Second Wave Positive Psychology

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It will soon be twenty years since Martin Seligman famously highlighted how sparse and unexamined our inquiry and understanding into the conditions essential for human flourishing are compared to our knowledge about human dysfunction and positive psychology was born.
 
In their helpful, balanced and stimulating overview of where the still very new and emerging field of positive psychology might be up to:
In this article, academic thinkers Dan Collinson and Lesley Lyle, of Buckingham New University, and Tim Lomas, of University of East London, offer a framework for thinking about the next level of challenges this research might help us to develop our thinking and responses…
 
…If the ‘first wave’ is characterised by a championing of the positive, Second Wave Positive Psychology recognises that wellbeing involves a subtle, interplay between positive and negative phenomena. This recognition challenges the idea that wellbeing is necessarily associated with happiness per se; rather, wellbeing becomes a more expansive term, one that includes negative emotions if these serve some broader sense of ‘being/doing well.’
More specifically, SWPP is underpinned by four dialectical principles:
+ appraisal;
+ co-valence;
+ complementarity; and
+ evolution.
The principle of appraisal means that we cannot appraise something as either positive or negative without taking context into account. For instance, … pro-social emotions like forgiveness can be harmful if it means one tolerates a situation that one might otherwise resist; conversely, ‘anti-social’ emotions like anger can impel one to resist injustice, and drive progressive social change. As such, clear-cut determinations of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ become harder to make.
It’s not just that such appraisals are difficult; the second principle of co-valence reflects Richard Lazarus’ idea that many situations and experiences comprise positive and negative elements. This is even so for arguably the most cherished of all human emotions: love. While there are many forms of love, all are a blend of light and dark: even while love contains pleasure, joy and bliss, it also harbours worry, anxiety, and fear…
…This recognition of co-valence leads us to the third principle: complementarity. Essentially, the light and dark of love – and indeed of all such dialectical phenomena – are inseparable. They are complementary and co-creating sides of the same coin. Consider that the stronger and more intense one’s love for another, the greater the risk of heartbreak…
…Finally, the principle of evolution contextualises the very idea of SWPP, following Hegel’s notion of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. One might view mainstream psychology, with its apparent concern with ‘negative’ aspects of human functioning, as the thesis. In critiquing this and embracing ostensibly positive phenomena, positive psychology presented itself as the antithesis. However, critics subsequently detected flaws in this antithesis, as highlighted above. Crucially though, this does not necessarily mean an abandonment of positive psychology, a reversion back to the original thesis. Rather, the next stage in this process is ideally synthesis, in which the truths of both thesis and antithesis are preserved, while their flaws are overcome. SWPP is just such a synthesis, moving towards a more nuanced appreciation of the dialectical complexities of wellbeing…
Taking these four principles, here are some questions suggested by our pragmatic bias towards application and skills-in-action:
 
+ appraisal:
In what situations might this quality/approach be most and least helpful for me to draw from?
For example, when might it be advantageous for me to use a particular signature strength, such as my creativity, and when might this be more problematic and mismatched for the situation?
 
+ co-valence:
What might be both the positive and the negative aspects that could come from this quality/approach?
For instance, when I am choosing to look optimistically at how to influence a situation and what I hope for, how might I also give intelligent attention to its more worrisome and pessimistic aspects and what I fear might happen?
 
+ complementarity:
How might I actively seek dissonance and blend the most positive aspects of a quality or approach with its other sided aspects?
For example, when I am exercising one of my top strengths or preferred qualities, such as my extraversion, how can I mix into this aspects of its opposite, introversion too?
 
+ evolution:
How can I enrich my expertise from one field with teachings from its opposite?
For example, how can I give sufficient attention and energy to both the qualities, approaches and techniques that come from positive psychology alongside the best teachings from of our studies into anxiety, trauma and resolving or even avoiding problems and conflicts?
 
Plenty here to think and read and wonder about.
Work in progress…
 

Happiness At Work #134

You can find more articles related to this in our latest collection…
Happy 2017 and here’s to continuing to make a future we can want to live in.

Seligman’s PERMA+1 Essentials for Flourishing

Slide01

Positive psychology is not yet twenty years old.  In the short time since Martin Seligman’s 1998 call to turn on a scientific inquiry into what helps human beings to flourish, rather than merely survive, we have discovered an enormous amount about what we can all learn to do and practice and ultimately master to grow and sustain our own and each other’s happiness.

