Faculty Spotlight: Positive Psychology

Positive psychology has gained popularity over the years, shifting attention from studying what is negatively impacting individuals to understanding the positive aspects of well-being. Introduced in 1998 by Dr. Martin Seligman, positive psychology focuses on topics such as happiness, well-being, success, and optimal human functioning.1 This relatively new branch of psychology has expanded the scope of how we can use psychology to not only help those struggling with their mental health, but how we can use psychology to learn from those who are doing well. Often, we take this perspective with how to help undergraduate students, too. We worry about what’s not working, however, seeing what is working well for students is also informative.

Research with undergraduates has explored the concept of psychological grit within a positive psychology framework.2 Psychological grit refers to “passion and perseverance for long-term goals”, which has been associated with positive outcomes, such as graduating and academic performance.2 In one study, hope and psychological grit were found to be highly correlated.2 While this may not be surprising, it’s informative in exploring a positive aspect of mental health – if psychological grit and hope are positively correlated, how can we foster hope among undergraduate students to better their chance for positive outcomes?

Hope theory posits that hope is a goal-directed way of thinking.3 Taking a positive psychology approach, a brief single-session intervention with undergraduates sought to focus on promoting strengths using a hope intervention.3 The results are promising, as students showed increases in life purpose and vocational calling after the brief hope intervention.3

The positive psychology perspective provides us with a new way to foster psychological grit and hope among undergraduates. All students, even those doing well, may benefit from an increase in hope and while it is still vital to provide support for those who may be in more need than others, all students can benefit from an increase in hope – a predictor of overall well-being and life satisfaction.

1Donaldson, S. I., Dollwet, M., & Rao, M. A. (2015). Happiness, excellence, and optimal human functioning revisited: Examining the peer-reviewed literature linked to positive psychology. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(3), 185-195. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2014.943801

2Vela, J. C., Smith, W. D., Whittenberg, J. F., Guardiola, R., & Savage, M. (2018). Positive psychology factors as predictors of Latina/o college students’ psychological grit. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 46, 2-19. doi: 10.1002/jmcd.12089

3Feldman, D. B. & Dreher, D. E. (2012). Can hope be changed in 90 minutes? Testing the efficacy of a single-session goal-pursuit intervention for college students. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 745-759. doi: 10.1007/s10902-011-9292-4

Happiness vs. Meaningfulness

There is debate in the world of research on whether pursuing a happy life or a meaningful life will lead to overall better well-being. It might seem obvious that we all want to live well and to be satisfied with our lives, but how do we get there in the long-term?

Happiness might seem like the obvious choice, and researchers have identified that one of the biggest differences between a life pursuing happiness and a life pursuing meaningfulness is that happiness-driven lives focus on living in the present and satisfying wants or needs (such as things like focus on wealth, health, and things that give us direct pleasure). Meaningful lives, on the other hand, are associated with more stress and challenges, and focus on the present, past, and future, all at once.

However, meaningful-driven lives are associated with more happiness. Although happiness has also been found to be associated with more meaningfulness. It probably sounds like we’re going in circles – because we are! Overall, the research points to meaningful-driven lives as a better predictor of overall well-being. While meaningful-driven lives might look more difficult, in contrast to pursuing pleasure, they actually make us happier in the long-term.

What does this mean? Do what you love, love what you do, and whether you find meaning in what you directly do, or you find that what you do helps you find meaning outside of what you do – keep doing it! When we feel like our lives have purpose or meaning, we’re happier, more motivated, and feel better about ourselves, which comes with a whole lot of psychological and physical health benefits. It can be tempting to focus on goals that bring us direct and immediate happiness, but those long-term goals (like college) that seem too hard or too far away (but give you meaning) are worth it!


Altruistic acts are selfless acts that benefit others, despite what the act might mean for you. When we think about altruism, we think of big acts of kindness, like building houses for those in need or donating money.  But altruistic acts can be small and just as effective. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own lives that it can feel impossible to think about spending time, money, or energy to help others. How can we be altruistic in small ways, while making big differences?

  • One of the ways we can be altruistic in our daily lives is praising others. Random and kind compliments or appreciation of others can go a long way to boost another person’s mood!
  • Another way to be altruistic is to do the things you enjoy doing, try to do them well, and help others who have similar passions. Working together and educating others to do their best, in a positive way, can motivate and help others to feel good about what they’re doing. When we feel like we’re doing well at something, those positive emotions can affect how we see ourselves in other areas of our lives.
  • Lastly, just being aware of what is going on in other’s lives can lead to altruistic acts. When we’re aware of what is going on in the lives of those we care about, we can be more thoughtful about how we interact with them. It can be as small as grabbing a coffee for a stressed friend, or texting words of encouragement before an exam.

Altruism can seem daunting but it can be easy! Little acts overtime add up and there are psychological benefits to helping others. It can reduce your own stress, enhance and broaden your perspective on your own life, boost your overall positive feelings and happiness, and can alleviate feelings of loneliness. When you help others, you help yourself. 😊


Laughter is something we all do – it’s universal among humans despite race and cultural differences. Laughter even comes before we can talk, which we see in happy, giggly babies. But why do we laugh and what are the benefits?

You might think the obvious – that we laugh because something is funny. But there’s also nervous laughter and some people even laugh when they’re scared. We even laugh at ourselves when we’re embarrassed! Research has pointed to the purpose of laughter as a way to alleviate tension and to illicit positive emotions in others, not only ourselves, which could explain why laughter is often thought of as contagious. Without even thinking, we often laugh when others are laughing. Laughter can also lighten your mood, reduce negative feelings, and it also fosters social engagement – it can bring people together. There’s also some evidence linking laughter to boosts in the immune system and muscle relaxation ("laughter is the best medicine!").

As we enter into the end of the school year with finals approaching, think about laughter as a free, quick, and easy way to alleviate stress and tension! While eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising are a few of the most well-referenced ways for you to take care of yourself during tense times – add laughter to that list and call up a friend, enjoy a light-hearted movie, or read a funny book to take a quick break from the stress of school!


When we think about what it takes to be successful (even when things get tough), we think about the concepts of motivation and self-discipline. A lot of the time it’s hard to find the get-up-and-go attitude we need to sit down and do homework or to study. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood or you lack the motivation to get started. When we fail to stick to hard and fast routines, we think we lack self-discipline. Research, however, has pointed to a new concept for success: grit.

Grit is the idea that passion and perseverance for long-term goals are what leads to success. Dr. Angela Duckworth (check out her TED talk!), suggests that above and beyond intelligence or talent, grit is what drives us towards success. It can be easy to be motivated to work towards something you’re passionate about, but the perseverance aspect is what keeps you going. Similarly, self-discipline in the short-term is often feasible. We can commit to a two-week study plan – but the long-term is what ultimately matters.

It’s intimidating to think about four years of undergrad as four years of commitment to self-discipline when motivation may be hard to find. But grit – passion and perseverance – can keep you going through the good times and the bad. Acknowledging that failures or bumps in the road will ultimately lead you to success are essential in moving forward – but don’t forget your passion for what you’re doing. Maybe you’re passionate about your major, or you’re passionate about the life you’ll be able to create after undergrad. Regardless, you’re doing this for you and maybe it’s time to get gritty!


National Nurse’s Week (May 6-12) not only recognizes the contribution of practicing nurses but also the high demands placed on nursing students. Nursing students must balance a rigorous curriculum with long hospital shifts, all while working and attempting to maintain a school/life balance.

Burnout is physical and emotional exhaustion. While stress is common and can dampen how your behavior and how you feel, burnout is worse – it’s prolonged and chronic stress related to work and/or school. Burnout can involve feelings of hopelessness, flattened emotions, and little to no motivation to do well at the job you once cared about. Burnout not only affects how you feel and behave personally, but it impacts your performance and can have harmful consequences. With such long hours and high emotional stress, caring professions, like nursing, are especially susceptible to burnout.

Paying attention to how you’re feeling is one of the first steps to recognizing burnout. It’s important to understand where the burnout is coming from. Often, in caring professions, empathy can lead to burnout. While empathy is an admirable trait and critical to performing well in caring professions, it can also increase emotional stress, especially in healthcare. Long shifts without breaks and packed schedules without any time for self-care can also lead to burnout. Lastly, neglecting who you are outside of your profession can be detrimental – you are more than your career!

When working in caring profession, we want to give our all for to our patients, clients, training, and to our own professional development. It is so important that we remember that to give our all, we have to firstly take care of ourselves. We must give ourselves the same kindness we provide to others so that we can be the caring, present, and competent professionals we strive to be!