Positive psychology is a term that is being thrown around more and more these days and many of you may be wondering exactly what it means. A simple definition would be that it is a branch of psychology concerned with the positive aspects of human life, such as happiness, well-being and flourishing. A means to live a happy and healthy life, and meet your ultimate potential and goals, if you will.
It is however a very broad term and as such positive psychology can be defined in various ways. The best place to start is undoubtedly with the words of its founder, Martin Seligman, who states that it is the: 'scientific study of optimal human functioning that aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive'.
Alternatively, it could be said positive psychology is "the scientific study of what makes life most worth living", or "the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life". (Wikipedia)
As our focus at EiR Psychology is on how exploring our psychology can help us understand, live with, and ultimately recover from environmental and invisible illnesses - you will note that positive psychology as defined above, can help provide us with the tools to do just that.
The very word 'psychology' for many of you will have negative connotations, and with good reason. The field of psychology and most psychologists since World War II have focused on the negative aspects of life and a person's psyche and you may well have had negative experiences with a psychologist practising in this way (read more about the history of 'traditional psychology' here). Positive psychology switches this on its head, so to speak, and focuses on the opposite, the positive traits of an individual and how they can use these to achieve their goals. Whereas traditional psychology focuses on mental illness, positive psychology focuses on mental wellness.
Following on from this, positive psychology is concerned with all aspects of life, both individually, and as a society. As we try to come to terms with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), chronic Lyme and the like (we all know it's a huge list!), and begin trying to understand them and hopefully overcome them (or at least manage them), it would be hugely remiss of us to neglect the psychological aspects of environmental and invisible illnesses.
Not for one minute are we saying that these illnesses (or syndromes), are "all in the head", rather that in order to best manage them and ultimately embark on a successful healing journey, there is much in positive psychology that can benefit us and help us achieve this.
Positive psychology can be a great ally when it comes to everything from understanding the factors that led to us becoming unwell in the first instance, to making sense of all the aspects of our lives which may be keeping us sick, such as biological and environmental factors, toxic relationships and jobs, and a society that still dismisses and sidelines anyone struggling with environmental and invisible illnesses.
By using positive psychology we can therefore not only understand ourselves and our illnesses much more deeply, but use it for the very purpose it was developed, to help us to thrive and live happy lives - whether that means genuinely accepting our ill-health and being able to be happy anyway - or if by making changes to our thought processes and lifestyles, we're able to return to 100% good health. Nothing is impossible.
It may well be that if you mention to a friend, family member or co-worker that you're seeing a psychologist, their response would be along the lines of "Why, what's wrong with you now?" or, if they have some understanding of your illness, "How is that going to help you, your illness is physical?".
But, positive psychology is all about self-understanding, self-improvement, happiness and healing (inclusive of the biological/physical body). If there is anyone who needs these things more than anyone, it's someone facing environmental and invisible illness, like you.