The application of Positive Psychology is not limited to families, individuals, and schools, as discussed earlier in this Perspectives series, but also includes our workplaces. Positive Psychology is the movement that focuses on what helps us be better, happier, productive, and fulfilled. Historically, psychology has focused on what isn’t going well instead of looking at and promoting the things that we do well. It’s a focus on health instead of illness. It’s the idea of helping people flourish in their lives, instead of merely avoiding miserable experiences. Research into happiness has divided it into three separate sections. The first is pleasure or fun. The second is flow, or engagement in what you are doing (ever lost track of time while working on a project- that’s flow). The third and most powerful and lasting way to be happy is meaning, which consists of making the world a better place.
Most of us spend a large portion of our lives in a workplace- likely as many waking hours at work as at home with the exception of weekends or days off. What if going to our job contributed to our sense of well-being and we looked forward to it? If you are like me, you might not have carte blanche to pursue pleasure while at work, however, we do have control over which aspects of it we focus our attention. The Positive Psychology website (http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/) contains many questionnaires and resources, including the Brief Strengths Questionnaire. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, tells a story of one of his students who hated her job as a bagger in a grocery store. However, one of her areas of strength was social interactions, and so she focused on making her interaction with customers the highlight of both their days which contributed to a greater degree of meaning and engagement in her work. When I took the Brief Strengths Questionnaire, one of my areas of strength was “love of learning”, so in my job I could savour the opportunities for research or professional development, or helping young people research skill-building.
Positive Psychology identifies that we can cultivate a good life by identifying our signature strengths and then re-crafting our work experiences (as much as we are able- every job contains responsibilities that are a chore or drudgery- but amplifying the positive aspects can help us enjoy the overall experience to a greater degree). If you are comparing your lackluster day-to-day with the glamour of lives on television, the good news is that Positive Psychology research has found that pleasure and fun is fleeting without long-term gain. But, helping others and doing good deeds has a lasting impact on our happiness. Life satisfaction is connected understanding your individual strengths, and using them in the service of something greater than you as an individual.
Marie Amos, MA, RCC, is a Mental Health Therapist with Child and Youth Mental Health of MCFD, Chilliwack.