When thinking about mental health, it’s easy to view it as either struggling with severe mental disorders and significant stress or not. As a result, we often focus solely on what’s wrong without considering all the good qualities in our lives.
This trend has its roots in Allport’s continuum model of mental health, where each individual can be placed somewhere on that spectrum. While it was helpful in clinical psychology, diagnosis, and treatment, it mainly focused on disordered functioning, entirely omitting the role of the inner resources of each person in strengthening their mental health.
Yet, over time, this old paradigm gave way to a new perspective – positive psychology. This discipline, so widespread today, started gaining popularity in the 2000s thanks to its iconic researchers, such as Martin Seligman, Abraham Maslow or Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who deepened our understanding of mental health, emphasizing not only the importance of surviving but also thriving.
In 2002, Keyes & Lopez published their dual continuum model of mental health and mental illness, which encapsulates the notion that supporting our well-being is just as important as treating mental health issues.
PERMA Model of Well-Being
Martin Seligman, a pioneer of positive psychology, focused on finding answers, backed by scientific research, to what happiness is. As a result, he created PERMA – his model of well-being, where each letter of the acronym stands for one of its five main elements:
|P – Positive Emotions||It includes feelings like happiness, satisfaction, or pleasantness.|
|E – Engagement||Understood as a result of engaging in a particular activity so profoundly that you’re completely submerged at the moment.|
|R – Relationships||“the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up” are positive relationships with other people, Seligman explains in his book “Flourish”.|
|M – Meaning||Defined as a sense of belonging and serving something bigger than yourself, the feeling of purpose and direction in your life.|
|A – Accomplishments||Viewed as pursuing success and mastery of different skills for their own sakes, not solely for external gains.|
3 Positive Psychology Habits To Support Your Mental Health
Aside from Thanksgiving, when was the last time you spent some time identifying what you’re grateful for?
Gratitude practice has been proven to:
- improve physical and mental health,
- strengthen relationships,
- enhance your overall happiness.
- foster connecting to something greater than yourself.
Most importantly, gratitude practice helps counteract the negativity bias – our brains’ hardwired tendency to focus on the bad things. As we engage in this habit, we shift our focus and ability to notice the positives. Here are some quick ways to cultivate it daily:
Keep a gratitude journal:
- regularly reflect on the positive aspect of your life
- describe in detail what makes them special
- keep it private or share it with others
Meditate on it:
- integrate gratitude into your meditation practice
- focus on all aspects of your life, both good and bad
- find ways to appreciate the lessons that come with challenges and obstacles
Count your blessings:
- make a mental/physical list of things you’re grateful for either first thing in the morning or at the end of the day
- slow down and take it all in
- observe how this practice anchors you in the here and now
If you watched “Eat, Pray, Love”, you might remember the Italian concept “il dolce far niente” – the sweetness of doing nothing.
It illustrates the idea of slowing down and savoring the present moment, not only having pleasant experiences but also being able to notice, appreciate, and prolong them at the moment.
Savoring, as a counterpart to coping with difficulties, emphasizes the importance of the mindful art of “taking it all in”, and intentionally engaging in positive moments, such as:
Luxuriating in the taste of a freshly brewed cup of coffee in the morning. Stop to notice all its details, like aromas, the warmth of the cup against your hands, or the pattern that coffee makes when mixed with foamed milk.
Marveling at the beauty of nature during a hike or simply when looking at the ever-changing cloudy sky. Take a pause and notice the shade of blue, the weather, temperature, freshness or humidity of the air, and the shapes the clouds make.
These experiences help recalibrate your over-stimulated nervous system, which supports your mental health. Take note of any arising thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations.
Another icon of positive psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, coined the term “flow state”. It describes an experience of being so intensely engaged in a particular activity that you merge with it, action and awareness becoming one, and you feel and perform your best.
A flow state can be experienced by anyone, whether at work, in sports, or in creative endeavors.
It’s achieved when you direct your entire focus on the task at hand, often not noticing your surroundings or the passage of time. The ability to face the challenging quest and fulfill it thanks to your skillset makes you feel so good, so immersed and confident that any sense of self, along with your insecurities, negative self-talk, or anxieties, become irrelevant and disappear.
Only after completing your activity can you reflect on some details of the event and register the happiness, excitement, and fulfillment it brings you.
These 3 practices can indeed help your well-being, yet it’s most probably insufficient when struggling with a mental health issue like depression or anxiety, which can significantly interfere with your happiness.
Don’t hesitate and contact us here to get professional help with Harbor Psychiatry.