By Good News Network
Saturday, October 05, 2002
A group of upstart scientists, scholars and researchers in the field of
psychology have decided that it is more important to focus on what is
right with people than what is wrong with people. 200 psychologists
from 20 countries convened this weekend in Washington, D.C. for the
first annual international summit to exchange research and ideas on
such topics as love, flow, wisdom and well-being.
"The world has
an appetite for this type of stuff," declares Dr. Martin Seligman of
the University of Pennsylvania, the self-described cheerleader of the
new positive psychology movement. Seligman, a former president of the
American Psychological Association, founded the Positive Psychology
Network and authored the new book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment
He sees the most exciting prospects for this work in simple but
dramatic terms. "We can change for the better the total amount of
happiness in the world."
But what about today's new world,
marked by fears of terrorism and a new anxiety about the future? Since
September 11th, Seligman has determined that one of the best ways to
help suffering people is to focus on positive things. A parade of
studies presented this weekend confirmed the experience that positive
emotions, when generated, cause negative emotion to dissipate rapidly.
Thus, researchers are hoping to prevent depression before it occurs.
recent Newsweek magazine cover story on teenage depression underscores
the enormous room for improvement in mental health today. Almost 3
million teens struggle with depression, most without help. One of the
most effective ways to utilize positive psychology to benefit society
is to teach about it in schools. But how to muster the will in schools
when SOL test scores have become the all-consuming goal?
Seligman's group was awarded a $2.8 million grant from the Department
of Education to augment a 9th grade language arts curriculum with an
emphasis on human strengths and positive emotions contained within the
course literature. The grant will fund a long term study to trace the
lives of students who took the course, and compare outcomes to those
from students who took the same course but without the positive
Judging from the research presentations at the summit, adolescents
who are taught the tools to well-being will live happier lives than
those who are not. For instance, one study asked whether character
predicts happiness in adolescence (U. of Penn). The results indicated
that, yes, kids with self-described virtues were happier, and that "nice guys DON'T finish last."
What would be the outcome if
more psychologists, teachers, therapists, AND parents focused on what
people were doing right? The foremost proponent of the movement, Dr.
Seligman, believes that, "An era of good feeling literally is
possible." (OCT. 6, 2002)
Some Highlights of the 4-day First International Positive Psychology Summit sponsored by The Gallup Organization:
"The heart really is an organ of emotion. It's not just a metaphor."- Jonathan Haidt, the University of Virgina
Haidt reported on his work with the phenomenon he terms, Elevation.
When presented with a moving act of charity, the body experiences a
warm feeling in the chest or throat, a response that is generated by
the vagas nerve. Most importantly, a strong desire is felt in ourselves
to do similar charitable acts also. Thus, "efforts to promote and
publicize altruism may therefore have widespread and cost-effective
results." (The Positive Emotion of Elevation by Jonathan Haidt)
"You don't have to think the world is a good place to be happy."
- Michael Poulin and collegues, University of California Irvine
Poulin and others studied 933 people outside of New York City about
the Assumption in Beliefs About the Self and the World Post 9/11. The
surprising thing to most people would be the finding that these New
Yorkers, within weeks of the attacks of September 11, still saw the
world as a good place and still saw people as good. The determining
factor was that they viewed themselves in a positive light.
with a strong sense of meaning in life were able to leverage worries
they felt about the terrorist events into positive life changes."
-Michael Steger, University of Minnesota
Three months after 9/11, a sample of 188 Midwestern college
students revealed that possesion of a strong sense of meaning or
purpose in your life protected you from detrimental effects of
post-traumatic stress. Somehow this meaning was a resource that gave
people a tool for growth, such as a greater appreciation of family and
friends, changing their life for the better.
"Some research states that reliving the stress may not be helpful, and may even be hurtful." - Jane Henry, Open University
In Strategies for Achieving Well Being
300 people from 20 nationalities were studied to find out what provided
them with the greatest subjective well being. The top three were:
- Quieting the Mind. This could be meditation, fishing, following intuitive urgings, or being in nature.
- Physical activity. Including exercise, painting watercolors, dancing, or anything that requires a focus of creativity or body.
Support. "Most therapists don't prescribe staying in touch with your
friends," lamented Henry. But, social groups, socializing activities,
like getting out for the evening, or receiving reassurance from others
such as a spouse, are top strategies for staying mentally healthy.