Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Well-being: our aim for happy ever after

Back in 2002, Martin Seligman crystallised the theory of Positive Psychology with his book Authentic Happiness.  This was a major shift away from previous theories that focused on abnormal psychology.  Abnormal psychology assumed that people's problems were as a result of them being different from the norm - so they were "treated". It was also a shift among from psychologists' focus on reducing misery (such as helplessness and depression) towards increasing happiness.

[The Dalai Lama had a similar idea around the same time.  He asked "Scientists often study depression, anxiety and fear, but why not devote your work to the causes of positive human qualities like happiness and compassion?"]

One of the major shifts with positive psychology is the focus on people's strengths.  Rather than treating individual differences as a problem, the alternative is to leverage these "signature strengths".  When we leverage what we are good at, we are happier.

To find out your signature strengths, take the VIA Signature Strengths test here.

My top five strengths are:  Creativity, ingenuity, and originality; Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness; Perspective (wisdom); Bravery and valor; Curiosity and interest in the world.  So, that probably explains why I am happiest when engaged in thinking (and making brave statements like some of my blog entries!)

Recently, Seligman has expanded his research and is focusing on well-being, more than just on happiness. He now explains that Well-being has five measurable elements (PERMA) that count toward it:
- Positive emotion
- Engagement
- Relationships
- Meaning and purpose
- Accomplishment

So, rather than just focusing purely on happiness - we "flourish" by using our strengths to achieve these five PERMA elements.  And so, well-being is a combination of feeling good, along with relationships, meaning and purpose.

The evidence is in: human beings actually make choices to maximise relationships, meaning and purpose - and not just personal happiness.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

To listen to an excellent talk from Martin Seligman, click here
Click here to read more about the Dalai Lama and the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

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