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What every L&D professional needs to know about Positive Psychology

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What every L&D professional needs to know about Positive Psychology

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Guest blog by Sukhvinder Pabial for WeCommend: L&D providers we’re all shouting about

Positive Psychology is a growing area of interest for many professionals. Its focus is on improving a person’s wellbeing and their sense of personal happiness.

It started as a focus of development in the field of psychology by Dr Martin Seligman. He made a call to arms to help arm people with the skills to live a more positive life, and for professionals in the field to help people move away from a focus on what’s going wrong to a focus on what’s going well.

Since then, there’s been a growing wealth of research and study into what makes people feel genuinely happy, how people can improve their wellbeing, and practical interventions for people to try everyday to help focus on these things.

Broadly, the topic helps people fit into five key areas:

  • Positive Emotions: When we experience positive emotions, we enjoy life and we want to share those experiences and moment with others
  • Engagement: When we are involved in a task or activity so deeply that we don’t notice time pass, we feel good about what we’ve so far, and we don’t feel judged on the activity, this helps us to feel good about ourselves. Others may know of this as being in Flow.
  • Relationships: Time and again research highlights that when we have positive relationships with others, we feel better about ourselves, and live happier lives.
  • Meaning: This is about doing things which help serve a purpose bigger than ourselves. For some this may be religion, for others society, for others charity and for others community.
  • Accomplishment: For many people, when they excel at doing something it often provides a feeling of satisfaction and achievement.

What this PERMA model teaches us is that uncovering positive living is a multi-faceted thing, and as such means we need to be able to learn more about what this means. It also means that we need to pay more attention to these things in our lives so that we can learn to adopt these behaviours as regular habits.

Other work in this field has come from Tal Ben-Shahar, an academic and practitioner in the field. His work informs that people tend to focus on what went wrong, and when we do that, all we really do is look backwards. By doing this, we don’t cultivate hope or optimism for the future. Instead we analyse and critique what happened previously. He argues that although this is useful, and is in some circumstance vital in order to uncover problems and identify wrongful actions, it is not helpful for positive living. When we accept reality, we are also then able to look forward and talk about possibilities and create new realities.

Ben-Shahar’s work has also been important in helping couples and families work well together and form better relationships. He describes how once we’ve moved past the mental illness of being in love with our partners (meant completely in jest), we start to notice the traits and behaviours that become annoying and undesirable. What we don’t allow ourselves to do, or what we forget the importance of, is sharing our appreciation for the important people in our lives. When we openly and explicitly are appreciative of others, it cultivates those important bonds we have and builds long lasting relationships. When we are in a place where we can share appreciative comments with others close to us 5 times more than we share negative or critical comments, is when the relationships are healthy. Less than this and the relationships start to become troubled. More than this and the relationships may be hiding reality.

The applicability of this field to the workplace is also becoming more welcomed. Using facilitation techniques such as World Cafe and Open Space are inherently about trust in people and allowing people to build on the strengths they identify. Inclusion techniques in work teams such as communities of practice allow people with common skillsets to practice their skills to become strengths and fosters positive building of identity. Interventions such as Appreciative Inquiry are focused on identifying strengths of an organisation or a team and allow the team to build on these with clear outputs for future success.

More is being learned and shared about the topic and there are valuable resources where you can find out more on this area. Probably the first port of call is to check out the website dedicated to authentic happiness from Martin Seligman himself – www.authentichappiness.org.

About Sukhvinder

I’m Sukhvinder Pabial, Head of OD at One Housing Group. I write a regular blog about L&D, OD and related topics at www.pabial.wordpress.com. I’m also a regular Twitter user and can often be found tweeting on all manners of topics! On Friday mornings a community of L&D/OD types come together on Twitter using the #ldinsight hashtag to discuss a topic of the week from 8-9am. Be great to see you there.


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