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Climbing to Positivity

How you can harness the power of positive psychology to make each day your best

Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients.

We’ve all heard the expression – view the world as a glass half-full, rather than half-empty. This is one of the most favorite and common phrases to describe a positive outlook. The study of psychology, research and findings, however, over the years has portrayed a glass half empty. In fact, Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, maintained that behavioral health was built on the “disease model,” with a focus on uncovering what was wrong with the person. As a result, he posed the following question:

What happens when we look at human behavior with a positive spin?

That’s exactly what Seligman did. His research on human psychology flipped the script and began to take a closer look at healthy states such as happiness, strength of character and optimism.

In short, one can take a look at their personality, hobbies, traits, skills, character, etc. from a strength-based perspective. Clinicians, interventionists, and social workers like myself look for goodness to help the clients develop and implement – in their daily lives – behaviors that foster personal growth, healthy relationships and meaningful engagement.

Let’s begin with strengths. Since anyone can brainstorm an endless list of those qualities we draw power from, we decided to highlight the “Positive Psychology Program,” a website dedicated to providing education and resources for positive psychology. Researchers assembled human behavioral data and collapsed the data into the following six categories:

  • Wisdom – Are you curious about the world? Do you travel to far-flung destinations? Do you paint, draw, write, sing, dance or any number of artistic expressions?
  • Courage – Do you take bold risks? Are you an adventure-seeker? Do you like thrilling activities like parachuting, rock climbing, snorkeling, and water skiing?
  • Humanity – Do you volunteer for a homeless shelter? Do you give back to your community through service, giving and sharing? Are you inclusive and like to help others?
  • Transcendence – Are you able to connect with people through humor and laughter? Do you look for the good in others? Is gratitude something you nurture each day?
  • Justice – Do you take the lead in relationships, work and other activities? Are you fair-minded and work to get along with others? Are you a team player?
  • Moderation – Do you seek balance in work, life and relationships? Do you exercise self-control? Are you conscious of the ways your actions affect others?

If you answered “yes” to some or many of these questions, you may identify with that particular strength of character. The truth is we probably draw from all of them. The key is to sow the seeds of positivity, nurture and grow the strengths you see in yourself for achieving healthier relationships – with your mother, father, sister, brother, grandparent, husband, wife, etc. These attributes will also equip you with the ability to start a business, ask for a promotion, negotiate with your boss, land the big account, or treat yourself to something special. Finally, you’ll see your life grow toward the sunlight because you put in the hard work.

Keeping your strengths in mind, another essential ingredient to nurture a positive outlook is your own well-being. Well-being is like happiness, a feeling of contentment and peace about oneself. It’s the emotional response that the world is okay, that the future is bright or your own creation, and there’s room for possibility.

Building well-being is not easy. This demands attention, detail, perseverance, routine, and daily practice. In collaboration with Pyramid Healthcare, a program that adapted Seligman’s work to create a framework for clients to harness positivity, the following are our ideas on how you practice well-being each day:

  • Discover positive emotions such as curiosity, awe, and wonder. Visit a museum you’ve never seen, hike a new trail, walk to the nearby farmer’s market or say hello to a stranger. Meaningful interactions with people and places don’t just jump out at you. Find them in the roads less traveled.
  • Try something new, activities, hobbies and goals which bring a smile to your face. If it doesn’t fill you with positive emotions such as laughter, joy, curiosity or wonder, maybe it’s not the activity for you. For some it’s playing tennis, others it’s window shopping, sun and sand at the beach, chatting with friends at brunch, or a swim at the pool.
  • Cultivate relationships, which offer love, support and purpose. We don’t know what it’s like to be in the shoes of the nurse who took your blood at the donation clinic, or the postal worker who delivered your mail, or even the teacher who emailed you back about the assignment, however, kindness and a smile may make their day. Treat all of your relationships – near and far, kindred and friendly – with the best you’ve got and a boomerang effect of love and belonging will burn bright.
  • Build meaning, a way of working toward something larger than yourself. This can come in the form of the meaning you draw from your work and career, the family you’ve created and the memories you’ve made. Another aspect of this is service – to the community, schools, public libraries, feeding the homeless, and handing out blankets and water bottles.
  • Celebrate yours and others accomplishments, or throw a night out with friends, cook your favorite meal and dwell on knowing that your time, focus and energy paid off.

As with finding happiness, our thoughts and ideas and the ways in which we view the world helps shape our physical and emotional health. “Optimists… think about misfortune the opposite way. They tend to believe that defeat is just a temporary setback or a challenge, that its causes are just confined to this one case,” says Seligman.

That being said, it is inevitable that we will at times experience negative feelings. That is part of being human. Here are ways we have discovered to build resiliency:

  • Catch your coping mechanisms. We all deal with stress, anxiety and other negative emotions in our own ways. Sometimes we may crack and blow up at our spouse or child, or any number of self-defeating vices or actions. The key is to catch yourself in those moments, take a deep breath, and focus on constructive ways of moving forward. At the end of the day, evaluate what went wrong, and think of how to do it better next time. Our minds and emotions are adept at learning and adapting, however, we must take the time to pause, reflect, reorient and act in new and better ways with the goal of greater happiness.
  • Give yourself a break. It’s almost a cliche that when we’re kind and generous to ourselves, we live out those truths with the people in our lives. It’s true – kindness toward others begins with kindness toward ourselves, so start with showing love and compassion inwardly. When we are unkind to ourselves, we release negative emotions that only inflict more harm. Find ways to return to positive emotions like grabbing lunch with a good friend, reading a book, taking a warm bath, or walking to the local library.
  • Forgive. Making amends with the past is pivotal to letting go of pain and hurt and moving forward. At the heart of the matter is holding a grudge only hurts you while the person who wronged you continues on. So why not let it go? It’s a radical act of compassion for yourself.
  • Connect with your community. As relationships are a core foundation of well-being, an active social life will build up your positive emotions. Not only that, but engaging with people and social situations takes the focus off ourselves and lets us live in the moment with others.
  • Stay active. Daily exercise releases endorphins, or feel-good chemicals, that will help grow positive emotions. On the flip-side, it relieves stress, that pesky emotion that triggers other negative emotions.

Positivity begins with unleashing your strengths, using them to foster healthy well-being, working these behavioral practices in daily living, and constructing a defense against negative emotions. Remember that positive and negative emotions, good days and bad, ups and downs are the lifeblood of being human. You have a choice each morning to seize the day. What positive emotion will you pick?

This post is hosted on the Huffington Post’s Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and post freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com

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