Even today, many therapies focus mainly on what is wrong. Thus a lot of knowledge has been accumulated about the negative that surrounds people. But little attention has been paid to the strengths of people that allow them to be in a state of well being. To get better, it is also necessary to understand what makes people feel good.
1. What is positive psychology?
Positive psychology was founded by Martin Seligman. Different from positive thinking, which has not been scientifically proven, positive psychology is a psychology based on scientific research. It invites the person to train their mind.
Positive psychology is the psychology of “what goes well”, it is the study of well-being. This psychology is there to account for the fact that it is indeed important to understand and respond to the problems of patients, but it is just as important to highlight the strengths, the qualities of what makes life “worth living”. What enables us to achieve well-being? Positive psychology is intended to promote positive attitudes.
For positive psychology it is therefore important to work on the strengths and values of people.
Values have an important place in positive psychology. Values represent a “contract with oneself”. From our values will flow our actions. They represent what is important to us. They guide us and allow us to find the motivation to perform certain tasks. When we perform behaviours that are in line with our values, a sense of fulfilment and self-fulfilment will be all the more important. These are sources of well-being and happiness.
Positive psychology is not about living in a carefree world where everything is nice and pretty. Rather, it is about accepting one’s emotions, a certain realism and resilience (which is the ability to overcome traumatic shocks for example). So the aim is to adopt new attitudes in the face of difficulties that may come our way.
2. The importance of character strengths
Another concept that is very important in positive psychology is the concept of strength. We all have strengths of character. These strengths are what allow us to behave, think or feel in the most optimal way possible to promote good functioning. After several studies, authors have managed to identify 24 character strengths divided into 6 categories of virtues.
- Wisdom and knowledge
Curiosity and interest in the world
Love of learning
Judgement, critical thinking, open-mindedness
Ingenuity, originality, practical intelligence
Insight, hindsight, perspective
Value and bravery
Perseverance, assiduity, diligence
Integrity, Authenticity, Sincerity
- Humanity and love
Love and attachment
Kindness and generosity
Team spirit, sense of duty, loyalty
Sense of command: leadership
Humility and modesty
Prudence, discretion, precaution
Appreciation of beauty and excellence
Hope, optimism and future orientation
Joy and humour
Spirituality, search for the meaning of life, faith, religiosity
These strengths are an important factor in our development. Calling on them allows us to enjoy ourselves and to have greater satisfaction.
3. Factors promoting optimism, motivation and satisfaction
In positive psychology, there are 5 fundamental pillars that are combined in a model, the PERMA model. In this model, we find the main components that enable us to participate in well-being.
- P for positive emotions: in this category we find the different positive emotions that can lead to well-being. For example, we find pleasure, comfort, warmth, interest… It is necessary to pay more attention to the positive emotions in our daily life.
- E for Engagement: it is the fact of living optimal experiences, also called flows. To do this, we will carry out tasks in which we feel totally absorbed, to the point of losing track of time. There is a total commitment to this activity. These are activities that call on our skills (e.g. playing music). They will allow us to bring out positive emotions but also to bring out additional skills.
- R for relationships, i.e. positive social relationships: Happiness is not individualistic but also depends on our relationships with others. Humans are fundamentally social animals. These relationships can make us feel more secure, through support in difficult times.
- M for meaning: the aim is to find meaning in one’s life. To give meaning, it may be important to be part of something bigger than ourselves. That is to say, to serve a cause that is greater than ourselves and that matters to us.
- A for Accomplishment: the feeling of accomplishment has an important place in well-being. Indeed, it is important to have personal goals to achieve. Set a goal and do everything to achieve it. It is necessary to take the time to realise how far you have come and how much you have gained by achieving this goal. It is important to have successes in one’s life in order to be able to develop fully.
This model allows us to refer to it in order to move more and more towards well-being. It is important to be aware of this model in order to apply its various recommendations. It is also necessary to pay attention to positive emotions, to find and participate in activities that make us fully happy, to pay attention to positive social relationships with our loved ones. It is also necessary to pay attention to the meaning we want to give to our life and to the goals we want to achieve.
4. The use of positive psychology in virtual reality exposure therapy
The understanding of positive psychology and the tools used in it have enriched cognitive behavioural therapy. Thus, in the pursuit of positive psychology, during virtual reality exposures, the therapist will lead the patient to focus on the positive contributions of the exposures as well as the positive emotions.
Virtual Reality Exposure Therapies will advise exercises to be carried out between sessions in order to continue the patient’s evolution. Among these exercises, the psychologist can explain and advise on the use of positive psychology exercises.
5. Examples of positive psychology exercises
Some simple exercises that have proven to be effective:
- Every day, take some time at the end of the day to write down the positive things about your day in a notebook. The idea is to try to find 3. These can range from important events to much smaller events that brought positive emotions at the time (e.g. an interesting discussion with someone, a good meal…).
- In the same vein, rather than writing down positive things about your day, you can focus your writing on your successes during the day. All those little victories, those little things in your day that you managed to accomplish (e.g. I got my papers in order; I took the time to prepare my meals for the week…)
- As we have seen in the PERMA model, it is important to do activities that we enjoy and can fully immerse ourselves in. For example, you can make a list of activities that you would like to do. Then plan these activities in your diary!
- Now that you have identified your strengths, choose one each day or week and try to put it into action.
Practice mindfulness exercises whenever you can, which allows you to be in the here and now.