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The Science Behind Positive Psychology and Well-Being

We study psychology to better understand the human mind and use our findings to improve the human condition. The brain is a complex organism — one that we hardly understand, relatively speaking — but psychology helps us better understand how it affects the way we feel, act and think.

Psychology is not a new practice. In fact, psychology practices date back to ancient civilizations such as India, Egypt, Greece, China, and Persia. Of course, today, it has become a discipline that can be quite refined.

One newer school of thought is positive psychology.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is a humanistic approach to psychology that focuses on factors that contribute to happiness and well-being. It is designed to be complementary to other schools of psychology that typically focus on problematic behaviors and thought patterns and fixing them.

According to leaders in positive psychology, Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, positive psychology is, “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life.”

One may use principles of positive psychology to improve their self-esteem and self-confidence towards their inherent characteristics and events that have made them who they are. The goal is to foster acceptance and optimism about one’s future.

The PERMA Model of Well-Being

After working through initial theories, Seligman developed an acronym (PERMA) that represents his well-being theory:

  • Positive Emotions — such as satisfaction, awe, excitement, pride, and others typically translate to positive outcomes in other aspects of life. Positive emotions give us hope of a positive future.
  • Engagement — such as with activities that put us in “flow,” where we find ourselves passionate for and heavily concentrated on a task at hand. When we are really engaged, nothing else matters and we can lose a sense of the negative realities around us.
  • Relationships — through bad times a good times, help us strengthen positive emotions. And, many positive emotions are experienced in groups. Even introverted people need relationships, as they are fundamental to one’s well-being.
  • Meaning — or purpose, gives us drive. Meaning gives us context to why we may be engaging with our lives the way we do, through work, school, community, or any other aspect of life.
    Accomplishments — which can be work-based, hobby-based, community-based, etc. Having a sense of accomplishment gives us pride and positive emotions.

These elements of well-being are an end in themselves and are pursued for one’s own sake.

The Benefits of Positive Psychology and Well-Being

The goal of positive psychology is to improve one’s well-being. Positive well-being not only helps us feel good, but these positive feelings can translate to other benefits.

Benefits of well-being include:

  • Improved performance at work, school, and with hobbies
  • Improved satisfaction with relationships
  • Improved psychical health and stronger immune system
  • Improved cardiovascular health and longer life expectancy
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved emotional self-regulation
  • Improved social ability
  • Decreased depression and anxiety

Putting Positive Psychology to Practice

There are endless ways to practice positive psychology in your life and work towards achieving any of the five elements of PERMA.

Some more common examples of positive psychology interventions include:

Writing in a Gratitude Journal

Writing down what you’re grateful for is one of the best ways to find appreciation for life. If can keep you thankful for what you have and act as a buffer against negative thoughts and emotions. Rather than focusing on what could be, a gratitude journal keeps us focused on the present gifts we have in life.

Do this every day, or every other day, and take notice of how it makes you feel over the course of a month. You can always adjust the frequency, template, or focus if you need to change things up. If you’re having a hard time coming up with things to be grateful for, start looking for the smaller things in life that spark joy.

Expressing Gratitude

Has anyone had a positive influence on your life? Let them know.

Sometimes called the “gratitude visit,” expressing gratitude towards someone who has ever gone out of their way to support you — or anyone you’ve felt had a positive impact on your life — can be a powerful exercise. Making other people feel good about themselves, helps us feel better about ourselves.

State in detail what this person has done for you and express your gratitude in tangible ways.

Best Possible Self

Write down a narrative about your “best possible self.” Contemplate the satisfying possibilities for your future self and think about different areas of your life.

This practice can unlock your deeply rooted goals that you may have had a hard time defining. Revisit this practice and make your vision clearer and clearer through at least four revisions.

You may want to ask yourself questions such as:

  • What would I be doing?
  • Where would I be living?
  • What does your average day look like?
  • Would you feel fulfilled?

Measure Your Strengths and Virtues

Measuring your strengths and virtues is a great way to self-examine yourself, discover more about yourself, and reflect on what motivates you.

Seligman and Chris Peterson studied virtues across major religions and cultures to classify them into a system that can be used in positive psychology. The result was 6 classes of virtues with 24 character strengths.

[Image Credits: PositivePsychology.com]

Try using a template like the one below to measure your strengths and virtues:

Date Activity/Exercise Experience/Emotion Enjoyment Level
(1-10 scale)
Energy Level
(1-10 scale)
Strength(s) used in
the activity

Mindfulness Meditation

Directing attention to one’s own immediate thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations and experiences can help you focus on the present moment. This is exactly what mindfulness meditation aims to achieve.

Meditation is a practice that dates back to early Buddhist practices but has had a resurgence in recent decades. With this resurgence, studies have largely proven meditation and mindfulness to be an effective tool to improve one’s well-being.

According to the American Psychological Association, benefits of mindfulness include:

  • Stress reduction
  • Improvement in working memory and insightful thinking
  • Reducing negative cyclic thinking
  • Improved concentration and less mental distractions
  • Better emotional stability and regulation
  • Improvements in neuroplasticity
  • Enhanced relationships

Final Thoughts

Living an intentional life, understanding ourselves, and treating both ourselves and others is a key component of a happy life. If we practice positive psychology and strive for positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments we may begin to find our lives more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Practicing positive psychology does not come naturally to most people, and we must actively counteract negative patterns to do so. But in time, and using some of the practices listed above, we can make our minds work with us and not against us.

If you or a loved one is struggling to maintain their well-being, consider talking to a therapist or psychologist that can provide the professional guidance you need.

Solara Mental Health in San Diego County is here to help you. Our mental health clinic is available to answer your questions at 844-206-9722.

Sources

  1. Al Taher, R., MSc. (2021, August 17). The Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/classification-character-strengths-virtues/
  2. Lino, C., MAPP. (2020, September 01). Positive Psychology Examples: 5 Ways to Put it Into Practice. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/positive-psychology-examples/
  3. Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 5-14. doi:10.1.1.183.6660
  4. Davis, D. M., PhD, & Hayes, J. A., PhD. (2012, August). What are the benefits of mindfulness? Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner
  5. University of Pennsylvania. (n.d.). PERMA™ Theory of Well-Being and PERMA™ Workshops. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/learn-more/perma-theory-well-being-and-perma-workshops
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The Mental Health Danger of Dating Apps

Online dating can be an extremely efficient way to meet new people. However this convenience comes with pros and cons as using these apps takes up plenty space (both mental and physical) — so make sure before swiping away.

In recent years there has been an increase in the popularity of using technology for socializing purposes. Dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, PoF, or Grindr which allow someone to meet potential partners from the convenience of their phone.

This type of social media can be beneficial when used correctly but oftentimes may lead to negative outcomes in one’s life if not properly monitored or regulated.

Why People Use Dating Apps

There is no doubt that it works, as evidenced by the Stanford University study which found little difference in quality between those who met online and offline relationships despite there being an endless supply of potential partners at your fingertips on hookup sites like Tinder or Bumble for you swipe right!

People use dating apps for a variety of reasons. In some cases, they may be looking for a casual date or to meet new people, but in other cases it might reflect issues with their own social life.

People use dating apps as a way to find an answer to the age-old question “where are the good single men/women?”, and there is usually a reason why they have not had any luck within their group of friends or through a more traditional avenue.

Motivations

Did you know that the number one motivator for men on online dating sites is to find someone attractive? Women have many different objectives when browsing, with physical attributes being third behind conversation and location. In fact, studies show that physical attraction matters most for heterosexual women followed by having self-confidence and a kind personality.

Also, it is important to consider that men on dating sites tend to be less serious than women and there is a chance you could end up with someone who isn’t looking for a true relationship.

Meeting New People

Dating apps also offer the opportunity to meet people from all over the world as well as those profiles far outside of your normal social circles. This could be an advantage for some people who are looking to meet someone new, but also has the chance of building unrealistic expectations when you do not take into account that their values may be different than your own.

Hookup Culture

Even though there are many positive aspects of using dating apps, they can also offer an easy way for people to hook-up without much effort. The ease of this method may make it a casual decision and can cause you to meet up with many people who are not really interested in something serious.

Dating Apps have made it easy to connect with people across the world – this also means that you might be matched up with people who come from a completely different culture than your own. This could lead to unrealistic expectations and if both of you are looking for very different things, then both will feel mislead when they meet. If one person wanted something casual and the other wanted a serious relationship — that could cause issues within the relationship.

Lies and Exaggerations on Dating Apps

People tend to lie on dating profiles… a lot!

Studies showed that the most common things men and women lie about on their online dating profiles are their age, weight, and income. However, many people also lied about their physical appearance by using filters that could distort their photos.

Research has also shown that people often choose to use this method when they are not very happy with their real appearance or are trying to seek validation from strangers. Furthermore, men tended to lie by omitting their marital status whereas women were more inclined to make themselves seem younger to increase their chances of getting a response.

