Positive Psychology for Communities (Vrunda Chauk)

Applied Positive Psychology Research / Positive Psychology in Practice

This guest entry is from Vrunda Chauk, who is studying for a Post-Graduate Diploma in Applied Positive Psychology. Vrunda is also a student member of the Positive Psychology Guild (PPG) and an advocate for Positive Psychology in communities. Her reflections below remind us that Positive Psychology starts with a shift in perspective and paying attention to the nature of our thoughts.

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What impact would you like to have on your community through the application of Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology, wow! When I hear this word I think about all the good things in my life. How┬áI was able to achieve better relationships and gain clarity about the world around me by practicing small happiness habits. Most of the time, I realised, we’re so caught up in our own bubble of overthinking, negative thoughts and all. We don’t really take time to notice what is positive, even if it is right in front of us. We have this habit of noticing and reacting only to the negative, most alarming circumstances.

It takes effort to look at the bright side. Positive psychology taught me how to do just that.

I remember the day when I had just started doing the Three Blessings exercise. I did not feel extremely good that day right after doing it, but after a week when I sat down to read what I had written I realised my week went well. In fact, much better than I had expected. Doing this exercise also changed my perspective to look at things. Now I notice the positive side first. (because I need to have something to write in my journal at the end of the day!) I found this habit is very helpful – noticing the positive things around you. I am not a very optimistic person “genetically”. I used to notice negative thoughts first and then I indulged myself in overthinking and overanalyzing and I felt sad for days. To be honest I still struggle with keeping a positive attitude, but now I have help. I know what to do. As a result, I function much better now as compared to how I did earlier.

The first time when I came to know about Loving Kindness meditation I was amazed, because I had read about all its positive effects (e.g. less self criticism, more positive emotions, reduced pain symptoms, more resilience…etc). I wondered how a simple meditation could make such effective changes in our life. I wasn’t interested in meditation at all before this. But the moment I did Loving Kindness meditation I was like – woah! I feel so kind and compassionate towards people after doing this… no wonder it has such a strong impact. And now I’m doing this meditation for a week and I am feeling better. I notice that I feel more positive emotions, just by caring for others well-being and wishing them well.

My relationships have improved, with my friends and family. Just by giving Active Constructive Response I felt I was making them happier and I continued doing so. And that simple act helped to strengthen our relationship. It’s wonderful how these little changes can bring more positive emotions in our relationships.

When I talk about these positive psychology interventions with my friends they are filled with awe and they wish they would’ve learnt this in school or knew this earlier. I agree. That’s the reason I want my legacy to be as someone who helped people learn and apply Positive Psychology concepts. I want people to remember me as someone who helped others achieve wellbeing and live happier and better lives.

What positive psychology has done for me and helped me achieve, I want to spread that knowledge to my community. I want to show them through my actions and explain in an interesting way the research behind this and teach them how to create simple habits to lead a better, happier life.

There isn’t much awareness about the need of wellbeing in our Asian culture. Even when Mental Health Awareness is taking long to make its impact in different cultures, wellbeing is even distant. People don’t really think that they could be happier by practicing meditation and stuff, they are not even willing to do the practices. But this needs to be changed. Ways to achieve Wellbeing should be taught even at school level and should be presented in an appealing way to teenagers.

My friend’s dad works for long hours in the office. When he comes home he is very tired. He has even started looking older than he actually is. He seems to experience a lot of stress and strain at the workplace. They don’t get much family time and she wishes her dad would spend more time with them and less at work. He needs positive psychology too.

As people spend so much of their time at the workplace, the environment there needs to be positive and constructive. But most of the time it’s stressful and draining. To boost productivity and increase wellbeing and happiness levels of employees, they need to be taught simple habits that can lead to an increase in levels of their happiness.

In a 2009 Gallup poll of more than 1,000 U.S. employees, they found that employees felt more engaged in their work when they used their strengths to achieve outcomes. Managers who focus on the strengths of team members were found to experience better team performance and greater overall success.

Various researchers have found that positive emotions boost job performance. One surprising finding of Positive Psychology research is that – Feeling happy and experiencing positive emotions can actually increase our chances of success (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005).

Students of positive psychology should be encouraged to pursue it further as a good career option. Companies need to understand the importance of creating mental health and wellbeing for their employees and be willing to employ positive psychology professionals.

Schools need to encourage the spread of positive education. They should focus on strengths-based approaches to educate students and help them achieve their highest potential. Instead of focusing on what is lacking in the student and trying to correct it, it would be much helpful if they focus on her strengths and encourage her to pursue a career of her choice.

Students also need to understand that they don’t need to postpone happiness until they “achieve” something. They can be happy now as well as in future. There are many misconceptions related to happiness and wellbeing that should be debunked. They need to realise how simple it can be to be happy and live a fulfilling life.

I think it all starts with schools. That’s how we shape the next generation. Positive education is not a luxury, it is a need. It is the need of the hour. With so many teenagers these days experiencing depression, addiction of social media, loneliness and many other problems, they need to know how to deal with these common struggles.

The Strath Haven Positive Psychology Curriculum was created by Martin Seligman and his research team. At Strath Haven High School they randomly assigned 347 ninth-grade students to language and arts classes. Half of those classes incorporated the positive psychology curriculum, the other half did not. The two main goals of the program were –

  1. To help students identify their signature character strengths
  2. To increase their use of those strengths in their daily lives.

In addition to these goals, the intervention strives to promote resilience, positive emotion, meaning and purpose and positive social relationships.

The findings of this program were that it increased students’ enjoyment and engagement in school. It also improved the strengths of curiosity, love of learning and creativity by the reports of teachers who did not know whether the students were in a positive psychology group or control group.

Increasing wellbeing did not undermine the traditional goals of classroom learning, rather it enhanced them.

Positive psychology can help people of any age to live better and happier lives. We need to make efforts to spread this knowledge and impact as many people as we can.

This is what we need to aim for – to create a society where everyone helps and supports each other’s creation of happiness, where humanity thrives and which leads to wellbeing and peace in a nation.

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References

  1. Ben-Shahar, T., & Ridgway, A. (2017). The Joy of Leadership. Hoboken: Wiley
  2. Loving Kindness Meditation https://youtu.be/sz7cpV7ERsM
  3. Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener (2005). ‘The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success?’ Psychological Bulletin, 131:6, pp. 803-855.
  4. Seligman, M. (2013). Flourish. New York: Free Press.
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