Positive Psychology

What is Positive Psychology?

Many people find themselves dissatisfied after having achieved everything our society identifies as the "good things in life," namely material wealth, good looks, a swanky ride and Italian leather shoes. All of us have an inborn need to be challenged on a higher level, to use our unique strengths to give our lives a sense of meaningful purpose. Martin Seligman, founder of the Positive Psychology movement, calls this "Authentic Happiness."

Positive psychology has helped clarify the challenge of reaching these higher ideals by investigating the strengths and virtues valued across a wide range of cultures. Two leaders in Positive Psychology, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, identified the following essential character strengths:

  • Wisdom and knowledge (curiosity, love of learning, perspective);
  • Courage (valor, perseverance, integrity);
  • Love and kindness;
  • Justice (leadership, fairness, citizenship);
  • Temperance (self-control, humility, prudence);
  • Spirituality and transcendence (appreciation of beauty, hope, zest, forgiveness, and humor).

Everyone has some of these strengths in varying degrees. When we become consciously aware of our unique strengths and engage in activities that use them, we experience joy, enthusiasm, deep involvement, concentration, and flow. When individuals and couples acknowledge the strengths in their relationships, they are challenged to live up to their ideals in small ways in their daily life. These small kindnesses build a buffer of good will against life's trials and help develop of habit of forgiveness for small transgressions. Many small acts lead to something life changing: a much deeper sense of fulfillment and happiness.

Authentic Happiness can be found through any one of the following paths:

The Pleasant Life: This consists of having as many pleasures as possible along with the skills to amplify them. This kind of happiness comes from savoring life and being mindful of the simple pleasures of everyday life.

The Good Life: This consists of knowing your signature strengths, and designing a life that allows you to express your signature strengths in your loves, friendships, work, and leisure time.The good life is full of a sense of flow, or an immersion that transcends self. The Meaningful Life: This consists of using your signature strengths in the service of something larger than yourself. Finally, you can lead the Full Life, which includes them all:

The Full Life includes a positive view of the past and the future, savoring positive feelings from the pleasures of daily life, deriving abundant gratification from using your signature strengths, and using these strengths in the service of something larger than yourself.

Values as Core Attractors:

Complexity theory argues that these strengths and values serve as core attractors. "Attractors" are like magnets that attract thought-action patterns that govern how people see the world. They form the cornerstone for long-term successful relationships for individuals, families and businesses alike. They inspire people to do things that are difficult, to make commitments that require discipline, and stick to plans for the long haul.

When family's values form the heart of a business's culture, vital synergies arise. An enduring commitment to values is the greatest strength a family can bring to business ownership. Values can have great power in shaping the business's performance and results. The impact of these values changes when the attractors change. For example, an attractor can change from "money" for personal pleasure, to "money" as a contribution to a community foundation. These attractors reflect our level of conscious awareness, which can range from feelings of shame and guilt to the higher levels of compassion, love, joy and peace (Hawkins, 1998). Higher levels of consciousness exert a greater magnetic power, are more inclusive, and encompass a wider range of influence than the lower levels.

When we use our values and strengths at higher levels of consciousness they reflect higher states of well being and prosperity. At lower levels of conscious individuals many not even be aware of the higher values that can impact their lives. At Lifetree Solutions, we help individuals and families identify their core values and strengths to help raise their consciousness and promote a legacy of happier, more prosperous lives.

A True Confession

Successful Relating:
Fulfillment through Connection and Community
Alice Vlietstra, Ph.D.  Editor

February 2005

In this issue:

1. Welcome
2. A True Confession
3. Seligman’s New Story
4. Your Story
6. Announcements

1.  Welcome

The theme for the e-newsletters this year is "Creating a New Story."  Many times our feelings about our relationships are not about the actual relationship, but rather about our stories concerning those connections.  What would you say if you were to tell a story about your most successful relationship?

To give you an idea of what I am talking about, I am going to tell you a story.   It concerns a prominent leader in the field of psychology.

2. A True Confession

This is my favorite story from Martin Seligman.  It took place in his garden while he was weeding his rose bushes with his five-year-old daughter, Nikki.  Nikki was having fun throwing the newly pulled weeds into the air, all the while dancing and singing.  Seligman, very focused on clearing the area of weeds, yelled at her for messing up the garden.  Nikki walked away and came back a few minutes later saying,

"Daddy, I want to talk to you.  Do you remember before my fifth birthday?  From when I was three until when I was five, I was a whiner. I whined every day.  On my fifth birthday I decided I was not going to whine any more.  That was the hardest thing I ever have done.  And if I can stop whining, you can stop being a grouch!"

At the time, Seligman was a world famous researcher on depression,
and practiced his techniques for combating depression, called
“Learned Optimism," every day.   Despite all of his well intentioned
attempts to rid himself of his negativity, his "grouchiness" persisted.

He had to admit to himself, he really was a grouch.  Nikki’s words were
true.  His daughter had hit the nail on the head, HIS head. At that moment
Seligman decided to commit himself to a different way of relating to his
beloved daughter.  As a result of this experience, the concept of
Authentic Happiness emerged.

3. Seligman’s New Story

It became very clear to Seligman that his role in raising Nikki was not about correcting her shortcomings. He realized he had become "a walking nimbus cloud in a household radiant with sunshine."  As Nikki became aware of the negative consequences of her whining, she decided to stop it.  As Seligman became aware the negative consequences of his grouchiness, he decided not only to stop it, but to redirect his focus.  Nikki was a precocious child, socially intelligent beyond her years.  His focus on the positive aspects of her personality, he believed, would instill in her the self confidence she would need to navigate the stormy seas of life. 

I was delighted by Seligman’s touching account of his relationship with his daughter.  Both were courageous in their interactions with each other. His daughter was courageous in confronting her father and mature in her ability to see the negative consequences of her behavior. This incident helped Seligman’s relationship with his daughter and was a catalyst for the new concept of "Authentic Happiness." Their relationship became much more authentic and was based on mutual respect and admiration.    

5.  Your Story 

There is much we can learn from Seligman’s story.  You can start by thinking about your relationships in a different way before you talk about them with others.  I suggest that when you think about your painful experiences, that you consider the strengths that emerged in the process of overcoming those challenges.  Consider the joyful experiences as well.

A focus on the painful aspects of our past does not allow us to acknowledge and accept the gifts of the present. If we keep our focus on the broader, more spiritual lessons contained within our life stories, we become more authentically happy, and we will feel more connected with others and to our community.  

Warm Regards,

Dr. Alice

References:  Seligman, M. E. P.  Authentic Happiness, New York:  Free Press, 2002, pp 28-29.  

5.  Announcements

Successful Relating for Singles:  March 10 - April 17th. Grace Church, 7:00 -8:30, Call 314-291-6647, Ext 2112, to sign up.  Explore new ways to find the love of your life, and the life that you love.

Hearts Alive!  Soul Esteem Center, April 18, 25, May 2, & 9, 7:00 - 9:30 PM.  Flyer forthcoming or call 314-729-2855 for information. 

© Copyright 2005 Alice Vlietstra.  All rights reserved.

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Successful Relating
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