Positive Psychotherapy: A Collection of 5 Research Articles

Positive PsychotherapyPositive Psychology was founded on the belief that there is (or at least has been) an imbalance with regard to the amount of attention researchers and practitioners in the field of psychology give to the positive versus negative phenomena in (human) life (for some insights on this, click here). For the first 100 years, psychological science has give much more attention to the negative continuum of experiences (e.g., how to get rid of depression) than to the positive side (e.g., how to lead and sustain a happy and fulfilled life).
Nevertheless, just some years after Positive Psychology’s “inception”, some researchers and practitioners took the newly developed theories, tools, and interventions from the subclinical arena – and tried to apply them in a clinical context, e.g., to help people who suffer from depressive disorders. Thus, Positive Psychotherapy was born.*

Here, you’ll find four of the most important articles charting this territory (links lead to PDFs). The fifth article is a very recent one, there’s no free PDF available as of yet. But if you’re interested: I’ve made very pleasant experiences by just e-mailing authors and asking for a copy. Enjoy!

*Even though Positive Psychology’s official year of birth is 1998 (when Marty Seligman was elected president of the APA), the term Positive Psychotherapy has been in use long before that time. If you’d like to learn more, please click here.

Research: Linking “Positive Practices” to Organizational Effectiveness

Stones - GrowthThere are tons of books out there explaining how to use Positive Psychology for boosting the performance of organizations. But the truth is: from a scientific point of view, we really do not know very much about this link. There’s abundant research on the connection of positivity and individual performance – but it remains by and large unclear if this influence on the micro-level yields any outcomes on the macro-level. Of course, it seems to make a lot of sense to infer this relationship – but where’s the research?

A very worthwhile attempt is offered via an article named Effects of positive practices on organizational effectiveness by Kim Cameron and his colleagues. Based on prior research, they developed an inventory of what they call “positives practices”. According to the authors, these can be described as

behaviors, techniques, routines […] that represent positively deviant (i.e., unusual) practices, practices with an affirmative bias, and practices that connote virtuousness and eudemonism in organizations.

In order to do so, they administered a large number of questionnaire items to diverse groups of people. Afterwards, they clustered the answers in order to find common themes and pattern in the data. They found that all positives practices could be categorized into six distinct subgroups:

Caring

People care for, are interested in, and maintain responsibility for one another as friends.

Compassionate Support

People provide support for one another including kindness and compassion when others are struggling.

Forgiveness

People avoid blame and forgive mistakes.

Inspiration

People inspire one another at work.

Meaning

The meaningfulness of the work is emphasized, and people are elevated and renewed by the work.

Respect, Integrity, and Gratitude

People treat one another with respect and express appreciation for one another. They trust one another and maintain integrity.

Having found that structure, they gathered data from several divisions of a financial services company and one operating in the healthcare industry. They asked employees to assess their respective business unit (= the organization as a whole, not individuals) with regard to being a place that possesses the aforementioned attributes. Additionally, they obtained data on several objective and subjective key performance indicators of those business units – and finally looked at the connection of the presence of positive practices and organizational effectiveness measures. Here´s what they´ve Cameron and his colleagues found (in their own words):

In Study 1, positive practices in financial service business units were significantly associated with financial performance, work climate, turnover, and senior executive evaluations of effectiveness. In an industry in which positive practices might be assumed to carry little importance, organizational performance was substantially affected by the implementation of positive practices.

In Study 2, improvement in positive practices over a two year period in health care units predicted improvements in turnover, patient satisfaction, organizational climate, employee participation in the organization, quality of care, managerial support, and resource adequacy.

 In the course of arguing why positive practices should have a performance-boosting effect, the authors conclude that

cognitively, emotionally, behaviorally, physiologically, and socially, evidence suggests that human systems naturally prefer exposure to the positive, so it is expected that organizational performance would be enhanced by positive practices.

Of course, Cameron et al. urge us to be careful not to make strong inferences from their results:

The results of these two investigations, of course, are suggestive and not conclusive.

Still, their work is one of the first and still very rare pieces of research that links positive organizational behavior to organizational effectiveness. I am very much looking forward to scholars who pick up on these findings and expand our knowledge on the positivity-performance link.

Want to be the Boss? Be Happy, Science says, and you´ll be a Good Leader

Happy BossFor a moment, think about a leadership person (a.k.a. boss) in your life that you really liked working for. How could that person be described, what kind of personality did he/she convey? Was he/she more the grumpy moaner – or rather an upbeat “Sunday´s child”?

Turns out that this question is not only about likeability but also about leadership effectiveness. In a recent meta-analysis* published in The Leadership Quarterly titled Is a happy leader a good leader? A meta-analytic investigation of leader trait affect and leadership, Dana L. Joseph and her colleagues found that – broadly speaking – happier leaders also tend to be more effective leaders. In the words of Joseph and her colleagues:

Our analyses show that leader trait affectivity, particularly leader trait positive affect, plays a significant role in predicting leadership criteria.

A happy boss is a good boss.

