This semseter, I am in a positive psychology course with my all-time favorite professor. When I enrolled for this class, I was extremely excited just to have another class with this professor before I graduated. Little did I know, this course would change me in ways that I never expected and would shape me into the best version of myself. This course has challenged me to be vulnerable, it has challenged me to be more open-minded and shift my way of thinking, but above all, it has taught me to love myself more.
Some of you may be wondering, “What exactly is positive psychology? And why has it been so life changing?” Positive psychology is a field of psychology that focuses on human strengths and positive attributes rather than the flaws of humanity – how empowering!! In this course, we have discussed topics from character strengths to spirituality. Along with class discussions, we are asked to do outside positive psychology practices and reflect on them. Taking these positive psychology topics and practices to heart have really changed my perspective – both on the world and on myself. These practices have empowered me to become a better version of myself. Although I have changed some aspects of my life, positive psychology has really shifted my perspective from looking at my flaws to looking at the strengths I already possess. This paradigm shift has allowed me to be more confident in myself and thus, to love myself more. I hope they may do the same for you as well.
Positive psychology practices that I love –
Strength cultivation –
In class, we were asked to take the Values in Action (VIA) survey which ranks character strengths (such as gratitude, humility, judgement, etc.) from 1-24. My top three strengths were gratitude, kindness and humor, which made a lot of sense to me. I see all those strengths in my daily life, and to me, it was evident they were some of my top attributes. However, I know that I do not always see myself the way that others see me, so I had my parents and my grandparents take the VIA for me as well. OH BOY were their results vastly different from mine. At first, I really struggled with the thought of this – why did others perceive me so differently from the way I perceive myself? It occured to me that my interactions with others influence how they see me. For example, my grandparents see me being creative in my every day life in the way I approach difficult situations, the way I balance different aspects of my life, and the way that I can take something and just go with it. With my family’s results, I made a list of their top three and set out to find ways in which I see those values playing out in my everyday life. By doing this, I was able to see strengths in myself that I did not normally identify as significant or valuable. This process of strength spotting made me more aware of what I offer as a person, and it made me more confident in myself. I encourage you all to think about your top strengths; ask a friend, family member, or significant other what they believe your top strengths are; and set out on your own journey of identifying those strengths in your life.
Another way I have learned to cultivate my strengths is through identifying which of my strengths are overused and underused. Strengths all have a time and a place to be used – it would not be appropriate to make jokes at a funeral for instance. For me, I really overuse my strength of humility. Because I do struggle with perfectionism, it is hard for me to accept compliments. When I continually do not accept compliments and downplay my achievements, I come off as self-deprecating. In order to bring my humility to a more middle ground, I have been working on simply saying thank you when someone compliments or congratulates me rather than thinking (or stating) all the things that could have been better. Even this simple act has made waves in my life that I did not expect. Are there strengths in your life that you are over or under using? I encourage you to find ways to bring those strengths to a middle ground where they are able to flourish.
One of my professor’s favorite topics is flow, and most of you are probably wondering what the heck it is (and I hope I do not butcher explaining it). Flow occurs when you do things that you enjoy and are good at, but that also challenge you. This creates an optimal state of well-being or happiness. For me, my flow state comes in reading, among other things. I love a good book, and I can sit and read for hours on end. To me, self-love includes creating as many flow experiences as possible. I encourage you to find something that you love (and that challenges you) and pursue it.
I have always been an optimistic person, and positive psychology has really reiterated the importance of optimism to me. It has empowered me to surround myself with positivity and to remove myself from negativity. You become what you surround yourself with, and I do not know about you, but I do not want to be a negative person – they just are not my cup of tea. Refuse to allow yourself to exist among negativity and choose to exude positivity instead.
I have said it before, and I will say it again – an attitude of gratitude changes EVERYTHING. There are an abundance of ways to practice gratitude – choose one and start living life with a grateful heart.
I will be the first to say that I have always been skeptical of meditation – mostly because I struggled with it. However, my professor starts each class period out with five minutes of meditation, and it has quickly become my favorite. I love slowing down for (at least) five minutes a day to be one with my breath, to set my intentions, and to embrace the present moment. I have found it very helpful to meditate when I am overthinking or stressed. Five minutes has the power to change my perspective and to relax me. I use the mantra “be held” in my meditation, and you can create a mantra of your own if you wish. For me, reminding myself to be held is key. It is a reminder that God is holding me, so I do not have to stress. I can relax, slow down, and trust that He is in control and will never let me go. I encourage you to try meditation with an open mind. Start with just 5 minutes a day, and see how it changes your life.
Throughout this journey with positive psychology practices, the most important has been self-reflection. In order to more fully understand myself and the way I perceive and interact with the world, I have had to reflect on myself, my values, and my intentions. It requires me to be open and honest with myself – which can be hard. There are things that I would rather not admit to myself, but if I cannot be honest with myself, who can I be honest with? Are you being honest with yourself? Try journaling and reflecting on yourself, your values, your dreams, your goals, etc. Ask yourself if who you are now is who you want to be. Do your values, dreams, etc., line up with your actions? In what ways can you learn to love yourself more?
As you read this and possibly start on your own journey of self-love, remember these things - Be gentle with yourself. Self-love is a process, and you are human. Be kind to yourself, allow yourself to make mistakes, and be patient. I am not perfect, and neither are you. Like me, there will be times when you struggle and question your journey. Self-love will not happen over night. It may not happen the first time or even the fifth, but do not get discouraged. Explore what works for you. These practices work for me, but everyone is different. Just because something works for me, do not be discouraged if it does not work for you. Stop "should"ing yourself. There are no rules for this journey, so stop telling yourself where you should be, what you should feel, what you should be good at, etc.