1. What Makes People Flourish?

    March 27, 2014

    What Makes People Flourish?

    by Daniela Aneis

    Since the appearance of Positive Psychology at the end of last century, the concept of flourishing has been a central one. Like flowers blossom on Spring and everything starts coming to life after the cold Winter, how can people flourish in their lives and achieve greater levels of positivity and personal growth? And so Positive Psychology sets out to answer: What makes people flourish?

    What is flourishing?

    According to positive psychology authors and researchers, the concept of flourishing has to do with reaching optimal human functioning. We all humans carry within ourselves great potential which is mostly locked inside us and we can’t always reach it. Through self-improvement methods and the search for the fulfillment of our potential, most of us do unlock our talents and reach a life of flourishing. So if you’re thinking you don’t have it in you to flourish, think again. Luckily we all do.

    How can one flourish?

    It’s basically an individual process, but researcher and “father” of the Positive Psychology movement, Martin Seligman published in his most recent book Flourishing (2011), a theoretical approach to achieving well-being and life satisfaction through a process of flourishing.

    His PERMA model is based on five central states that one can achieve (actually the presence of 2 or more is enough to create greater well-being levels):

    • Positive Emotions
    • Engagement
    • Relationships
    • Meaning
    • Accomplishment

    Positive emotions play a key role in your lives as they are essential in our sense of well-being and our ability to be with others and even expand our minds and the way we think, see and feel. Engagement has to do with Csikszentmihalyi’s (1975) concept of flow. Flow refers to a state of full absorption in the task at hand where time and space seem to disappear and the task represents intrinsically motivation – we do it simply because we enjoy it. We can see many flow experiences in creative people like writers and painters who spent entire days performing their work in a solitude experience and even forget to eat!

    Positive interpersonal relationships are undeniably crucial to our well-being. It starts with our first attachment relationship with our mothers and it goes on for the rest of our lives (family, friends, spouses, and children). We are social beings and it is the quality of our relationships that help us perceive life as full and meaningful. Meaning which is another component of well-being, is obtained through the use of our signature strengths and talents in the service of something greater than ourselves (being a volunteer for instance).  Finally, Accomplishment – reaching one’s goals – enhances our motivation and self-efficacy feeling, propelling us to engage in more and challenging projects.

    So, in practice, how can you flourish?

    A few simple steps to start your flourishing process:

    • Find your talents. What are you really good at? And we all have different talents! If you don’t know what you’re really good at, it’s time to try new things until you figure it out!
    • Practice Mindfulness. Create a sense of aware towards yourself and what’s around you. Live in the present. Have you spent 2 minutes to observe that Spring is finally here again?
    • Cultivate positive and meaningful relationships in your life. Yes, again and again, friends and family are what makes this ride through life seem easier and more enjoyable.
    • Try to do something that you really enjoy. In a perfect world we would all be working in something we’re truly passionate about, something that would make work feel like a God’s gift. Unfortunately, if your 9-5 job isn’t like that, you may one consider another activity in your life that makes you feel like that.
    • Fulfill some of your dreams and projects. What is a life without dreams? Without hope?
    • Lead a meaningful life. This is actually a result of all of the above. Leading a life towards meaning is believing you’re a part of something greater, that your smaller actions are a mechanism of something greater than yourself and we all play a role in it.

    Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaneversion/8643805338/

  2. The Power of Positive Emotions

    March 23, 2014

    The Power of Positive Emotions

    by Daniela Aneis

    We all know the experience of positive emotions make us feel good with ourselves and others. But could they have another function other than just that? Evolutionary speaking, what are positive emotions for?

    Up until recently, research has been extensive on the so-called negative emotions and their role in evolution. It is posited that negative emotions were key in survival, where the “fight or flight” mechanism was crucial to our species endurance. The stress induced when facing a large animal where a decision had to be made if it dangerous or “potential food”, made our ancestors react, propelling them to action.


     But what about positive emotions? What good are they for?


    In 1998, researcher Barbara Fredrickson proposed the Broaden-and-built model of positive emotions. Feeling that research wasn’t paying enough attention to the role of positive emotions in human life, she set out to find out why we need positive emotions as much as the negative ones. She suggested that positive emotions broaden our scope of action-thinking and have a major role in physical, cognitive and social resources.

    Mainly, positive emotions are essential resources in resilience, serving as reserves to help us cope with adversity and promote health and well-being. Her research suggests that the more positive emotions people experience throughout their day and their lives, the faster they can react when faced with negative emotions.

    One of her most fascinating discoveries has to do with the fact that positive emotions can counteract the effects of negative ones. Meaning that the prolonged effects of negative emotions on cardiovascular diseases and cancer, for instance, can be counteracted with the experience of positive emotions. So if you lead an extremely stressful life, you might want to consider balancing the odds in your everyday life by introducing space for positive emotions.


    Are people who experience positive emotions at a greater level different from the rest of us?


    Not quite. People who experience positive emotions at a great level tend to pay a great deal of attention to positive emotions, and their reserves of positive emotions function as an upward spiral of positivity (Fredrickson, 2001). Consciously or unconsciously, positive emotions seekers tend to find positive emotions even in neutral situations and view the negative ones as part of a necessary personal growth (Diener & Biwas-Diener, 2008).


    Are people who experience more positive emotions happier?


    In his 2002 book Authentic Happiness, the “father” of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman states that happiness (or well-being is now the correct term to use) can be achieved through:

    • The seeking of pleasure;
    • The seeking of engagement activities;
    • The search for meaning in life.

    In a research done in 2005, researchers Peterson, Park and Seligman set out to answer what makes a full life so different from the empty life? Mainly they were interested in knowing whether the experience of positive emotions through pleasure, engagement or meaning contributed to a sense of greater well-being and life satisfaction and if those 3 experiences were any different between themselves. They found evidence that all 3 types of positive experiences where key in building up a sense of general well-being and higher levels of life satisfaction. However the 3 types of experiences seemed to have no difference between themselves.

    Nonetheless, the authors still state that a life of eudemonia – the search for personal improvement and fulfillment – versus a life of hedonism – a constant seek for pleasure may result in a more enduring happiness. The idea that a life based on the search for meaning entails a happier life finds resonance in Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy theory, where the key to leading a full life is a meaningful one.


    Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/70194213@N00/7161763179