The conventional view of psychology is that it looks to understand people’s mental makeup to determine what is wrong with them and to use therapy to help cure them. We believe that its benefits are only applicable to the small percentage of our population which suffers from mental illness and has no value for “normal” people. It may surprise you to know that a recently developed branch of this discipline, Positive Psychology, can bring immense benefits to almost anyone.
What is Positive Psychology?
Developed as a new domain within psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1999, Positive Psychology focusses on mental aspects that help human beings live happy and fulfilling lives. The underlying concepts are based on rigorous scientific research and this should not be confused with pseudo-sciences like positive thinking, positive affirmations or similar self-help theories. It is a compliment, not a replacement, for conventional psychology.
What Are Its Key Ideas?
Positive Psychology focuses on the strengths of individual human being and how they can be developed to create happiness for yourself and for those around you. This is best exemplified by the PERMA model created by the father of Positive Psychology, Dr Martin Seligman, which is an acronym standing for:
P – Positive Emotions: You need to develop a mindset that gives you emotions like joy, satisfaction, pride, awe etc. more frequently. This can be done through mindfulness training and adopting an “attitude of gratitude” where you get joy out of the small pleasures of life. Writing a daily journal of at least three things that made you happy that day is a great exercise to develop this mindset.
E – Engagement: This happens when you are so absorbed by a task that you lose all track of time. You would experience this more often with tasks that you enjoy or excel at. Finding ways to look at a career that facilitates this would be ideal. If not, find engagement by inculcating hobbies, sports or social work in your life.
R – (Positive) Relationships: We are social creatures and rely on our relationships with others to keep us fulfilled. Interact with people around you with an attitude of adding value to their lives. You will see that they also start adding value to yours.
M – Meaning: We see so many examples of people who have sufficient money but are depressed. This is because working only for money doesn’t give meaning to your life. Living a meaningful life requires dedicating yourself to a vocation or cause bigger than yourself. Even focusing on how the job you do every day helps others could give you a sense of meaning.
A – Accomplishment: It is difficult to live a life of true happiness unless you are working towards bettering yourself or achieving goals that you’ve set. Celebrating the small victories in your life like landing a huge client, having your child win in a sports race or losing 2 kg of weight will help you get a feeling of accomplishment more frequently.
How Can Positive Psychology Help Your Child?
Now that you’ve understood the PERMA model, there are ways you can incorporate this into your parenting style to help raise a confident happy child with strong emotional intelligence.
As a starting point, try to focus on your child’s innate strengths instead of their weaknesses. Have high expectations of her and reward her with praise if she achieves something after working at it. If she fails at something, do not run her down but give her love and specific feedback on what she can do to succeed at that task in future. All praise or feedback should be authentic and specific to the task at hand. Eg. Don’t say “you are so intelligent”, rather say that “this math exercise was difficult, but I’m glad you worked hard to solve it”.
Look for other ways to develop their character. For example, when watching a movie together you can ask questions that make them reflect on character strengths & weaknesses like “Do you think that______did the right thing when he did_______?”.
If your child confesses something bad she did like getting into a fight in school or stealing something from a friend, you should listen in a non-judgmental way and ask her what she can do to make it up to the person she hurt. If your child is cleaning out her cupboard, ask her if she would like to donate some of her very old clothes to the less fortunate.
There are many other ways you can apply the principles of Positive Psychology to help your child’s development. However, it is also important that you must model this behaviour yourself, as a child is more likely to emulate what you do rather than just follow your instructions on how they should act.
As parents we always want our child to be happy. With the tools of positive psychology, we can help our child’s happiness be dependent on themselves rather than depend on others to make them happy!
The writer is the Managing Director of The Shahani group.