Marie-Hélène Budworth

Associate Professor of Human Resource Management, specializing in learning, development & motivation.

Marie-Hélène Budworth

Positive Psychology

February 27th, 2014 · 9 Comments · Uncategorized

Yesterday, I gave a talk on positive psychology.  The aim was to create a buzz about the topic at York University and to get people excited about the upcoming Canadian Positive Psychology conference to be held in Ottawa.  As a Board member for the Canadian Positive Psychology Association, I have been anxiously looking forward to this conference.  We have an amazing program lined up with excellent keynote speakers and wonderful presentations.  Here is my plug to invite anyone reading this to consider attending!  

In case there are folks out there who are not yet familiar with Positive Psychology as a discipline, here is a short overview.  The term positive psychology originated with Maslow in his 1954 book, Motivation and Personality.  At the time, it did not catch on.  It was in 1999, when Martin Seligman as President of the American Psychological Association, lamented that psychology focussed almost entirely on dysfunction.  His aim was to reorient the discipline so that we could understand how to take people who were functioning well and make them even better.  He also wanted to understand ‘high talent’ or genius.  His message caught on and many researchers have spent a great deal of time studying individuals strengths, well-being, and optimal human functioning.  

As a researcher, I feel it is important to note that positive psychology is a science.  It is rooted in empirical research that utilize the principles and methods of the underlying discipline – psychology.  And there any many positive things that are not positive psychology.  When you stand in the self-help section of Chapters, you are not looking at positive psychology texts!  Research tells us that well-being is linked to all kinds positive acts, but not to everything represented in the media and popular books.  For example, self-affirmations had a popular moment in the self-help world, however, research tells us that affirmations are not always helpful, in fact, under some conditions they can make people feel worse about themselves.  Conversely, there are some circumstances that are inherently negative, challenging, or displeasing and are clearly supportive of the development of individual strength building and resilience.  Therefore, negative things can be part of positive psychology.  

At this summer’s Positive Psychology conference, I will be giving a talk on assessing the effectiveness of positive psychology interventions.  The methods I propose will be drawn from the organizational psychology literature and our knowledge of assessment of developmental tools.  I am hoping that by sharing between disciplines within psychology, we can begin to develop common systems for evaluation of psychological interventions.  It is notoriously difficult to demonstrate the utility of psychologically based interventions, however, researchers have made incredible advancements in this area.  I’m looking forward to exploring the possibilities!  


9 Comments so far ↓

  • Harry Qi

    This is a very excited and interesting topic. As an HR professional, how to apply the theory and intervention to workplace would be motivating and challenging. The implementation of positive psychology needs understanding and cooperation from both management and employees. As research shows that managers should apply the intervention based on employees character strengths. For example, the strength of persistence, hope and curiosity would play a key function in healthy and ambitious work behaviour (Gander, Proyer & Wyss, 2012). While employees should be positively open to new approaches and practices (Britton, 2011). I would be more interested in discussing further details with you on next class.

    • Cindy MacDonald

      The area of positive psychology seems to be a growing topic of interest in today’s society. It appears that positive psychology has been an emerging major scientific topic over the last fifteen years and has recently reached new levels of breath and depth.

      Proulx (2013) stated that ”now familiar research shows that we are happiest when we live in the present and that practicing mindfulness which involves tuning in to our thoughts, emotions and sensations in the present moment is good for our bodies, brains and relationships”.

      Research on how to increase positive moods and take advantage of individual strengths has flourished as a result of the positive psychology movement. It has also exposed the connection of personality, mood and cognition.

      I believe that positive psychology has many benefits that can be applied to workplace scenarios. As an HR professional, I understand that we are not all born with a sunny disposition; however I agree with the experts; there are different ways on how we can bring more meaning and satisfaction into our work and/or personal lives with positive psychology. 

