SMART Sunday! Positive Psychology

Hello YMCA Friends!

It’s been a long time since we have been able to see you in our facilities!  We hope you are finding ways to stay physically active through our Y Without Walls website or in your favorite outdoor activities.

I know that I am experiencing a lot of ups and downs in my moods and motivation during this uncertain time.  One of the things that is really helping me stay centered though is a daily gratitude practice—just 3-5 minutes to jot down a list of 5 things that I am grateful to have as part of my life.  Today’s list consisted of:

  1. Pretty snow on the trees
  2. Time for dinner with my family
  3. A job that is fulfilling and that allows me to connect with people
  4. Friday—See #3—I still want the weekend!
  5. A husband who listens to me ramble on about my goals/dreams

Prior to the closure of our facilities, we had been working on content to support our March Mania Fitness Challenge. Lois Turner, Health & Wellness Director at the Healthy Living Center, put together these great notes on Positive Psychology. A gratitude journal was just one of the practices highlighted—hopefully, you can take action on one of these practices to help you meet the new challenges we are all facing!

In Good Health, Theresa


Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing, and an applied approach to optimal functioning. It has also been defined as the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities and organizations to thrive (Gable & Haidt, 2005, Sheldon & King, 2001)

Five Examples of Positive Psychology Interventions

1. Gratitude Journal

It’s probably one of the most well-known positive psychology interventions. The world’s leading expert on gratitude, Robert Emmons, defines gratitude as: ”A felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.”

Gratitude is a great buffer against negative emotions such as envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It involves a focus on the present moment and appreciating what is instead of focusing on what could be. If you enjoy writing, keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to practice gratitude.

2. The Gratitude Visit

Researchers have found that the practice of gratitude may be especially effective when expressed directly to another person. Martin Seligman, one of the founders of Positive Psychology, and his colleagues tested the benefits of this intervention in a study. Another study by Sonja Lyubomirsky’s laboratory found that simply writing the gratitude letter and not sending or reading it to the other person still produced significant boosts in happiness.

3. Best Possible Self

Laura King, professor at the University of Missouri, Columbia, designed a systematic optimism intervention. She asked participants to come to her laboratory for four days in a row. Every day participants were asked to spend twenty minutes writing a narrative description of their “best possible future selves.” They were essentially asked to contemplate the best possible future for all the different areas of their lives.

Participants who wrote about their visions for twenty minutes, four days in a row:

  • Had immediate increases in positive moods;
  • Were happier several weeks later;
  • Reported being sick less often than participants who were asked to write about other topics.

4. Daily Strength Awareness

Character Strengths and Virtues is a groundbreaking classification of widely valued positive traits. The authors Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson studied all the major religions and philosophical traditions to find that the same 6 virtues were valued across all cultures.

These virtues (humanity, courage, wisdom, etc.) needed to be subjected to scientific study, so they focused their research on the character strengths that lead to those virtues. They followed that by creating tools for their measurement.

5. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a focus on the present moment achieved through the directing of attention towards one’s immediate experiences, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations. A large body of research has established mindfulness meditation as one of the most powerful and effective tools to promote psychological well-being.

According to APA (American Psychological Association), the research on mindfulness has identified as benefits:

  • Reduced rumination;
  • Stress reduction;
  • Increases in working memory;
  • Increased ability to focus;
  • Less emotional reactivity;
  • More cognitive flexibility;
  • Relationship satisfaction.


Martin Elias Pete Seligman is an American psychologist, educator, and author of self-help books. Seligman is a strong promoter within the scientific community of his theories of positive psychology and of well-being. His theory of learned helplessness is popular among scientific and clinical psychologists

Catarina Lino, BSc., MAPP, is a Positive Psychology coach, writer, teacher and life-long student of behavioral sciences as well as a yoga teacher in Lisbon, Portugal.

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis where he has taught since 1988.  He received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana‑Champaign. He is the author of over 200 original publications in peer‑reviewed journals or chapters and has written or edited eight books, including The Psychology of Ultimate Concerns (Guilford Press),

Sonja Lyubomirsky is an American professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside and author of the bestseller The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, a book of strategies backed by scientific research that can be used to increase happiness.

Laura King did her undergraduate work at Kenyon College, where, an English major, she declared a second major, in psychology, during the second semester of her junior year. She completed her A.B. in English with high honors and distinction and in psychology with distinction in 1986. Laura then did graduate work at Michigan State University and the University of California, Davis, receiving her Ph.D. in personality psychology in 1991.