Positive Psychology – Part 1

It seems more and more of my health coach colleagues have pursued further certification in the field of Positive Psychology. One of them has developed a guided journal – The Book of Extraordinary Things – based on the principles of Positive Psychology. It is designed to encourage self-awareness, positivity and well-being. And I recently facilitated a program about resiliency and one of the key skills to helping build resilience is the ability to harness positive emotions – to find the silver lining in even the most challenging circumstances. All of these factors prompted me to learn a little more about Positive Psychology and how it can help individuals maximize their health and well-being.

What is Positive Psychology?

Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, is a leading authority in the fields of Positive Psychology and resilience. He has written several books about it including his recent one, Flourish. He describes Positive Psychology as “the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” It is grounded in the belief that people want to lead meaningful lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. In other words, it helps us move beyond just surviving to thriving, or even flourishing.

Traditionally, psychology has often focused on dysfunction – what is wrong with you – and how to treat it. Positive Psychology moves the focus to what is right with you (such as your character strengths) and is built on Dr. Seligman’s PERMA™ theory of well-being, which includes Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. In recent years, Emiliya Zhivotovskaya, a graduate of the Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania, modified the theory and added Vitality – a focus on healthy habits such as eating well, moving regularly and getting enough sleep.

PERMA-V

Let’s take a brief look at each of the components of PERMA-V and how they can help you flourish and achieve “the good life.”

Positive Emotions: Focusing on positive emotions is about more than just being happy. It is the ability to remain optimistic despite life’s ups and downs. Keeping a positive outlook can help in your personal relationships as well as your work. You can increase positive emotions about the past by cultivating gratitude and forgiveness. You can savor the present by practicing mindfulness. And you can relish the future by building hope. Do more of the things that make you happy and bring enjoyment into your daily routine.

Interestingly, Seligman notes that this building block of well-being is limited by how much an individual can experience positive emotions – which is partly linked to biology/genetics as well as the fact that our emotions tend to fluctuate within a range. Due to this limitation, the other components may play an even more important role in our ability to thrive.

Engagement: Engagement is experienced when you are fully absorbed in a task or activity in which self-awareness disappears and time seems to stop or fly by quickly. You may recall this concept of “flow” put forth by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, when the experience is so gratifying that you are willing to do it for its own sake, rather than for what you will get out of it. The activity is its own reward. Achieving this state of flow or total engagement is natural, especially when you are involved in creative activities you enjoy and are good at. Pursue hobbies that interest you, develop your skills, and consider professional work that is linked to your passion(s).

Relationships: Humans are social creatures, and we rely on connections with others to truly flourish. Connections to others can give life purpose and meaning. Positive relationships with your family members, friends, peers, and colleagues is a key source of joy. Support from and connection with others can also help you navigate through difficult times that require resilience. Having deep, meaningful relationships with others is vital to your well-being. Reflect on the quality (and perhaps quantity) of your relationships with friends, family, and other significant people in your life.

Meaning: A sense of purpose can be derived from belonging to and serving something bigger than the self. Religion and spirituality provide many people with meaning, as can family, professional pursuits, and volunteering for social causes that are important to you. Having an answer to that million-dollar question – “Why am I here?”- is a key ingredient to finding fulfillment. Seek out meaning, whether it be through your work, personal hobbies or leisure activities, or serving others in your community.

Accomplishment: People pursue achievement, mastery, and success for its own sake, whether in the workplace or in personal pursuits and activities. We all thrive when we are succeeding, achieving our goals, and bettering ourselves. Setting goals and putting in the necessary effort to achieve them are important to well-being and happiness. Achievement helps to build self-esteem and provides a sense of accomplishment. Keep your focus on achieving your goals, but also remember to keep your ambition in balance with all of the other important things in life.

Vitality: As you may have noticed yourself, the original PERMA building blocks of well-being tend to be very head-centered or “above the neck,” as some people like to refer to it. This was one reason why Emiliya Zhivotovskaya decided to add this component with an emphasis on the mind-body connection as well as healthy habits around sleep, food, and exercise. It addresses the need to take a more holistic look at well-being, including the inseparable connection between mind and body when it comes to flourishing. Eat healthy foods to fuel the body, move your body every day and develop good sleep habits that allow you to wake feeling rested.

This is clearly just a high-level view of Positive Psychology but if it has sparked your curiosity, I encourage you to learn more through some of the books, speakers and websites cited in my post.

The Book of Extraordinary Things

As I mentioned earlier, a coaching colleague has created a guided journal to help explore the principles of Positive Psychology. I ordered one to support my continuous journey to optimal health and well-being. I plan to use it to focus more on the good things in my life and the strengths that I bring to the table in both my professional pursuits and my personal life. I am just starting to explore my journal so stay tuned for Part 2 of this post where I will share my experience with it. (And if you think you’d like to order a copy, you can do so here.)

