The Connections Between Positive Psychology & Mental Health

positive psychology and mental healthMental health therapists in the past dealt mostly with psychological diseases and the health issues that came from it.

Their focus was less on individual factors like motivation, positive thinking, happiness, and emotional resilience, and more on the manifested symptoms of mental illness.

George Vaillant, a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, said that old literary works on psychiatry and mental health have a myriad of discussions on anxiety, depression, stress, anger, and fear, and almost nothing about affection, compassion, and forgiveness (Vaillant, 2009). But this is all a matter of the past now.

With the advent of the science of happiness, or positive psychology, a significant shift in the focus of mental health research and practice has been noticed. Positive psychology has opened a new way of looking into problems. It recognizes happiness and wellbeing as an ‘essential human skill’ (Davidson, Sells, Songster, & O’Connell, 2005).

As a composite of clinical psychology, positive science helps in understanding how we can work on enhancing our internal capabilities and make the best of our present. Rather than focusing on symptomatic therapy and treatment, positive psychology centers around emotional stability, expectation management, and fruitful thinking, which is why it is referred to as the ‘study of ordinary strengths and virtues’ (Sheldon & King, 2001).

Positive psychology goes hand in hand with traditional mental health interventions. In this article, we will explore the semblance and the association between positive psychology and mental health and discuss how the combination of both is essential for the successful outcome of any psychiatric disorder.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

A Look at the Neuroscience of Mental Health

Studies indicate that mental health disorders affect the vast majority of the world population today. And the root of all these troubles lies in our brain – the key to understanding which lies in the study of neuroscience (Kessler et al., 2009).

When entwined with mental health, neuroscientific explorations suggest which part of the brain is responsible for causing what trouble, and how we can address to solve that. It helps us understand the molecular changes that the brain undergoes in different psychotic and neurotic conditions (Kessler et al., 2009).

A research paper on Global Mental Health and Neuroscience published by Professor Dan J. Stein and colleagues (2015) spoke on how neuroscience was effectively incorporated in treating mental health issues across all ages and cultural backgrounds.

Mental disturbances activate neural connections that provoke negative thoughts, actions, and emotions. By understanding the neuroscience behind these psychological problems – for example, what happens in the brain when we are in trauma, or which parts of the cortex gets activated due to mood disorders, psychologists can better manage the issues and delve into a deeper level of treatment.

Neuroscience makes mental health interventions more focused and evidence-based. For example, schizophrenic patients suffer a lot in terms of their cognitive functioning. Their dysfunctional thoughts prevent them from getting back to their usual lives or perform daily life activities.

The neuroscientific approach helped professionals in realizing this and therefore, targeting cognitive repair as an essential part of treating people with schizophrenia. As a result, the prognosis was much better than it was before (Barch, 2005).

Incorporating neuroscience in mental health had numerous benefits.

  • Neuroscience made it easier for therapists and professionals to dig into the root causes of the disorder.
  • It helped in promoting mental wellbeing, happiness, and quality of life.
  • Neuroscience paved the way for early diagnosis and a brighter prognosis of any psychological treatment plan.
  • It helped in understanding the relationship between the mind and the body with more accuracy.
  • Neuroscientific research made way for extending the areas of research on mental health and happiness.

A study on the neuroscience of exercise and its impact on mental health suggested that an active lifestyle has dominant effects on our mental faculties. The researchers focused on the relationship between physical activity, mental disorders like major depression and dementia, and mood changes (Portugal et al., 2013).

The target population for this study was mainly athletes; however, the results extended to support the facts for others as well. The research brought light to the fact that regular exercise increases physical and mental strength. It enhances mood, regulates emotions, and maintains optimum bodily functions (Portugal et al., 2013).

Authors of this study argued that perhaps physical exercise is one of the reasons athletes are more resilient in their personal lives – both emotionally and physically.

Why Neuroscience Is Imperative For Mental Health

Steven R. Pliszka’s bookNeuroscience for the Mental Health Clinician’ (2016) lucidly explained why knowing the neurological basis of psychological disorders is a must for psychologists.