And doing this is much more than a luxury.  Research is showing that our happiness is integral to our individual success, in terms of our performance and productivity, our creativity and learning, and our resilience and positive responsiveness to change and uncertainty.  And it is an equally vital aspect of making strong trusting relationships in our families and friendships, our teams and wider networks, as much as in our societies and increasingly interconnected, interdependent global systems.

Martin Seligman

Human beings want much more in life than not to be miserable” Prof. Martin Seligman pictured with Prof Ian Robertson.   Photo source: Can you teach wellbeing? Martin Seligman thinks so Irish Times

Seligman is speaking across the UK at the moment and I am looking forward enormously to hearing him on 9th May at the Action for Happiness event in London.

In his Irish Times article, Can you teach wellbeing? Martin Seligman thinks soRonan McGreevy writes:

Introducing Seligman in Dublin, TCD professor of psychology Ian Robertson described him as a “polymath” engaged in nothing less than “a movement which is creating a paradigm change in how humanity thinks about itself”.

Seligman described himself as a self-confessed pessimist and depressive who tries out his own techniques first on himself before expanding them to his own family and then his students.

He was a relatively late convert to the concept of wellbeing and happiness. As a psychologist, he recalls, happiness was regarded as the “froth on the cappuccino”, immeasurable and irrelevant to his profession.

“Thirty years ago there was no theory of wellbeing which distinguished it from suffering and no interventions that built wellbeing. That has changed over the past thirty years.”

It might seem obvious given the recent emphasis on wellbeing and happiness, but the focus of psychology and psychiatry was, for so long, on alleviating suffering and examining mental illness rather than the pursuit of happiness.

He defines wellbeing as what “non-suffering, non-oppressed people choose to do”. It pertains not only to individuals but also to corporations and even nation states.

Seligman’s  understanding of wellbeing includes the notion of “flourishing”, where human beings create the conditions for making the best of themselves and their circumstances.

Seligman’s model for wellbeing is made up of five building blocks summed up in the acronym PERMA: Positive emotion, Engagement, strong Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. These five concepts together represent a definition of wellbeing.

We add one more – Resilience – and use this framework in our training and coaching programmes as a springboard to help people explore what they feel most and least satisfied about in their work and lives, and what they can do to keep strong their highest elements and build up their lowest scoring elements.

Here then are the five+1 essential elements for flourishing:

Slide02

Positive emotion is feeling happy or comfortable in a situation, what we think of when we think of happiness.

Slide03

ways to find greater positive emotion

  • Use your Signature Strengths every day
  • Experience ~ do what you know makes you happiest
  • Gratitude ~ keep a Gratitude Journal for at least 21 days
  • Exercise ~ even 20minutes a day is better than none
  • Music ~ listen to music to lift or change your mood
  • Mindfulness exercises: focus in on your breathing – even 2minutes a day makes a very big difference
  • B A L A N C E ~ explore what this means to you and how you can get better balance in different aspects of your life

Engagement is when we are completely absorbed by something, whether it is our work, pastimes, making the dinner, or any activity that we find just the right level of challenge and interest to take our fullest and finest attention. This totally engaged state is known as “flow”, occurring when we are totally absorbed in what we are doing. Greater “flow” brings greater happiness.

Slide04

Slide05

Having strong Relationships relates to those that bring us benefit. Human beings are “hive creatures”, Seligman says, not just selfish individuals.

Slide06

Strong Relationships come from feeling respected and valued, loved and loving, and involves: love, compassion, kindness, gratitude, giving, teamwork and easy self-sacrifice.

Slide07

ways to build stronger relationships

The more you feel that you have made someone else happier the more ~ and the longer ~ you will feel happier yourself.

 

  • Really listen. Try to listen even more fully and openly.
  • Give ~ your time, your attention, your interest, yourself…
  • Appreciate ~ others, yourself, beauty and excellence
  • Share successes
  • Make moments to enjoy being with people who matter to you

Meaning is the extent to which you feel that what you doing adds up to something beyond and unrelated to your own self-interest and ego.  It is the idea making a positive difference to something you care about, of belonging to and serving something that you believe to be bigger than yourself, such as a cause or activity linked to your deepest values. “The more meaning people have at work, the more productive they are,” Seligman says.

