By: Dr. Francesca Vazquez
When speaking about positive psychology, there is one person with the biggest influence in the field: Dr. Martin Seligman. He is a psychologist at University of Pennsylvania, the director of the Positive Psychology Center in Philadelphia, PA and a pioneer in the field of positive psychology. According to Dr. Seligman, positive psychology (in contrast to clinical psychology) shows us techniques on how to cultivate strengths instead of focus on our weaknesses. The main focus of positive psychology is on personal growth rather than on pathology and mental illness.
Research in Positive Psychology focuses on those who are above average and studies how exactly they overcame their negative emotions and reached their fullest potential. The goal is to bring the whole average up by using techniques known to help boost our brain power, acquire mental wellness and build resiliency.
Ten percent of our long-term happiness lies in our external world, while 90 percent of it lies in how our brain processes it. In order to process it in a way that serves us, we must first work on becoming more optimistic (a skill that can be acquired and learned). Research shows, optimism is likely the main culprit behind a happy life. There are different ways to train our brain to become more positive.
According to positive psychologists, these are the (science-backed) habits found to be capable of rewiring the brain to become more optimistic:
1.Write down 3 new things you’re grateful for at the end of the day
At the end of the day, take time to list 3 positive things that happened or 3 things you are grateful for. Evolutionary wise, we are wired to be pessimists. We are wired for survival based on our ancestors needs. Now a days, this skill is no longer that necessary yet our brain is still behaving as if it were. By engaging in this simple habit, we are training our brains to scan the world for the positive rather than the negative, ultimately becoming more optimistic.
2.Journaling about one positive experience
Journaling about a positive experience (rather than a negative one) helps your brain and body re-experience a happy emotion and let it sink in. The brain can't tell the difference between reality and what is imagined. So, letting a positive emotion pass through your senses fully by re-experiencing it, will release feel good hormones and ease symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Exercise has a physiological impact on both our brain and body. It protects the brain against the effects of stress by making us more resilient and better able to handle stressful emotions. By exercising, we are also increasing the amount of feel good hormones in the brain, something that over time helps you see the world in a different light.
In order to become optimistic, we must first learn how to be present. It's the foundation for changing our existing thought patterns. If we are experiencing a "monkey mind", its hard to become an optimist. Meditation helps us focus and increases our attention span. It helps us overcome the ADD we've grown accustomed to and teaches us how to select our thoughts, the same way we select our clothes every morning.
5.Increase flow experiences
Flow experiences are a staple in positive psychology research. These flow experiences are not feelings but rather a state of being created by activities that you enjoy. During a flow experience, you are challenged yet relaxed. It is the optimal state of being and like with meditation, you become submerged in the present moment. Anything that fully engages your senses can create this experience. There is no "one size fits all" flow experience and you must take time to reconnect or pin-point what brings out this state in you. Examples could include: surfing, dancing, rock-climbing, running, cooking, competitive sports, painting, ceramics, etc. Overtime, the more you submerge yourself in this state, the more you are able to train your brain to work for you, rather than against you.
6.Random acts of kindness
Engage in at least one random act of kindness a day. Example: Write one positive email to someone you love, give someone a gift for no reason, help someone who can never repay you. Random acts of kindness release feel good hormones, helping you achieve mental wellness and train the optimist in you.
Photography above source: Free People Blog