Problems are human; evolution has been about solving the problem of survival, medicine has been about solving the problem of disease, philosophy addresses the problem of fundamental questions of existence, while psychology addresses the problem of human nature. The problems that therapy addresses are the kind related to one’s deep personal experience which is practically a world of its own.
In this context, it is hardly surprising that a single problem can be approached in a variety of ways. Even before therapists had become a big part of the health space, one of the standard ways to deal with problems was to find its source and attack it at the roots: Feeling depressed? The common strategy would be to explore the possible reasons or factors that may have precipitated the feelings of low mood, life changes, existing medical conditions, environment, relationships and even personality factors. The object of this approach would be the absence of depression, and the facets to explore it are endless. It is human nature to ignore or overlook the regular and focus more on the out-of-the-ordinary. This means that oftentimes we take good health for granted while illness can suddenly become almost like an identity that needs special addressing.
What began to happen over time was that a particular trend was initiated by a psychologist named Martin Seligman along lines that made people think differently about their problems – so much time is spent thinking about “fixing” the things that are going wrong, how come there is rarely any emphasis placed on the things that are going right? What makes us tick? What are the kinds of things that make our lives meaningful? Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that addresses precisely these questions. This is not to say that one should pretend that there isn’t a problem where there actually is one; rather this approach advocates using what is going right to deal with whatever may be causing distress or unhappiness. In fact, this approach has less to do with problem-solving and more to do with subjective well-being, and the ways in which one can enhance it.
The interesting thing about positive psychology is that it is much more rooted in the present than in the past. Being in the here-and-now through the practice of mindfulness, inculcating an attitude of gratitude, engaging in acts of kindness and compassion, and cultivating the personal strengths and virtues that an individual already possesses become the mainstay for this approach. The object of this approach, thus, would be the presence of elements that elicit a sense of good health and well-being.
Perhaps the need for using such an optimistic outlook is greater in the current climate of stress and anxiety in a world where depression has become a global crisis yet remains somehow inconspicuous in its attack. What makes us feel good, the activities that bring us joy, and the meaning and fulfilment we find in living our lives are in large ways able to trump over the strains of life that cause so much distress. The essence of this perspective is based on the understanding that well-being is not a state of mind that one merely achieves and dwells in, but also involves practices that one must engage in at a conscious level to maintain and evolve. Life may never quite be a walk in the park, but there’s no reason the journey can’t be made with a spring in one’s step.
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