PERMA-V-Poster
Source: https://www.stac.school.nz/why-stac/well-being-at-stac/perma-v/

CBD: What’s all the fuss?

It seems like you can’t turn around these days without seeing something related to CBD, or cannabidiol, products. A neighbor recently asked me what, if anything, I knew about the health benefits of CBD oil. I had recently read an article in Consumer Reports, which provided a little bit of insight, but her query made me want to delve a little deeper – for my own knowledge and to field potential questions from my coaching clients. I’ve tried to simplify what I have learned into a few key questions and answers below:

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound extracted from both the marijuana plant as well as its close relative the hemp plant. One of the most important things to know upfront is that CBD does not get users high. It is another compound in marijuana – THC or tetrahydrocannabinol – that produces its psychoactive properties.

 

What do people use it for?

A growing body of preliminary research suggests some of CBD’s properties may improve health. Early studies suggest that CBD affects the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a series of receptors found throughout the body that are involved in regulating many of our critical biological processes. These processes include sleep, memory, mood, and metabolism. Because CBD stimulates the endocannabinoid system, it is believed to help promote homeostasis in the body, reducing the sensation of pain and inhibiting inflammation.

Due to its purported anti-inflammatory properties, many individuals use CBD products to relieve pain from things like arthritis as well as general muscle soreness. Another popular reason cited for its use is to reduce stress and anxiety. Others report that it improves sleep.

 

Does it work?

The jury is still out, primarily due to a lack of sound, scientific research (e.g., randomized controlled trials, which are the gold standard when it comes to research). Many experts point out that most CBD product claims are based on anecdotal evidence, as it is still an unregulated industry at this time. The strongest scientific evidence is for CBD’s effectiveness in treating two rare but devastating forms of childhood epilepsy. In July 2018, the FDA approved the first prescription medicine (Epidiolex) with CBD as its active ingredient to help those patients manage seizures.

Scientists admit though that one of the key reasons for the lack of scientific evidence is due to government rules that have prevented federal money from being used to research CBD’s possible health benefits (more on that in the next section). The good news is some of those regulations are being lifted and just last year, the National Institutes of Health awarded $140 million toward cannabis research, with $15 million dedicated to CBD studies.

 

Is it legal?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question as there are different laws and regulations at the state and federal levels. It starts with the fact that for decades, federal law did not differentiate hemp from other cannabis plants. The 1970 Controlled Substances Act banned cannabis of any kind. This recently changed with successful passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which essentially allows farmers to grow hemp and legalizes hemp derivatives like CBD. It also removes CBD extracted from hemp from the DEA’s list of “Schedule 1 drugs” (whereas marijuana and THC remain on the list). These changes should allow for more research, BUT now that the FDA has approved a CBD-based prescription drug, it is recommending that any product that markets CBD for health purposes should go through its rigorous official drug approval process. And we know that that can mean years of research and scrutiny before products make it to market.

In addition, the FDA has indicated that when CBD is added to food, it is then considered a “food additive” – and the FDA has not yet approved CBD for that purpose. Unfortunately, this has left health officials in many states in the position where they feel the need to crack down on food and drinks with CBD. The good news in all of this is that it is pushing the FDA to determine how to regulate CBD and clarify the current confusion over its legal and regulatory status. So, stay tuned for a more definitive answer regarding the legality of CBD products.

 

Bottom line

I am glad that my neighbor’s inquiry prompted me to learn more about CBD and its potential health benefits. I think I am more open to trying it to see if it helps with either stress relief and possibly joint pain (my knees and hips are starting to show their age). However, I plan to discuss it with my physician at my annual physical this fall, just to get her professional opinion about it and to make sure there are no reasons I should not take it.

Below are some general recommendations to consider before you try CBD:

  • It is always a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider before taking any kind of supplements that are not regulated by the FDA. You want to ensure that CBD products will not interfere with any other medications (prescription or over the counter) you are taking. You also want to be sure CBD products will not aggravate any existing medical conditions.

 

  • Do your research on the quality of the products and pay particular attention to the actual contents of the product. Many online products that were tested had less CBD than advertised and some had no CBD at all. You can ask to see the Certificates of Analysis (COAs), which provide results of tests related to the actual contents of the products. Any reputable company should be willing to share those results.

 

Sources:

Consumer Reports article October 2018 issue – “New Hope for Pain Relief?”

Consumer Reports article May 2019 issue – “CBD Goes Mainstream”

Harvard Medical School Health Blog: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476

Green Compass Global: https://greencompassglobal.com/The-Science/?mitem=28279

Brookings Institution: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/