What is Positive Psychology?

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind.”
William James

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the habits, lifestyle choices and mental attitudes that help us to cultivate more optimism, strength, resilience and authentic happiness in life. It’s not about suppressing emotions or sugarcoating or denying reality, but about focusing our attention on what’s good, what’s going well, and what’s possible in order to energize, uplift and motivate us to achieve our goals, deal with life’s inevitable challenges and cultivate life’s blessings. I offer coaching on these life-changing practices. Want to try some right now?

Ask yourself, “What is going well in my life right now?” (scan such areas as health, family, friends, work, finances, hobbies and creativity, spiritual life, etc.) and then, “Why is this going well?” (Identify the conditions, or actions on your part, that are contributing to success in this area). This can be a nightly practice, listing three things that went well from the day, and identifying why they went well. A related practice called savoring is beautifully illustrated here via my favorite neuropsychologist, Dr. Rick Hanson.

Ask yourself, “What am I grateful for right now?” or “Whom do I appreciate?” Bonus points if you share your appreciation with those you appreciate, which doubles the positive emotions! Here’s a great video about that. This can be a morning or evening practice, listing at least three things for which you are grateful, and varying the list each time. I write more about gratitude here.

Ask yourself, “What am I looking forward to today?” and imagine the future events going as well as they possibly could, priming you for good outcomes, even if things do not go as hoped for. This can be a morning practice, also adding, “How do I want to feel today? How would that actually look?” and imagining yourself feeling that way in your daily activities.

Ask yourself, “Regarding (a challenge you’re facing right now), how could I make the best of this, be my best self here or experience growth or learning from it?” and then, “What is my desired outcome?” Imagine the best possible solution(s) you desire, as clearly as you can, and see if there is one small step you can take in that direction. I write more about this here.

These questions reflect the practice of Appreciative Inquiry, which directs our minds “upward” to create optimism and energy for taking inspired action in the direction of what we desire, and build on/borrow energy from what’s already going well to address what’s not. If you enjoy any of these exercises, which literally re-shape our brain for more positivity, I recommend making one a daily habit, because information only leads to transformation with implementation!

Here’s your greater happiness and well-being!