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What is Positive Psychology?

The Movement Transforming Social Media

May 26, 2020
The Positive Psychology Movement

While finding formulas for happiness may seem like science fiction, a new discipline of psychology known as "positive psychology" has emerged to do just that.

The positive psychology movement is dedicated to examining “the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” Helping people adopt the positive emotions and traits that make them happier, the positive psychology movement hopes to make the world a more optimistic place, one person at a time.

For these reasons, many believe that the future of social media will be built on positive psychology. While this may seem like a stark contrast to applications like Facebook and Instagram that exploit users’ psychology for profit, it’s actually possible to use social engagement platforms to improve people’s well-being. Research has shown that using social networking sites to promote meaningful interactions can benefit users by inducing feelings of acceptance and belonging, giving them that “warm glow” of human connection.

We’re spending more time on the Internet every day, but incorporating positive psychology into our digital interactions can allow us to use our time online for good. Martin Seligman, the founder of the positive psychology movement, created an “outline for happiness” in his PERMA model.  Below, we’ll outline each component of Seligman’s model and explain how universities can incorporate positive psychology into their digital strategy.

P – Positive Emotions

The first aspect of positive psychology involves positive emotions. According to psychologist Mariana Pascha, “focusing on positive emotions is more than smiling: it is the ability to remain optimistic and view one’s past, present, and future from a constructive perspective.” Life is full of ups and downs, but focusing on the ups will lead to improved mood and well-being in the long run. 

Fortunately, this optimistic perspective comes naturally to older people. The phenomenon of “nostalgia goggles” leads older adults to naturally focus on life’s positive aspects when reminiscing, with negative memories fading away into the background. Moreover, a sense of nostalgia can increase psychological resilience, improve relationships, and boost mood and self-esteem, making it a valuable tool to increase positive emotions. 

But nostalgia doesn’t always have to involve purely positive experiences. When we are nostalgic, our brains can stimulate our own reward system in times of adversity, and recalled memories can be overwritten more positively after nostalgic experiences. For that reason, encouraging older alumni to recall fond memories taps into a powerful source of positivity that is resilient even to the most challenging circumstances.

E – Engagement 

We all have a hobby that makes time just fly by—something that truly engages, delights, and immerses us in the moment. These moments of immersion have an incredibly powerful effect on our well-being, grounding us and reminding us of the things we truly care about.

During this time, it’s not always possible to be engaged in physical or social activities at the same degree that we’re used to. The social shift caused by coronavirus has had a significant impact on the mental health of people around the world, with a Forbes survey showing that 67% of respondents experienced levels of higher stress and 53% felt sad day to day.

But while nine in 10 campus leaders say mental health is their top concern, fewer than two in 10 say their institution has invested in more mental or physical health resources in response to COVID-19. Anticipating and responding to the needs of alumni who cannot see friends or loved ones or resume their normal pace of life should be a university’s top priority. 

Fortunately, engagement doesn’t always have to be physical. Universities have begun to host concert live streams, virtual tours, and cocktail fundraisers over Zoom, engaging alumni through the screen. These events are especially valuable because they offer a space for alumni to connect with others, even while socially distanced at home.

Providing engaging digital resources, including communities where alumni can gather together for support or camaraderie, are great positive psychology strategies that will allow alumni to feel that sense of immersion in a digital space.

R – (Positive) Relationships

Forming deep and meaningful relationships with others is another important aspect of positive psychology. It is vital to our well-being—people with strong social networks live longer, accomplish more, and have better health than those who are more isolated. Neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman even calls human connection a superpower—one that makes us smarter, happier and more productive. 

But those networks can be difficult to maintain in a socially distanced world. America is currently facing a loneliness epidemic—46% of Americans report frequently feeling alone, and 47% reported feeling consistently left out.

Moreover, research shows that feeling lonely, being physically isolated, or living alone can increase mortality more than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Unless you actively try to fight it, loneliness can literally take years off your life.

When face-to-face interactions are off the table, using digital strategies to help alumni connect is more important than ever. One way to build positive relationships from a distance is to employ the power of storytelling.

Research shows that when someone tells a compelling story, their listeners’ brains literally sync up, with MRI activity in listeners’ brains matching that of the storytellers. So when you listen to stories that engage you, you experience the exact same brain pattern as the person telling the story, allowing you to “live their experience.” 

Needless to say, this sort of empathetic connection can be incredibly powerful, helping to counter the negative effects of social isolation by bringing people together in a mutual experience. After all, we all feel happier when sharing stories about our livesand your social engagement platform should allow alumni to do the same. 

M – Meaning

Having meaning and purpose in our lives is essential to our well-being—especially as we age. CueBack’s 3P/3S framework shows that as people get older, they shift their priorities from social approval to societal approval to self approval.

Older people are more focused on cultivating meaningful relationships with loved ones than growing massive social networks like their younger counterparts. For that reason, older alumni need a platform that reflects those values—allowing them to share the stories that matter with the people who matter most.

But meaningful online interactions aren’t only important to older people. In fact, research shows that self-disclosure plays a key role in eliciting positive emotions from online interactions for all age groups. Sharing personal, meaningful information is a crucial component of both digital and face-to-face intimacy, as it reflects our most authentic selves and allows us to form strong bonds with others.

Encouraging self-disclosure will allow your alumni to easily make meaningful digital connections with one another. If alumni need help sharing stories, adding custom prompts about your university can be a powerful way to help them open up.

For alumni, self-disclosure can be anything from sharing personal stories of college romance to telling professors how they have impacted their lives—actions that go beyond sharing memes to reveal our true selves.

A – Accomplishment / Achievement

We are at our best when we are succeeding, achieving our goals, and bettering ourselves. But as we age, it’s also important to remember everything that we’ve achieved in our lives—whether it be having a successful career, starting a family, or fighting for causes we care about. Allowing alumni to share memories of those achievements can boost positive feelings of accomplishment, while simultaneously providing the joy of reminiscing

However, simply remembering accomplishments isn’t always enough to make us truly happy. One crucial component of deriving joy from your successes is legacy or using your values or accomplishments to help others find future success.

Beyond remembering their achievements, alumni should be able to share their hard-earned wisdom and knowledge with others who need their support. By sharing life and career advice with younger alumni, older alumni can provide a source of valuable information, wisdom, and comfort, all while gaining greater satisfaction from their own achievements.

A Platform That Uses Positive Psychology

Following Seligman’s example, we built CueBack from the ground up to reflect positive psychology techniques. Now more than ever, it is time for universities to recognize the importance of their alumni’s well-being and follow suit.

Even though your university can’t support alumni in person, you can traverse uncertain times with a digital engagement strategy designed to help each alum be their happiest self. By following the PERMA model and using positive psychology to support your alumni, your university can ensure that alumni are getting the emotional resources they need to thrive.

Your alumni are your university’s most valuable resource, and it’s time to give before you ask.

Please contact us if you would like to learn more about an alumni engagement platform based on positive psychology strategies and academic research related to emotional well-being, meaningful connection, and positivity. 

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