Problem psychology reinforces the notion that we are tragically flawed bundles of neurosis incapable of getting “well” unless we dedicate ourselves to years of psychotherapy to peel through multiple layers of dysfunction. Some people suffer from a host of mental illnesses, no argument there. But the premise of problem psychology is that WE ARE ALL SICK, and we can get better if we keep chipping away at our problems day after day.
That image is rather discouraging, don’t you think? I mean, what’s the prize for your efforts at the end of life? The hope that after years you might SUCK LESS?
The PROBLEM with problem psychology, of course, is its focus on the negative. Negative thoughts are easy, like trying to get a teenage to think about sex. Yeah, it’s not a hard sell. It’s too easy to find flaws in ourselves–as well as in everyone and everything around us–if that’s where we choose to look.
Martin Seligman changed how people think of psychology. Seligman desired to move people away from the traditional view of psychology (a twead-jacketed, graying man with a pipe who said stuff like “Lie down on the couch, and tell me why you hate your mother”), and so he created a movement known today as positive psychology. Instead of studying pathologically depressed or “sick” people, Seligman and his colleagues studied healthy people. Instead of focusing on broken people, he studied happy people.
Seligman concluded that happy people found ways to “nurture genius and talent” in order “to make normal life more fulfilling.” His P.E.R.M.A. acronym gives a snapshot of where happy people focus their energy:
- Positive emotion / simple Pleasures – Finding and enjoying simple pleasures make us happy.
- Engagement – Whenever possible, perform tasks by using your areas of highest strengths. Engaging in things we do well that are also challenging for us brings us happiness.
- Relationships – Enjoying deep, meaningful, and personal relationships contribute to happiness.
- Meaning – Being part of something bigger than yourself makes us happier than if we just live for ourselves or live for the moment.
- Achievement – People tend to be happier when they accomplish tangible goals. High performance creates happiness!
My next blog will focus on one small element of Positive emotion / simple Pleasures. In the meantime, take a minute to complete a free, on-line survey to find out your AUTHENTIC HAPPINESS SCORE. I’d love to hear what you learn about yourself!