Do you know the value of positive psychology?

The field of positive psychology has many resources to help us increase positivity in our daily lives.

“This field emerged because leading psychologists believed their discipline could offer help beyond understanding and treating psychological disorders,” says Dennis Daley, Ph.D., senior clinical director of Substance Use Services at UPMC Health Plan. “They began to examine how we can live happier, more fulfilling lives and achieve better health and a longer life.”

Smart Business spoke with Daley about how positivity can lead to a better life.

Can psychology foster positive emotions?

Most people want to feel good. They strive for positive emotions. Positive psychology analyzes these emotions: what they are, how they improve well-being and how to make them a bigger part of your life. They include compassion, happiness, love, gratitude and satisfaction. They are often based in relationships, achievements and a sense of purpose or meaning. Of course, none of this works if we simply ignore problems.

How does positive psychology help you cope with negative events and emotions?

Negativity surrounds us. Most news focuses on problems: bad events, bad behaviors of individuals. Sometimes painful or traumatic events happen in our lives: the death of a loved one, a failed relationship, job loss or another significant loss. We cannot avoid negative emotions or events — nor should we. But emotions can be used in positive ways to serve important functions:

Anger is negative when it:
— Leads to giving up too easily on a problem or task.
— Is expressed verbally or physically in an aggressive or violent manner.
— Is stifled and shows up in physical symptoms or passive-aggressive behaviors that harm a relationship.

But is positive when it:
— Motivates us to work hard to achieve a goal, complete a project or task, or face a difficult experience or person.

Anxiety/fear is negative when it:
— Becomes persistent and overwhelms us.
— Leads to physical and emotional distress or avoidant behavior.
— Is symptomatic of an anxiety disorder.

But is positive when it:
— Helps us stay vigilant to avoid or minimize threats.
— Motivates us to better prepare for a job interview, an important meeting or a presentation at work or school.

Grief is negative when it:
— Is too intense over a long time.
— Interferes with our ability to function or form new relationships through the grief process.

But is positive when it:
— Is a way of expressing our suffering as well as our love for a lost loved one.
— Leads others to show their love and support and help us.
— Deepens our commitment to other loved ones, or has positive effects on spiritual or religious beliefs or practices.

Guilt is negative when it:
— Leads to obsessive thoughts that make it difficult to focus on daily living.
— Makes us reluctant to enjoy life and more willing to punish ourselves.

But is positive when it:
— Influences us to correct problems in relationships or change our behavior that others find hurtful.

Positivity helps us keep our lives balanced so that negative emotions don’t drag us down too far. When we work at positivity, it becomes easier to know when that balance is upset and we need help dealing with our emotions. We often judge ourselves harshly, beating ourselves up over our faults, flaws and shortcomings. That makes us feel isolated, unhappy and even more stressed; it may even make us try to feel better about ourselves by denigrating other people.

Rather than harsh self-criticism, a healthier response is to treat yourself with compassion and understanding. According to psychologist Kristin Neff, this self-compassion has three main components: mindfulness, a feeling of common humanity and self-kindness. She suggests that you write a letter to yourself expressing compassion for an aspect of yourself that you don’t like. Research suggests that people who respond with compassion to their flaws and setbacks experience greater physical and mental health.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan