Professor Lea Waters, director of the Centre for Positive Psychology at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at Melbourne Uni, was struck by the realisation that she knew what to do when her son was suffering, but not how to help him make the most of good times. That thought inspired her to explore the nearly two-decade-old field of positive psychology.
“It’s a field of science that seeks to understand the strengths and positive qualities of human nature,” Waters says. “Where it’s unique is that most of psychology is seeking to understand what can go wrong with us, in order to help heal us. Positive psychology asks a different question: ‘what can go right with us?’
‘Do something for someone else. The research clearly shows that the best way to make yourself feel happy is to do something that makes someone else feel happy’
It’s more about working with the people who are psychologically well, but exploring what can psychology do to help the people who are already doing well do better.”
The theory behind positive psychology is that if we understand our strengths and good qualities, we can use them more consciously to equip ourselves to weather life’s vicissitudes.
“The science has shown that when we experience positive emotions, we think more expansively,” Waters says. “One of the benefits of this is that when we’re confronted with a problem, because we’re thinking more widely, more laterally, we’re giving ourselves a better intellectual chance to solve the problem. Positive emotions give you perspective.”
Waters’ tips on how to incorporate positive psychology into your life
– Have a daily gratitude practice – train your brain to notice the good things in your life – especially the small stuff.
– Turn off the nighttime news.
– Find out what your character strengths are. Know them more concretely and use them intentionally.
– Do something for someone else. The research clearly shows that the best way to make yourself feel happy is to do something that makes someone else feel happy.
– Be a positive detective – deliberately look for good qualities in other people and share those stories with the people you know.
– Find out what makes you feel good – whether it’s music, cooking, being with friends or watching movies or funny Youtube clips – give yourself permission to say it’s OK for me to do things that deliberately make me feel good. It’s not trivial. It’s self-care.
Go to the Centre for Positive Psychology for its schedule of public lectures than run throughout the year.