Slide08Slide10

ways to increase your sense of meaning

Ask…  By doing this work what do I help to achieve?  What else?  What else? And what do these things help to achieve? …

4 Ways to Find Meaning in Any Job

  • Know what fuels you. Our personal values are hard-wired to our sense of purpose. When you know what you value right down in your bones, you’re able to anchor any activity or behaviour to a sense of something that genuinely matters, bringing your work alive with meaning and purpose. Discover what your values are and then look for how they can connect to what you do.
  • Turn up the texture of experience. Your sense of meaning can be found in the simple moments of life. Find ways to increase the intensity of what you bring by looking out for ways to be help, or show your warmth, or give your attention, or even by taking a deep breath of fresh air not because you’re stressed out, but because you love how it feels in your chest.
  • Leave a room better than when you found it. Decide never to leave a room until you’ve done something to contribute, make a difference, or leave it better than when you entered. Offer your insight or expertise, appreciate someone for something they’ve said or done, or simply give someone your fullest hearing.
  • Leave a little legacy as often as you can.  Look at your legacy as something you possess that you can gift to others by your own free will. Your time, consideration, skill, empathy, hospitality, experience — all of these things and more are things you can gift to others.

Accomplishment would appear to be self-evident, he states, but it is startling how self-discipline trumps talent. It is twice as important as IQ for predicting academic success, Seligman says.

Slide11

Accomplishment comes from a combination of our own internal source of pride in what we have done and achieved along with sufficient recognition and appreciation from others.  One of the top reasons people give for feeling unhappy at work is insufficient recognition and appreciation from their manager.  And Gallup’s research into strengths based leadership concluded that if every manager were to spend 3-5 times as much of their conversations with their people talking about their strengths and achievements as they do about their weaknesses and failings, this one change alone would triple people’s productivity, engagement and commitment to their work and the organisation.

Slide12

Slide13

Resilience means making the best of – even becoming stronger as a result of – setbacks, failure, hardship or trauma.  It involves elasticity, bouncing back, flexibility and is grown from the capabilities of optimism, courage, buoyancy, self-determination, and perseverance.

Resilience is “the capacity to mobilise personal features that enable individuals, groups and communities (including controlled communities such as a workforce) to prevent, tolerate, overcome and be enhanced by adverse events and experiences” (Mowbray, 2010).

Slide14

Seligman advocates simple techniques that will enhance one’s sense of wellbeing – one of which is to write down “three good things” that occur during the day.

“It turns out that when people do this, six months later they are less depressed and have higher positive emotion compared with a placebo.”

What works for the individual also works for larger organisations. Seligman pointed to research in the United States that showed a startling correlation between the type of language used on Twitter and incidences of fatal heart attacks.

One would seem ostensibly to have nothing to do with the other, but there was an unerring correlation between negative language used on the social media platform and increased risk of heart attacks.

“I think this is causal,” he says. “If you change the way people think and talk about the world, you can change things like the heart attack and death rates.”

The critical question, Seligman says, is whether PERMA can be taught. Can happiness be improved? Do these techniques work? Can the success or otherwise of such techniques be measured? He maintains the answer to all these questions is yes.

Studies in Bhutan have shown marked differences in schoolchildren to whom wellbeing was taught against a placebo group that was not taught wellbeing.

Bhutan has made national wellbeing – gross national happiness – a goal as distinct simply from gross national product. Children who were taught the techniques of positive psychology experience half the rate of depression and anxiety as adolescences, Seligman says.

Similarly, Seligman was employed by US army chief of staff George Casey to teach positive psychology to drill sergeants. Casey wanted an army that was mentally as well as physically fit and strong, and has spent €150 million teaching resilience psychology to soldiers.

The result has been a notable decrease in incidences of suicide, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. Governments should follow suit, Seligman says.

Happiness At Work - BMA

Post Script:

Here is one more quote from Martin Seligman, from when I heard him speak the Action for Happiness event in 2016:

I believe it is within our capacity that by the year 2051 that 51% of the human population will be flourishing. That is my charge.”  Martin Seligman

See also

Second Wave Positive Psychology: An Introduction

Learning to find light in the darkness…

Plus many more stories and articles in our eclectic collection:

Happiness At Work