Over the last 20 years positive psychology and positive thinkers have suggested that by simply following a number of steps ‘Happiness’ is in our grasp. Who would not like the idea? But wait a minute …. if there were only 3, 5, or 7 steps to Happiness, would people not have achieved it by now? People are not stupid – at least not the majority. So what is wrong with the picture?
Happiness is not a commodity, a trade-able good that can be acquired by following a prescribed formula – like how to start your car’s engine. (more…)
Dr. Martin Seligman, professor of psychology at the University
of Pennsylvania and Director of the Positive Psychology Center, and
founder of the field of positive psychology, answers the questions: how
can I use positive psychology with my unhappy friends? What should be
available for unhappy people? How do I use positive psychology? Hear it from “the horses mouth” – Dr. Martin Seligman talks about positive psychology and authentic happiness.
How much love we experience in our life is to
some extend dependant on what we are paying attention to. Here again comes
Positive Psychology with some really good examples. If you focus on all the
things that are wrong in your life and that make you unhappy, you will miss the
acts of love.
If you, however, focus on exercises
such as “Three Blessings” (noticing each evening three things that occurred during
the day that were good) or you use the gratitude journal and reflect each
evening on the things you can be grateful for, you will be surprised how much
love has been extended to you without you taking much notice of it. Over time
you train your mind to pay more attention to the loving people show you.
Today I want to focus on happiness. Why? I am glad you asked. Most clients, when they come to counselling, they have as a goal to feel better. When asked, they respond “I want to be happy”. Although the therapist in me cringes when I hear that, because happiness can be so many things and is so different for everybody, I do understand people’s strive to happiness. Who wouldn’t want to be happy?
I am always amazed by the common perception that traumatic experiences from the past or traumatic experiences in the present should be overcome in a swift movement of “Getting over it” or “Letting it go”. In a way, what people are saying is that OOOps, even though something really bad happened to you, you can’t change it, so you might as well put a smile on your face and get on with your life.
Bless them, they don’t know how to respond to trauma, shock, or grief wether it affects another person or themselves. They rather turn to the next best thing: getting a prescription for an antidepressant (alcohol, food, drugs, or ….). As if it’s an illness that, for example, you have been raped, been given a life-threatening diagnosis, lost a loved one, live in poverty, or your family has been wiped out by war or by a natural disaster.
On the danger that I am stepping on dangerous ground here, I am giving some pointers to the difficult area of parenting. Not that I am an expert in that field. Not at all! However, I know that many people worry about their parenting style. They are concerned whether they do it right by their children and end up with lots of self-blame for not getting it right. I’ve been reading the book ‘Authentic Happiness’ (by M. Seligman, 2002, Free Press). And it has a section on how to build positive emotions in children!
“Depression really spirals downward because a depressed mood makes negative memories come to mind more easily. These negative thoughts in turn set off a more depressed mood, which in turn makes even more negative thoughts accessible, and so on. Breaking the downward spiral is a critical skill for the depressed patient to learn.” (Authentic Happiness, M. Seligman, 2002, Free Press, page 210).
Building happiness is, however, not just important for depressed people, research is conclusive that everyone can improve on their level of happiness by checking whether you have ‘all the ingredients for a happy life’ in your tool box. Here are some ideas: