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5.22.2016

Guest Post: How Positive Psychology Influenced My Life

I'm a guy, of course I don't need help with anything- least of which could be found in a self-help book. But I was stuck in a dead-end job and had just gone through a tough breakup, and when a friend recommended that I read a book on positive psychology, I reluctantly agreed. 

It turned out to be exactly what I needed at that point in my life.

For most of history psychology focused on explaining why we're so messed up and fixing the bad stuff, but positive psychology challenges that psychology should just as much be a study of how humans flourish and how to get more of that. Okay, so happiness is scientific and you can improve upon your own happiness? Now I'm listening. 

I became hooked on positive psychology books, particularly those by the pioneers of this movement Martin Seligman and Mihaly CsikszentmihalyiPositive pyschology, essentially, is the scientific study of what makes life worth living. Humans flourish not only when they have deep personal relationships but also when they are fully engaged in meaningful pursuits. But what are meaningful pursuits?

Csikszentmihalyi coined the term 'flow' to assert that humans are most engaged in activities where their level of skill is matched by the level of difficulty, with the proper feedback systems to measure performance and provide clear goals. Do something too simple and you'll get bored and feel empty (think four-hour TV bender), do something too difficult and you'll get too frustrated (ever try to figure out quantum physics?). Something really fun with no feedback system to measure your progress or provide clear goals will eventually bore you and you'll give up at some point. 

He uses the term 'flow' because in describing when people felt the best, they would over and over say that they felt like they were 'in the zone'. Time doesn't matter, you're lost in some activity, fully engaged...just flowing. Hmm, yea I'd like more of that please. 

How was I exerting my physical and mental energy every day? I found that I needed to make some changes in my life and get myself into flow, but I hated my job, remember? I couldn't change my job right away, but I could change how I approached many tasks, turning monotonous responsibilities into flow activities, creating mini challenges and setting different goals- or at least only until I could go home to figure out how to get a new job! 

Many cultures today promote (at least implicitly, if not explicitly) that the path to happiness involves getting more, faster, bigger and better, etc. More money, bigger apartment, more gadgets and toys will make you happy. Positive psychology studies have found that beyond our basic needs being met, many good things in our lives may initially cause a spike in happiness but we’ll eventually return to our happiness set point. Did that last promotion solve all of your life problems or did getting married cure everything that you felt you were lacking while being single? Ever wonder why people with seemingly much less than you could appear happier than you? They likely have much higher happiness set points. 

You can run in the rat race all you’d like and you may appear to be winning, but happiness in our daily lives is much more affected by the quality of our experiences and the depth of our relationships. 

Finding Flow to me meant spending much less time watching TV and wasting time on the computer, and more time learning and applying the positive psychology principles and even looking to start a business. More importantly, I realized that my Christian faith and positive psychology weren't mutually exclusive and I was energized knowing that I can live a life fully engaged while living for something much larger than myself.

I'll leave you with the following to think about:

Do you ever spend time in Flow? How does it feel?

Do you know your happiness set point? What changes can you make today to have more rewarding experiences in your personal and professional lives?

If you’d like to know more about positive psychology, get lost in some of my favorites: Flourish by Martin E. P. Seligman, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, The Law of Happiness: How Spiritual Wisdom and Modern Science Can Change Your Life (The Secret Things of God) by Dr. Henry Cloud and for full mind-blown mode after you read Flow, pick up Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Andrew is a born-and-bred New Yorker and has been working in the finance sector for over a decade. He enjoys travelling the world with his wife and spending time with his family. 

2 comments

  1. two thumbs up to this post!

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    1. Thanks Pat! We've had lots of positive feedback so now I'm trying to get him to write a second post hehe ;)

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