FOR THE MIND
The most important facet of overall wellness is having a healthy mind. We often underestimate the power of the mind and the multitude of factors that can influence your mental well being. Whether we are going through depression (regardless of severity) or feel a little blue now and then, we continue to seek more ways to be "happy", to thrive and maintain the elusive "healthy mind." The problem lies in wanting a quick fix, a one-size fits all approach by simply watching a few YouTube videos or one or two of a plethora of self-help books that guarantee to set us straight. My theory and approach is simply to treat our mind like we do our body: we need to feed our minds only things that are healthy, nutritious and nourishing and most importantly, take time out to exercise it. Fill your mind with healthy information, discussion and some quiet time for reflection. Give your mind the time to hurt, process and heal, in its own time. Allocate time to meditate and practice mindfulness to assist with relieving stress, open your mind to new strategies that may work - don't limit yourself to just trying conventional methods. Two relatively new and innovative approaches are the implementation of positive psychology and mindfulness-based stress reduction. Both approaches may seem simplistic on the surface but they are quite profound when put into practice. Achieving and maintaining a healthy mind doesn't have to be difficult.
In this section, I will be outlining the different strategies you can utilise to assist you in nurturing and sustaining a healthy mind.
What is the difference between positive psychology and traditional psychology?
The concept of positive psychology, or rather the emerging field of positive psychology, has gained a lot of momentum in the past decade or so. It is colloquially viewed as the antithesis of traditional psychology which is fundamentally based on “alleviating negative emotions as a path to happiness,” (Scelfo, 2017) while positive psychology proudly boasts that it is the study of the tools required to flourish and lead a meaningful life.
Traditional psychology has been based on a disease model of repairing damage and is concerned with treating various mental illnesses and conditions such as depression and anxiety. Diagnosis and treatment are centered around clinical-based counseling which can include psychotherapy and in some cases medication to alleviate suffering and pain. It focuses on the person’s weaknesses and deficiencies and aims to safely take them from a negative place to the neutral point (with no mental illness). Therefore, traditional psychology is seen as the solution for issues on the negative end of the mental health spectrum.
On the other hand, positive psychology’s core focus revolves around a health model, through the perspective of attaining happiness rather than merely healing depression. According to the pioneer of the field of positive psychology, Professor Martin Seligman, “What makes life worth living is much more than the absence of the negative.” As a discipline, it is the study of the positive facets of human life and how they can be used to achieve and maintain wellbeing. It goes beyond the healing nature of traditional psychology in helping to shield against and hopefully prevent the onset of mental and/or physical disorders. Positive psychology interventions include mindfulness, cultivating gratitude and kindness, as well as a focus on optimism and hope. These interventions help to build on the individual’s strengths and merits, and promote positive thoughts, behaviour and emotions with the purpose of tempering negative emotions, thus reducing the symptoms associated with depression. It recognizes that acknowledging and expressing negative emotions is the key to improving well-being, and in some cases, can be beneficial to valuing the positive aspects of one’s life. As positive psychology is not confined to a clinical setting, it can often be viewed as individualistic, as it usually relies more on the person to implement changes in their life. Overall, positive psychology is seen to be leading a person from the negative place, through the neutral point, and further on into the positive space to attain flourishing, the optimal level of well-being. At the very least, it aims to maintain flourishing.
Although they are seen to be moving in opposite directions, with traditional psychology associated with disorder and suffering, and positive psychology linked to prosperity and enjoyment, both have the ultimate objective of improving overall well-being. While developing human skills has always been a factor of traditional psychology, it was neglected in light of the more pressing mental illnesses and disorders in society. Positive psychology therefore, was regrouped to complete gaps in the more traditional approach of psychology by incorporating the aspects or traits that make life worthwhile. More recently, positive psychology is being viewed as an extension of traditional psychology, rather than as a separate branch, with suggestions that it should be integrated with clinical psychology.
So how can we incorporate positive psychology into our lives? Based on research conducted at the Penn Positive Psychology Centre, Professor Seligman suggests the following four exercises to cultivate the main constituents of wellbeing:
- Identify your signature strengths and use them intentionally in a new and different way to induce positive emotions;
- Find the good – each night before bed, reflect on three positive things that happened that day;
- Make a gratitude visit or write a letter to someone who has shown you kindness but you haven’t had the opportunity to thank. Express how their kindness made you feel, and if you can, arrange to see them and read it to them in person;
- Respond constructively when someone shares their good news with you - always.
I love to incorporate at least one of these exercises daily as they do actually have an affirmative effect on your mood and ultimately, your wellbeing. Let’s all make an effort to include these exercises in our routine and watch the ripple effect on ourselves and those around us.
Compton, W. C., & Hoffman, E. (2013). Positive psychology: The science of happiness and flourishing (2nd student ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Gable, S., & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and Why) Is Positive Psychology? Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 103-110.
Johnson, J., & Wood, A.M. (2015). Integrating Positive and Clinical Psychology: Viewing Human Functioning as Continua from Positive to Negative Can Benefit Clinical Assessment, Interventions and Understandings of Resilience. Cognitive Therapy and Research, Cognitive Therapy and Research, 6 October 2015.
Scelfo, J. (2017), Education Life: Get Happy: Four Well-Being Workouts, The New York Times.
Seligman, M., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology. An introduction. The American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.