Positive Psychology and Health Care
Positive Psychology offers an exciting opportunity within the health care environment. Nurses, physicians, therapists and other practitioners will see increased motivation, productivity, enhanced employee satisfaction and significantly improved self confidence when the practical tenets of Positive Psychology are put into place. It is an approach that can help people improve their performance and to enhance their personal fulfillment and well-being.
Having a personal level of happiness is a vital key to how effective you are as a nurse, clinician, counselor or leader in the health care field. Incorporating positive interventions in your daily work life has the potential to improve not only your physical and emotional health but the health of your patients as well. Take our free introductory course on positive psychology as a starting point, then take any one or more of the courses we offer to deepen your understanding of the field. We also provide complimentary resources that can help you explore the benefits of positive psychology.
Positive Psychology is the scientific study of optimal human functioning. First introduced in 1988 by Dr. Martin Seligman who was then president of the American Psychology Association, it has entered the mainstream of social science research as a complement to traditional approaches.
In the past, much of our care focused on deficits, what is wrong and how to make it right. While this model still works, positive psychology studies the positive aspects of our life– the effects of joy, resiliency, strengths and other positive emotions that generally fall under the umbrella of “happiness”. It has broadened the scope of psychological research and practice to include the benefits of:
- Creating more positive emotions in your life as a means to build resiliency—helping to buffer the person against everyday challenges. Positive emotions also reduce stress levels and enable you to be more curious, creative and better able to problem solve.
- Building your life around your natural talents and performance strengths instead of obsessing on weaknesses. When we are able to use our strengths, we are satisfying our natural urges. We feel good about ourselves—we thrive and we feel invigorated. We perform better. We are more productive. We have greater contentment and satisfaction. There is a sense of accomplishment and meaning in our work and personal life. By contrast, a continual focus on trying to fix weaknesses leaves us frustrated—suppressing our natural tendencies. This can lead to anger and becoming psychologically and physically drained. Overtime, these negative emotions can lead to depression.
- Surrounding yourself with positive relationships, which can have significant impact on your physical wellness and longevity. Research has shown that socially integrated people—those who are married, have close family and friends, belong to social and religious groups, and participate widely in these networks—recover more quickly from disease and live longer. Our immune functioning is actually strengthened by our positive relationships and their affect on our day-to-day moods. The more we socialize, the less susceptible we become to colds and illness
- Maintaining a sense of meaning and purpose in your life which can act as a stabilizing factor during times of change and transition. It can serve as an anchor to keep us level during life’s inevitable ups and downs. Research indicates that a sense of meaning has been positively related to a number of measures of healthy psychological functioning, including work enjoyment, life satisfaction, hope, and happiness. By comparison, a lack of meaning in life has been associated in studies with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
In an article written on positive health for the International Positive Psychology Association, Dr. Seligman synthesizes some of the important research findings of the past decade with implications in the field of health care. For example:
- Brief raising of positive mood enhances creative thinking and makes positive physicians more accurate and faster to come up with the proper liver diagnosis (Fredrickson, 2001; Isen, 2005).
- Some newer findings on optimism predict cardiovascular disease and mortality; these studies bear directly on the likelihood that a state of positive health will increase longevity and improve prognosis
- In looking at more severe physiological events, positive affect and positive explanatory styles have been found to be protective against stroke, rapid progression of HIV and general mortality rates in the elderly
Dr. Seligman points to an overriding theme that has emerged from a decade of Positive Psychology research. Mental health (consisting of positive emotion, engagement, purpose, positive relationships, and positive accomplishments) is something over and above the absence of mental illness, and it is quantifiable and predictive. It predicts lack of depression, higher achievement, and—intriguingly—better positive physical health. The most important theme that runs through the tantalizing positive physical health outcomes is a link between positive psychology and positive health: Subjective well-being, as measured by optimism and other positive emotions, protects one from physical illness.