How can I use positive psychology to deal with difficult situations?

Ronald Siegel
There is intriguing preliminary evidence that positive psychology techniques, in addition to preparing you for the ups and downs of life, can be valuable in times of stress, grief, or other difficulties. Here are some examples:

Gratitude. People dealing with an unpleasant emotional memory were given one of three writing assignments: write something neutral, write about the unpleasant event, or write about positive consequences from the event that they could be grateful for. In results published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, those who focused on gratitude in their writing gained more closure on the incident, had fewer intrusive memories of the event, and had less emotionally fraught memories, compared with participants whose writing did not focus on gratitude.

Strengths. In a Veterans Affairs psychiatric rehabilitation program, patients were given the opportunity to take the 240-question VIA survey and receive a printout of their five signature strengths. The clinicians reported in the journal Psychiatric Services that participants felt pride in their discoveries, had a sense of accomplishment, and improved their mood just by taking the inventory.

Savoring pleasure. Positive reminiscence is not only pleasurable, it helps people gain a new perspective on current problems. In a study from the Netherlands, when depressed older adults used the tool of positive reminiscence, they not only thought more positively about their past but also began to evaluate themselves, their social relationships, and their future more positively.

Flow. When you're fully engaged in activities, you are less preoccupied by mundane thoughts. In addition, flow experiences can lessen more disturbing thoughts. In a study published in The British Journal of Occupational Therapy, women living with cancer had fewer intrusive thoughts about their illness and reduced stress when they had flow experiences while creating artwork.

Meaning. In a study of patients who've had heart attacks, those who blamed their heart attack on others were more likely to have a second attack in the next eight years. People who perceived some benefit in their experience were less likely to have a recurrence.

Mindfulness. For three decades, mindfulness-based stress reduction programs (first developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School) have helped reduce physical and psychological symptoms in people facing a variety of challenges, including cancer and chronic pain.

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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.