Traditional psychological treatment often involves better understanding your life to date, with a particular focus on traumatic or negative events that might be impacting your mental health. Positive psychology on the other hand, focuses on examining your strengths and positive attributes, to create a greater sense of wellbeing.
Medibank psychologist Emily Toner explains some ways you can use positive psychology to improve your mental health and wellbeing.
Know your values
To know your strengths you first need to know what your personal values are (the beliefs that guide your behaviours). Examples of values include honesty, independence, creativity and love. These might be different to the values that are shared by your family, community or culture. Ask yourself: What really matters to me? What do I stand for in life? What do I want to be remembered for?
People without solid values can often feel a little lost and might get confused between superficial wants and the things that are actually important to them.
Act on your values
Science shows that people who know their values and act in alignment with those values experience a greater sense of wellbeing and mental health. However, it’s not enough to simply recognise your values, you also need to act on them to feel the benefits. Actions that are in line with your values often feel authentic and right, whereas behaviour in opposition to your values might make you feel uncomfortable and lead to regrets down the track.
Live your strengths
Once you’ve established your values you can work towards living your strengths. Positive psychology argues that strengths are expressions of your values in action. They are ways of thinking, acting and feeling that lead to exceptional performance and energise you.
Again, there are some simple questions you can ask yourself to determine your own strengths. What gives me a buzz? When am I most myself? What activities come naturally to me?
We all know that feeling of being in ‘flow’ … that’s an example of using your strengths for a sustained period of time. Everything feels like it comes to you easily and you experience a natural high – like a confident comedian performing to an audience in hysterics, or a footballer who can’t put a foot wrong on game day.
According to positive psychology, people who know their strengths and use them often are much more likely to report feeling highly engaged at work and enjoying a better quality of life. The research is clear, the more you focus on doing things that incorporate your strengths and align with your values, the happier you will be.
For more on this exciting new area of psychology and how it can improve your mental health, visit Medibank’s School of Better and watch Positive psychology 101.