Health is more than the absence of illness. Maybe you’ve heard this before maybe you haven’t but the field of positive psychology is based on this premise: the absence of illness may be normal, or average, or the status quo but it is not health or well-being. Well-being and health are so much more. Well-being is characterized by happiness, strong connected relationships, physical fitness, the presence of positive emotions, even resilience in the face of troubles. The theory behind positive psychology suggests that there is no upper limit to doing well in life. We can just keep on developing our strengths, developing new coping mechanisms, and stronger relational bonds.
As a therapist I routinely help my clients obtain relief from their symptoms of depression and anxiety, or help them develop better, healthier ways of relating to others but once that is all done I send them on their way. I don’t generally coach them toward optimal functioning, toward flourishing. They hopefully develop strategies and skills to aide them in that once they leave but often times I suspect they don’t. Positive psychology experts, speakers, and coaches help people live their best life, focusing on their strengths and truly thriving in work, hobbies, and relationships.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who said that she has been taking care of a family full of alcoholics and addicts with diffuse boundaries for most of her life and just in the last few years has she started to develop healthy boundaries, making new relationships where there is give and take, and experiencing true and genuine caring for her needs. She had survived all those years but never truly thrived, never really felt whole, and complete.
I hope you are now asking, “Ok, so what is thriving?” Thriving is living out your strengths, the presence of positive emotions ( did you know it takes three positive emotions to every one negative emotion to experience flourishing), savoring life experiences, practicing gratitude, developing relationships that will stand the test of time, and much more. About half of our happiness is due to genetic influences, 10% to our circumstances, and the remaining 40% is due to our own intentional activity. I found all of this so compelling that I created a Positive Psychology (PSY262) course for the district in which I teach my students how to live with a focus on intentionally engaging in activities that will bring out their best.
If you would like more information about how to live a flourishing life, I recommend the following resources from the thought leaders in the field. I wish you a life well-lived. Genny
Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Authentic Happiness. New York: Free Press.
Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish. New York: Free Press.
Frederickson, B.L. (2009). Positivity. New York: Three Rivers.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The How of Happiness. New York: Penguin.
Welcome to the Happiness Studies Blog!
Genny L. Gaustad MC, LPC, NCC - As a counselor, educator Genny has developed an interest in positive psychology as a means of empowering people to live their best life. Genny is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Tempe, AZ, teaches at Mesa Community College, and speaks and conducts workshops on topics including positive psychology and relationship enhancement.