I’ve been thinking about how to sum up the main topics of positive psychology. Many people think of Chris Peterson’s three word summary, “Other people matter.” This phrase, powerful in its brevity, captures some of the incredible findings to date on the impact of our relationships on our overall well-being. But after a year of extensive study in a Master of Applied Positive Psychology degree program, I have been trying to process and assimilate all that I have learned . . . and I can’t possibly sum it up in only three words.Five Questions of Positive Psychology
When I am trying to tell someone else about positive psychology, I find myself repeatedly asking five questions that help me capture, categorize, and remember much of what I learned. The questions are:
- How do you relate to others? (a.k.a. the “other people matter” question.)
- What are you thankful for?
- What are you good at?
- What are you hoping for?
- What does it all mean?
These questions are as close as I have come to summing up positive psychology.gratitude on well-being. But more than that, it makes me think about how people savor, appreciate, and enjoy different aspects of life. This reminds me of the explanatory style people use to describe various elements of their lives.
3) “What are you good at?” reminds me of research on strengths and virtues, learning, growth, and mindsets. It also makes me think of “flow” when people rise to meet a challenging task and find themselves truly engaged.
4) “What are you hoping for?” is the question that Dr. Chris Feudtner, a pediatrician specializing in palliative care, asks families when they learn of their children’s terminal illnesses, helping them see what is in their power to contribute. This question reminds me of research on hope and optimism, goal-setting, anticipation, and visualization. It also reminds me that positive psychology has a role to play in hard times.
5) “What does it all mean?” reminds me of research on the importance of purpose and meaning. But also, it reminds me of the deeper discussions about what positive psychology is all about: Why should people be happy? What makes a good life?These five questions help me process a vast amount of research and information. But even these five questions do not accurately sum up positive psychology. Where do curiosity, mindfulness, and resilience fit in? How about paradox of choice or peak-end theory? What about positive emotions? Or even negative emotions for that matter? Both play a role in flourishing lives. The list goes on and on and touches almost every aspect of human life.
Positive psychology is slowly exploring the complexities of human nature, measuring and interpreting the many diverse interactions of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions that lead to the good life. As the body of research continues to grow, pointing us in new directions, illuminating new pathways, and uncovering new layers, we may find that we can summarize positive psychology in only two words: “Everything matters.”
Question 1: Vaillant, G. (2008). Spiritual Evolution: A Scientific Defense of Faith. New York: Broadway Press.
Question 2: Emmons, R. (2007) Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflan Company.
Question 3: Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Question 4: Carter, B. & Levitown, M. (2004). Palliative Care for Infants, Children, and Adolescents: A Practical Handbook. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Contains information about Dr. Feudtner’s approach.
Question 5: Pargament, K. I. (1997). The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, Practice. New York: Guilford Press.
3-ary Boolean functions (used here as a symbol of summing up) courtesy of Hexidecimal Time
Thankfulness courtesy of h.koppdelaney
Yellow rose in hands – Happy Ramadhan, Eid Mubarak – courtesy of Hamed Saber