What does it mean to truly flourish in our lives? What roles do resilience, optimism, and gratitude play in helping us to genuinely thrive both personally and professionally?
These are some of the life questions that Positive Psychology seeks to better understand through the scientific exploration of human potential.
Dr. Martin Seligman is credited as being the father of the Positive Psychology movement and has put decades of research into helping the world better understand the factors that lead to greater happiness and fulfillment in life.
His best-selling books Authentic Happiness, Flourish, Learned Optimism, Character Strengths and Virtues, as well as many other books he has written, share the research that he and his team have done related to the science of happiness and how people can produce more positive emotions in their lives through the use of specific techniques and strategies that have been proven to be effective.
One of the strategies that my wife, Neila Steele, and myself came across a couple of years ago caught our attention and it’s something that we’ve tried to put into practice In our own lives. As well, we’ve tried to practice it with our two boys and with the students that we have taught. Although the strategy seems quite simple, it can be difficult to apply in our own lives with consistency. However, it requires consistency, on a daily basis, over a succession of weeks to begin to take root and actually lead to changes in the neurochemistry of our brains. It has been proven to produce more positive emotions with regularity in the lives of the people who have practiced it.
Dr. Martin Seligman has conducted hundreds of experiments using this strategy with many different types of people, many of whom suffer from severe depression. As well, he has replicated the study with people that have not been impacted by depression who live ‘normal' lives.
In almost all cases, the strategy proved to be effective in alleviating the debilitating effects of depression. It also led to a more positive mindset with the others who had participated in the study that didn’t suffer from depression and led relatively normal lives. Amazing how the simple act of gratitude can change the brain and lead to more positivity in our lives!
Researchers of Good
The strategy is called ‘Researchers of Good’ or ‘Scanning for the Good’ and requires people, over a 7-day period, to genuinely reflect on their life at the end of each day identifying 3 good things that happened to them. A noun must also be used to describe what each good thing represents and is placed in parenthesis beside the written statement describing the good thing that happened.
Even on our bad days, Seligman says it is critical to still complete this activity. When we actually scan for the good in our lives, we can always find a minimum of three things that happened on that day. Recognizing these good things promotes a greater sense of gratitude and positive emotion. However, we need to practice this strategy with consistency, on a daily basis, for it to have an impact of our overall level of happiness.
For example, a person might come up with the following list of three good things and accompany each good thing with a label that describes what the good thing represents:
My friend shared their lunch with me today (Generosity)
A stranger took the time to hold the door open for me in the store today (Kindness)
I stuck to my fitness and nutrition plan today (Commitment)
The good things identified do not have to be breathtakingly awesome or out of this world to be recognized as something worthy of being labelled as ‘good’. It can be the ordinary, often overlooked good things that happen in our lives that often go unnoticed that can easily be added to our list of three good things that happened to us on any particular day.
The point is that we can reprogram our brains to actively search for the good in our lives when we practice doing so. Rather than identifying all the things that we believe are going wrong or not working well, we tap into a plethora of positive emotions that can actually change the neurochemistry of our brains. This can often result in a greater sense of well-being, happiness and fulfillment. But we must have a genuine appreciation and deep sense of gratitude for these good things, not just pay superficial attention to them.
The ‘Researchers of Good’ strategy is a very mindful act that requires us to be present with our thoughts and reflections. It requires some quiet time to genuinely reflect on our day and to invest the time necessary to identify and give gratitude for the good things that have happened to us. As humans we can automatically default to what’s not working in our lives or all the things going wrong, but this strategy gets us to flip the paradigm on its head and celebrate the good in our life with more consistency.
Try it out at home, at the office, with your colleagues and other family members for at least 7 straight days. The most important thing is taking the time to actually write it down in a journal or on sticky notes. It’s the act of writing it down that completes the strategy as we are investing time to reflect and to write down the good things we experience. If you do well at it for 7 days, try it out for 14 days or even a month. The more you do it, the better you will get at it.
We devoted a chalkboard wall to it on our own house and had students try it out by writing their lists of good each day on the windows of the classroom using non-permanent markers.
Hope you try out the ‘Researcher of Good’ strategy in your own life! Thanks for reading.
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily