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Happiness, excellence, and optimal human functioning revisited: Examining the peer-reviewed literature linked to positive psychology

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Happiness, excellence, and optimal human functioning revisited: Examining the peer-reviewed literature linked to positive psychology
Journal of Positive Psychology

This paper describes a broad study of the peer-reviewed literature linked to the positive psychology movement (Donaldsen et al, 2015). A systematic review selected 750 articles published in English between 1999-2013 (no review yet for 2014-2019) that were empirical tests of positive psychology theories, principles, and interventions. This review did not include a review of the scientific quality of the articles. That said, this growing body of evidence indicates positive psychology is based on a foundation of respected scientific methods and positive outcomes.

What are the interesting takeaways?

Defining Well-being

While well-being is defined and measured in various ways, the authors note that this literature suggests that it includes hedonic and eudaimonic components. The hedonic component is the affective experience of positive emotions and absence of negative emotions, along with the cognitive aspect of evaluating life satisfaction. The eudaimonic component is the search and attainment of meaning, self-actualization and personal growth.

The authors present five main conclusions:

  1. Well-being is the dominant topic
    The most researched topic in positive psychology to date is well-being, accounting for almost 40% more publications than all the other key topics combined.
  2. Predictors of well-being
    The research shows that gratitude, mindfulness, hope, and spirituality, and more generally, identification and use of character strengths predict well-being. 
  3. Well-being & performance
    In the organizational context, several studies suggest that psychological capital is positively related to employee performance. 
  4. Predictors of post-traumatic growth
    Post-traumatic growth is predicted by emotional expression and positive coping strategies, including positive attitude, hope, optimism, and spirituality.  
  5. Positive psychology interventions work
    There is a growing evidence base for the effectiveness of positive psychology interventions. More than 160 intervention studies were identified; the major categories included coaching, mindfulness, strengths development, positive affect enhancement, and gratitude practice. Empirical evidence was found to link these interventions to increases in well-being, resilience, hardiness, engagement, hope, and goal attainment, among other outcomes. 
Let’s zoom into the impact of coaching as a positive psychology intervention.

Thirteen coaching studies (in the positive psychology field) were selected. They were informed by the “solution-based cognitive model” that includes self-monitoring, cognitive restructuring, and behavior modification to enhance goal achievement. The authors conclude that coaching interventions report significant improvements in goal attainment, depression, anxiety, stress, and quality of life. 

Bottom line for coaches? 

Use both with your clients: coaching techniques based on positive psychology concepts as well as positive psychology interventions. You may even increase your well-being, especially eudaimonic, while you’re at it.

The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2015 Vol. 10, No. 3

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