Professors Martin Seligman, Ph.D., Mihaly (Mike) Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., Christopher Peterson, Ph.D. and others have championed a new area of study called “Positive Psychology.” The aim of this discipline is to understand how to promote happiness, a sense of well-being and meaningfulness in one’s life. Much of psychology is focused on models of pathology – what is wrong or disabled – for people in general, and individuals who are different from the norm specifically. Positive Psychology is a set of theories, research findings, practices and life-styles that go beyond “what’s wrong” with us to ascend to what is “right” about each of us in unique ways and how to further a sense of “wellness” in our lives.
Dr. Seligman and other researchers have proposed theoretical frameworks for typically developing individuals that have great utility in promoting well-being among all individuals, including those with developmental differences and disabilities. For example, Dr. Seligman talks about the importance of five factors that influence our sense of well-being – PERMA:
- Positive Emotions – expressing and exchanging happiness and joy;
- Engagement – flow into activities in which you lose a sense of time and space because the activity is so all consuming and meaningful to engage in that you get lost in concentration on those activities;
- Relationships – joining and maintaining important relationships with others;
- Meaning – immersing oneself in activities and endeavors that are for a greater good beyond yourself;
- Accomplishments – achievement in activities that matter to you.
Part of the goals in our therapeutic activities with our clients is to promote these elements of a Positive Psychology. Though this may sound trite to some, why shouldn’t we be in pursuit of well-being regardless of one’s developmental differences or disabilities? Our supposition is that a person’s growth is best promoted from a place of happiness from engaging in relationships and activities that are meaningful to each person in which they can achieve a sense of accomplishment in what they do. The therapeutic goal is to consider each person’s unique interests and perspectives to aide them in finding their way into PERMA.