Just like understanding how the heart works are essential for treating cardiac illnesses, identifying brain dysfunctions aids in deciphering the physiology of mental disorders and guide the treatment procedure likewise.

While the author acknowledges that psychotherapy is possible without digging into the biological causes, he also reasons why it is crucial for therapists to use a neuroscientific adjunct.

  • Pliszka (2016) believes it is an ethical responsibility for any health professional to remain updated about all aspects of the issues they are handling, even if it is not entirely related to their field of study.
  • In today’s social media and internet-driven world, it is essential for the therapist to make the clients aware of their conditions, lest they get influenced by some baseless social media information.
  • Acquaintance with neuroscientific research and the biological basis of disorders will help psychiatrists and psychologists to upgrade their channels of treatment and cater to the rapid advancements happening in the fields of science and technology.

Using Positive Psychology in Mental Health Counseling

Almost 20% of the American population today is trapped in substance abuse, anxiety, and depression (Anxiety & Depression Association of America, 2021). And among those who seek professional assistance for recuperating, the ones who choose a combined treatment plan with medication and therapy, recover sooner (Seligman, Rashid, & Parks, 2006).

The reason why this combined approach works for many is that it encompasses all the areas the ailment impacts, and as such it helps in real recovery, rather than ‘medical masking.’

The most significant contribution of positive psychology in mental health counseling and therapy is the introduction of happiness as a treatment goal (Gruman, Schneider, & Coutts, 2017).

Positive psychology devised measures such as the Psychological Wellbeing Scale or the Happiness Scale that could objectively measure how satisfied a person is from the inside. With the advent of these psychological wellbeing measures, mental health professionals found a solid reason to shift their focus from the problems to the solutions.

They now paid more attention to building what is already there rather than just filling the void that the mental condition created. The contradistinction between positive psychology interventions and standard mental health therapy is that PPIs, rather than directly targeting at the symptom reduction, engage in boosting positive emotions and bring back the lost meaning in life.

Studies have shown that the effect of positive psychology interventions last longer and produce more happiness than traditional psychotherapies. A web-based survey on positive psychotherapy in treating major depression revealed that individuals responded sooner and showed signs of recovery with positive interventions (Seligman, Rashid, & Parks, 2006).

Besides, the investigators agreed that using techniques that enhance positive emotions and build fundamental motivation guarantees a better prognosis than flat medication or traditional psychotherapy. The goal of incorporating any intervention in mental health counseling should be to shift the individual’s focus from the negative symptoms to the brighter aspects of his life, and positive psychology provides the impetus to bring this change.

4 Positive Psychology Interventions That Are Used In Mental Health Counseling

There is substantial evidence proving the relevance of positive psychology interventions in psychotherapy and counseling.

Besides boosting happiness and confidence, it restores the mental balance that we need to sustain a healthy life (Hefferon & Boniwell, 2011).

The advent and awareness of positive interventions in counseling has taken mental health treatment to a diverse multicultural and humanistic level (Magyar-Moe, Owens, & Conoley, 2015). Be that school counseling, individual therapy, or life coaching sessions, positive interventions are now an integral part of mental health treatment channels, and here are some of the popular PPIs that many psychologists use today:

1. Strength-based Therapy

Strength-based strategies combine positivity, social psychology, preventive measures, solution-focused methods, and personal development as conjectures to the counseling mechanism (Rashid, 2015; Smith, 2006). Strength-based interventions focus on ‘salutogenesis,’ a term coined by Professor Aaron Antonovsky (1979), that refers to acknowledging human wellbeing and welfare to be more critical than his psychological illness.

As the name suggests, strength-based techniques help in finding your strengths and act on them with focused attention (Jones-Smith, 2011). An individual who seeks psychological assistance for his condition is mostly preoccupied with the things that are going wrong in his life. For instance, a study revealed that psychotic patients had a significantly low self-esteem score on a standardized scale (Xie, 2013).

Consequently, they had a poor lifestyle and unhealthy psychosocial functioning. Implementing strength-based interventions for such individuals was a great idea, as it improved their quality of life and helped them focus on their strengths (Saleebey, 2006).

Strength-oriented techniques involve:

  • Solution-focused therapies, including conversations, objective tests, and group sessions. The therapist and the client focus on how to accept what is wrong and outgrow his negativities for a better outcome (De Jong & Berg, 2002).
  • Case management that focuses on understanding the capabilities of the person.
  • Family support and individual supportive counseling.
  • Narrating encouraging stories of resilience and positivity that might inspire the individual and help in recuperation.

2. Quality Of Life Therapy

The quality of life measure works on the principles of positive psychology and cognitive therapy (Frisch, 2006). It helps clients discover their goals in life, motivates them to follow their dreams and look inside for finding a deeper meaning of self-satisfaction. It uses measures like the Quality of Life Inventory (QOLI) and the CASIO model of self-satisfaction and follows a step-by-step treatment process.

The QOL (Quality of Life) Therapy is evidence-based, research-oriented, and caters to the needs of today’s adult population.

3. Hope Therapy

Hope helps to “dwell in possibilities” (Emily Dickinson). As a positive psychology intervention, hope therapy operates on the theory of hope that suggests that emotions can be evaluated or changed according to fruitful goal pursuits (Lopez, Floyd, Ulven, & Snyder, 2000; Snyder, 2002).

As the name suggests, hope therapy singularly aims to promote a hopeful attitude among the clients who are undergoing a catastrophic mental turmoil. It works exceptionally well for major depression, PTSD, and other stress disorders.

The goal of the hope therapy is to enhance insight and help to reconnect with the self. It uses a semi-structured format, blending standardized tests with subjective ones, and involves four steps:

  • Finding hope
  • Establishing a connection with it
  • Enhancing it
  • Following it

Researchers in this field suggest that hopeful people are more realistic than optimistic. They set their goals reasonably and aim to attain each target at a time. Studies measuring the efficacy of hope therapy techniques revealed that individuals who received an auxiliary hopeful in their therapy sessions had higher scores on self-esteem and confidence scales. They had better clarity of their goals and were more energetic to act on them (Feldman & Kubota, 2015).

4. Wellbeing Therapy

The wellbeing therapy model owes its roots to Carol D. Ryff’s model of psychological wellbeing (1998). Ryff’s model was multidimensional, including factors like environmental mastery, personal satisfaction, a more profound sense of meaning in life, acceptance, resilience, and positive social connections (Eren & Kılıç, 2017).

Later, Giovanni Fava, a renowned psychologist, and clinical practitioner developed wellbeing therapy as an effective positive psychology intervention for mental health counseling and guidance (Ruini & Fava, 2004).

Following the principles of Ryff’s model, wellbeing therapy promotes happiness by letting clients identify their thought blocks. Wellbeing therapy is useful as a relapse or prevention management intervention and uses techniques such as (Fava, 1999):

  • Writing about significant life experiences and the emotions associated with it.
  • Identifying the negative thoughts that cause trouble by active communication with the therapist or counselor.
  • Challenging the negative thoughts with the help of the therapist and planning practical ways to overcome them.
  • Growing a positive attitude towards the self by accepting, forgiving, and integrating.
  • Encouraging positive actions such as self-expression, journaling, active communication, and an overall healthy lifestyle.

Positive Psychology vs Clinical Psychology

Positive psychology emerged after a fair share of debates and misunderstandings about how well it can co-exist with clinical or health psychology. We know that clinical psychology aims to address mental health issues and apply existing theories and evidence into practice.

Positive psychology, on the other hand, functions for promoting wellbeing and happiness, whether or not there is a mental health condition involved (Steffen, Vossler, & Stephen, 2015).

Positive psychology came into the picture when eminent psychology practitioners realized that it is time mental health gave equal importance to the positive aspects of human living. Eventually, positive psychology emerged as an offshoot of mainstream clinical psychology and became an important area of specialization for many social scientists.

The fathers of positive psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Martin Seligman (2000) suggested that focusing on symptom reduction or restoration of normalcy is only a partial solution to a mental health problem. With positive psychology, we can fixate inner happiness and contentment into the individual – we can prevent and protect the person besides curing him.

