The makings of a positive friendship


The Glass is Half Full – A Look at Positive Psychology and Gratitude

A great exercise I did recently at a staff development day was to think about a negative in your life and turn it in to a positive. Here’s one we used, thinking “my house is always a mess…my kids just leave their stuff everywhere!” can be flipped upside down to be “my house might be untidy BUT I am grateful for my three healthy, cheeky monkeys…erm…children who make my life all the richer”.

Traditionally, psychology is the exploration of the why, what, how, who, and when of the negative in our lives. Of course, this is fundamental in identifying issues and imperative that we acknowledge how someone is feeling. However, recent research has questioned “have we focussed too much on the negative and overlooked the positives?”.

So what is Positive Psychology all about?

Positive Psychology recognises that mental health is not just the absence of mental illness, but also encompasses psychological wellbeing and positive functioning (Bolier et al 2013). It explores what are the factors that enable a person to overcome obstacles and flourish; and looks at not what is wrong with a person or the situation; but what is right and what are the strengths to build on. Positive psychology emphasises how people can change their lives for the better via promoting wellbeing, strengths, wisdom and happiness.

Initiated by psychologists such as Abraham Maslow and William James; there is growing research into this intriguing field. American psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman is often associated as the founder of the positive psychology movement. The philosophy behind it being a coming together of identification and treatment of mental health disorders with the
building of positive characteristics and practices that can provide a well-rounded approach to promoting mental health (Gander et al. 2013).

Where does gratitude fit in and why do we need it?

According to researchers at Berkley University, developing a sense of gratitude leads to greater wellbeing which will impact on all areas of our lives – such as concentration, productivity, and even our relationships. It is thought that the more we are aware of and “count our blessings” the more we hold on to the positive life experiences and increase our overall mental health. And not just being grateful for what is around us, but taking time to reflect internally – our inner strength, compassion, intuition, wisdom, humour, ambition, kindness, love…. the list goes on.

Taking time out of the day and writing in a gratitude journal is something I encourage many people who come to see me. Research shows that it promotes a sense of what we have, rather than what we don’t have; and can give perspective when we need it most. It helps set intention for the day from which will flow your attitude. This philosophy also ties in with Mindfulness practices – that of developing self-observation so we can see what we do internally each day with our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and our interactions with others.

Gratitude is a value shared in both Mindfulness and positive psychology in a way that can help people struggling with depression, anxiety, stress and loss. Particularly using strategies such as a gratitude journal which is a great way to build self-regulation and reflection – rather than asking for external validation, you will be checking in with yourself regularly and
hence your attitude will match.

Positive psychology is an evidence-based practice that isn’t about looking at life through rose coloured glasses. It is about acknowledgement, building on strengths and promoting well-being. It challenges negative beliefs by uncovering and exposing a person’s strengths. And that is the power of the positive. Begin by thinking through your daily thoughts and
start to give them the flip!

Marnie Mearns

Bolier, L., Haverman, M., Westerhof, G. J., Riper, H., Smit, F., & Bohlmeijer, E. (2013). Positive psychology interventions: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. BMC Public Health, 13(1), 119.

Gander, F., Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Wyss, T. (2013). Strength-based positive interventions: Further evidence for their potential in enhancing well-being and alleviating depression. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14(4), 1241-1259.

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