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Integration of Positive Psychology and Christianity


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Presented to Business Matters Edinburgh, November 2009 and adapted for The British Association of Christians in Psychology, 18 February 2012.
Edinburgh, Scotland.

Integration of Positive Psychology and Christianity

  1. 1. Positive Psychology Summary Barbara Henson November 2009 Adapted for BACIP-S February 2012
  2. 2. …the Meaningful Life…is the point where positivepsychology starts to look like a movementdedicated to placing the Christian values thathave fallen out of Western favour into thescientific context that so many of us hardenedrationalists crave. Deborah Orr, The Independent, 2006
  3. 3. Aim of Positive Psychology• The mission of positive psychology is to understand and foster the factors that allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).• Positive emotions are considered both markers and producers of present and long term flourishing (Fredrickson, 2001).
  4. 4. Background• First Force – Behavourism• Second Force – Psychoanalysis• Third Force – Humanistic• Positive Psychology – Grandparents - Maslow, Horney & Antonovsky – Parents - Seligman, Langer & Stone
  5. 5. Martin Seligman• APA• The unDSM• Eclectic and cross-cultural – universal strengths• VIA survey• University of Pennsylvania – Penn Resiliency (PRP)
  6. 6. 21:1 Ratio Negative to Positive Research 1967- 2000 Psychological Abstracts• Anger 5,584 • Joy 415• Anxiety 41,416 • Happiness 1710• Depression 54,040 • Life Satisfaction 258 – Ben Shahar 2009 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things. Philippians 4:8, KJV
  7. 7. Biblical Ratios, StrongsAnger, Old Testament:New Testament 7:1 Joy, New Testament:Old Testament 2:1OT Anger:Joy NT Joy:Anger 2.5:1 6:1
  8. 8. Basic Premises• Bridge building academia and main street• Change is possible• Internal factors are more important than external factors• Accept human nature• The pursuit of happiness as virtuous• Expansive and cross-cultural
  9. 9. Focus• Studying the best, the top 1% of what works - ‘growing tip statistics’ (Maslow)• Reframing questions - What works?• Prevention through cultivating capacity
  10. 10. Basic Happiness 50 % Genetic 10% Environment40% Intentional - choices
  11. 11. Processing EmotionsAppreciate Positive By thinking about them, not analyzing (writing or talking)Accept negative Ironic processing Analyze by writing or talking about, not ruminating
  12. 12. Post Positive Experience Order versus Post Traumatic Stress DisorderEnhancing the likelihood of positive Enhancing the likelihood of post positiveexperiences (PE) experience order (PPEO)• Acceptance of all emotions, giving • Replaying and imagining in the mind permission to be human (positive (not analysing) e.g. replay music, and negative emotions flow through fortifies a new neural pathway the same pipeline) • Journaling (describing but not• Mindfulness, prayer, being present analysing) are antecedent to a peak experience • Taking reflection time is extremely• Music and dance are antecedents to important for post positive peak experience experience order, lest forgotten• Meaningful goals, knowing where • Taking action, think about it, savour we are going in general strong emotion such as ‘that’s my calling, I need that call’) it or has no• Taking time for peak experiences, real meaningful effect on my life versus always on the run with no time affluence Ben-Shahar, 2009
  13. 13. Universal Virtues: Classification of StrengthsStrengths of WISDOM and KNOWLEDGE Strengths of JUSTICE• Creativity (originality, ingenuity) • Citizenship (Social Responsibility, Loyalty,• Curiosity (interest, novelty-seeking, openness Teamwork) to experience) • Fairness• Open-mindedness(judgment, critical thinking) • Leadership• Love of learning Strengths of TEMPERANCE• Perspective (wisdom) • Forgiveness and MercyStrengths of COURAGE • Humility and Modesty• Bravery (valor) • Prudence• Persistence (perseverance, industriousness) • Self-Regulation [Self-Control]• Integrity (authenticity, Honesty) Strengths of TRANSCENDENCE• Vitality (Zest, Enthusiasm, Vigor, Energy) • Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence [Awe]Strengths of HUMANITY • Gratitude• Love • Hope [Optimism, Future-Mindedness]• Kindness (generosity, nurturance, care, • Humor [Playfulness] compassion) • Spirituality [Religiousness, Faith Purpose]• Social Intelligence (emotional & personal adapted from Seligman and Peterson intelligence) Character Strengths and VirtuesHandbook ‘The unDSM’
