The Benefits of Positive Psychology for Your Mental Well-Being

By Angela Tague in Healthy Feeling

Need a boost in confidence and self-esteem? It's possible to hush the harsh self-talk and negative perceptions of ourselves by focusing on the positive potential that we all naturally have deep within.

The benefits of positive psychology have personally helped me navigate multiple stressful life moments over the past few years, from grieving the loss of my grandmother to handling an unexpected move to a new home. Maybe this form of mental health awareness and healing can help you, too.

artwork that says choose joy

What Is Positive Psychology?

"Don't worry, be happy" may be a popular song lyric turned motivational expression, but it's true that adjusting our mindsets can be an effective way to find satisfaction in our days.

Positive psychology is "the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive," according to the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center (PPC). The core principle is promoting mental health awareness through the pursuit of well-being, happiness, mindfulness, forgiveness, and a stronger psyche.

This differs from other schools of thought that focus purely on treating existing mental health concerns. But make no mistake, both proactive and reactive options are needed to balance our overall mental wellness.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the term "positive psychology" was established by former APA President Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., and Claremont Graduate University psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D. in 1998. Since then, many schools and organizations have applied this approach to their health and wellness programming, including the United States Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program.

Benefits of Positive Psychology

You may have heard the happiness tip to think of three things you're grateful for when you're stuck on a negative thought. That mindset shift was borne from Seligman's research, as the APA explains. When practiced, it helps to foster an intuitive resistance to adversity. In short, we learn how to handle the hard stuff in life with more grace and less stress. Researchers directed by Seligman at the PPC have also found that using positive psychology with children, adolescents, and young adults can help to prevent depression and anxiety.

The PPC says it focuses its teachings on what makes life worth living, how to lead a meaningful life, and how to cultivate the best within ourselves all while enhancing our experiences in relationships, work, and recreation. In turn, this heals psychological damage, allowing people to reach their full potential.

The organization relies on three pillars:

  • Positive Experiences: This focuses on understanding positive emotions and our level of contentment with the past, how happy we are in the present, and how we view hope for the future.
  • Positive Individual Traits: This identifies and studies our strengths, such as compassion, resilience, self-control, and our capacity to love.
  • Positive Institutions: This component looks closely at how to strengthen our communities through attributes such as responsibility, justice, purpose, and teamwork.

Note that this therapeutic model doesn't necessarily work for everyone. Speaking with a mental health professional can help you discover the best ways to improve your mental health based on where you're at right now. We all interpret the information we gather in our lives through a lens of past experiences and learned values, making each of us unique in how we respond to psychology techniques.

writing in a journal

How to Practice Positive Psychology

You can test the waters with positive psychology at home to see if it might be a good way to boost your emotional well-being.

In the second part of my three-part series on mindfulness, I shared insight on becoming more fully present through breath work, guided meditations, daily affirmations, and mindful movement, such as yin yoga. All of these activities would fall under the umbrella of at-home ways to nurture a self-guided positive psychology practice.

Here are a few more ideas from Harvard Medical School to explore:

  • Name your top five strengths. What do you excel at? Parenting? Organizing? Gardening? Singing? Try to actively incorporate your strengths into each day in small ways. And yes, singing in the car counts.
  • Practice gratitude. At the end of the day, say out loud or write three good things that happened during your day. Think about why they happened, and reflect on the good!
  • Write a letter. Put pen to paper and explain to someone special why you appreciate them or something they've said or done. Then, read the letter to them over the telephone or in person.
  • Make an "I did it" list. Write down the things you've accomplished this week on a piece of paper to see at a glance how far you've come. This to-do list in reverse programs our brains to recognize and celebrate achievements.

By integrating positive psychology into your daily routine, you'll naturally begin focusing your thoughts on your strengths and positive life experiences, which will in turn elevate your confidence and overall satisfaction. Have you discovered the benefits of positive psychology?

Discover more ways to nurture your mental well-being on the Yoga and Mindfulness board from @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

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Why It's Good

Being proactive about your mental health by taking control of your thoughts is admirable. The more we care for ourselves, the better parents, partners, and friends we can be to others. Positive psychology focuses on nurturing the good within us to help support confidence and boost our satisfaction with life.