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Positive Psychology and your Career


I recently ran a lunchtime webinar on Positive Psychology.  This was a field that I was introduced to in my coaching training and loved it straightaway.  I researched it a lot for my essays and have used its principles in my coaching since I started.  I'd love to share some of its approaches with you.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive Psychology is not what many people think it is.  A lot of people assume it's to do with Positive Mental Attitude or Positive Thinking.  In fact, Positive Psychology is a heavily researched and academic field. 

Martin Seligman, a key teacher and academic in the field describes it as: "the scientific study of optimal human functioning that aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive...".  Whilst that sounds great, it might not bring us very much further towards understanding what it is so I'm going to share what I think are the most interesting and useful bits for you to think about.

The Happiness Equation

Positive Psychology looks at how we can attain an enduring level of contentment.  These are not the momentary highs and lows that we all experience, but rather a more consistent level of happiness.  In order to do that, it's useful to understand the Happiness Formula:

H = S + C + V

H, of course is happiness. 

S is our "set level" of happiness.  We all have a set level that we return to, no matter the highs and lows of day to day live.  This is genetic and constitutes 50% of the happiness equation.

C is our circumstances and this represents a surprisingly low 10% of the happiness equation.  Also, surprising is what the research shows has little or no effect on our enduring happiness, being things like climate and wealth.  Things that have a positive impact are being in a good relationship and religion / spirituality.

Now it gets exciting because V represents what is under our voluntary control and represents a great 40% of the Happiness Equation.  I hope you find this as heartening as I do!

Positive Emotions

Something that I found interesting about PP (I'm going to call it that now) is that it distinguishes between emotions in the past, the present and the future.  These can be very distinct from each other.  For example, I could feel very proud and satisfied about my past but indifferent about the present and worried about the future.  It therefore encourages a focus on all three.

Your emotions about the past can become more positive through exercises in gratitude and forgiveness. Your emotions about the future can become more positive through exercises in hope and optimism (subject of last week's blog).

Whilst these things are useful, I tend to focus my clients mainly on their present emotions.  Here are the three things that I use that can support contentment in your career and in your life.

  1. Playing to your strengths.  It's no secret that I advocate a strengths-based approach to creating a career you love.  Playing to your strengths means that you are more energised, motivated and likely to succeed.  Perhaps you'd like to have a go at the PP "official" strengths assessment for free here.  WARNING, there are lots of questionnaires here - you are looking for VIA Survey of Character Strengths - don't get lost in the rabbit hole of surveys :)
  2. Finding flow.  When were you last in Flow?  That means that you were so absorbed in what you were doing, you forgot about time, hunger, pain, worries.  Activities that you can do but you find challenging are flow activities.  For me it could be horse riding, playing the guitar, writing an essay about PP!  Try to do activities that get you into Flow as frequently as you can.  You'll reap the benefits.
  3. MPS.  This is a method first put forward in Tal Ben-Shahar's book "Happy".  It involves making three extensive lists of: (i) what gives you meaning; (ii) what gives you pleasure; and (iii) what are your strengths.  You then analyse the lists to see where they have elements of overlap.  This is your "happy zone".

So, that is a brief introduction to Positive Psychology.  I hope that's given you some takeaways.  Let me know if you do any of the activities and how you experienced them.

If you'd like to know more, here are a few books you might want to dip into:

Martin Seligman: Authentic Happiness; Learned Optimism; Flourish
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Finding Flow
Tal Ben-Shahar: Happier

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