Positive Psychology

6 Positive Psychology Prescriptions to Improve Health

Evidenced-based practices you might want to consider making a habit.

Posted Sep 02, 2020

by Chloe Barron
Source: by Chloe Barron

Positive psychology and the concept of human flourishing, researched and popularized by Dr. Martin Seligman, have been around for a long time but they have recently become a hot topic in the medical field. The scientific study of "what makes life worth living," (Chris Peterson, 2008) is applicable to people seeking medical care. Health is not just the removal of an injury or illness, but experiencing to the best of one's ability, the "well-lived life." The World Health Organization defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

How can positive psychology prescriptions improve health? Compassion for people who are struggling or suffering, and doing all one can to identity the problem and address it is crucial for health care. While a straight-forward problem-solving approach without emphasis on total well-being may be adequate for some care-seekers or even preferred, there are many situations in which getting well involves a multi-layered intervention. By knowing more about the person, their values, and details about their life, we are better poised to serve. If we ask about what conjures PERMA or the five principles of positive psychology: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment, we can know the person. As Hippocrates said, "It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has." Relationship-centered care is also a therapeutic agent with regard to health. Understanding what creates PERMA for an individual is a good way to deepen the exchange and an opportunity to enrich the care.

While we do not want to deny people the opportunity to talk about their worries, it can be useful to try to help them create mindsets and practices that foster coping. As psychologist William James said, "Our greatest weapon against stress is the ability to choose one thought over another." There are helpful research-based positive psychology practices that can help create mind shifts and change inner narratives. The keyword is practice. When we make habit of moving our mind to what was good or what worked or what we did well when feeling beleaguered, moods lift, anxieties abate, and intrinsic motivation can unfold. Sometimes we have inertia when it comes to doing what is best for our health. It is easier to keep going after you take the first step.  

Here are six positive psychology prescriptions. They are more fully explained in our book Roots of Positive Change (with lead author Liana Lianov) and can also be found hereCognitive Behavioral shifts can make a difference in overall health as well as mood.

  1. Gratitude: Note three things you are grateful for.
  2. Savoring: Go slow when you can. 
  3. Random Acts of Kindness: Give where and when you are able. Small gestures matter.
  4. Engage in a Beloved Activity: Even if you can't do it for as long as you'd like, don't let that stop you.
  5. Social Connection: Be with those who matter to you or find your tribe in a place outside.
  6. Meaning and Purpose: Know what matters to you, take action, and even set a goal.