AbstractPositive psychology is the area of psychology dedicated to improving well-being, rather than focusing on pathology. There are many ways in which research in positive psychology can be used in daily life. The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the current research on positive psychology to see which parts of the research have real-life applications. The research involved in this paper focuses on how money affects positive psychology, the effects of acts of kindness and volunteering on psychological well-being, and the dynamic effects of positive psychology on social networks. It is clear that positive psychology has a number of applications in different areas of life and all of these can be used to influence perceived happiness and to influence the lives of others around us. Each of the behaviors explored in this paper involve making small changes that are linked to positive psychology and the current research in the discipline.
Positive psychology is one of the newest fields of academic study in psychology, and focuses on promoting personal growth and helping individuals achieve goals, rather than on treating mental illnesses and dealing with pathology (Ankin et al., 2009). The aim of positive psychology is not to ignore the real issues of mental health, but to act as a field of research that works in tandem with the more traditional frameworks that focus on psychopathology (Ankin et al., 2009). In a sense, positive psychology research is dedicated to understanding how individuals can achieve “the good life”, that is to be engaged and live through meaningful actions (Ankin et al., 2009). The purpose of this paper is to explore how positive psychology research can be applied in our day-to-day lives with the intent of making our lives have more meaning, promoting psychological and social well-being.
There have been several different important findings in terms of “happiness research” in the last few decades, all of which have some bearing on creating a positive psychology in day-to-day life. One of the most interesting areas of research is the effect of wealth on our happiness and well-being.
Aknin, Norton & Dunn (2009) found that money contributes to happiness, but only in certain situations. This study found that there was a link between household income and well-being, but only up to the point where people had their basic needs met (Aknin et al., 2009). The study also investigated the perceived impact of income, and people generally estimated that those in higher income brackets were 100% happier than they actually were. In this sense, money makes a difference to creating a positive psychology, but people generally overestimate the impact that money will have on their happiness (Aknin et al., 2009). This research can be applied in that it suggests that we should strive to make enough money to be comfortable, but we will not be happier seeking extravagant wealth and we should not be envious of those who seem to have extravagant wealth, as they are unlikely to be as happy as they seem.
Gratitude is another area of research that has been shown to positively influence human psychology. Watkins, Woodward, Stone & Kolts (2013) found that having the gratitude trait was positively correlated with improved mood and subjective well-being. The Gratitude Resentment and Appreciation Test was designed to measure how grateful an individual is and what type of gratitude they showed. In terms of applying positive psychology in my life, this study shows that being grateful and avoiding resentment can have a positive impact on mood, and increase subjective feelings of happiness. Gratitude is one of the simplest applications of positive psychology in everyday life and has huge relevance to understanding what behaviors make us feel better about ourselves.
Fowler & Christakis (2008) have also shown that happiness and well-being have a dynamic spread. This means that surrounding yourself with positive people who display happiness as an outward trait can have a positive effect on happiness and well-being. In this seminal study of 4739 individuals followed between 1983 and 2003, people were found to cluster in groups of happy and unhappy people (Fowler & Christakis, 2008). The spread of happiness was found to extend through three degrees of separation, meaning that extended social ties of happiness spread throughout the network. In terms of application to everyday life, it is simple to see how this research can have a positive impact on our lives. It is easy to surround yourself with positive people that are able to spread happiness in this dynamic way, and this spread will also have a positive effect on those within an existing social network.
Acts of kindness are also considered to be vital in subjective well-being. Layous, Nelson, Oberle, Schonert-Reichl & Lyubomirsky (2012) studied the effects of prosocial and “kind” behaviors on the happiness of nine to eleven year olds in Canada. The experimental group consisted of children would were instructed to perform three acts of kindness each week over the course of four weeks (Layous et al., 2012). These students not only showed increases in well-being, but were also more accepted by their peers and had related academic and social outcomes improved. All of these factors can contribute to a positive psychology, as they are all directly related to our feelings of self-worth and how we see ourselves. Small acts of kindness can have major effects on our psychology and are simple to incorporate into our everyday actions.
In a similar vein, there is also evidence that volunteering can be integral to creating a psychology of happiness. Jenkinson et al. (2013) consider the links between volunteering and happiness to be significant enough that we can use volunteering as a public health intervention. The study showed that volunteering not only engages people with those around them and their local community, they can also have the impact of improving social capital. The study also showed significant improvements in volunteer wellbeing and an increase in empathy in terms of engaging underrepresented populations (Jenkinson et al., 2012). The study showed that these impacts of positive psychology through volunteering (which can be categorized similarly to the acts of kindness explored in the previous study) are significant enough to have an impact on physical health. Volunteering is a simple way of improving subjective well-being and does not need to include complex procedures to have this effect.
These studies show that making small changes in our lives can have a positive impact on happiness. There is a correlation between being grateful, performing kind acts, and happiness. These can easily be incorporated into my life because they require being selfless for short amounts of time. These approaches can make an individual feel happier because they are acting in a generous way to help someone else out. Volunteering, for example, was found to have an impact on both psychological and physical well-being, which suggests that this type of behavior can be beneficial all-round. I would suggest volunteering to anyone who wants to incorporate some positive psychology in their lives because it helps to give people a sense of satisfaction and improves the lives of others. It is also a simple act to get involved in and helps you to meet more people, and if these people have positive attitudes too, this can help to spread happiness dynamically through your social networks.
What is most interesting about positive psychology research is that money is not necessarily tied to subjective well-being. Most people assume that money is a source of happiness, but research has showed that it is not and that we often overestimate the benefits of wealth. This means that, to cultivate a positive psychology, we should be focusing on more than simply earning money. It also suggests that giving to others (in terms of wealth) could be beneficial in terms of well-being, because we are spreading wealth around to ensure that everyone has their basic needs met – another criterion for positive psychology. Overall, the research suggests that a positive psychological approach can be generated from making very small changes – being grateful, giving to others, avoiding the pursuit of wealth, and surrounding ourselves with happy people – and this can be incorporated into my life and those around me.
- Aknin, L. B., Norton, M. I., & Dunn, E. W. (2009). From wealth to well-being? Money matters, but less than people think. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(6), 523–527.
- Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A. (2008). Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. BMJ, 337, a2338. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2338
- Jenkinson, C. E., Dickens, A. P., Jones, K., Thompson-Coon, J., Taylor, R. S., Rogers, M., … Richards, S. H. (2013). Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC Public Health, 13, 773. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-13-773
- Layous, K., Nelson, S. K., Oberle, E., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2012). Kindness Counts: Prompting Prosocial Behavior in Preadolescents Boosts Peer Acceptance and Well-Being. PLOS ONE, 7(12), e51380. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0051380
- Watkins, P. C., Woodward, K., Stone, T., & Kolts, R. L. (2003). Gratitude and Happiness: Development of a measure of gratitude, and relationships with subjective well-being. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 31(5), 431–451. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2003.31.5.431