Aristotle: Striving for the good life and to be happy is what humans should do.
Maslow: Psychological well-being is more than the mere absence of pathology – it is about striving for independence, competence and self-actualization, which is living up to our fullest potential.
In a word, yes, you can and should be happy. So says, Helene D. Moore, Psy.D., MAPP (Master of Applied Positive Psychology). Dr. Moore was speaking to the Northwestern Memorial Healthy Transitions Program®.
Positive Psychology is the product of Martin Seligman who in 1998 rocked the psychology world by suggesting that there should be two models instead of one for observing patients. The first is the disease model: what’s broken. What needs to be fixed. The second is an optimal functioning model: what’s going right – when we’re at our best.
Seligman wrote,”The exclusive focus on pathology that has dominated so much of our discipline results in a model of the human being lacking the positive features that make life worth living.”
Seligman wrote the book Learned Optimism. He is currently under contract to the U.S. Army where he is bringing his ideas on positive psychology to the 1.1 million members there. He has a website with a variety of free self-evaluation questionnaires. His latest book Flourish: A visionary understanding of happiness and well-being was published this year.
Dr. Moore explained that practicing positive psychology, or flourishing, is symbolized by the acronym PERMA. P = Positive Emotions; E = Engagement; R = Relationships; M=Meaning and A= Accomplishment.
Positive Emotions include gratitude, appreciation, interest, contentment, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, love, etc. These are in contrast to the negative emotions such as sadness, anger, frustration, shame, regret, fear, agitation, hatred, etc.
It is critical to understand that we all have all of these emotions as part of our psychological make up. This is not a rah rah positive thinking undertaking.
What we strive for in this endeavor is a positivity ratio of around 3:1 – positive:negative.
World-renowned researcher, Barbara Frederickson, wrote the book on it – Positivity.
You can take her two minute test and find out how positive you are here.
Frederickson described the effect of positive emotions as similar to the heliotropic effect of plants that turn toward the sunlight in order to grow. The same thing happens with humans. Positive emotions are our sunlight.
Engagement was the second piece of the PERMA acronym. It is also known as ‘flow’ or ‘being in the zone,’ a term familiar to athletes and musicians.
Relationships are the third piece. Other people matter. Man has a longing for mutual love and positive regard, active engagement, trust, to touch and be touched. Overall, time spend cultivation good relationships may actually be the most important source of meaning and happiness, Dr. Moore said.
Number four is Meaning – The meaning of life. There is no universal definition for this. It is totally individual. Some common sources of meaning that Dr. Moore listed include, personal growth, meeting basic needs, participation in leisure activities, preservation of values and again, relationships.
Finally, the fifth piece of the PERMA puzzle is Accomplishment. Again, this is very complex and very individual. Some ways to define it are, having interest, ability and perseverance to successfully complete or achieve something – big or small. Or, simply pursuing something for the sake of it and nothing else.
Dr. Moore said that research has pointed to the most important determinants of accomplishment including: skill acquisition, formal instruction, role models, mentors, hard work, self-efficacy, self-discipline and grit. Of these, she thought that self-efficacy was the probably most important. It means believing we can do what we set out to do.
The bottom line is that happiness is an activity of the soul. It is not a gift. It is a result of choices and interpretations that we make. Each of us has it in our power to achieve happiness.