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What is Positive Psychology?
by Stephen Williamson

There is a widely held view that the role of the doctor is to cure the sick. Similarly it is felt that the psychiatrist is there to cure mental illness. Historically this has been the case, certainly in Western cultures. In recent years there has been a shift in the medical profession towards prevention. If we can prevent illness happening in the first place then this is not only beneficial to the patient, but can save money. Now when I visit my doctor I am also offered advice on diet and lifestyle as well as pills for my ailments. Modern health services are not there just to treat illness, or even prevent illness. They encourage people to reach their optimum physical fitness.

The psychology profession is beginning to look at how to address people with no obvious mental issues, but who have not yet reached their full potential as positive human beings. One of the pioneers of this approach is Martin Segilman at the University of Pennsylvania. He wanted to know what character strengths are necessary to reach a human beings full potential. If these character strengths were develope, the result would be happy, well-balanced and positive person.

Segilman and his colleagues embarked on a quest to catalogue these character strengths. They looked at what traditions throughout history had to say on the matter; from the great religions of the world to Greek and Chinese philosophers. They brainstormed, consulted, discussed, debated - and eventually came up with a list of 24 character strengths.

Segilman branded this branch of psychology Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology is based on scientific evidence and research. Like all science it is not fixed in stone. The 24 character strengths are a model that may be fine-tuned and more added to them.

Segilman has written a best-selling book on Positive Psychology entitled Authentic Happiness .Positive Psychology examines positive feeling and positive character and how you can achieve positive states.

The 24 character strengths are grouped under 6 themes

1. Wisdom and Knowledge - The acquisition and use of knowledge
2. Courage - exercising will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal.
3. Humanity and Love - Positive social interaction with other people.
4. Justice - Healthy community life.
5. Temperance - Protecting against excess.
6. Transcendence - Connections to the larger universe and meaning and purpose in life.

The character strengths of Wisdom and knowledge are:
1. Curiosity - openness to new ideas and experiences.
2. Creativity - Discovering original ideas. Can be expressed, but not limited to, artistic works.
3. Open Mindedness - The ability to think things through and examine things from all sides.
4. Love of Learning - Enthusiasm for learning new ideas and skills.
5. Perspective/Wisdom - Judgement and strength to provide wise counsel for others

The character strengths of Courage are:

6. Bravery - To take action in spite of dangers or risks.
7. Persistence - The strength to strive for a goal despite obstacles and setbacks.
8. Honesty - The integrity to speak the truth and present yourself in an honest way.
9. Zest - Vitality, enthusiasm and living life as an adventure.

The character strengths of Humanity are:

10. Love - Loving yourself and others. Being loved.
11. Kindness - Care and compassion without the expectation of personal gain.
12. Social Intelligence - Awareness of emotions and intentions of others.

The character strengths of Justice are:

13. Teamwork - The ability to work as a member of a group for the common good.
14. Fairness - Treating people according to ideals of equality and justice.
15. Leadership - The ability to motivate and co-ordinate a group of people to achieve a common goal.

The character strengths of Temperance are:

16. Forgiveness & Mercy - The ability to forgive those who have wronged or offended you.
17. Modesty - Allow your strengths and accomplishments to speak for themselves without the need to brag about them.
18. Prudence - The ability to be careful about your choices
19. Self-Regulation - The ability to exert control over yourself in order to achieve goals and meet standards.

The character strengths of Transcendence are:

20. Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence - Feeling a sense of awe and wonder in responses to beautiful things.
21. Gratitude - Thankfulness for the good things in your life.
22. Optimism - Expecting good things to happen in the future.
23. Humour - Enjoyment of laughter, friendly teasing and being playful.
24. Spirituality - The knowledge of your place within the larger scheme of things. A senses of the sacred.

If you look at these character strengths you will probably recognise all of them as part of your personality. Some will be stronger than others, A well-balanced person will have developed all the character strengths.

Each character strength is a skill. The good news is that each of the charater srength skills can be learnt, nurtured and developed. To reach your full potential is possible.

Positive Psychology is not just a model, or theory on how to develop a positive life. It can be applied to your life in a practical way. It is like a road map. Once you have the map then it makes it a lot easier to reach your destination.

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