“You just need to be more positive and look on the bright side.”
Unfortunately, anyone who has ever experienced depression has probably received this misguided advice of recovery through positive-thinking. As a result, the title of the book 201 Positive Psychology Applications may dissuade people who assume that it’s just another overly simplistic guide to “think happy thoughts” and things will get better.
Fortunately, that’s not what positive psychology is about, and is not what Fredrike Bannink is preaching in 201 Positive Psychology Applications, either. Instead, Bannink’s approach, which is based on Martin Seligman’s teaching, is about our overall well-being.
“Positive psychology does not have to be constructed from the ground up. It merely involves a change of focus from repairing what is worst in life to creating what is best,” Seligman is quoted at the beginning of the book.
While there are practical actions people can take to achieve a sense of wellbeing, Bannink’s book is by no means about adopting a positive attitude to find well-being overnight. Rather it offers small doable steps to experience improvement in wellbeing over time.
“Positive psychology focuses on strengthening capabilities to lead a pleasant, good, and meaningful life, with positive relationships and accomplishments,” writes Bannink.
The positive part comes from looking at what is right with people rather than what is wrong with them. Although there is certainly a place for examining what is wrong in our lives, such as negative behaviors or personal weaknesses, the emphasis in positive psychology is on what is going right.
The essential elements of this approach, which are taught by Seligman and covered in Bannink’s book, are positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment. Not all individuals are going to need the same thing in each of these elements; it’s very likely that some people will need guidance in a specific area more so than another. The goal is not for every reader to utilize every single application, but with 201 to choose from, Bannink’s guide should be a good place to start.
As a therapist, I’ve had multiple clients who comes to my office using the words “fix me,” with the assumption that there is something wrong with them and I have the magical cure to make everything right in a 50-minute session. What I like about the positive psychology approach is that it builds on what is already going well and gives power and hope back to the client. People who believe in themselves and their abilities have a confidence that things can change.
Importantly, this perspective does not throw traditional psychotherapy out the window; there is still a place for that intense work. But even in those cases, it’s nice to end a session building on something positive, whether it’s inviting clients to count their blessings at the end of the day, or asking them to think of solutions and present two options before the counselor provides any input.
This book is an especially helpful toolbox addition for people who suffer from depression. As we all know, people who are depressed tend to have negative thinking patterns which is commonly addressed through cognitive behavioral therapy. Offering simple, non-threatening ways to help people look ahead at what they can change rather than dwelling on the negative things may be a more hopeful approach.
Each of the five elements are based on the assumption that fulfillment in these areas will contribute to well-being overall. It is not necessary to work through the entire book because each element can be addressed independently of the other elements; they do not need to be read in order to built on each other.
Although we all have weaknesses and limitations, including some that may very much need to be addressed, this book does not dwell on those things and instead operates in a more positive framework of what is working well. Changing the focus gives clients and therapists a sense of hope by highlighting things that are already going well while in the process of changing for the better.
Well-being is about more than just putting on a happy face. They are about achieving a sense of contentment in all areas of life, while recognizing there will still be down times.
201 Positive Psychology Applications: Promoting Well-Being in Individuals and Communities
W. Norton & Company, 2017
Paperback, 303 pages