Happiness…why mental yoga and mental flexibility is key to wellbeing

Happiness…why mental yoga and mental flexibility is key to wellbeing

from the blog of Jeremy McCarthy

In the last several years, psychology has been flipped on its head with the growth and popularity of positive psychology. While psychology traditionally has focused on studying things we want less of such as depression and mental illness, positive psychology has focused on things we want more of: happiness, positive emotions, optimism, strengths, and meaning in life. 

But some psychologists are quick to point out that more is not always better.  Too much happiness can make someone exceedingly obnoxious and difficult to relate to.  Too much optimism can lead us to make poor decisions and to lose touch with reality.  And even strengths in an exaggerated form can become a weakness (as confidence becomes arrogance, honesty becomes brutal, curiosity becomes nosiness, etc.)

The key, as some scientists are pointing out, is not to strive blindly for more of everything that is perceived as _ã–good_㝠(see _ã–The Problem with Happiness_㝠by Todd Kashdan,) but rather to better understand the situations we find ourselves in and to adapt our minds accordingly using exactly the emotions and psychological resources that are best suited for any specific situation.

If most of positive psychology has been focused on developing tools (i.e. helping us develop our strengths, teaching us to use gratitude, helping us to be more optimistic,) psychological flexibility is about learning which tool to use in which situation and being able to fluidly flex from moment to moment as needed.  We know, for example that optimism has benefits, but some situations call for pessimism.  Knowing when to use which one is a better strategy than focusing on one to the exclusion of the other.

Likewise, being able to shift attention to different domains of life (as I suggested in my _ã–Diversification of Wellbeing_㝠article.) is another important aspect of psychological flexibility. And while I_ã_ve written previously about the benefits of having a future time perspective (here and here,) the research on psychological flexibility would suggest that sometimes it is better to simply enjoy the present, or to reflect on the past.  The best strength comes from having the ability to shift from one perspective to another as the situation dictates, or as dictated by one_ã_s personal values…

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