People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves.”― Paulo Coelho
The above-mentioned quote is a straightforward and direct explanation of what experience is. It is something that we have to find out for ourselves, we have to go through a certain phase of action to know the nature of the action better than otherwise. Cambridge dictionary defines experience the following way: the process of getting) knowledge or skill from doing, seeing, or feeling things (Cambridge dictionary, 2020)
Throughout history there were numerous occasions for people to learn about new knowledge and skills, however, most of these were taught by people to people, by books and songs to people and nowadays by the internet to people. The charismatic frame is the most tempting of all, a religious, political, national “redeemer” or whatever other representative from somewhere to instruct something to someone. Humans love to play the teacher’s role, many of us like very much to teach, to talk and to enlighten. This isn’t bad, it is just information.
While there is information that’s embedded in our genes, such as the knowledge about fire. Most people in the world needs no cautious information about fire (except perhaps pyromaniacs), because we know that if we play with fire, we’ll get burned. For tens of thousands of years, homo sapiens had enough time to learn how to use fire beneficially, without getting burned. And the key point here is to let ourselves be burned… sounds weird, huh? The idea is that we learn far better by using action-emotion processes! And this is where I’d like to draw attention to positive experiences. These experiences are the ones that help us to thrive, to flourish, to be creative, to be optimistic about life in general, they are responsible for our self-esteem and self-confidence. I would like to present some of the benefits of positive experiences here:
At your workplace
Working in a place where one can apply his or her character strengths can have a significant impact on the outcome of the work. In other words, if you do that, you’ll most probably do a job well done. Why? Because you apply your strengths (Harzer & Ruch, 2013) Positive experiences at work are positively correlated to job satisfaction, engagement and meaning of work. Surely it depends on two things, one is your strengths and the other is whether your job offers ways to use your strengths.
There are other factors of course, such as your personality, attitude, culture or trait. For instance, extraversion and agreeableness are usually positively associated with subjective wellbeing, whereas neuroticism is negatively associated with it (DeNeve & Cooper, 1998). Does that mean no positive job experiences for neurotic personalities? Nope. It means that people with neurotic personality type should first find out what is neurosis, for instance, these people tend to be critical, respond to challenges negatively and very sensitive to criticism from others. Then they should hunt for the right job, for instance, librarians work in a calm environment with far fewer chances to get angry of something than anywhere else, graphic designers are lone workers, just like writers and the criticism that they get from their editors are usually not public.
At your home
There are plenty of other ways one can experience positive things besides building a career or focusing on jobs, indeed one can pay a heavy price for suppressing or withholding emotions (King & Pennebaker, 1998) for instance working with people with disabilities has its own beauty. Studies suggest that parents of an autistic child have greater bonds with family members, have a greater awareness of people with disabilities and this is due to the co-occurrence of positive shared experiences, which helps parents to pay less attention to the child’s limitations and more attention to the positive ways the child have influenced them (Kayfitz et al., 2010) It is a rewarding experience I can attest that I have had a positive experience working with young people with autism and learning disability.
Into the wilderness
Miles away from children’s rooms and family-related environments one can find positive experiences in nature, to be more precise (and perhaps wilder) there are further studies indicating the positive experience of encountering wolves in the wild (Arbieu et al., 2020). Indeed, wildlife tourism can be seen as an extreme sport, and this “sport” requires no extreme activity to experience it, it only needs our eyes to spot something we don’t see every day with naked eyes, like a wolf. Wild views accompanied with wild emotions are usually expressed, most people do disclose their experience and emotions with their family members, friends or colleagues, moreover there are wellbeing benefits of emotional disclosure (Butzel & Ryan, 1997).
Back to your home
We have certainly read about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), most people from all around the world are aware of the consequences of childhood traumatic experiences. Usually, ACE’s are linked with poverty, and poverty is linked to unstable relationships, which in turn can escalate to the suffering of the youngest members of the family. However, there’s little study of positive childhood experiences. Studies have emphasized the importance of positive childhood experiences as direct protection against developing personality psychopathology (Gunay-Oge et al., 2020). What’s more important positive childhood experiences provides protection against developing histrionic, sadistic and narcissistic personality disorder. Similarly, early positive experiences may contribute as a vigorous buffer zone against social comparison, in which poorer individuals compare themselves unfavourably with richer individuals, creating a perceived inability to gain more resources that could recalibrate perceived inequalities (Ryff et al., 1999).
In the college
Some say high schools and colleges are the places where teenagers first experience the dislocating effect of anxiety and stress. But it shouldn’t be like that. In fact, it should be a place where people learn new skills and get ready for life. Positive experiences of students have been largely related to the relationship with teachers, classmates and friends. It is this good connection that increases the chance of positive experience, being accepted and sharing a common identity with the school community (Akey, 2007). According to psycho-social studies relatedness is a major contributing factor to happiness and positive experiences (Myers, 1999)
Positive experiences are very important for us humans in order to thrive and grow, to illuminate our lives with hope and optimism, to be able to look for the benefit of almost everything in life. It is important to have good relations with the people in our immediate environment, these people can be our family members (very important), our classmates or work colleagues, our friends and people from our community. Research indicates that it is imperative to be surrounded by people who understand us, with whom we can engage in meaningful dialogue or with people who can have fun with us (Reis et al., 2000).
Akey, K. (2007). The adolescent’s sense of being literate: Reshaping through classroom transitions. In Dissertation Abstracts International, A: The Humanities and Social Sciences.
Arbieu, U., Albrecht, J., Mehring, M., Bunnefeld, N., Reinhardt, I., & Mueller, T. (2020). The positive experience of encountering wolves in the wild. Conservation Science and Practice, 2(5). https://doi.org/10.1111/csp2.184
Butzel, J. S., & Ryan, R. M. (1997). The dynamics of volitional reliance: A motivational perspective on dependence, independence, and social support. In Sourcebook of social support and personality. The Plenum series in social/clinical psychology.
DeNeve, K. M., & Cooper, H. (1998). The Happy Personality: A Meta-Analysis of 137 Personality Traits and Subjective Well-Being. Psychological Bulletin. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.124.2.197
Gunay-Oge, R., Pehlivan, F. Z., & Isikli, S. (2020). The effect of positive childhood experiences on adult personality psychopathology. Personality and Individual Differences, 158. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2020.109862
Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2013). The Application of Signature Character Strengths and Positive Experiences at Work. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14(3). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-012-9364-0
Kayfitz, A. D., Gragg, M. N., & Robert Orr, R. (2010). Positive experiences of mothers and fathers of children with autism. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 23(4). https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-3148.2009.00539.x
King, L. A., & Pennebaker, J. W. (1998). What’s So Great About Feeling Good? Psychological Inquiry, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327965pli0901_8
Myers, D. G. (1999). Close relationships and quality of life. In Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology.
Reis, H. T., Sheldon, K. M., Gable, S. L., Roscoe, J., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). Daily well-being: The role of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26(4). https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167200266002
Ryff, C. D., Magee, W. J., Kling, K. C., & Wing, E. H. (1999). Forging macro-micro linkages in the study of psychological well-being. In The self and society in aging processes.
‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’