Positive Psychology

In this introduction to positive psychology, the writings of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Martin Seligman, as well as others, will be studied. Contrary to most psychology courses that focus totally on mental disorders, diseases and coping mechanisms, positive psychology also looks at those factors contributing to a person’s creativity and thriving force.

Csikszentmihalyi says an individual’s selection of an appropriately challenging task, and use of all skills available to achieve such a task, leads to a state of “flow”.

Martin Seligman’s ABC theory, adversity, beliefs, and consequences, explains his theory of human behavior. Dr. Seligman’s research shows that a person’s beliefs dictates that individual’s next move. The person can see the adversity, and believes there is no ability to control it and gives up; or the person’s beliefs can lead to constructive activities to deal with, and possibly resolve, the adversity.

Other notables in the field of positive psychology to be discussed are Barbara Frederickson and Michael McCullough. Dr. Frederickson is a social psychologist and a researcher at the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab (PEPlab) at the University of North Carolina. The main purpose of the lab is to determine why it’s good to feel good, and how these good feelings thrust a person to a higher level of achievement. She calls this the “broaden and build theory of positive emotions.”

Dr. McCullough is the director of the Evolution and Human Behavior Lab at the University of Miami. He has extensively studied the emotions of gratitude, revenge and forgiveness. Dr. McCullough’s research shows that while revenge is a short term, feel good response, it is forgiveness that is a person’s true motivator. While working with a colleague from the University of California, Dr. McCullough did a study on the science of gratitude. Their findings showed that people who regularly count their blessings were 25% happier and more successful than those who don’t.

Textbooks to be used for this course will include Christopher Peterson’s A Primer in Positive Psychology and Positive Psychology by C.R. Snyder.

Peterson defines positive psychology and devotes chapters to human behaviors that factor in, such as happiness, positive thinking and values. This author of positive psychology notes that, although the term relating to this school of thought has only been around since the 1990’s, the history surrounding it goes back decades.

Snyder and his co-authors study Eastern and Western approaches to understanding human emotions and strengths. Cultural and developmental factors on positive behaviors are studied in depth.

Participants in positive psychology classes will be expected to do extensive research into the studies of those mentioned above. Additional positive psychology courses will deal with topics such as clinical and business settings where it can be applied, and creativity and innovation.

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