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How can positive psychology benefit the community?

Ronald Siegel
Psychology
When the American Psychological Association first adopted a focus on positive psychology, it explicitly included the study of how institutions such as schools, employers, and providers of medical care and social services can encourage people to live happier, more meaningful lives—both for the benefit of individuals and for the improved functioning of the larger organizations. A few examples follow:

The workplace. The Corporate Leadership Council compiled a survey of almost 20,000 employees at 34 companies. Their findings showed a dramatic link between job performance and attention to strengths: when performance reviews emphasized what a person was doing right in the job, it led to a 36% improvement in performance, while emphasizing performance weaknesses led to a 27% decline in performance.

Matching employees with the right incentives can also improve performance and job satisfaction, according to a study reported in The Journal of Organizational Behavior. The researchers looked at what made employees in an electronics and appliance store happier. For employees who were intrinsically achievement-oriented, creating opportunities for flow through the combination of high skill and high challenge in work activities improved employees' mood, kept them interested in their work, and inspired them to go beyond their basic job requirements to help co-workers and the organization.

Health care. Some clinicians have already embraced the concepts of positive psychology as a preventive health strategy. Case managers working to ensure that people get the medical and mental health services they need have adopted a strengths-based approach that helps patients appreciate their own strengths and assume more control over decisions about their care.

Education. Positive psychology offers many possibilities for using the concept of flow to adapt assignments so that each child is engaged and challenged. Identifying and building strengths can help in assessment, individualizing teaching methods, and counseling about careers. Students are being tracked through graduation to see if the intervention changes their grades, extracurricular activities, levels of satisfaction, self-assessment of their character strengths, and the occurrence of depression and anxiety. Should these positive psychology interventions prove effective, such techniques could play a future role in reaching educational goals for children and adults alike.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.