Mary Beth Ely, University of South Carolina
Scientists know a lot about what makes people sad and depressed. However, it has only been in the last decade that scientists have begun actively studying what makes people happy and thrive. In 1999, Martin Seligman, in his role as president of the American Psychological Association, challenged his fellow psychology researchers to switch gears in their research and begin the "scientific pursuit of optimal human functioning" (Lopez, 2000, ¶ 4). Since Seligman's challenge, the field of positive psychology has developed rapidly. Positive psychology focuses on three main areas: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions (Positive Psychology Center, 2007).
The positive psychology literature base has also flourished in the past decade. In 2001, The Handbook of Positive Psychology was published by Oxford University Press. Tal Ben-Shahar published a book in 2007 entitled Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. Ben-Shahar is a faculty member at Harvard and teaches a class on positive psychology that is an extremely popular course at Harvard (Ben-Shahar, 2007). In addition, Barbara Fredrickson (2009), a Kenan Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, recently published her research on positive emotions and overcoming negativity in the book Positivity. Her research has scientifically proven that a positive mindset can make people healthier and happier (Fredrickson, 2009). The purpose of this article is to share five scientifically proven tools from Fredrickson's research findings that can be used to help academic advisors increase their happiness and positivity levels.
Tool One: Savor Positivity. Fredrickson (2009) encourages people to intentionally revel in happy memories. One way she suggests doing this is through reliving positive experiences through looking at photographs of those moments (p. 211). Advisors can strategically place photos in their office. Not only will this improve the advisor's own positivity level, but students will be uplifted as well by images of cheerful, happy times that are shared in the pictures. The photos can be a great conversation starter and serve to let students know that the advisor has a life outside of the office.
Tool Two: Ritualize Gratitude. Fredrickson (2009) defines gratitude as simply noticing the gifts and blessings in our lives (p. 210). One way Fredrickson suggests to do this is to keep a gratitude journal. At the start or end of each day, advisors should write at least one thing they are grateful for in their gratitude journal. It can be something very small, like the beautiful flowers seen on the way to work, a friendly smile from a co-worker, or a student who was especially inspiring. This journal will serve as a deposit of positivity. Occasionally reading what has previously been written will help inspire positive and grateful feelings all over again (p. 210).
Tool Three: Develop Healthy Distractions. "Distractions are important tools for breaking the grip of rumination and curbing needless negativity. The goal is simple - to get your mind off your troubles" (Fredrickson, 2009, p. 203). To achieve this, advisors can make a list of healthy distractions. Advisors should ask themselves, "How can I distract myself from negative feelings today?" Examples of healthy distractions include pulling out a good book to read for a few minutes, taking a quick walk, following a Web link to a favorite news site, or doing a crossword puzzle (Fredrickson, 2009, p. 203). Advisors will want to keep these healthy distractions handy and give themselves permission to be distracted. "It only takes a few minutes to break the cycle of a downward spiral. Yet the benefits of the turnaround are priceless" (Fredrickson, 2009, p. 203).
Tool Four: Create High-quality Connections. Advisors are fortunate that they have many opportunities daily to connect in a positive way with other people, including faculty, staff, and students. "According to Jane Dutton, co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, your moments of connection with others form a dynamic, living tissue that can be either life-giving or life-depleting" (Fredrickson, p. 201) . One advising model that is focused on creating positive connections with students is Appreciative Advising (Bloom, Hutson, and He, 2008). This model of advising focuses on asking positive, open-ended questions of students that help advisors identify student strengths, as well as their hopes and dreams for their futures. The opportunity to be inspired by students' stories and dreams can also be a life-giving force for advisors.
Tool Five: Find Nearby Nature. Frederickson (2009) advocates that people intentionally seek out opportunities to be energized by the outdoors (p. 205). Thankfully, college campuses are usually full of areas of natural beauty. Academic advisors should aim to find those places on their campus. Why not hold a staff meeting outside when the weather permits? Find places on campus that are restorative and make these places a regular destination (Fredrickson, 2009, p. 205). To increase positivity, advisors should visit these places during breaks, on the way to/from the parking lot, during lunch, etc. A change of scenery can be just what is needed to increase positivity levels.
Having a positive outlook will help advisors not only be better advisors, but will also help them become happier and more fulfilled people. As Shane Paul said:
It takes courage to demand time for yourself. At first glance, it may seem to be the ultimate in selfishness, a real slap in the face to those who love and depend on you. It's not. It means you care enough to want to see the best in yourself and give only the best to others. It is silent recognition that your obligation to them is to give your best, and nothing less (as quoted by Christine, 2008, ¶ 1).
The five simple steps described in this article are proven ways for academic advisors to increase their positivity and happiness levels.
Mary Beth Ely
Higher Education and Student Affairs
University of South Carolina
Ben-Shahar, T. (2007). Happier: Learn the secrets to daily joy and lasting fulfillment. New York: McGraw Hill.
Christine. (2008, December 29). Embracing self care. Retrieved March 9, 2009, from Woman Tribune: http://womantribune.com/embracing-care.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity. New York: Crown Publishers.
Lopez, S. J. (2000). The emergence of positive psychology: The building of a field of dreams. Retrieved March 3, 2009, from APA Online: www.apa.org/apags/profdev/pospsyc.html
Positive Psychology Center. (2007). Retrieved March 3, 2009, from University of Pennsylvania: www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/
Cite this article using APA style as: Ely, M.B. (2009, June). Staying positive: Five simple tools. Academic Advising Today, 32(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]