Theories of personality development
“If you want to see the sun, searching for the light is more effective than trying to cure the darkness.”
“Try to think more about yourself”, or “Don’t let the bad emotions bring you down”, or “Focus on the bright side of Life”, or “Calm Down” have been ones of the most typical advises from a psychologist when a person admitted that was on depression or was getting towards it. Forgive me but I have always accepted these recommendations as not being able to be more effective to a human than to a cat. During that times more depressing than my life’s psychology was the fact that I actually didn’t know about the existence of any sector of psychology that would provide me with more useful “prescriptions”, even though I had been consulted by a few psychologists. Up to the date when I learnt that during the last 20 years this science had evolved…
The Roots and the Establishment
In the middle of 20th century a great American Psychologist with the name Abraham Maslow had first among modern psychologists talked about focusing on the positive elements for enhancing human psychology. Maslow is very well-known about his theory on the hierarchy of needs. The latter is a presentation of the hierarchy of the physical and mental requirements in order for humans to survive and function properly. Also, Carl Rogers with his humanistic approach to psychology talked about the self-actualization and he listed the characteristics of a fully functioning organism. He described as good life when the organism continually aims to fulfill its full potential. Erich Fromm from the field of social psychology and not only, followed, as well, a humanistic philosophy. The three of them are supposed to have put the cornerstone in the later establishment of the positive approach to this science.
But it was in the endings of the 20th century when Martin Seligman, after decades of research on depression and his theory of learned helplessness, became the president of the American Psychological Association in 1988 and had the chance to make his dream come true. He officially created the field of Positive Psychology and he’s now viewed as her father. Together with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1998 sumed up their mentalities as follows:
We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise, which achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving individuals, families, and communities.
Theories of Personality Development
The stepping stone for Martin Seligman was a study that measured among all the psychological studies conducted which ones were about negative elements of human psychology and which ones were about positive ones. What was found was that the first ones were tremendously more than the latter ones. This situation by itself was affecting us towards the negative. The great positive psychologist Tal Ben Shahar had wisely said: “You can’t study something without affecting your reality on it”. This of course has to do with the phenomenon of priming that I have written about in Sad Songs: The Epitome of Misery. For over 6 decades psychology and psychiatry had been researching mostly on disorders without being able to treat them effectively. At the same time they were prescribing excess amounts of drugs so they were only making miserable people less miserable. The difference now is that Positive Psychology prevents the diseases through cultivation of the positive. That is a whole shift in consciousness in the field: Health till that time was defined as the absence of illness whereas Positive Psychology defines illness as the absence of health so tries actively to improve it. One does not just say: “I don’t have an illness so I am healthy.” This is a pessimistic approach anyway. The right thing is: “I have managed to be healthy so ok, I don’t have an illness.”
As you can see in the embedded video in the end of the article Seligman and his colleagues had broken down the word “happy” in three different life aspects. The first was pleasant life in which you have the most positive emotions and pleasures and you try to establish them. The second is the life of engagement. A life when you engage in activities that you like so much that during them, time stops for you. You may be working on something for ten hours and don’t realise a minute. This is a concept mostly researched by the previously mentioned scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and is called Flow. During that time you feel absolutely nothing. You are one with the music, or with your creativity, or with an other body. The third breakdown of a happy life is meaning. Understanding your strengths and using them towards something larger than you. For example, you have a charity organisation. So a happy life in general is a combination of the above three elements and positive psychologists have found several practical advises to increase happiness.
Tal Ben Shahar’s course on Positive Psychology
In the second semester of the academic year 2005-2006 Tal Ben Shahar‘s course on Positive Psychology in the Harvard University became the most popular class in the history of the University. It was so popular that it was recorded and uploaded to Harvard’s webpage so that everyone with access to the internet could download it. This historical course took place from 2/2/2006 – 4/5/2006 and was attended by 850 students. My own first approach to positive psychology was a few years later when I watched the whole semester at my home by taking notes exactly like I was one of the students. Unfortunately, these amazing videos have been removed from Harvard’s server. The reason was maybe the fact that Tal Ben Shahar has left Harvard and has published books on the subjects he had taught.
