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

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