In Mental Health

Traditionally, mental health clinicians focus on identifying psychopathology and reducing its symptoms and associated functional impairments. We consider: what disorder(s) does our patient have? What are her symptoms? Are these symptoms causing problems in activities of daily living? How do we reduce these problems? Although reducing suffering can be meaningful to patients, there is a growing trend in the mental health field to encourage patients to shift their attention away from reducing negativity and instead focus on increasing positivity. This article will briefly explain the history and theory behind positive psychology, and then provide some simple ways to increase positivity in daily life.

Nearly two decades old, the field of positive psychology developed from social psychology experiments that examined happiness. For example, researchers examined the role of money in promoting joy. Most people think that more money means more happiness, but social psychology paints a more nuanced picture. Research shows that after income rises to a certain level, further increases in income do not add further happiness; we max out at some point. Spending money, particularly on stuff, does not make us as happy as we might think either. Instead, what research shows is that we are more likely to feel joy from spending if we spend spontaneously, spend our money on experiences (rather than on stuff), or if we spend money on other people. Thus, there are specific things that each of us can do that can reliably increase positive affect.

According to the empirically-supported Broaden and Build Model, the function of positive affect (e.g., joy, serenity, hope, gratitude, love, pride) is to increase survival by building and broadening resources. Increasing positive affectivity can lead to more flexible problem-solving, increased social supports and resources, and increased behavioral activity. In the absence of positive affectivity, individuals withdraw. Therefore, positivity is an important evolutionary mechanism that keeps us connected to others and helps us maintain positive activity. And increasing positive affectivity does not mean reducing negative affect (e.g., anger, sadness); positive and negative affect function independently. In general, research shows that negative affect is high in people with anxiety and depression. Positive affect, on the other hand, is low in people with depression and social anxiety; reduced positive affect appears to be less common in individuals with other anxiety problems.

Here are some methods to increase positive affect that are informed by research:

1) Random acts of kindness – Consistent with research related to spending money on others, studies show that people who engage in random acts of kindness increase their happiness. Ideas for random acts include buying an unexpected coffee for a friend or coworker, holding a door for someone, or letting someone go ahead of you in line at the store. Any simple, spontaneous act of kindness is going to have a positive impact on us.

2) Three good things – Research shows that it is much easier for humans to recognize negativity in their lives. Each night, write down three good things that happened to you that day. This exercise can help you shift your attention towards positivity.

3) Gratitude – Each night, write down 3-5 things that you are grateful for in your life. This can be a challenging exercise for individuals, particularly if you are isolated, unhappy with your relationships, or unhappy with your career. However, research shows that even people who seem to have little to be thankful for, actually are able to recognize positive things in their lives. Keep it simple and broad, knowing that even having one friend or simply having a roof over one’s head is something to appreciate.

4) Mindfulness meditation – Mindfulness is a concept inspired by non-Western traditions in which people are taught to focus on the present moment and to be nonjudgmentally aware of their experiences. This means not over-thinking our experiences or labeling them as “good” or “bad.” Research shows that engaging in daily mindfulness meditation increases our ability to recognize positivity in life.

In sum, there is a wealth of data suggesting that increasing positivity in daily life can be meaningful for all of us and can promote mental health and well-being. By taking these simple steps, we can prime our minds to recognize positivity and tap into our capacity to feel positive emotions.

Recent Posts
Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt

Our self-pay rates will soon be updated. Please contact our staff for more information.