Many people stretch the truth about their social life or what they look like in order to sound better. This can lead to negative effects because internet dating has become more casual-making it easier for users to hook up with someone without really getting to know them.

In short, people often lie on their profiles and end up meeting someone who is either not serious about dating or does not maintain the same interests as them.

Online Dating Statistics

Let’s take a look at some statistics by Pew Research to consider:

  • 57% of online daters say they hve had a positive experience
  • 63% of online daters with a BA or higher degree reported positive experiences
  • 47% of online daters with a high school diploma or less reported positive experiences
  • 45% of online daters say dating apps have mad them feel frustrated
  • 28% of online daters say that dating apps have made them more hopeful
  • 71% of online daters say it was at least somewhat easy to find attractive people
  • 64% of online daters say it is at least somewhat easy to find people with shared hobbies and interests
  • 61% of online daters say it was at least somewhat easy to find someone looking for the same kind of relationship
  • Women are 58% more likely than men to find someone they were attracted to
  • 57% of men dating online said they didn’t receive enough messages
  • 71% of people think that people are lying online to make themselves more desirable
  • LGB online daters are more likely to be harassed on dating websites

How Dating Apps Can Affect One’s Mental Health

Dating apps offer the user a chance to meet people without any effort, which is why they are so great in theory. However, there have been many studies that have shown that dating apps can have an adverse effect on the mental health of their users.

One study examining social anxiety (SA) and depression in the use of mobile dating apps found that both conditions were associated with dating app use.

Furthermore, men with social anxiety and depression have been found to have a lower chance of “matching” with an online partner of desire — and women with similar symptoms were less likely to initiate conversation online. The same study notes past research that points to higher use of online social communication in women than in men.

Many people do not want to commit to a long-term relationship, which leads to hookups with several different partners, leading to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Additionally, it may be linked with feeling rejected by someone who was interested in you.

When someone is scrolling through, swiping left or right, they begin to notice way more often when people don’t approach them. It’s this constant rejection that may be a self-esteem killer and secondarily cause and agitate social anxiety and depression.

Avoid spending more than 15 to 20 minutes a day on an app swiping or looking for new matches. You might not be using the app in a healthy manner if the app is causing you anxiety or preventing you from doing other things that you enjoy.

Other ways to meet potential partners

You should use dating apps intentionally if you suffer from depression or social anxiety. Instead of using an app, you might consider going out to a bar to meet people. Nevertheless, you wouldn’t go to a bar every night — maybe once a week, or a few times a month. Treat your dating app use similarly.

One way to meet potential partners is by using dating apps in a more serious and committed way. Instead of just looking for hookups and casual relationships, try to find someone who may actually be a nice fit for you in a long-term relationship.

In the end, there is no reason to completely stop using dating apps-just put in a little effort and you might find someone worth your time. The trick is to make sure that you are doing this for the right reasons and not just to validate yourself by making yourself seem more attractive than you really are. The main key is finding balance and steering clear of hookups.

Get out in the world and do things you love. Chances are that the people you meet doing these activities or in places you enjoy are going to be a better match for you than someone you find online.

Meeting friends of friends is another great way to meet new people that are likely to share the same interests and morals as you. And spending time with friends is good for your mental well-being anyways. So, just let things happen naturally.

And remember, rejection hurts, but don’t let it steer you away from shooting your shot. You miss every chance you don’t take. Just remember not to take rejection from a stranger personally.

If dating apps are you thing, then get to swiping. If you have found them hurting your self-esteem, dial it back a bit and minimize your time swiping.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find someone right away. Finding the right person takes self-awareness, consistency, and positivity — whether online or offline.

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Strategies for Better Heart-Brain Communication

Your heart has a mind of its own… Kinda. While it may sound cliche to “follow your heart,” there may be truth in the phrase.

It turns out, according to recent research, that there is ongoing communication between the heart and brain that has a heavy influence on how we think and feel.

The Heart-Brain Connection

We’ve had proof that the heart communicates with the brain in significant ways as early as the 1960s. In 1991, Dr. J Andrew Armour coined the term “heart brain”, describing the heart as a complex intrinsic nervous system that is somewhat a brain of its own.

Research in the psychocardiology and neurocardiology field still has tons to learn, though consistencies in studies tell us quite a bit about the heart-brain connection.

Here’s what we currently know about the “heart brain”:

  • The heart starts beating before our brain has been formed
  • The emotional brain develops far before the logical brain
  • The heart has its own complex nervous system that is independent of the brain
  • The hearts nervous system is in constant communication with the brain
  • Signals from the heart synchronize with and direct many bodily systems
  • The heart makes many decisions on its own

Because of the early development of the heart and emotional brain, stress and emotions seem to have a strong connection.