  14. 14. Change• It takes 21 days to create a new habit Wm James (this is optimistic)• Limits on amount of self-control• Rituals - introduce 2 new per day - can handle 60• So also faith, if it does not have works (deeds and actions of obedience to back it up), by itself is destitute of power (inoperative, dead). James 2:17 AMP
  15. 15. Mind-Body Connection Smile as source of joy Wonderdrug• Exercise 30 minutes 3X per week as good as strongest antidepressant over time• 8 hours sleep every 24 hours• 50 minutes meditation or prayer per day• 12 hugs per day
  16. 16. Brain PlasticityReinforced positive thought and reinforcednegative thoughtscn be seen on a type ofbrain scans.Dark and light ‘trees’. Caroline Leaf, 2007
  17. 17. Relationships• All Relationships Exponential• Intimate predictor of long term happiness• State of affairs – divorce rates 66% US, UK• What makes relationships work – Superordinate goals – Mutual values – Active constructive responding – Cultivate chosen versus finding perfect person – Know and being known – Healthy conflict
  18. 18. Active Constructive Responding to Positive Events Active Constructive Active Destructive• Display enthusiasm, • Talk about the negative excitement • Devil’s advocate• Ask interested questions • Find a problem• Reinforce positives • Frown, look worried• Keep conversation going Active Destructive• Eye contact, smiling Passive Constructive • Disinterest, diversion• Smile, acknowledge, • Avoidance reassure • No expression• Silence • Little eye contact• No Expression • Turning away• ‘That’s great!’ – Adapted from Gable, 2004
  19. 19. Healthy ConflictFilms end where love begins, reality is romance then conflict Best is Right and High Expectations• Makes relationships more resilient, an opportunity for growth• 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity• Affective• Apprenticeship to the truth• Genesis, help meet (Hebrew, ezer kenegdo) Ben-Shahar, 2008Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way,for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takesno account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a sufferedwrong]. I Corinthians 13:5, AMP
  20. 20. Positive TherapyProblem/pathology focused - magnifiesIdentify problem, identify strengths, applystrength to problem. E.g. gratitude. Grantham, 2008
  21. 21. Positive Psychology and CBT ComparisonCBT Positive Psychology• Research based interest in • Research based interest in statistical group differences statistical group differences• Explanation and intervention • Currently explanation > focus intervention • Success/present & future• Problem/past/pathology focus thriving • Action and reframing• Doing and reframing changes changes internal state and internal states and behaviour behaviour adapted from Grantham, 2008
  22. 22. Discussion• As the most popular course at Harvard and other campuses across the world, is a positive psychology which is based on biblical principles – please note it can also claimed to be based on other major faith principles – a formula with the power to heal?• Or is it one way toward divine alignment, facilitating access to a saving faith?• Do Christian professionals profess the difference? Moreover, what if no one asks?• Is this a very effective way to do well what helps the most?Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In allthe places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As longas ever you can. John Wesley
  23. 23. Resources• Values in Action Character Strengths:• Work-based Talent: Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0. Gallup: New York.• Ben-Shahar, T. Positive Psychology Inaugural Course, Summer 2009, University of Pennsylvania• FredericksonFredrickson, B.L. (2001) The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and build theory of positive emotions, American Psychologist, v 56, no 3 pp218-226.• Grantham, P. (2008, April). Positive Therapy. London: Skills Development Service, Ltd.• Selgman, M.E.P. & Peterson, C. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A handbook and classification. American Psychological Association: Washington DC and Oxford University Press: New York. [The unDSM]• Adapted from research by Gable, S. (2004). UCLA,