How did you hear about positive psychology and what drew you in?
As a current student of the MAPP at BNU, these are questions that my cohort and I are frequently presenting ourselves with. And they are useful ones.
I find it terribly easy to get hung up on meeting the academic and empirical requirements of the discipline, planning research, drafting assignments and meeting deadlines. But it is worth sometimes sitting back and reflecting on why I am there in that classroom in the first place. Questioning what it is that positive psychology means to me, personally, professionally and in the context of myself as a whole person?
I know I am not alone. The benefits of growing a network of positive psychologists is that we enthuse about this often. How to marry the practice of positive psychology with our personal lives, our views of ourselves and of others. This to me is what makes positive psychology so different. A requirement that we live and try to internalise its central tenets of openness, belief in unknown potential and a mindful attention to the positive in life, whilst learning from the negative and challenging where we can.
I have certainly had my doubts about the value of my own scholarly study of positive psychology and my own capacity to continue with it. An MSc is of course quite an undertaking for most professionals juggling work, families and other commitments. From the perspective of someone managing a mental illness, the added barriers of a strong negativity bias and an ‘unhelpful thinking style’, to say the least, sometimes make me feel my inner world has been designed to question the idea of a positive psychology’s very existence.
Luckily the advent of the second wave of thinking (Lomas & Ivtzan, 2016; Wong, 2011), the concept that there is value in both the positive and the negative of experience, always draws me back in. I am learning to reconcile the benefits of paying attention to the positive with my lived experience. Without the acknowledgement that we all have dynamic strengths and a potential for growth (and may just require the right conditions to become) regardless of starting point, I find it impossible to reconcile a focus on the ‘good in life’ with my own experience.
As part of our learning, there is often a focus on ‘normal’ researchers asking questions about how populations become better – more ‘well’ using positive psychology. However, I see a real opportunity and need for individuals with stress-related mental illness to practice and internalise positive psychology and use this lens to help others like them gain the benefits to well-being, self-insight and open-mindedness.
So, when asking myself the why of positive psychology for me, I usually come back to the same answer, in the form of a question: How can I best demonstrate the benefits of positive psychology in the face of mental illness, and how can I make a difference for those most in need?
Our course leader advises us to try and live the question, in the absence of an answer. So, I trust that for now I am brave enough to live this question. Through exposure to positive psychology and it’s scholars and enthusiasts, I am building my own particular approach to practice that I hope will resonate with others facing the challenges of mental illness and give them the opportunity to craft their own positive psychology.
About the author: Lena Britnell
‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’
The Positive Psychology People is co-founded and sponsored
by Lesley Lyle and Dan Collinson,
Directors of Positive Psychology Learning and authors of the
8-week online Happiness Course