A Positive Psychology Intervention with Emerging Adults

By Leontopoulou, Sophie | The European Journal of Counselling Psychology, July 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

A Positive Psychology Intervention with Emerging Adults


Leontopoulou, Sophie, The European Journal of Counselling Psychology


Introduction

In their inaugural paper on positive psychology, Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) described it as a psychology of positive human functioning aimed to "achieve scientific understanding and inspire effective interventions to build thriving in individuals, families, and communities" (p. 5). Thirteen short years later, a number of interventions based on its theoretical premises, methodologies and tools have taken place worldwide, in an effort to achieve its main goals of augmenting well-being and facilitating flourishing (Seligman, 2011). Positive psychology interventions include "treatment methods or intentional activities aimed at cultivating positive feelings, positive behaviors, or positive cognitions" (Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009, p. 468). Such interventions often compare hedonic (e.g. positive affect, life satisfaction. Diener, 1984) and eudaimonic (e.g. positive relations, purpose in life; strengths. Ryff, 1989; Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005) dimensions of well-being, as well as their effectiveness in increasing and sustaining well-being. Positive interventions can range from single exercises (e.g. writing a gratitude letter) to large, long-term programs (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005; Seligman, Ernst, Gillham, Reivich, & Linkins, 2009). In a meta-analysis of positive interventions, Sin and Lyubomirsky (2009) found evidence of their effectiveness in enhancing well-being and alleviating depression. In other studies, the positive effects of such interventions included physical and mental health, successful coping and closer relationships (Cohn & Fredrickson, 2010).

Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade (2005) proposed a model of happiness in which three factors contribute to well-being, namely one's a) genetically determined happiness starting point, which they ascertain accounts for about 50% of one's overall levels of well-being; b) life circumstances, which were found to account for a further 10% of individual differences in well-being; and c) positive cognitive, behavioural and goal-based activities, which can account for up to 40% of variance in well-being. People have been found willing to engage in intentional activities, such as expressing their gratitude to others, performing acts of kindness, energetically setting and pursuing intriguing goals or thinking optimistically (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). Such intentional activities, be they emotional, cognitive or behavioural in nature, when carried out in the context of positive psychology interventions using optimal timing and variation are believed to bring about lasting positive change in well-being (Lyubomirsky, Dickerhoof, Boehm, & Sheldon, 2011). When such willful and self-directed activities focus on the development of one's prominent character strengths, or those "positive traits reflected in thoughts, feelings and behaviors" (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004, p. 613), they can lead to "more positive emotion, to more meaning, to more accomplishment, and to better relationships" (Seligman, 2011, p. 24)i . These latter elements, alongside engagement, form the core of Seligman's (2011) latest conceptualization of well-being and flourishing, as portrayed in his PERMA model of well-being. In this model, examining one's own basic elements of well-being, identifying which ones matter the most for oneself, setting goals to achieve them and monitoring progress are key routes to achieving and maintaining well-being.

The positive psychology approach informed the present intervention study by shaping its scope, concepts, aims and activities. In accordance with the PERMA model (Seligman, 2011), three main routes of fostering well-being were selected for inclusion in the intervention. a) The first involved enhancing positive emotions, through expressing gratitude. b) The second route evolved around setting meaningful goals (with the aid of visualizing best possible selves and a goal setting exercise). …

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