Positive Mind, Positive Body, Positive Soul
One of the most powerful feelings we as humans experience is happiness. And, I think, most people want to be happy. Over the past few decades, psychologists have begun researching a new area of study which focuses on how we can increase our happiness levels through positivity. Aptly named positive psychology is the belief and understanding that people want to have fulfilling and meaningful lives. Psychologists can help us improve our happiness through positive thoughts and actions. This discipline asks what makes life worthwhile for people? How can our lives be made better and more meaningful? And what strengths enable us to lead happy, fulfilling lives?
Positive psychology can be seen to have spiritual and religious roots and one of the most well-known links is to the Buddhist belief of karma, a subject on which I have already written (see previous blog ‘Does karma lead to happiness’). Importantly, however, psychology is a science and therefore everything positive psychologists practise is researched and backed up with evidence. This combined with the relatively accessible notions positive psychology preaches has led to a surge of public interest in this field. One of the most important ways in which it differs from most aspects of psychology is its focus not only on the negative aspects of our lives but also the positives. So much of work conducted by psychologists is dealing with negative, difficult and unpleasant experiences and helping those suffering come to terms with their lives. It wasn’t until Martin Seligman became the president of the American Psychological Association in 1998 that psychologists began to research positivity and the scientific impact of it on our lives.
It should be noted here that the previous focus on mental health became apparent in the field of psychology only after World War II when funding cuts came in and, evidently, the need at the time was for cures/support for traumatised individuals on a massive scale. This trend continued long after the scars from World War II began to heal and psychology never returned to the more holistic studies of all areas of society it had enjoyed before the war. Positive psychology turned this new approach on its head, however, and began to direct its attention not only at the negatives but at the positives and ask how we can improve our lives through genuine, good actions.
So what exactly do positive psychologists (and the science behind them) say make people happy? Here’s a quick list of areas which, the experts believe, can lead to a positive lifestyle:
- Acts of kindness
- Exercise/physical health
- Spiritual engagement and meaning
- Strengths and virtues
- Positive mindset (optimism/mindfulness/gratitude)
I’ll go into numbers 2 and 4 below but the rest of these are self-explanatory. Being in a positive, healthy relationship and having good friendships and relationships with your family will lead to happiness and offer an emotional support system in times of difficulty. Being physically healthy removes the need to worry about sickness and exercise releases endorphins which make you happy. Spiritual engagement can relate to religion but the inclusion of meaning on this list is equally important. We don’t have to believe in anything specific but believing in ourselves and the idea that our personal lives have meaning is a powerful positive mindset. An awareness of our strengths also promotes positive thoughts as does being told you are good at something. Finally, being positive in the way you approach the world will allow you to identify the good and deal with the bad.
Now for the less obvious ‘flow’: this refers to the feeling and sensation we get when we are working towards a goal. Whether learning a musical instrument, teaching a skill to someone or even working on a project you enjoy at work, our minds can develop a happy state known as ‘flow’. This flow is created when we are using our skillset and are motivated by enjoyment of the task.
Finally, let’s take a look at that second point: acts of kindness. Oh look! What a convenient tie-in to More Good Deeds. I didn’t choose this subject because of this, however, I chose to write about positive psychology because, as the daughter of a psychologist, I truly believe that having a positive outlook when it comes to life genuinely does lead to happier people. And, coincidentally, one of the ways in which we can make our lives more meaningful and enriched with positive energies is to do good deeds.
So why exactly does doing good for others make us happy? Well, there are chemicals in our brain which are released at times such as these, stimulating feelings of euphoria. But, beyond that, the feeling of caring or doing something caring for someone else is a powerful thing. It makes us not only happier but less depressed as well as helping a person in need. Whether this act of kindness is volunteer work, talking or listening to someone who needs a friend, donating money or goods to charity or anything else, the resulting impact on us as people is a feeling of positivity, happiness and fulfilment. Additional research has also shown that when those receiving the benefit of the good deed are themselves involved, the meaningfulness of the kind act impacts them too and they are happier not just because of the kindness but because of their involvement in it. As someone who organises outreach programs, I know my projects which have actively involved the children and communities have been far more successful and fulfilling for myself, my charity and the school than simple donation projects.
Positive psychology wants to help people find long-lasting happiness and encourage them to focus not on the negatives but the good things in life. These good things can be people, work, our health, our skills and so many others areas, and usually positivity comes from a combination of many of these. So how can you make your life more positive? Well, maintain and strengthen good relationships, do more exercise, pursue a career you actually enjoy, focus on your strengths over weaknesses, find something meaningful in your life and, of course, do More Good Deeds.
Go, do, experience. More Good Deeds.