  • Mohammad Hossain

    Positive psychology is a relatively new but emerging area of study and getting more attention from businesses around the world. Positive psychology focuses on wellbeing, happiness, flow, personal strengths, wisdom, creativity, imagination and characteristics of positive groups and institutions. Because of positive psychology’s unique focus on flourishing, and its transform good-into-great (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), it can for sure enhance organizational performance, if apply properly. Implementing positive psychology in the workplace means creating an environment that is relatively enjoyable and productive, keeping in mind that happy employees are more productive than those of unhappy. Managers and organizational leadership may utilize this useful tool while designing any individual or group development plan for better outcome and a win-win situation.
    I would like to know more on this interesting area and hope to see solid outcome from your upcoming conference on positive psychology.

  • Shadab Riahi

    Given that self-affirmation generally increases the openness and flexibility of individuals to ideas that are difficult to accept which may result in less biased processing of information and interpretations, I couldn’t come up with some examples of workplace conditions where affirmations not only help but also make individuals feel worse about themselves…Ideas anyone?

    • Mandana Khandan

      Overreaction to constructive criticism or Inability of employees to receive constructive feedback from managers are examples of workplace conditions where affirmations could have negative impact on employees.

    • Melissa Comparin

      In response to Shadab’s comment, I too struggle with understanding how self-affirmations can have a negative effect. The only scenario I can loosely relate is perhaps when self-affirmations put too much pressure on an individual to ‘keep up with the jones’ so to speak. It can add fuel to an already anxious individual causing more harm than good in the long run.

      In response to the article, I really like the idea of positive psychology. It’s refreshing to see an interest in understanding people and what is good about them and how to make them better, as opposed to always looking for or finding their problems and trying to solve for them. The first thing that came to mind from a corporate perspective was Strength’s Finder.

      “Based on a 40-year study of human strengths, Gallup created a language of the 34 most common talents and developed the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment to help people discover and describe these talents. […] The goal was to start a global conversation about what’s right with people. It appears that the world was ready to have this conversation.”

      “All too often, our natural talents go untapped. From the cradle to the cubicle, we devote more time to fixing our shortcomings than to developing our strengths.”

      This assessment helps people recognize their strengths and build upon them to be successful. It also forces organizations and HR departments to rethink performance management programs as we know them today and think about how they can be enhanced to help the organization be more successful. Maybe its time these programs evolve to better align with the development of individuals. Like positive psychology, Strenthsfinder focuses on the strengths and talents an employee already has and teaches them how to build on them; and consequently, in doing so may fill other gaps that exist. To play on words, it gives us a more positive perspective on our own development and changes the way we see our abilities.

  • Ihuoma Akaleme

    It is quite interesting to see how positive psychology as an agent of change is becoming highly relevant, more so as researchers, even organizations have come to realize the importance of this tool to effectively influence and achieve a real outcome.
    It seems this concept promotes the idea of carrot and carrot approach, where rewarding good behaviour will boost the production of more of such behaviour, (as against carrot and stick approach)
    And so by emphasizing an individual’s strengths rather than their weaknesses can help the individual become happier and better at his/her endeavours (Sheldon & King, 2001)
    Understanding the dynamism of an individual is a factor which should also be considered when trying to grasp the effectiveness of positive psychology, as the individual throughout his/her life or work life will encounter positive and negative experiences affecting the individual as a whole. In the situation of a negative experience, positive psychology can be effective in the sense that it can be used to create motivation which can then be channelled towards that negative experience to produce a positive outcome.
    However, I still wonder how organizations can harness the concept of positive psychology without having a robust assessment method to prove its efficacy, as it can easily become an ambition, rather than the actual result it was meant to achieve.

  • Tracy Reid

    Personally, I agree with idea that positive affirmations can sometimes backfire. When a manager/coworker compliments me on a piece of work that I already feel is inferior, it actually makes me feel as though the individual is being insincere. They may feel they are giving positive reinforcement, but to me it just shines a spot light on something I didn’t do that well. Obviously the plan would be to improve upon the weaknesses of the current work for the next project, but until then, I’d like to forget about it!