Dr. Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychology Association and professor at the University of Pennsylvania authored over 20 books on the topic of positive psychology. His research on how to increase our happiness in life is well worth considering. Over the next few blogs I will get into the topic of happiness in greater depth but for now let’s start with a summation of his research to spark your interest.
Basically, he tells us that unhappy people look at problems as PERMANENT, PERVASIVE and PERSONAL – the 3 P’s – which result in feelings of learned helplessness. We know from other authors that when people feel hopeless and helpless they simply stop trying in life. Their fear takes over and causes them to accept ‘what is’ in life rather than looking at ‘what could be.’ Their lives are on permanent pause which draws more negative energy to them with each new day. Their feelings and belief that tomorrow will merely be a repeat of today overrides any thought about positive change.
Let’s apply what Seligman teaches us to change this scenario. Assume a negative experience is happening in your life. It is important to recognize that it is ONE experience and keep it in perspective. You just have to keep your head down and continue to push forward to get through it. We can’t allow our thinking to go from zero to 180 and believe that our entire life is now headed in a downward spiral because we are facing adversity at the moment. Unhappy people, do just that however. Their thinking on a negative experience is that it is PERMANENT. “My life will never change,” they think to themselves, and The Universe, ever ready to deliver what is foremost in their thoughts, presents even more challenges to them because they are in a perpetual state of negative thinking and simply waiting for the next shoe to drop. Their lives seem to be one crisis after another.
Dr. Seligman’s second point is again meant to help us keep perspective by realizing that the present challenge is ONE issue and not PERVASIVE throughout our entire life. The concern is real but it is the type of thought that we attach to it that sometimes gets us out of balance. The present challenge doesn’t mean that everything in our life is hopeless. Keep the issue in a mental compartment in your mind and deal with it accordingly. Don’t let in seep into and negatively affect everything else in your life. Unhappy people, on the other hand, look at the issue and think to themselves, “I can’t do anything right.” They believe that they are helpless, a constant victim of circumstance, and that there will be more to follow tomorrow.
Seligman’s third point is that unhappy people feel that the challenge at the moment is PERSONAL (it’s my fault) which may or may not be true on this particular issue. But unhappy people do not stop with the issue at hand and make a plan to do things differently in the future. They over generalize and think there is really something wrong with them. They then become immobilized by thinking that they are weak and unsuccessful in dealing with problems in life which deepens their feelings of insecurity and lack of self confidence.
To recap, to attain greater happiness in life we need to practice viewing the challenges that surface in our lives as temporary – you will get through them. Not personal – there is nothing inherently wrong with you and you do have the strength to overcome any issue. You will determine how this problem developed and IF it was your issue you will determine what you will do the next time to prevent the same kind of issue from happening. Finally,we need to remember that challenges are meant to teach us something. They are not meant to be viewed as pervasive throughout our entire life time. We are too smart to accept that type of thinking. Remember the Universal Energy first whispers, then speaks and ultimately shouts to get our attention. The next time a challenge surfaces in your life keep it in perspective and know you can get through it and learn from it. Greater happiness results by learning to avoid the 3 P’s in our thinking.
Have a great few days!