powerful point that Martin Seligman made on depression "I thought when you cure depression you get a healthy person...you don't you get an empty one." His meaning: when you remove mental illness, if someone has not been taught to find happiness/wellness/fulfilment, you need to also offer those skills. Hence, the use of positive psychology techniques alongside traditional mental health treatment is often the additional empowerment that the client needs to move forward past the end of their sessions.
Many therapists and coaches will do this informally anyway. We are trained to create a safe, consistent environment; to explore pain and anxiety without judgment; to be trusted with difficult information (within the boundaries of our ethical codes). However, there are also formal exercises that can be suggested which will, in time, grow that sense of empowerment, confidence and eventually joy which create a buffer to later stressors. (Life - and its ups and downs - doesn't stop just because you've finished treatment!)
This "extra padding" consists of the recognition and pro-active interaction within 5 key areas:
Relationships (healthy ones)
So, as it's December, I thought I would give you an advent calendar of different positive psychology tools which draw from the 24 character values identified by Seligman, and present in all of us...but sometimes need a bit of dusting off.
The identification and engagement with these strengths or "values in action" is not to make us "better at our jobs" or "better leaders" - but simply they are values which speak to us, which energise us - and if we do not engage with them, we may feel drained. Yes, of course, the more we use them, the more likely we are to find that solving problems may be easier - for example, if you have a preference for enthusiasm rather than self-regulation, try focusing on your "why" rather than your rules to get it done; or if you want to speak up but don't want to call out - then drawing from the strength of kindness may enable you to encourage a discussion rather than an attack.
If you like these ideas, try to make them a more regular feature in your life. Perhaps you can set a positive intention to focus on one a day, perhaps you will create your own. When coaches say "do things that make you feel good" - the more you do things which fall within your strength/values-in-action preferences, the more energised you are ie. My top strength is "Zest" and I know being around enthusiastic and passionate people is even more energising for me than doing something creative (although I produce theatre)!
So - pick your passion!
1. Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence: Reflect for a moment on the beauty that others may miss - the chrysalis protecting the butterfly; a cool breeze on a warm day; a warm drink on a cold one.
2. Bravery: Voice that thing you've held back on. You can do it kindly...and if you find you cannot speak authentically with some, recognise the people with whom it is possible and try to spend more time in their company or the company of people like them.
3. Creativity: Think of two different ways of approaching a problem that you have not used before.
4. Curiosity: "I'm just trying something" is one of my favourite phrases. Do something new today, whether it's trying a new food, or style, or learning something you didn't know. It doesn't have to cost money nor take long to give it a go (and you don't need to stick with it if it doesn't work!)
5. Fairness: Can you offer your voice to someone or something that has been previously overlooked?
6. Forgiveness: When we forgive we do it to release the negative control others have over us - we do not do it to condone, nor forget. Try this lovely Hawaiian prayer "Ho'oponopono": Think of the thing/person you wish to move on from and say "I'm sorry, please forgive me, Thank you, I love you." (You may even find you are saying it to yourself for any part in allowing the situation to happen).
7. Gratitude: Tell someone you love how grateful you are to have them in your life - and tell them why too!
8. Honesty: Find a way of expressing an inner truth - perhaps a drawing, or journaling. You don't need to tell others, just be honest with yourself.
9. Hope & optimism: Reflect on a situation with optimism whether it's over what you are learning, or your knowledge that you are strong enough to get through. Write down any realistic thoughts that make you feel better about it or you.
10. Humility: Seek feedback from someone you trust on an area that you may want to develop.
11. Humour:Instead of instinctively choosing defensiveness, consider whether humour would help to call something out in a situation where you might feel you are slighted (it may at least open good natured dialogue).
12. Judgment (critical thinking): Double check something for its validity or reliability before you share it on social media.
13: Kindness: Check in on someone today.
14.Leadership: Support someone else in developing their strengths by asking them if they have any traits they wish to develop.
15.Love: Surprise someone who cares for you with a funny message, or maybe a hot drink or little treat.
16. Love of learning: Read something that inspires you and reflect on its meaning.
17. Perseverance: Praise yourself for the number of times you have been able to keep going - even when it was tough.
18. Perspective: For something you may be struggling with - see if you can seek two different perspectives on it.
19. Prudence: Even for an easy decision, take a moment to ask yourself - what do I want to achieve - before you choose.
20. Self regulation: Remind yourself that even in a difficult moment where you feel like you cannot control anything - you can at least control your breathing...and take a deep breath in for 4, hold for 2, and out for 6 - then proceed.
21. Social Intelligence: Listen to the point of view of someone outside your "echo chamber". You do not have to agree, but it can be helpful to be aware that there are many complexities to opinions...it reminds us too that when we are disagreed with, it doesn't necessarily mean anyone is "wrong" or needs to feel threatened.
22.Spirituality: Find a podcast or affirmation video that you enjoy and give yourself 10 minutes to focus on it.
23.Teamwork: Find one thing to praise about your team (this can be your work or sports teams, or your team of family and/or friends too!!)
24. Zest & enthusiasm: Do something that raises your vibe for YOU eg. playing music, eating a food you like, looking at something you love. We can be brought down by surrounding negativity (so also unfollow any social media accounts that don't make you feel great) - therefore we need to always top up our personal supply.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilienceFor coaching tips and tools including positive psychology: click WORK WITH ME or SKILL PILL and here for Media appearances or Psych Q&A. Twitter/IG @draudreyt