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Happiness Coaching

The Authentic Happiness Coaching program uses the new field of positive psychology to help individuals realize their potential for lasting fulfillment. Therapists who promote positive psychology attempt to shift at least some of their focus to building human strengths in their clients as a buffer in the prevention of potential future emotional crises. In this view, coaching may soon begin to replace or at least complement therapy in helping people live better lives and surmount their problems. One branch of positive psychology focuses on the science of nurturing sets of strengths, competencies, and virtues such as future-mindedness, hope, interpersonal skills, courage, and the capacity for "flow" and faith.

Elizabeth Sloan was certified in the Authentic Happiness Coaching program in 2004. The program was developed by Dr. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania. For some skeptics, any talk about "happiness" seems too elusive to be valuable; but Martin E.P. Seligman's recently published book Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment  (buy the book) makes a serious and powerful case on behalf of our understanding the empirical evidence about human gratification and the evolution and the nurturing of positive emotion.  
Feel free to contact us by E-Mail or phone toll free (866-588-0477) to learn more about our practice, and schedule a free half-hour phone consultation with one of our clinicians. Our offices are conveniently located in McLean, Virginia & Glenn Dale, Maryland.


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Seligman, Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a recent Past President of the American Psychological Association, believes that during the second half of the 20th century the field of psychology has been consumed by what he calls a "disease model" and therefore has concentrated on therapy in trying to help people who present themselves for treatment once their problems have become unbearable. As a result, since 1945 great progress has been made in treating depression, schizophrenia, and alcoholism, which, along with another dozen mental illnesses, can now be effectively treated with medication and specific forms of psychotherapy. What psychology has neglected since the Second World War, however, is the study of human virtue, positive emotion, and the enhancement of our lives. Seligman's book examines that emerging study and the science on which it is based.

According to Seligman, the "New Positive Psychology" has three pillars. The first is the study of positive emotion. The second is the study of positive traits, foremost among them the virtues, but also the "abilities" such as intelligence and athleticism. Third is the study of positive institutions that support the virtues, such as democracy, strong families, and free inquiry. While psychology, he argues, has neglected the study and analysis of virtue over the past half-century, philosophy and religion have not. From religion and philosophy, Seligman identifies six core virtues that converge across the millennia and across cultures: wisdom and knowledge; courage; love and humanity; justice; temperance; spirituality and transcendence. In his accompanying taxonomy of strengths, he identifies several as being "tonic," and ones which might be displayed by someone several times a day, such as kindness, curiosity, loyalty, and spirituality. The other, rarer strengths he labels as "phasia," perseverance, perspective, fairness, and valor. A single instance of "phasic" action may suffice to define a fulfilled life.

Seligman has set out the evidence that teaching ten-year-old children the skills of optimistic thinking and action can cut their rate of depression in half by the time they go through puberty. Seligman's work on optimism is one platform upon which the New Positive Psychology is based. It underlies the emphasis formulated throughout Authentic Happiness on cognitive coaching, self-help, and the importance of what Seligman calls one's "explanatory style." When pessimists suffers a loss or defeat in life, they attribute it to causes that are long-lasting or permanent, affect everything, and that are their own fault. By contrast, optimists regard defeat and loss as temporary, limited to the present case, and as being the result of circumstances, bad luck, or the actions of other people.

Another of the platforms for Positive Psychology is the concept of "flow." When do you find yourself doing exactly what you want to be doing, and never wanting it to end? When we are in flow we concentrate; there are clear goals; we get immediate feedback; we have deep, effortless involvement; there is a sense of control; our sense of self vanishes; time stops.

Standard English usage offers no real clarification of the differences between happiness and gratification, and few of us can clearly distinguish the difference between a cool drink on a hot afternoon or a back rub, on the one hand, and rock climbing or playing bridge on the other. Seligman explains that the difference is total absorption, the suspension of consciousness, and entering flow. These are the elements which define true gratification. Total immersion, in fact, blocks consciousness, and emotions are completely absent. It is the gratifications, not the pleasures, which are key to leading a fulfilled life.

Positive Psychology places special value on the notion that true flow is achieved when a task is challenging and requires skill. Seligman argues persuasively that nearly any employment can be made into a vocation for one so long as the activity matches one's interests and also challenges that individual at some level of his or her "signature strengths." The argument is very different from the popular and widespread emphasis on nurturing self-esteem on the basis of indiscriminate praise. The notion that whatever you do will be rewarded is unlikely to produce any lasting gratification.

Positive Psychology arrives at the view that positive and negative traits are equally authentic and fundamental in humans, which constitutes the movement's basic motivational premise. Much research provides grounds for augmenting positive emotions in children early in life in order to start an upward spiral of positive emotion. Just as years ago cognitive therapists found themselves running up against a "downward spiral" of negative emotion in the depressed patients they treated, so Seligman has been advancing the idea that the coping styles of people can be altered. Evolution has various niches that support morality, cooperation, altruism, and goodness in humans. Authentic Happiness devotes an exhaustive number of pages not only to the argument for building positive emotion in kids, but also to the coaching of persons at all ages toward seeing the benefit of these values.

In his third section of Authentic Happiness, "In The Mansions of Life," Seligman provides his readers strategies for increasing our sense of gratification in work, love, and the raising of children. His readers are steered toward an understanding that has to do with the way in which we can increase optimism and hope into pervasive and permanent values for dealing with the world. Seligman the scientist, however, remains strictly descriptive. His goal is not to tell you that you should be optimistic, or spiritual, or kind, or good-humored. He accounts for the evolution of such traits; but his main point is to describe the consequences of these traits of being "optimistic" and developing an "explanatory style" that allows you to deal with life and its vicissitudes and setbacks optimistically brings about less depression, better physical health, and higher achievement.

In sum, three things reliably predict a heightened sense of gratification and fulfillment for adults: 1) being in a romantic relationship that we consider stable; 2) being able to perceive how we make a living as a vocation or a calling rather than simply as a job or work; 3) believing in something larger, or higher, than ourselves. Conversely, there is no significant correlation between wealth, or health, or education, and authentic happiness.

Happiness Coaching Logo If you would like to explore how Happiness Coaching could be helpful in changing your life for the better, or would like more information on how to help someone you love who might benefit from this innovative approach, I invite you to contact me for a consultation.

Content on this page was excerpted from Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Paul Monaco (Media & Theatre Arts, Montana State University - Bozeman)



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