This is to no surprise as we have known for decades that things like smoking, hypertension, PTSD, and emotional stress are closely linked risk factors for heart disease and strokes.

How the Heart Processes Emotions

In stressful situations, our bodies release adrenaline in a fight-or-flight response. This adrenaline increases heart rate and blood pressure and also signals blood platelets to release neuropeptide Y which can obstruct arteries in the heart.

Even emotional stress, such as a breakup, can cause abnormal contractions in the left ventricle of the heart — causing (quite literally) a broken heart.

Strategies for a healthy, happy “heart brain”

How do we leverage what we know about heart-brain communication? After all, controlling the thoughts of our minds can prove difficult enough. So, can you really control how your heart communicates with the rest of the body and mind?

To some extent yes. While the heart is an autonomous organ, we can take care of it in a number of ways.

It turns out, many things that make us smile and more appreciative of life also make our hearts happier.

Try the strategies below to make the best of your internal heart-brain communication.

Relaxation Practices

Relaxation techniques can have a surprising positive cardiovascular effect. There are a number of techniques that can achieve serotonin-boosted relaxation. A number of popular relaxation activities include mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises.

Yoga has actually proven to be a mood stabilizer and stress reducer by raising levels of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. And both Yoga and meditative practices have shown to increase serotonin — a crucial neurotransmitter in regulating mood.

Another technique is making a subtle change to the way you think about and talk to yourself. That internal monologue you hear all day makes a difference in how you feel.

Be mindful of negative thoughts and negative emotions; then channel positive energy to transform those thoughts into positive ones.

Comic Relief and Laughter

It doesn’t take a neurologist to know that happiness is a common result of laughter.

When we laugh, our body releases endorphins, which in turn releases nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is known to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Laughter also loosens blood vessels and can lower signs of aging within them.

Exercise is another great way to stimulate endorphin release, as well as other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. If you’re looking for stress relief, there are no better ways to cool down to exercise and crack a few jokes.

Listening to “Dope” Music

Ever listened to a song and got chills? That pleasurable feeling is a consequence of dopamine release when listening to or anticipating your favorite music.

Listening to music has been known to reduce anxiety. This may be linked to the nostalgic connection music often has in our lives. Our favorite songs are often neurologically linked to positive feelings from our younger years when our brains are still in rapid development.

There does seem to be a correlation between what type of music is more mood-boosting than others. Studies have shown that upbeat music is proven to improve happiness in as little as two weeks, whereas non-positive-sounding music does not have the same effect.

A hug a day

… Keeps the doctor away!

Physical encounters like hugging or other forms of touch are known to release the hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin.

Oxytocin lowers blood pressure and heart rate. It has also been shown to directly prevent heart tissue death (which results in heart failure). Human studies have even shown intranasal oxytocin to stimulate the vagus nerve and improve mental stress test scores. It even showed to reduce chronic pain.

Taking Care of the Heart Brain

Taking care of the mind and body is always a good idea. We tend to either focus on either our mental health or our physical health, typically not both at the same time. And rather than react to a time of needed change, it’s always better to act proactively and preventatively.

Science has made it clear that taking care of the heart and brain are among the most important things we can do to prolong our lives and make for a happier self.

Sources

  1. Miller M. (2019). Emotional Rescue: The Heart-Brain Connection. Cerebrum: the Dana forum on brain science, 2019, cer-05-19.
  2. Armour, A. J., Dr. (n.d.). Chapter 01: Heart-Brain Communication. Retrieved August 29, 2021, from https://www.heartmath.org/research/science-of-the-heart/heart-brain-communication/
  3. HeartMath Institute. (2015, March 03). Heart Intelligence. Retrieved August 29, 2021, from https://www.heartmath.org/articles-of-the-heart/the-math-of-heartmath/heart-intelligence/
  4. Halaris, A., MD. (2018, September 20). Psychocardiology: Understanding the Heart-Brain Connection: Part 1. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/psychocardiology-understanding-heart-brain-connection-part-1
  5. Silvani Alessandro, Calandra-Buonaura Giovanna, Dampney Roger A. L. and Cortelli Pietro 2016 Brain–heart interactions: physiology and clinical implications Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A.3742015018120150181
    http://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2015.0181
  6. Yuna L. Ferguson & Kennon M. Sheldon (2013) Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental studies, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8:1, 23-33, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2012.747000

The Good News About People Who Are Divorced

Roughly 40 percent of first marriages end in divorce in the US. Despite the very high possibility that a marriage won’t last, there’s still a strong stigma attached to being a divorcee.

