Psychology is the science I know and love. However, a fair criticism of this field is that it focuses on identifying what is wrong with people, and works to help suffering people suffer less. This is admirable and useful, but alleviating suffering is not the same as supporting thriving.

How can we use the insights of psychology to help “normal” people transcend?

As Dr. Haidt explains in The Happiness Hypothesis,

“In 1998, Martin Seligman founded positive psychology when he asserted that psychology had lost its way. Psychology had become obsessed with the pathology and the dark side of human nature, blind to all that was good and noble in people.”

Selgiman’s first heretical act was against the DSM. The bible of the psychologist is the DSM.

“Psychologists had created an enormous manual, known as the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), to diagnose every possible mental illness and behavioral annoyance, but psychology didn’t even have a language with which to talk about the upper reaches of human health, talent, and possibility.”

So, Seligman teamed up with another psychologist, Chris Peterson, to develop an “un-DSM.”

“Peterson and Seligman surveyed every list of virtues they could find, from the holy books of major religions down to the Boy Scout’s Oath. They made large tables of virtues and tried to see which ones were common across lists. Although no specific virtue made every list, six broad virtues, or families of related virtues, appeared on nearly all lists.”

Near all of his colleagues told him this pursuit would be a waste of time, that no virtues would be constant in all cultures. Luckily, Seligman ignored these well-meaning friends, and he indeed discovered something that established the field of positive psychology.

The Six Universal Virtues 

  • Wisdom
  • Courage
  • Humanity
  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Transcendence

The Positive Psychology community believes that the universal six virtues are not genetically determined by birth, but are rather traits we can nurture and grow. Each of us has a unique amalgamation of these virtues in ourselves. They believe that each of the six universals are exemplified in our lives via 24 character strengthens. We each have a few character strengths that define our personality, and the discovery of these strengths is the bedrock for creating a Good Life for yourself.

So the first step is discovering what your Signature Strengths are. Martin Seligman, Ph.D, has such a test on his website, authentichappiness.Take the VIA survey.

The test will take about 25 minutes. After you answer the 240 questions, the test will show you what your top five Signature Strengths are.

Engaging Your Strengths Technique 

Dr. Seligman recommends, based on decades of research, that the two most effective ways to increase your psychological well-being is to exercise, and to find ways to engage your Signature Strengths as often as possible.

Dr. Seligman says;

After you have completed the test, perform the following exercise: this week I want you to create a designated time in your schedule when you will exercise one or more of your signature strengths in a new way either at work or at home or in leisure — just make sure that you create a clearly defined opportunity to use it.

This is the technique he shares with the military, his students, and the people who pay more than $40,000 to become “Masters of Applied Psychology.” He tells them to take the VIA, then to begin implementing their top five strengths into their daily lives, every day.

The difference between pop self-help advice and positive psychology is placebo-controlled, double blind studies. This technique has been tested, and it is effective. I hope you implement it in your daily life. For advice on how to implement a new habit, read here.

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Thank you to those who have made it this far. I wish you safe and enlightening explorations. Namasteezy.