Every chapter of positive psychology is a unique concept as for importance but all of them seem to have internal connections among them. You will learn to take a more optimistic approach in every sector of life. Instead of avoiding pain to build competencies. Instead of feeling helpless to become helpful. The latter provides you self-esteem and thus happiness. Only someone who owes can provide and this is a great deal for your self-confidence. Happiness, you will see, is achieved internally. The belief that once I reach this point in my career or once I earn that amount of money or once I’ll marry, I’ll immediately become happy just doesn’t work. There are studies on them and are typical examples of pursuit of happiness through external circumstances. Even on most people winning the lottery, their amounts of happiness had returned to base levels a few months after the event…
I had felt that, at last, I had the permission to be human. I can be jealous, angry, lustful, fearful and depressed. I unconditionally accept them as natural elements and then I have a choice on how I handle them. Tal Ben Shahar admitted being jealous of his newborn baby because she took the attention of his wife from himself. And of course I may react mistakenly and fail in goals. This is accepted if I use it as a teaching. This is one of the bases of self-development. This rational acceptance of failures as ways of strengthening your personality and becoming better through the mistakes. I am sure that many of you are perfectionists and maybe you don’t even know it. You have in your subconscious mind a schema that whatever you do has to work perfectly. Every single exit from the absolute plan and you want to hurt yourselves. You feel bad about you. The truth is that, in this case, you are in an imaginary world where you will always be hurting yourselves because you will never be able to absolutely follow a perfect plan and things to work perfectly, it’s just non realistic:
You will, as well, learn practical ways to improve your well-being by creating a positive environment around you and affecting this way your whole psychology. We are what we think Buddha had said but now science has come to findings that prove it. Apart from the previously mentioned priming, another way of effecting your behaviour is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you are thinking about a situation in a negative manner, feeling that you will not do well and in general by being pessimistic you are doing the following: You are creating a brain schema about failure. The mind works as a stimulator and its subconscious side doesn’t recognize a difference between imagination and reality. As a result it’s getting ready to behave this way when the time comes, it becomes accustomed to the situation of failure. Similarly if you are thinking about success, success is more possible to be achieved, the body will automatically work for this. Some people think it was just a prophecy by their spirits but as you see it wasn’t.
And the wisdom continues when talking about achieving. Coping is the key. This means changing your life’s activities which requires from you to constantly getting out of your comfort zone. Even one little step at the time. The main reason most people don’t do it is fear of failure in something new. However findings show that the pain associated with the fear of failure is much stronger than the pain associated with the failure itself. So you actually fear the fear. By repeatedly coping, even the ups and downs, in the long term the base level of your happiness and your achievements for sure increase significantly.
To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.
Another important aspect is the influence of behavior to our attitudes. It is commonly known that we behave according to our attitude. The opposite happens, too. If you start acting as if (a.k.a. Dr. Richard Wiseman) you are what you want to be then you start changing your whole attitude on this. For example try to put a smile on your face at a time you don’t feel like. You will see that after a moments your state will start to change. When you feel down you can act as if you feel well. The body infects the mind.
Acceptance and Importance
And the research is vast (this was only a small introduction) and goes on and on reaching to more effective findings. Positive Psychology has managed to treat many patients the natural way at the time other psychology or psychiatry sectors are not succesful enough even with the use of drugs for years now. The influence of the field has been amazing. Many scientists focused their research on aspects arising from positive psychology. Companies take a positive psychology approach when they want to improve the productivity of their employees. There exist professionals that are working on Positivity Coaching. There exist mentors that train people to take more control of their life and thus gain joy through rational pathways. I have a friend that a few years ago, after having heard me mention about positive psychology, she reffered to it in an interview for a master’s degree in Greece and made the interviewers enthusiastic. However, the most important thing was that people learned new ways of dealing with their depression even by themselves! By studying what these important people teach you can actively change your whole life’s mentality and psychology. Their ways are practical, easy and addressed to normal people.
What has to be clearly stated is that there doesn’t exist a condition of happiness or a condition of sadness in oneself. There exist only his levels of happiness. Sometimes people ask me if I am happy. I really cannot reply to this. I can for sure say that I am happier than ever before and I am doing my best to now be sadder than in the future.