Positive Psychology

The history of medicine and psychology is a journey through curative solutions to problems we’ve faced along the development of our species. Cleverly, we have designed solutions to the problems we have faced, from depression and anxiety to neurological ailments. However, the solutions to our problems have all been rooted in the problems themselves. Often, individuals don’t achieve their maximum potential of wellbeing or contentment because the tools prescribed to obtain these goals are designed to treat illness, rather than boost already healthy individuals.

As a result, this curative approach only maintains a level of happiness preventing us from achieving new levels of personal success and joy. Recently, new approaches to preventive medicine have shown a great deal of promise in fields like nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, heart rate variability, even more esoteric fields like parasympathetic nervous system engagement, polyvagal theory and biofeedback have shown clinical efficacy in reducing anxiety and depression, increasing happiness and pleasure.

The new trend in preventive mental health is treatment for the healthy individual. A landmark theory by psychologist Abraham Maslow described what he called a hierarchy of needs. Our first needs are survival and safety, once those needs are met, we seek to fill our needs for love and belonging, when those needs are met, our need to create a sense of esteem, self respect through accomplishment and mastery. The highest level of Maslow’s pyramid of needs is called self actualization. This is almost a spiritual need, where Maslow envisioned the individual discovering his true nature, his higher self, spirit guide or what he called full integration of all aspects of the self. He explained that a person achieves this level of need fulfillment through transcendental ‘peak experiences’ that defy normal mundane sensations. The key to happiness it would seem is through developing a larger sense of self by overcoming the trappings of physical needs.

Another very important aspect of happiness is social engagement. Clinical studies show that individuals with greater social connections have longer, happier lives with less disease, pain and depression. Social engagement itself seems to have a happiness effect, but it can also be targeted and tailored for maximum impact; its not just about likes on social media but the connection that forms between people who share common interests, goals and passions. In fact it is precisely this kind of connection that deepens a relationship and the depth of a relationship, the degree of shared feelings is directly related to a sense of wellbeing and personal happiness.

Another fascinating aspect of the pursuit of happiness is the concept of mindfulness based practices. Mindfulness has origins in ancient Buddhist philosophy; the main principle is non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. This can lead to a sense of separation between the individual and their thoughts. Often, our anxieties are fed by our identification with our thoughts. When someone is able to come to the realization that their thoughts do not define them, a sense of happiness unfolds. This happiness can stem from a sense of freedom from the trappings of physical needs, keeping up with the demands of a mind with tasks and goals that distract itself from a larger more joyful integration of the self. Even more, once a sense of separation from thoughts is built and reinforced, an intriguing new sensation can be detected. This new sensation is that of being an observer of the minds parade of thoughts. Over time, when an individual can identify with the observer of the mind rather than the mind itself, the question naturally arises, which one am I? If I am not the thoughts, nor the the thinker of these thoughts but merely an observer, then who am I truly? This is one path to what Maslow calls self actualization identification with the higher self and becomes a spiritual path to happiness.

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