While clinical psychology digs into the root cause of the illness to help the person recover, positive psychology delves into the root causes of happiness that can make a person immune to any adverse mental condition. Positive psychology, is, for the most part, present and future-oriented. It focuses on a person’s strength, abilities, talents, relationships, positive emotions, positive experiences, and intrinsic motivation.

Despite having prominent contrasts, clinical psychology and positive psychology does not oppose each other. Both the fields target human welfare and wellbeing. Seligman (1988) suggested that positive psychology is not a contemporary addition; it has been there and was always an essential component of humanistic approaches.

What we need now is a conscious shift of focus to acknowledge its existence and preach the code of happiness through it (Waterman, 2014). Clinical psychology is one of the earliest extensions of mainstream psychology that helped humans live a better life (Magyar-Moe, Owens, & Conoley, 2015; Friedman, 2008).

Before the advent of clinical psychology interventions like cognitive behavior therapy, bereavement counseling, anger management, or other psychotherapeutic practices, there was no known way to fight mental breakdowns. Positive psychology interventions were an add-on to clinical practice as they promoted happiness.

While clinical psychology practice was limited to only help-seekers and those who were already suffering from some psychopathology, positive psychology reached out to the average population as well as the clinical patients.

It benefited those who were on the verge of falling prey to mental health issues or those who were highly susceptible to the same (example – trauma victims, recently bereaved persons, etc.). So despite thinking positive psychology and clinical psychology as two opposing or contradicting branches of psychology, experts in the field consider them as two complementing components of psychological treatment and counseling.

It is not a question of clinical psychology vs. positive psychology, but rather an open mind to incorporate positive interventions in clinical therapies, and vice versa (Churchill, 2014).

Clinical Psychology and Positive Psychology – A Brief Comparative Analysis
Clinical Psychology Positive Psychology
1. Focuses on the negative aspects and problem behaviors to reach a solution. 1. Focuses on the positive thoughts, emotions, and actions to reach a solution.
2. Aims to validate theories and put pieces of evidence together to explain and treat
a mental condition.
2. Aims to promote happiness and operates on principles that support wellbeing.
3. Digs into the past to explore the causal factors. 3. Explores the present and the future to find better ways of living.
4. Includes areas like education, learning disabilities,
depression, stress, addiction, trauma, etc.
4. Includes areas of strength, virtues, talents, abilities, and self-enhancement.
5. Operates in the presence of a problem. 5. Operates with or without psychopathology.
6. Preventive and recovery-oriented. 6. Preventive and precautionary.

Research On Positive Psychology And Wellbeing

Positive psychology gave mental wellbeing awareness a whole new direction.

1. A Study On Mental Illness And Wellbeing

Mike Slade, the author of a publication on mental illness and wellbeing, shed light on how mental health services now give more importance to individual happiness and work on ways to enhance it.

The prime focus of this research was suggesting how mental health practitioners can incorporate positive psychology interventions to shift the goal from treating illness to promoting eudaemonia (Coleman, 1999; Slade, 2010). Mental illness and mental wellbeing are two distinct concepts (Slade, 2009), and the focus of psychiatric or psychological interventions should be on expanding prosperity.

Pointing at the research of Seligman, Slade (2010) suggested that positive psychology works at a subjective level and values individual experiences, emotions, and actions. It operates at two levels – the personal level (involving awareness of positive traits like love, empathy, forgiveness, and hope), the social level or the group level (including interventions to promote social relationships, social responsibilities, tolerance, altruism, and sense of values).

By following the positive approaches, the author steers mental health researchers and practitioners to focus more on the overall enhancement of an individual, rather than concentrating only on the problem areas.

2. The Complete State Model Of Mental Health

Slade’s (2010) model of mental health and wellbeing developed the complete state model of mental health from a salutogenic view-point. The CSM (Complete State Model) is also known as the dual-factor model of mental health (Suldo & Shaffer, 2008) or the two-continua model of mental health (Westerhof & Keyes, 2010).

The CSM identifies mental wellbeing and mental illness to be lying on a continuum or spectrum – from present to absent, and from high to low (Keyes, 2005).

The interplay of these two factors determines a person’s overall mental health. Slade (2010) argued that personal recovery is the goal of positive psychology, and asserted that it emerges from hope, happiness, and responsibility.

The CSM identifies mental health as having a high level of wellbeing and low level of mental illness (e.g., depression, anxiety, stress). The spotlight here is not on ruling out the mental illness or psychotic symptoms, but on suggesting that wellbeing and mental illness are separate issues that together structure our mental health.

The absence of psychopathology does not imply that sound mental health unless we have a high state of psychological wellbeing. The CSM explanation approved of positive psychology for being significantly relevant to personal wellbeing and recovery.

Positive psychology works around the concepts of happiness, hope, motivation, empathy, and self-esteem, all of which directly contributes to enhancing our wellbeing (Schrank & Slade, 2007).

It promotes authentic happiness and describes that a ‘good’ life can come in four forms:

  • The Pleasant Life
    Constituting of positive emotions and the drive to do things that enhance pleasure and self-satisfaction.
  • The Engaged Life
    Where a person preoccupies himself with deeper insight into his emotions, character strengths, and initiates on remodeling his life accordingly.
  • The Meaningful Life
    In which the individual achieves a heightened state of self and seeks the true meaning of happiness.
  • The Achieving Life
    Where a person is driven to work harder and dedicate himself to achieving his ambitions. In an achieving life, a person derives happiness and a true sense of self from acting on his dreams and making them successful.

Slade suggested that following the tenets of positive psychology is possibly the best way to promote individual recovery and guarantee a satisfactory level of mental wellness (Keyes, 2014).

Complete state model of mental health
Complete state model of mental health

3. Positive Psychology And Health

Health psychology gives mental wellbeing great importance when it comes to living a ‘disease-free’ life. WHO described health as a “state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and is not merely the absence of illness or infirmity” (cited in Park et al., 2016).

Since then, researchers and health professionals all over the world have realized the importance of eudaemonia, an optimal state of functioning, and positive mental states to be essential for sound physical health (Ryff & Singer, 1998).

Health psychologists define positive health to be a combination of:

  • Infrequent and brief spells of illness
  • High recovery rate
  • Rapid healing of wounds
  • More physical resilience and immunity
  • An absence of fatal or terminal illnesses

The research suggested that the favorable health condition most health psychologists aim to achieve comes from an association of positive interventions and health science methods. Positive health strategies that predict good health include – positive feelings, self-satisfaction, positive thinking, emotional management and self-regulation, self-enhancement and finding the true meaning of happiness, spirituality, empathy, and forgiveness, and building strong social relationships.

In an experiment on studying the effect of positive emotions on catching a cold, Cohen, Doyle, Turner, Alper, and Skoner (2003) found that participants who reported experiencing positive emotions like happiness, satisfaction, and enthusiasm, had lower risks of catching the virus than participants who reported feelings of depression, loneliness or anger. This study was a direct shoutout to the fact that positive emotions guarantee better health, more immunity, and stronger resilience.

Another study conducted on the adult population of the US showed that having a firm purpose in life reduced the risk of coronary diseases in patients. Patients with a history of cardiac dysfunctions showed quick recovery symptoms and lower chances of relapse when treated with positive interventions (Kim, Sun, Park, Kubzansky, & Peterson, 2013).

In general, findings on the impact of positive psychology on stress and coping show that working professionals who follow a positive approach in their everyday lives, or who are guided to use positive interventions, show significantly reduced stress levels. They report feelings of self-motivation, have better relationships with co-workers, show more productivity at work, and are more satisfied with themselves.

Mental Health Interventions That Promote Wellbeing

positive mental healthPositive psychology’s stance is to promote wellbeing, and to that end, the following mental health interventions assist in doing just that.

1. Cognitive-Behavior Therapy

Cognitive-behavior therapy is known to most people today.

It is arguably the most popular psychotherapy in use today. The reason behind the wide acceptance and application of CBT is the fact that it has constituent parts aligned with personal wellness and self-recovery.

CBT is by and large a psycho-social therapy. The client is as much responsible for his recovery as the therapist is. Recent studies indicate that CBT helps in building personal strength and resilience by reinforcing positive thinking, self-driven actions, and enough space for self-expression (Kuyken, Padesky, & Dudley, 2011).

The basic principle of CBT is that our thoughts are the root cause of our troubles, and it attempts to modify how we think, feel, and act, with the ultimate goal of pumping up self-awareness.

There are overwhelming pieces of evidence that portray the benefits of using CBT in treating depression, anxiety, and mood disorders (Chambless & Ollendick, 2001; DeRubeis & Crits-Christoph, 1998).

The core principle of CBT is developing a self-driven attitude among individuals, where they can step up to bring the change that they want in life.

The methods are tied in with self-motivation, solution-orientation, a reality base, and meta-cognitive awareness, leading to sustained improvements in mental health and lifestyle.

Learn more about CBT here.

2. Mindfulness

Mindfulness, or the art of being present in the moment, is a cluster of positive techniques that promote wellbeing and inner peace. Having roots embedded in ancient Buddhism and yogic practices, mindfulness spreads the message of dwelling in the ‘now’ and getting rid of what has been.

Mindfulness follows a blend of scientific and spiritual traditions – meditation, prayers, breath control, and sensory awareness being some of the critical interventions. It is extensively used to treat an array of mental health conditions and helps in mood management, lifestyle modification, aftercare for PTSD, and emotional support counseling.

Studies indicate that mindfulness-based positive interventions increase subjective feelings of wellness and are beneficial for both the clinical and the non-clinical population (Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004).

At a physiological level, mindful practices improve cardiac functions, builds immunity, and maintains an optimal hormonal balance in the body. On a psychological level, it helps in minimizing our negative thoughts, maximizing positive experiences, and optimizing our inner strengths and abilities.

Research on the efficacy of mindfulness by Ryan M. Niemiec clearly explained the link mindfulness has with personal strength, character building, and positive outcomes (2013). He indicated that mindful positive interventions that build intrinsic motivation and supports our overall prosperity include – Mindfulness-based strength practice (MBSP), Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), and Mindfulness-based meditation practices.

The research clearly showed that mindfulness practices consider a wide range of population and can be effectively used for promoting recovery and self-improvement.

3. Narrative Psychotherapy

Another positive intervention noteworthy to mention is the narrative psychology or the narrative psychotherapy. Narrative psychotherapy brings the power of self-expression by letting individuals translate their emotions and feelings in words.

Narrative psychology joins three aspects of wellness:

  1. No inhibition to express or say what we feel.
  2. Cognitive awareness of what we think and feel.
  3. Social awareness of how we say what we feel (Smyth, 1998).

Narrative psychotherapy approaches involve asking individuals to write about their emotional experiences and reading it to themselves for identifying the negative thoughts and challenging to replace them. Some narrative psychotherapies encourage participants to make a story based on their personal experiences and think about how they can transform the negative consequences to positive ones.

Narrative psychotherapy benefits people who lack self-expression or are introverts by nature, people with high levels of aggression, and those who are struggling with anger management (Christensen & Smith, 1993).

You can learn more about Narrative Therapy (NT) here.

4. Reminiscence Therapy

Reminiscence Therapy (R.T.) stands out among traditional positive interventions that promote well-being through present or future-oriented exercises. Dr. Robert Butler, a geriatric psychiatrist, was the first one to come up with the idea that recollecting memories can be therapeutic (Butler, 1960).

Butler argued that reminiscing old memories, especially for people who are nearing death or undergoing severe depression, allows them to put their lives in perspective. It is not about looking back here; it is about finding the meaning of the ‘now’ through what has already been.

Reminiscence Therapy boosts self-esteem and brings in the sense of fulfillment in the individual. For older people, reminiscing their past motivates them to speak and share their experiences with the therapist, thereby fostering self-expression and emotional catharsis.

