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What is Positive Psychology and What is its Role in Coaching?

You probably have heard about positive psychology. 

For me it was a wonderful discovery to find that something I already thought about a lot actually had years of science backing it up.  I loved learning about it in depth during my coaching training at the Wholebeing Institute where the principles of positive psychology are at its very foundation.


The founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman (1) states “The aim of Positive Psychology is to catalyze a change in psychology from a preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building the best qualities in life.” 


Positive psychology is a new science that reorients attention towards human strengths - looking at optimism and human growth.


The question the science of positive psychology tries to answer is: What are the conditions that contribute to the flourishing and thriving of people, groups and institutions?


Life presents experiences and emotions that are perceived and felt as both positive and negative.  It is a balance of sorrow and joy, ups and downs, crisis and victory, with periods of great challenges alternated by stretches of smooth sailing. Oftentimes periods of difficulty lead to growth, deeper insights into things and the development and acquisition of strengths and capacities that can be put to use in overcoming future challenges. 


In my coaching I use the principles of positive psychology to explore with my clients existing strengths and capacities based on challenges they have overcome, lessons they have learned of past experiences and possible negative thought patterns that are holding them back. 


The reason for focussing on positive emotions in challenging times is that they open us up, they broaden our perspective and help us find creative solutions.  Studies have shown that when we are experiencing positive emotions we are more open minded, we can handle situations better and see more clearly the bigger picture and where we need to look for the way forward.  

It reminds me of the words of  ‘Abdu’l-Baha (2) on this subject.  He says:


“Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded. We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness. But when sadness visits us we become weak, our strength leaves us, our comprehension is dim and our intelligence veiled.” 


Understanding both our positive and negative emotions helps us to identify which ones lift us up and which bring us down.  We can then try to focus on cultivating the positive ones. Building an emotional vocabulary to nurture positivity broadens our capacity to see what is possible and to face life’s challenges with an optimistic outlook.


Do you have examples of when you faced a challenging situation and a positive outlook helped you find solutions more quickly? I’d love to hear how  you’ve turned challenges and difficulties into strengths.


(1) https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/faculty-profile/profile-dr-martin-seligman

(2) https://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-Master-Spiritual-Teachings-Abdul-Baha/dp/188399120X


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