If you feel there are signs that you’ve outgrown your partner, you should be aware of them. Moreover, you should be aware of how they affect you, your partner, and even your kids.

For generations, divorcees have been judged, shunned, and even considered a threat to happily married couples. Fortunately, research is shedding light on the truth about divorcees. Read on for the good news about people who are divorced.

Marriage Ain’t What It Used to Be

The institution of marriage has only been around for approximately 4,000 years. In the context of human history, that’s not a long time.

Back then, marriages happened for reasons such as security, reproduction, and sharing of resources. In time, modern religions became incorporated into marriage traditions. Marriage then became seen as the societal ideal.

Simply put, if you weren’t married, there was something seriously wrong with you.

In recent centuries, the concept of romantic love became a feature of marriage. The idea of romanticism created an expectation of white weddings and harmonious households.

What is the point of all this? Marriage no longer holds the same value as it used to. It’s no longer necessary for societal security and acceptance.

Times Are Changing

Any married person will agree that a healthy marriage takes hard work. Much of your personal happiness might need to be sacrificed to make a marriage work, which may lead to periods of unhappiness. When the hard times outweigh good times or conflict resolution no longer resolve disputes, it’s better to step away from it.

On the other hand, marriages can work out the first time around. The effort and dedication couples pour into their relationship can be worthwhile and fulfilling. Before considering getting a divorce, couples should exhaust all means of help through counseling and reconciliation.

These days, living single doesn’t make you a societal outcast. It means that you’ve made a difficult decision to put yourself first. The good news is that divorced people are often happier and more fulfilled than their married counterparts.

What About the Figures?

Research on the effects of divorces increased as divorce rates peaked in the ’70s and ’80s. The breakdown of marriage concerned many researchers. They considered the breakdown in relationships as going against morals and family values.

So began several decades of psychological studies, seeking to confirm the hypothesis that divorce was ultimately not suitable for individuals or society.

Sure enough, studies began to hit the headlines claiming that married people are generally happier and healthier than single people. However, these research methods were flawed, and the media misreported the results.

Life Can Be Better After Divorce

Research suggests that the overall wellbeing of test candidates diminished as they approached their divorce and improved. Results were inconclusive as to whether candidates achieved original satisfaction and the time it took for candidates to see improvements in their moods.

Logically, this makes sense. The breakdown of any relationship is a challenging life event.

Making final attempts to patch things up while living in a hostile environment can be very stressful. Studies indicate that the last weeks or months of a failing marriage are much more stressful than the subsequent divorce.

What Does This Mean?

Fear of being alone, being socially shunned, or not having the ability to cope as a singleton has kept people in abusive or unhappy marriages for centuries. Marriage was seen as the key to a moral and safe society.

Now, it’s understood that this is not necessarily the case. So what are the benefits of being divorced?

The Positive Side of Being Divorced: A New Lease on Life

Once the pain has subsided after a divorce, many people discover a new lease on life. It’s a time to reconnect with your passions and interests, to spend time rediscovering yourself as an individual and doing things for your enjoyment only.

This is why many divorcees cite experiencing a new lease on life after their marriage ended. One of the benefits of being divorced is that you can be much happier than when you were married.

Don’t Stay Together for the Kids

Staying together for the kids has long been cited as an acceptable reason to stay married. A recent study suggests that today nearly half of married couples only remain together for their kids.

While parental separation is undeniably harmful to children, more recent evidence suggests it’s far more harmful to children to live in hostile environments.

Children who witness their parents fighting and suffering see what they can expect from an adult relationship. Parents who choose to divorce are showing their children not to accept the unhappy relationship and put their happiness first when they’re adults.

The good news about divorced peopled is that they’re showing their kids the value of their happiness.

People Who Are Divorced Can Be Better Partners

People who are divorced make better romantic partners. Nothing teaches you more about what you need from a relationship than having one break down completely.

Divorced people have not only shown that they’re capable of commitment (by getting married in the first place), but they’ve discovered what they’re not looking for in a relationship.

After an experience as traumatic as a divorce, a person will likely have learned a great deal about themselves and will bring that valuable self-knowledge and clarity to their next relationship.

They’ll be keen not to repeat any mistakes and will know where things went wrong in their previous relationship.

The Good News for Divorcees

In summary, the excellent news about divorced peopled is that they can be happier than when married and be better parents and partners.

If you or a loved one are currently struggling with divorce and need some support, contact us.