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Is Positive Psychology Still Relevant in 2017?

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Interview with Professor Barbara Fredrickson

As 2017 begins are you feeling weighed down with negativity from recent political events? It's easy to feel pessimistic, unsafe and down in the dumps when world events seem to be dividing us rather than drawing people closer together. So when our world feels like it's being turned upside down, what might the science of positive psychology and human flourishing really have to offer?

"Given the uncertainty and fear many people are currently experiencing, positive psychology is even more important because we need to learn strategies and practices that can help us to stay focused, kind and productive now more than ever," explained Professor Barbara Fredrickson, from the University of North Carolina, and President of the International Positive Psychology Association when I interviewed her recently. "Your ability to generate even small amounts of positive emotions--such as gratitude, inspiration, love, kindness--in your everyday experiences are really vital to being resilient and able to weather these tough times"

The unfortunate reality is that researchers have found that negativity screams much louder than positivity. Bad is stronger than good when it comes to the things that naturally draw our attention. So when the media and social discourse around you is very negative and the public mood is heavy, Barb suggests it's important that you take responsibility for your emotional experiences and wellbeing and consider if the emotions you're experiencing are appropriate and useful, or if you're adding to the sense of overwhelm and helplessness in the world.

"It's not the absence of negative emotions that determines whether you are flourishing or not, but it's how you deal with them that matters," explains Barb.

So how might positive psychology practices help you in the uncertain political world of 2017?

  • Don't fear negativity - new, fresh feelings of negativity due to changing circumstances or confrontations can be an important part of your learning and growth. Rather than forcing these emotions away, try to make a conscious effort to be open, curious and compassionate so you are able to respond in a way that still allows you to flourish.

Practicing mindfulness meditation or breath awareness can help prevent you from spiraling downward into a constant negative emotional state. In particular, researchers have found practicing loving-kindness meditation can generate more positive attitudes such as compassion, kindness and understanding for yourself and others.

How could you bring more openness, curiosity and compassion to new experiences of negativity, rather than fearing it?

  • Don't recycle negativity -once you've learned from a negative experience it's important not to let what's unfolded continue to weigh you down. Try not to prolong bad feelings beyond their usefulness for insight and growth.

For example being constantly tuned into the news media may be derailing your focus and fueling your negative emotions, so it may be helpful to limit how often you monitor the news streams. Being mindful about how often and with whom you share your negative feelings could help prevent you from re-triggering vulnerabilities in yourself and others. Instead of ruminating over what's worrying you, let yourself be distracted with a good novel, hunt out good new stories, or get out into the world and practice some gratitude or kindness for others to short-circuit the downward spiral of unhelpful and unhealthy negativity.

How can you create a moment of heart-felt positivity when you find yourself recycling negativity that no longer offers you a learning or growth opportunity?

Opportunities to positively resonate with people are all around you. Just take a moment to genuinely connect with a warm greeting, to ask an appreciative question (i.e. what's going well this week?) or share a reason to laugh. Barb suggests our ability to feel safe with each other isn't shaped by global or national politics, but by these small moments with strangers.

How can you create more micro-moments of connection in your day?

For more tools and guided meditations to create heartfelt positivity and micro-moments of connection in your life visit Barb's website at

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