How a positive ripple can shape our lives

Dr Lea Waters MAPS talks about positive psychology and how it can benefits our lives

I became bulimic when I was 15. I didn’t tell anyone. I suffered in silence.

When I was 22 I went to a psychologist. By then I was studying a PhD in psychology and had learnt that we can use psychological exercises to reduce our negative emotions and thoughts.

I overcame the eating disorder, but what followed was a decade of intermittent anxiety and depression. Again, I worked hard to overcome my negative thoughts and feelings and, thankfully, came to a point where I was free of illness.

But the absence of illness did not make me happy. It just made me someone who was no longer ill. I was in a kind of psychological limbo – neither unhappy nor happy. Psychologically speaking, I needed to get north of zero. I needed to find psychological exercises to increase my positive emotions and thoughts (not just reduce my negative emotions and thoughts).

It was around that time (1998) that Professor Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, introduced the simple yet profound idea that psychologists should try to help people build positive states and psychological strengths as well as fixing their negative states and psychological limitations. The field of positive psychology was born – and my mental health got the change in direction it needed.

Positive psychology provides new answers to the age-old question of how we cultivate health and wellbeing. At the same time, it gives scientific support to the everyday wisdom many of us have gained through first-hand experience – that happiness, virtue and meaning help transform our lives.

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