Often, it is your perception of an experience that determines how you react or how you feel rather than the experience itself. The popular ABC model by Albert Elis supports this idea; it is not the “A” activating event that leads to the “C” consequences but the interceding “B” beliefs. A positive mindset can go a long way in setting things right.
An offshoot of this kind of thinking in psychology is positive psychology. The focus of psychology has long been on abnormalities and illness, with little or no emphasis on achieving your best potential, being happy, and leading fulfilling lives. Positive psychology was a new paradigm introduced by famous thinkers like Martin Seligman.
This branch of psychology focuses more on cultivating inner strengths to flourish as individuals. The goal is to increase life satisfaction and well-being, boost positive emotions, and work with the existing resources in the best way possible.
Positive psychology is not just a separate dimension or branch of psychology but an approach that is worth integrating into traditional therapy. The following are some ways to incorporate positive psychology into therapy:
Anyone seeking therapy is likely to have pessimism plaguing their thoughts; with whatever problem challenging them, they are likely to have a bleak look at life. It is also a normal human tendency to focus more on the negative aspects than the positive ones; when employees are given 95% positive feedback with 5% on what they need to improve, they are likely to focus on the negative 5%.
By gratitude journaling, you can help the subject put things into perspective. Today, therapy needs to improve this. For instance, when you become a substance abuse counselor after earning a degree, you will likely develop skills such as active listening, decision-making, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Educational programs or work experience today emphasize less on integrating positive psychology practices into therapy.
Whichever client you have, encourage them to write in their journal at least one thing (preferably 3-5) they are grateful for at the end of each day. Doing so will help them develop a habit of looking at the bright side of things and acknowledging the good ones we tend to take for granted.
Optimistic interventions are designed to help clients think in realistic but optimistic terms, setting achievable goals and creating positive outcomes. For instance, the ‘imagine yourself’ task requires the subject to think of themselves in the future and outline their expectations. Doing so helps them indirectly understand how positive or negative their view is about themselves and others.
Another intervention based on this strategy is the ‘life summary’ task, where you summarize your life assuming you are successful and content. The summary would emphasize strengths, achievements, and successes of daily life. This practice helps one understand the ideal life one imagines and how to make reality closer to this ideal.
One popular positive psychology approach is mindfulness meditation, a technique used to bring the focus back to the present. It trains the subject to focus on the current emotions, thoughts, feelings, and sensations rather than being preoccupied with how things should be.
Mindfulness is one of the many meditation exercises that positive psychology propagates. Mindfulness is not aimed at clearing the mind but rather orienting it towards the present. Although mindfulness has its roots in religious practices, it is much more than that; it is a stress-reduction exercise that strengthens the mind.
Research shows that mindfulness meditation is known to reduce stress, encourage cognitive flexibility, improve relationship satisfaction, reduce emotional reactivity, and increase working memory.
There are many blessings in life that we tend to take for granted or completely neglect. Often, positive relationships are one of these. With gratitude visits, the subject learns to acknowledge and cherish these people. The exercise includes identifying the people who have positively impacted your life and showing them gratitude for it.
The subject thinks about all the people who have positively impacted their lives. Be it their family, friends, mentors, or even simple acquaintances. Then, they are instructed to write them letters, make a phone call, or visit their place to express gratitude for the specific help they provided.
For many, every day passes by with little to no reflection on one’s achievements. Conversely, it is difficult to clear the mind of reminiscing negative experiences. You need to end the day on a positive note by reflecting on personal strengths during the day. The daily strength exercise helps you do this.
The subject is asked to note down events or activities they engaged in during the day, along with how much they enjoyed it. Other comments include whether they felt energized by it, and the strengths they used for the activity. This is usually filled in a table format.
The strengths can revolve around the 6 character strengths and virtues that Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson highlighted. These include wisdom, humanity, courage, justice, transcendence, and temperance, the virtues valued in all cultures.
Not everyone is habitual in looking at their strengths; the process demands thorough self-examination, reflection, and self-discovery. Highlighting personal strengths is a major part of positive psychology, and incorporating this in therapy should tremendously help the clients.
Meaning-based interventions in positive psychology aim to help subjects discover meaning in life. It also helps with setting achievable goals, and understanding how these can be achieved. Furthermore, there is added focus on positive thoughts and emotions.
Clear goals and expectations are known to lead to greater fulfillment and happiness. Abraham Maslow identified the need for self-esteem and self-actualization as the highest-order needs, emphasizing finding meaning in life.
Meaning-based exercises require the subject to write a narrative about their life, covering the past, present, and future. The write-up about the past would focus on strengths and times of overcoming challenges. Discussion on the present would emphasize how today's strengths compared with those of the past. And the future would include setting achievable goals based on the aforementioned strengths.
Positive psychology is a gradually evolving field that can bring a revolutionary change in psychological practice as a whole. Incorporating positive psychology in therapy should bring a huge positive impact. Exercises like gratitude journaling, optimistic interventions, mindfulness meditation, and strength- and meaning-based exercises are some ways this can be achieved. Together these practices can promote a life that is more fulfilled, satisfied, and content.