Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Psychology of Happiness

So-called "positive psychology" is, in my opinion, a very important evolving field. Surprisingly, it is a relatively new field, in terms of formal academic study. Much of the past study of psychology, psychotherapy, and psychiatry has been focused on "pathology" or on treating symptoms of illness, rather than studying or understanding happiness.

Positive psychology need not be criticized as a discipline which defines normality as a continuous happy state. Rather, I think it is a different way of looking at, and nurturing, psychological health.

I'd like to discuss this subject further, but for now, here are a few authors to look at:
-Sonja Lyubomirsky
-Barbara Fredrickson
-Martin Seligman
-Richard Layard

Some insights from this field include the following:

- a "steady diet" of positive emotion increases a sense of meaning and purpose in life, and increases the likelihood of "flourishing" in life. * While this may seem like a truism, it really isn't: it is possible to make changes in lifestyle practices, and to practice skills, to increase positive emotion in daily life. Many people coast through their daily lives, lacking positive emotion, or a sense of meaning.

-Specific suggestions for increasing positive emotion include paying attention to kindness (giving and receiving); consciously increasing awareness in the present moment; simply going outside in good weather; or meditation techniques such as "loving kindness meditation."

-Also, a variety of research has suggested that a ratio of "positivity to negativity"-- in terms of dialog with others, personal emotional experience, and I would add, dialog within your own mind--should exceed 5 to 1. Some of this research comes from looking at dialog in marriages, and interactions in other groups. We all have a tendency to criticize too much--with others and with ourselves--which leads to the positive:negative ratio diminishing, often way below 5 to 1. This suggestion does not advocate suppressing criticism or negative dialog; rather it is about balancing the negative with a large abundance of positive. If you think of any teacher or guide who has ever helped you learn something or grow as a person, I'm pretty sure you'll find that the feedback given to you was mostly positive, with only occasional, concise, gentle, criticisms. I recommend this approach in dealing with negative thoughts within your own mind -- try to balance them, aim for that 5 to 1 ratio.

*see the article "Are you Happy Now?", interview of Barbara Fredrickson by Angela Winter, Utne Sep-Oct 09, p. 62-67.

Here are some more references, which I'll comment more on later:

No comments: