What is Positive Psychology?

The Psyche
What is Positive Psychology? Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Positive psychology offers an alternative to the mental illness model.

Traditional mental health services focus on a deficit model. Initially, only two categories of mental illness were identified. Over time additional “mental illnesses” have been identified and described. Today the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual fifth edition) lists over four hundred separate recognized mental illnesses. It also provides for at least another four hundred possible conditions that can be diagnosed.

There are many counseling theories that seek to explain what causes these mental illnesses and how they can be treated. With all this focus on what’s wrong with people, there has been very little focus on the positive end of the spectrum until recently. Not enough attention has been paid to what people should do to have a happy, contented, or flourishing life.

Physical health and mental health are organized differently.

Increasingly physical health systems are recognizing the importance of treating chronic illnesses. Preventative care has become a significant part of physical health programs. Mental health continues to be provided only to severely ill clients. With very few exceptions, you will need to be extremely “mentally ill” for insurance companies to pay for treatment. The primary focus is on treating mental illness rather than promoting mental health.

Positive psychology examines positive experiences.

Positive psychology is a separate branch of psychology that began about twenty years ago when Martin Seligman became president of the American Psychological Association and chose positive psychology as his presidency’s theme. The new positive psychology movement builds on numerous past philosophers and psychotherapists. What was new and novel about this movement was its emphasis on identifying ways to increase positive functioning rather than focusing on negative impairments.

Positive psychology emphasizes having a good life.

The “good life,” which is the focus of positive psychology, involves a great deal more than merely increasing temporary “happiness” or pleasure. I should mention here that “anhedonia or loss of pleasure” is one of the primary symptoms for the diagnosis of depression. What we do know about treating depression is that merely adding short bursts of pleasure does not cure depression. I want to talk more about pleasure, happiness, and the many pathways for reaching a good life in future posts.

How many strengths do you have?

One of the things many counselors and therapists are told to do is identify the client’s strengths and encourage people to use those strengths to improve their mental health. What is often missing from that training is any comprehensive list of strengths or ways to identify the client’s strengths. My experience has been that people who have severe mental illness, anxiety, and depression often have difficulty identifying any strengths they may have.

In 2004 Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman wrote a book which, at over 700 pages, is a very comprehensive compilation of characteristics that are pretty much universally accepted as desirable personality traits. The title of the book was Character Strengths and Virtues. Much of the research in the field of positive psychology is based on this classification system. Unfortunately, defining universal characteristics using words can lead to a lot of misunderstandings.

I remember a very long time ago in elementary school when we were taught how to have “good character.” Those values primarily involved being honest, truthful, and compliant with rules. People who disagreed with authority were thought of as having “bad character.” Virtues, of course, at least back then, took on the connotation of being morally right or wrong.

Neither of those interpretations appears to me to be the things Peterson and Seligman meant by using the words strengths and virtues. Their usage describes characteristics of people’s personalities that were both useful and beneficial to that person.

The book lists twenty-four character-strengths divided into six general categories of “virtues.” For example, the virtue of “wisdom” consists of the character strengths of creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, and perspective. I have spent the last few weeks reading research articles on a couple of these character strengths. As I’m able to digest this information, I plan to write some additional blog posts this year about what’s been learned about these character strengths and how you might utilize and cultivate those strengths.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seems like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Has happiness alluded you?

Happy faces
Happiness. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Happiness has three essential parts.

The statistics tell us that depression is at an all-time high. Recent events have harmed almost everyone’s life. But even when times are good, depression is a lot more common than authentic happiness. With everyone looking for happiness, why is it so difficult to find?

If you want more happiness in your life, become a happiness expert.

The human brain seems to be biased toward remembering negative, painful experiences. Remembering the bad and forgetting the good may have given humans an evolutionary advantage. Say your distant ancestors were walking through the jungle and then found some red berries on a bush. Before grocery stores and refrigeration, humans were always hungry, so your distant ancestor ate those berries. If they got sick and died from those berries – well, you wouldn’t be here, now would you? But if they ate those berries, got sick, and then recovered, they would have remembered those berries forever and avoided eating them again.

Your brain is no different than those ancestor’s brains. Something bad happens to you, and your brain doesn’t want you to ever forget that. But what about the opposite result? If that distant ancestor had eaten the red berries and enjoyed them, they may not have remembered what they look like. Just because they liked the berries once doesn’t mean they would ever encounter them again. So why use up space in memory remembering things that might not ever happen again?

It’s almost as if negative, painful experiences cut a groove into our brains, so we hold onto them forever. At the same time, happy experiences can easily slide right off your brain and disappear.

If something good happens, you need to pay attention to that happiness. If your child does something cute, or you walk by a beautiful flower, you need to stare at that positive event for perhaps as much as thirty seconds to give that information time to soak into your brain and be fully absorbed.

If you want more happiness in your life, you need to study it and become an expert on it. Unfortunately, most of us spend most of our lives studying pain and misery rather than joy and happiness. As you’re studying happiness, it’s important to realize that most experts believe there are three critical parts to having an authentically happy or, as some positive psychologists call it, a life that is flourishing and full of subjective well-being. What are the three parts to this authentically happy, flourishing life?

Pleasure is necessary, but not enough to ensure happiness.

Pleasure is essential to having a good life. Our bodies and nervous systems are designed to experience pleasure when we do things that benefit us. If you’re hungry, eating brings you pleasure. Physical affection is also a great source of pleasure. The pleasure system is designed to get humans to do more things that benefit them.

Unfortunately, pleasure by itself will not result in genuine happiness. When you engage in something pleasurable, you become satiated. Twice as much food does not make you twice as happy. To maintain the same level of happiness, humans need ever-increasing amounts of pleasure. One piece of chocolate cake is good tasting. Eating a second chocolate cake may not even be enjoyable. Eventually, you reach a point where more of a pleasurable experience doesn’t add to your happiness. So, what else is necessary for maintaining authentic happiness?

Engagement is essential for maximum happiness.

Engagement, sometimes referred to as flow, is also an essential ingredient for happiness. Engagement involves developing and using the skill of curiosity. It’s also intimately connected with the character strengths. It was initially called vitality but has been renamed zest in the more recent positive psychology research.

Vitality seems to imply both physical and emotional energy or drive. This makes sense because physical vitality and emotional zest are intimately connected. People who are in poor physical health have difficulty maintaining their zest for living. Conversely, people who lack engagement in life are at increased risk of developing many physical ailments.

Vitality or zest goes by many other names, including passion, enthusiasm, flow, or my favorite “being on the jazz.” Vitality is so connected to the use and perfection of other personality character strengths and virtues that I plan to write some posts specifically on this ingredient, which is missing from so many people’s authentically happy life.

Meaning and purpose are necessary for authentic happiness.

Regardless of how much pleasure you have for something or how enthusiastically you pursue it if when you reach your goal, it has no meaning it won’t take you to the place most of us call happiness. Positive psychology describes this state as a life that is “flourishing.” If you’d like a life that goes beyond temporary pleasure, then discovering your life’s meaning and purpose is an essential activity.

Many of the people who arrive at the counselor’s office, experiencing depression, anxiety, or another mental health issue, say they are there to “find themselves.” In the process of living life, the pain has often overwhelmed the positive. Frequently, people tried to drown their sorrows and alcohol. They may have experimented with drugs, sex, or gambling, only to find that the temporary spikes in dopamine provided by pleasure didn’t lead to authentic happiness or a life that was flourishing.

So how should you go about finding yourself? Where should you look for that meaning and purpose? Many people find the answers to those questions by doing their own personal work with the counselor. In upcoming blog posts, I want to give you some hints about ways to find yourself and discover your meaning and purpose.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seems like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Happiness.

Happy faces
Happiness. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Happiness.

Sunday Inspiration.     Post by David Joel Miller.

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”

― Abraham Lincoln

“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”

― Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Wanted to share some inspirational quotes with you.  Today seemed like a good time to do this. There are an estimated 100,000 words in the English language that are feelings related. Some emotions are pleasant, and some are unpleasant, but all feelings can provide useful information. If any of these quotes strike a chord with you, please share them.

Look at these related posts for more on this topic and other feelings.

Emotions and Feelings.

Inspiration

Happiness

Positive Psychology