They also find that the relationship between leader happiness and effectiveness may not be a direct one. Rather, it seems that happy bosses predominantly engage in a special leadership style that has been coined transformational leadership. As opposed to more traditional leadership styles (telling people what to do and controlling them; management by objectives etc.), transformational leadership, according to Joseph et al., consists of the following dimensions:

  • idealized influence, or the extent to which a leader displays conviction and behaves in a way that causes followers to identify with him/her;
  • inspirational motivation, which involves communicating optimism and challenging followers to meet high standards;
  • intellectual stimulation, or the extent to which a leader takes risks, challenges assumptions, and encourages follower creativity;
  • and individualized consideration, which is characterized by follower mentoring, attending to follower needs, and listening to follower concerns.

Now, does that sound like the behavior of a boss we´d all like to work for? My answer is a clear yes. And it predominantly starts with that person´s happiness.

* A special type of study that statistically aggregates previous study results to provide an overview of a specific branch of research.

Want to stay on top of Positive Psychology in Organizations? Here are 3 Reviews for you (PDF)

Happy ManagersBeing a manager in my day job, I am foremost interested in the application of Positive Psychology in organizations – and the science exploring these issues, Positive Organizational Scholarship. While there are a couple of good trade books on the subject, I also like to read original research papers which is always a great source for new ideas to blog about. As there are so many articles out there, the question is: Where should we start?

The (or at least my) answer is: Always start with review articles, and, if there are any, meta-analyses. Both are tremendously valuable in order to get an overview of a discipline in the shortest amount of time – as the authors first scan the extant data-bases for relevant articles, and then organize and summarize the current body of research. It´s a lot of hard work which is usually rewarded by receiving frequent citations over time. So, thanks to all those diligent, hard-working review writers out there!

Here´s a list of three reviews on Positive Psychology in organizations for you – the links will lead you to the respective PDFs. Enjoy!

Study: To Belong is to Matter: Sense of Belonging Enhances Meaning in Life

Nico Rose - Meaning in LifeOne of the central tenets in Positive Psychology goes as follows: Other People Matter. It was coined by the late Christopher Peterson as the shortest possible summary of research on human wellbeing. Peterson wanted to make the point that having healthy relationships with family, friends, and coworkers turns out to be the strongest predictor of happiness (and oftentimes: health) in most studies on human wellbeing.

A recent study by Nathaniel Lambert et. al titled To Belong is to Matter: Sense of Belonging Enhances Meaning in Life sheds additional light on this relationship. Here´s a shortened version of the article´s abstract:

We found correlational, longitudinal, and experimental evidence that a sense of belonging predicts how meaningful life is perceived to be. Additionally, we found a strong positive correlation between sense of belonging and meaningfulness. Furthermore, we found that initial levels of sense of belonging predicted perceived meaningfulness of life, obtained 3 weeks later. Furthermore, initial sense of belonging predicted independent evaluations of participants essays on meaning in life.

In short, what they are saying is:

Belonging = Meaning

Or, more precisely: If I matter to other people, my life matters.

The 10 most Valuable Positive Psychology Resources on Mappalicious

Ever since the beginning of Mappalicious about 20 months ago, I´ve not only shared my own take on Positive Psychology with you – I´ve also tried to compile valuable resources that help to spread research (and knowledge in general) on all things Positive Psychology. Based on feedback, such as shares via social media, these 10 resources have been the most useful pieces of information so far:

Please share this if you like…

Positive Psychology Resources on Mappalicious

Psychology is still ruled by the Disease Model. But Positivity and Strength-Orientation are gaining Ground

When I talk about Positive Psychology in Germany, I also talk about the necessity for this rather recent branch of research and practice (see the slides below), referring to the fact that most psychological research is centered around a disease model, thereby concentrating on mental illness, its antecedents, and cures – just as Martin Seligman and Mihály Csíkszentmihályi propose in their seminal article Positive Psychology: an Introduction.

Today, I wanted to check if this is really true – and if the onset of Positive Psychology at this millennium has does anything to change that conjectured imbalance. Therefore, I went to Google Scholar and searched for articles which titles` contain either the words depression, anxiety, happiness, or life satisfaction. For a first round, I limited the search to articles that were published between 1900 and 1999. For a second round, I counted all the articles that have been published afterwards. Here´s what I´ve found:

Depression Happiness Graph

A first stunning finding* is the fact that, in the last 15 years, more papers were published than in the previous 100, no matter on what subject. Whether that is a desirable development with regard to quality and impact remains to be seen.

But more importantly, the imbalance between research focusing on desirable vs. undesirable states is clearly visible in the chart. In the 20th century, papers focusing on depression outnumber those focusing on happiness by a factor of 13. For anxiety and life satisfaction, it´s factor 10.9.

Now what has changed over the last 15 years? The answer is: Positive Psychology has made quite an impact: an increasing publication rate in this branch of psychology results in a (at least slightly) more balanced ratio. Depression outnumbers happiness by “only” 5.7, anxiety outnumbers life satisfaction by “only” 5.8.

I´ve put the world “only” in parentheses since that still is very far away from a sort of equilibrium. But progress has been achieved. And there will be more…

Traditional Psychology  Positive Psychology - Dr. Nico Rose

 

 

 

 

 

* Of course, the overall number of publications is much higher. But I suppose that counting papers containing a specific word in the title is a pretty decent proxy for the general writing activity in a sub-branch of research.