3 Key Insights from the Frontiers of Positive Psychology

3 Key Insights from the Frontiers of Positive Psychology

by Elise Proulx from the Huffington Post

Fifteen years after emerging as a major scientific movement, it’s clear that positive psychology — the study of what brings happiness and meaning in life — is not just a fad. The field is reaching new levels of breadth and depth: Having established its core themes and principles during its first decade, it is now getting deeper and more precise in its exploration of what it takes to truly flourish in life.

The growth of positive psychology was evident last month at the International Positive Psychology Association’s (IPPA) third bi-annual World Congress on Positive Psychology in downtown Los Angeles. A truly international crowd gathered for four days of workshops and symposia on everything from neuroplasticity and mindfulness to positive organizations and positive psychology in film.

“The science of positive psychology has now achieved a point where it is comparable to the other sub-disciplines of psychology,” wrote IPPA president Robert Vallerand in the Congress’ welcome message. “And the scientifically informed applications of positive psychology are more popular and diversified than ever.”

As Vallerand suggests, the leaders of positive psychology have always prided themselves on delivering scientific findings with clear practical applications. Here are three of the most striking and practical insights I took away from the Congress.

1. Look to the future for a meaningful life.

Now-familiar research shows that we are happiest when we live in the present and that practicing mindfulness — which involves tuning in to our thoughts, emotions and sensations in the present moment — is good for our bodies, brains and relationships.

But in their IPPA keynote, Martin Seligman and Roy Baumeister, both giants in the field of positive psychology, argued for the importance of focusing on the future. Looking ahead, they believe, can bring meaning to our lives — a school of thought they call “prospective psychology.”

The core of this concept is that it becomes a lot easier to understand some of the complexities of the human mind once you consider that we evolved to predict the future — and that doing this well is key to survival. “So intelligence isn’t about what you know,” said Seligman, “but about how well you can predict an act in the future.”

But how can Baumeister and Seligman advocate thinking about the future when so much prior research stresses living in the present? Baumeister noted that almost 40 percent of people who report having a happy life also report having a meaningful life — a pretty significant overlap, but it still leaves a large gap. That sparked some musing on the differences between happiness and meaning.

For example, people who help others say they are happier and rate their lives as more meaningful than those who don’t. However, Baumeister found that when you subtract the people who report high meaningfulness, people who help others are actually less happy than those who don’t. It’s the addition of meaningfulness that tips the balance.

And focusing on the future — and the feeling that one has control over one’s future — seems to be linked with meaningfulness.

“Hoping, planning, saving for a rainy day, worrying, striving, voting, risking or minimizing risk, even undertaking therapy all have in common the presupposition that which future will come about is contingent on our deliberation and action,” Seligman and Baumeister write in a paper published this March.

So while happiness may be all about the present, meaningfulness may be found in the future. Only by connecting the two can one find the greatest meaning, purpose and happiness in life.

2. Detaching from work is a good thing … for most of us…

…keep reading the full article HERE