Besides benefiting the older population, R.T. is also a treatment of choice for dementia and Alzheimer’s, where patients are given cues of information and are probed to recall what they remember about it. Reminiscence therapy cultivates happiness and positivity.

  • It engages participants to talk about their past and share their feelings.
  • The active listening skills of the therapist make the client feel heard and important.
  • The informal therapy setting motivates the clients to open up and participate in active communication.
  • R.T., when conducted as group therapy, lets individuals listen to each others’ stories and expand his perception.
  • It promotes social communication and increased positive interactions.
  • It improves memory recognition and recall.

Learn more about Reminiscence Therapy here.

5 Positive Actions That Improves Mental Health

Tal Ben-Shahar, in his book ‘Happier’ (2007), explained that practicing positivity is the real pursuit of happiness, and it guarantees lifelong satisfaction. His works on the science of happiness indicate that we can recraft our lives by some simple positive interventions, such as:

1. Counting your blessings

Making a list of the things that make us happy and the people who mean the most to us brings the meaning of sense and fulfilment in our lives (Diener & Diener, 1996). We feel more grateful and lucky immediately.

The practice is simple (Martínez-Martí, Avia, & Hernández-Lloreda, 2010):

  • List the things that you love doing. These are called ‘happiness boosters’ and can be anything from spending time with family, doing crafts, or working.
  • Think about why you feel blessed when you perform those tasks.
  • Imagine how your life would be in the absence of those things and how you would feel when you can no longer spend time for them. Write your feelings down.
  • Next, ask yourself, how much time do you spend for the happiness boosters and make a list of the things that you think prevent you from doing more of what you love.
  • Learn from your responses and aim to enhance the happiness boosters by engaging yourself in activities that you love doing.

2. Learning from the negative experiences

As the famous saying goes, “If you want your present to be different from your past, study the past” (Baruch Spinoza).

Negative encounters can teach us plenty of positive life lessons. Prof Ben-Shahar, in his works on positive psychology, has repeatedly mentioned that past experiences make a person more resilient to stress, and once we overcome the adversity, we become more appreciative of the life that we have now.

3. Practising gratitude

Gratitude is a powerful tool for self-enhancement. Just by listing the people and the things we are grateful for, or taking a moment to express our thankfulness to someone verbally, we can feel better about ourselves. Daily gratitude practices may include gratitude journaling, gratitude visits or gratitude notes, etc.

4. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle

While it is true that happiness improves lifestyle, research has also proved how a healthy lifestyle can culminate happiness. Ben Shahar said that a positive lifestyle acts as a natural healing mechanism.

These positive practices help the body release harmful toxins and function as antidepressants. A study on the relationship between psychological wellbeing and health revealed that individuals who had a better lifestyle (including a healthy diet, good sleep, and regular exercise), showed lesser susceptibility to diseases and psychological distress (Trudel-Fitzgerald, Boehm, Tworoger, & Kubzansky, 2018).

5. Monitoring mood

The mood is the thread that links our thoughts and actions. We know how we are feeling from inside by gauging our mood states. Positive psychology believes that creating a personal mood chart can be a great way to keep track of the ups and downs in mood and understand why we feel the way we do.

Making a mood chart is fun and straightforward. You only have to be true to yourself and make honest notes about your feelings throughout the day. Keep aside a few minutes every day to fill in your mood journal and notice how it guides you to better self-understanding.

A Take-Home Message

The happiness that we seek outside is already there within us. All we need to do is slow down and take a moment to look for it.

Positive psychology paves the way for us to pause and appreciate the wonders that are already in our lives. It does not contradict or contrast traditional mental health practices but rather complements them by changing our thoughts and actions for the better (Ben-Shahar, 2007).

The goal of any positive intervention is to explore the three regimes of happiness – the short-term pleasures, the joy from connecting with others, and deriving happiness from attaining a deeper meaning of life. No matter what interventions we practice and what kind of therapy we choose for ourselves, positive psychology shows us how to “Be filled with wonder, and touched by peace.”

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.


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  1. Lily

    Hi Madhuleena…I just love your article. It is very informative and interesting

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    Very useful~


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