Sitting at my computer and contemplating the question “What does positive psychology mean to you?” I am finding it hard to explain. Why? Because positive psychology had crept into my bloodstream from before it was even a concept in Martin Seligman or Christopher Peterson’s notes.
As a child I was fascinated by people and their behaviour. I am a creative person, a fine artist amongst other things, and this makes me very reflective and curious. I also want to be happy. Who doesn’t? I’m a book worm and besides gorging myself on a diverse genre of books, as a young adult I also read Dickens and Orwell, so my social awareness was developed early on, and this has meant I have been determined since my school days to do good for others where I can and to live a life that makes me happy, one free of drudge and miserable obligation.
I am an empathetic person and so also would like to help others find their calling and happiness in life. Psychology back when I was at university was (from what I could tell) about ‘damaged minds’ and that didn’t appeal to me. Too negative. I wanted to make things better for people and couldn’t understand why we didn’t look at the positive opportunities instead. So eventually I went into human resources, hoping that I could influence the way organisations support employees in being at their best. It gave me the opportunity to study people, understand them better and develop strategies that made the workplace an enjoyable experience and not somewhere that you have to endure until retirement.
As you can imagine, as great as my ideals were, not everyone wanted to invest in putting the employee first and so my career has been both rewarding and frustrating. But as time went on I set out to look for new ways to focus my efforts on increasing employee happiness. I continued to read psychology books, articles, watch science programmes and TED talks and learn as much as I could about developments in the way we think, behave and function. One day in my quest for knowledge I came across the word “eudaimona” and I felt inspired. It gave me the energy to reflect on what it would mean for me to flourish and be the best that I could be. It gave me a direction in my work; to create a calling for myself that also helps others find their calling and happiness in life.
Finding the word “eudaimona” is when the road towards positive psychology started to become clearer. From that word I did some research and I bought a book specifically about positive psychology, and it stunned me. It was focusing on the exact area of interest that I have been craving for since I was a young girl. At least now I could read contemporary works on how to create human flourishing, and so I dived into it in earnest.
But I became impatient to start using this in my work, however most organisations just want traditional methods of employee engagement, which as all of us human resource professionals know, doesn’t work. This is when I thought it might be time for me to work to my own agenda and do what Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested, to go “where there is no path and leave a trail”. And this is also when I decided to study positive psychology via the MAPP course.
So I am now embarking on a new stage of my life where my self-concordant goals are simple; to do what I love by using positive psychology to enhance flourishing in employees and in others in general. So, what does positive psychology really mean to me? It means I am finally being my authentic self, where I can see a way of really making a difference to others lives, to contribute to a really exciting field of study, and I can wake up every day and look forward to learning more about myself, the world and savour the fact that it is never too late to make a difference.