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Can we see the good without the bad? Using approaches from Positive Psychology to support wellbeing.

It’s February and you may have already given up on your New Year’s Resolution – if you even remember it! This can leave us feeling unaccomplished quite early in the year. As educators, we are wired to strive for more, better, improvement and progress. This can make us focus in on things that are going wrong and therefore neglect the positive.


Research has shown that humans are biased to look for the negative. The threat. The harm. The bad. It takes more effort for us to look for the mundane because our brains make automatic predictions around routine scenarios based on our experiences and expectations. Looking for the good, however, can be even harder as we seek to gain greater success and constantly compare ourselves to others. So can we ever look at the good without seeing the bad?

Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective (is that bad thing actually bad?) and relativity (is it the worst?).

Some psychologists have focused on promoting the positive and personal strengths which can help us and those around us to flourish and live a fulfilled life. This is called Positive Psychology. Rather than focusing on the bad (what we’ve failed at, what needs to change, what can be better), they suggest that we focus on what we already have (signature strengths). By doing this, we can take small, simple steps to propel us towards a more fulfilled and joyful life. At a time when many educators have ‘the bad’ highlighted for them, it is important to remember this is not the only perspective.


Seligman is a key person within the movement of Positive Psychology, and he speaks about 24 signature strengths we can possess. He also promotes the PERMA+ Model (see diagram below) which defines key elements of life that are associated with intrinsic motivation and are good for our wellbeing. Research shows us that working on these 5+ areas can not only promote our wellbeing but counter some of the bad, the stress, the distress.


So how can we do this?


There are many ways we can employ these elements in our schools and homes such as:

  • engaging in things that give you a sense of satisfaction and happiness

  • noting things you are grateful for

  • having interests/hobbies that you are passionate about

  • spending time with people with whom you have genuine and trusting relationships

  • finding pursuits that give you a bigger perspective on life (beyond yourself)

  • taking stock of the things that have gone well

  • speaking to ourselves and treating ourselves with care

Dr Anisa-Ree Moses from Learning & Wellbeing Psychology spoke to the BBC about Positive Affirmations and the benefits these can have for both adults and children. Using positive affirmations is one way we can speak to ourselves with care. As we do this, we can support the children and young people around us to do the same. Read the full article to find out more about this approach.


If you want to know more about how Learning & Wellbeing Psychology can help you develop strengths-based approaches as part of your whole-school approach to learning, mental health and wellbeing, do get in touch via contact@learningandwellbeing.org, 0300 303 5197 or book a free 30 minute initial discussion.

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