Creating Positive Cultures
Being a practitioner of positive psychology, I greatly enjoyed hearing Dr. Martin Seligman present his five factor PERMA framework.
The following factors support resilience and wellness:
- Positive emotions. Although we each have base set point (as Seligman says, “you can’t change a curmudgeon into a cheerleader”), by using practices to experience more positive emotions more frequently, we can increase this set point by up to fifteen percent.
- Engagement. Much has been written on a state of “flow”, when you get so fully engaged in an activity that time seems to stop. According to Seligman, the best shortcut to engaging in the present moment is this: Identify your highest strengths and give them your full efforts, and you will find flow.
- Relationships. Humans are social beings, selected for relationships. The research shows that this is the most powerful avenue toward growing resilience and wellness. People heal people. Prioritize engaging in positive and supporting relationships.
- Meaning and Purpose. Being part of something larger than yourself is compelling. So compelling that we often choose this even at cost to our relationships. Don’t do this. With intentionality, you can find ways to prioritize relationships and follow your bliss.
- Accomplishment. Achievements fuel us. One gratitude journaling study compared the impact of recording three childhood memories versus three gratitudes each night. The latter, which supported writers to ponder daily accomplishments, had a bigger impact on measures of well-being.
A common question that arises with positive psychology is this:
Does success make people happy or does happiness cause success?
A long line of studies by Dr. Ed Diener indicates that happiness fuels success. Happy people are healthier, live longer, choose more virtuous behavior, volunteer more, are more creative, have better social relationships and are more productive at work. Each of these outcomes has great impacts. For example, being healthier includes having a stronger immune system, less inflammation, less cardiovascular disease, less infections, longer telomeres, faster wound healing, and better health behaviors.
Celebrate the good stuff! Dr. Rick Hanson suggests that at least six times a day, look for simple positive events (e.g., a warm drink, an unexpected compliment) and then fully embrace them by holding feelings of enjoyment for 30 seconds without distraction, letting the goodness fill your body and sink into your cells. Research shows that the longer we hold the good in awareness and the more positive emotions we stimulate, the more neurons that fire. Over time, this practice will wire your brain to automatically respond to events in ways that feed joy and build resilience.
The field of positive psychology has paved the way to where schools are moving beyond calling on us after a crisis or loss to asking for help in proactively creating a positive culture of resilience and whole child supports.
Discussions with policy makers and administrators are getting easier with growing research documenting that schools that go beyond literacy and numeracy to include instruction on resilience and well-being increase not only subjective measures of well-being, but also academics and standardized test scores.
While this blog focuses on positive education, there is an analogous body of research in the workplace and beyond. When we get our relationships and mindset right and integrate practices that add strength and vibrancy to our lives, key outcomes follow.
Collectively, the research is pointing to the power of an organization saying to its stakeholders:
“We are an organization that values you and those we serve. This means that your job includes not only being good at what you do, but also increasing well-being in yourself and others, and we will measure and reward accordingly. Practice self-care and know your students/your staff/our customers. Interact with positivity, form authentic relationships, explore what gives their lives meaning and purpose, support and celebrate their successes, and lead with enthusiasm toward a hopeful future.”