Character Strengths

I have short handouts printed of feedback on the character strengths questionnaire and scoring, but if you want a copy of the full handout please email and I’ll send the pdf.

You might also like to go online to the Authentic Happiness website if you’re interested in questionnaires online about well-being and happiness.

https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/testcenter

 

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What do we know about love?

Sadly this is a much-neglected topic in Psychology. As you are aware Positive Psychology grew out of a disillusionment with the obsession of early psychologists with unhappiness and mental health problems, to the extent that the focus was more often on how to eliminate unhappiness rather than how to achieve happiness. It’s now well recognised that the ‘alleviation of symptoms of unhappiness’ does not necessarily lead to happiness. An excessive focus on problems is, in itself, a problem. This all means that some of the most important characteristics of being human, like love, sex, spirituality and creativity, are greatly neglected in the empirical and scientific research.

Here are a few online resources that might give you an insight into some contemporary ideas about love.

Psychologist Robert Sternberg’s theory of love.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangular_theory_of_love

Sternberg is an expert in the psychology of creativity, human intelligence and problem-solving.

Videos: 1)Helen Fisher TED Talk on Love; 2) Alain de Botton on Love

 

Relationships

Positive Relationships is the ‘R’ in PERMA well-being theory. Thus far in the course, we have concentrated mainly on the individual in the sense that our focus has been on emotions and our ability to engage in activities whether alone or in groups. Our ability to engage in activities with other is extremely important from an individual point of view but this says little or nothing about our relationships with others. Our sense of self and our experience of being a person in the world is often very individualistic. Yet none of this would exist without our connections to other.

Relationships start with the relational self and our capacity to relate to others positively. It’s impossible to separate our happiness as an individual from our relationships with other. In this course, the discussion begins to move from the individual to the relational with a look at what it means to have a sense of self. The course outline lists two potential theories of self and as way into discussing personality or individual character on the one hand and some of the theories about the self in the world. I decided to change this class slightly from that listed. Rather than focusing on only two theories I thought it would be an idea to start off with small group discussions about the sense of self and then have a the ideas up on the board that come out of the discussions. I will use the ideas to point to where these ideas come from in theories about self and identity. In this way, everyone can reflect on how they think about the individual and where that fits into the theories of development, of which there are many.

In addition to thinking about the individual self this discussion will also bring out the ways in which the self is embedded in relationships.

How important is engagement?

Engagement, the ‘E‘ in PERMA well-being theory, is essential for happiness and arguably the most essential element for life satisfaction. It’s the things that disrupt ‘engagement’ that bring unhappiness, like a lack of Positive emotion and the preponderance of negative emotion, Relationship problems, and a lack of Meaning and Accomplishment.

What came across for me most strongly in our class discussions was the way that the gap between, our capacity to become fully immersed in activities on the one hand and a deep sense of unhappiness on the other, is filled with a host of strategies that help us to engage in activities either alone or with others. Everything we do seems to be some form of engagement as long as we want to do it and we’re not bored, that is everything from passively watching TV to meditation and losing ourselves in our work. The ultimate flow experience is defined in terms of total immersion in an activity to the extent that we lose track of time. Achieving flow is a skill in itself but it’s hard to achieve flow if we must engage in activities that are overly difficult or we lack the skills and know-how. Learned helplessness and feeling powerless undermine the ability to move beyond passive engagement and engage in the kind of activities necessary to accomplish our goals and achieve a sense of purpose. Thus, that kind of engagement involved in achievement appears to be necessary for happiness and well-being.

 

Problem Solving and Positive Psychology

Last week’s workshops on ‘Solution based Problem Solving’ was very interesting, although someone asked me at the end of the Tuesday night session, how it relates to PERMA theory. There was a reason why I included this workshop in the course but following the buzz of the evening, I just couldn’t remember. But I knew I had a good reason for including it. Maybe it was just too late to think, but interestingly, the exercise was related to positive thinking in the sense of focusing on solutions rather than talking about problems.

Positive Psychology emerged from the scientific branch of Psychology and while it’s not explicitly political, science is inherently political when the research flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Politics has become very interesting in the past year. Movements like the Positive Psychology movement and the Emotional Intelligence movements have been gaining ground for years. Their aim is to understand human nature in order to improve life on the planet and to create better contexts for human development. In other words, these movements are about finding out what works for people. Philosophies can prescribe how we should live but science can tell us what works, and what works best in terms of well-being, and flourishing.

Cognitive psychology research tells us that we are fundamentally irrational if logic is used as the gold standard for rationality. This exposes a fundamental flaw in traditional thinking about human intelligence. At the core of human intelligence is the ability to creatively solve individual and social problems. The natural orientation of people is towards solutions and actions. We’re natural experimenters. We like to try things out to see what works best. Yet, despite our amazing freedom, we often feel powerless to solve the most fundamental of human problems, i.e. finding homes and jobs. Too many people find the rules are not stacked in their favour and their only recourse is to appeal to the authorities for mercy. These were two of the problems we focused on in the workshops.

