Positive psychology is the scientific study of strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is based on the belief that people want to lead meaningful lives, cultivate what is best from within themselves and to enhance their experience of work, love and play.
Mindfulness is one of the powerful tools in the positive psychology toolkit, because evidence demonstrates a link between mindfulness practice and levels of deeper wellbeing.
Psychology traditionally studied people’s problems. Psychologists were interested in reducing human misery. This is certainly not a bad thing and has resulted in a number of mental illnesses now being treatable. Through evidence-based talking therapies and sometimes drugs, psychology has helped people to reduce their suffering.
The problem is that in their rush to help suffering people, psychologists forgot about how to help human beings have flourishing lives. So psychologists can try to help move people from unhappy to neutral, but they haven’t considered how to go from neutral to flourishing. If you drive a car, you know that you can’t get very far in neutral! Positive psychologists focus on helping people thrive.
The 3 ways to happiness
Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
Maximizing the amount of pleasure you experience leads to some feelings of happiness. Eating your favorite chocolate, going out to watch a film, or going shopping are all examples of seeking pleasure. Being grateful for the experiences you’re having or have had can help to enhance the happy experience and make it more long lasting.
Pleasant experiences make you feel happy temporarily, but if you keep repeating them they become unpleasant. For example, eating one bar of chocolate is delicious, but not 100 bars of chocolate!
Engagement or flow
With flow, you give 100 per cent of your attention to and are at one with whatever you’re doing, whether pleasurable or not. Flow usually requires some effort on your part. The activity involved is just challenging enough to hold your relaxed attention.
Living a meaningful life involves knowing your values and using them in the service of something larger than yourself. We live in an individualistic society, and the word “service” isn’t often thought to be attractive. However, helping others is often found to be the core ingredient for a happy, fulfilling life.
Don’t worry: you don’t necessarily have to change your job or lifestyle to lead a meaningful life. If you’re a lawyer who wants to make as much money as possible, that severely limits your overall sense of happiness. The same work can offer more meaning, with the right motivation. Justice, equality, the inner desire to help others – all give you a much greater sense of meaning and purpose in such a career.
Other ways of creating greater meaning include volunteer work or joining a religious or spiritual group. Simply performing acts of kindness wherever you can gives life greater meaning. You don’t have to make a massive world-changing difference: cracking jokes with friends, making tea for everyone at the office or organizing a group holiday all count, if they are important values to you.
For example, some of core values of mindfulness practitioners are courageous compassion, creativity, fun and truth. Then consider an area in your life where you wish to achieve a goal, like, for example, going on a date. Then take some time to consider which value you’d like to apply to your goal. So let’s say it’s creativity and fun.
So you could ask someone if they’d like to go on a date to somewhere fun. In that way, you’ll be motivated to achieve your goal and more likely to have a nice time, because it truly likes up with fun, something you value. Chose a domain of your life and have a go. This is a mindful and reflective way to take action to move towards a more fulfilling life.