The problems we focused on for the Positive Psychology were mainly of a more social nature than in the Introduction to Psychology course where the problems tended to be more of a personal nature. This was interesting. I notice that in these courses on Positive Psychology there is a lot of interest from a relational and societal point of view. It seems that happiness on a personal level is related to connections with others and the kind of world we live in. Those who are most contented seem to live in fairly stable situations and tend to be quite resilient when bad things happen, as they inevitably do.

The same two core aspects of society and human life that came up in our problem-solving workshops were access to both homes and jobs. It’s a strange world we live in where the fundamentals of life are beyond the reach of some people. This doesn’t just apply to those who have major personal issues. In fact, many of the personal problems people suffer from may be directly related to how difficult it is to have either or, quite often, both. It’s true that people’s needs and expectations for jobs and homes may have changed, but nonetheless, the problem of access to both appears to be quite considerable.

When I talk to people, I frequently hear that ‘education’ is the access route to getting a job and then subsequently getting a home. This is the prescription of our society and there’s often little sympathy for deviants. Yet education seems to fail a lot of individuals. Being a school or college drop out is known to be a predictor of unemployment and homelessness. However, I have a lot of criticisms of this culture, the way young people are kept in school dependent of parents who can often ill afford to feed and provide them with the needs of contemporary life. This seems to me to be a trap, a type of poverty trap. Despite the fact that it’s possible to access education at any age and to continue to enjoy studying at times in your life when you know what to study and what you’re interested in, young people are still expected to ‘complete their education’ before taking up the status of ‘adult’ in the contemporary world. Two generations ago people could leave school at 14, with quite a good grounding in the basics, and get a job. They could contribute to the family in addition to being independent. Those days are gone. Dependence, well into one’s adult life, has become the norm for European young adults. In some European countries, it’s worse than Ireland. Yet I often feel I’m the only one who sees this as a problem.

There were a few other ‘problems’ that came up that commonly affect people in today’s world, for example, loneliness, isolation and depression. It was recognised that in addition to the problems of homelessness there was also a problem of people living on their own. Never before has there been so many people living alone, often in rural areas where people can’t enjoy the tradition of a few drinks in the pub because of the lack of public transport and the fact that drink driving is unacceptable. Finally, the problems faced by the elderly living alone, health and support, loneliness etc. were well recognised. Organisations like ‘Meals on Wheels’, which is run by volunteers, provides a much-needed lifeline for many. Volunteers can play an important role in making nursing homes and residential care more homely, plus volunteering is a great way to get involved and play an active part in society.

Overall the focus on solutions seemed to divert attention towards actions that we ourselves can take on to change our society. I was really impressed with our groups that there was no-one saying that ‘the Government should do something’ or ‘we need to attract more international investments’. Those were the rally cries for so many years especially when we busy and doing well financially in the time of the Celtic Tiger. The idea that throwing money at the problem failed as much of the money invested in community and housing in that time has had no real long term effect. Activist stunts like Apollo House caught the imagination of many but most don’t see it as a real solution. Dublin city council pulled a similar stunt of getting people off the streets a week before Christmas just two years earlier but the activists were up in arms and have been trying to shut it down ever since. So what was different? One of our small groups talked about housing the homeless in their local area. The knew the homeless people and wanted to know how they could get involved. The problem with the Dublin City Council project may have been that it relocated homeless people from other areas of the city into a neighbourhood that had a huge homelessness, drug and alcohol problem. Activists against that scheme felt that the area had enough problems of its own. It’s become politically incorrect to want to take care of ‘our own’. In our classes, the idea of becoming active locally, in the neighbourhood where you live, with Government support for sustainable projects, seemed to offer the best way forward. Even though Apollo house was far from ideal, it was the sense of solidarity and support that warmed people’s hearts, not least of all those who benefitted from the action. Participating in a caring society emerged from out discussions as something we need to think more about going forward.

One of our small groups talked about housing the homeless in their local area. The knew the homeless people and wanted to know how they could get involved. The problem with the Dublin City Council project may have been that it relocated homeless people from other areas of the city into a neighbourhood that had a huge homelessness, drug and alcohol problem. Activists against that scheme felt that the area had enough problems of its own. It’s become politically incorrect to want to take care of ‘our own’. In our classes, the idea of becoming active locally, in the neighbourhood where you live, with Government support for sustainable projects, seemed to offer the best way forward. Even though Apollo house was far from ideal, it was the sense of solidarity and support that warmed people’s hearts, not least of all those who benefitted from the action. Participating in a caring society emerged from out discussions as something we need to think more about going forward. In conclusion, politics has become more interesting in recent times and people seem to be re-thinking our involvement and participation in our society.