Positive Psychology

  • 1:00 Optimism and Pessimism
  • 2:05 Self-Efficacy
  • 2:35 What Is Happiness?
  • 2:53 3 Layers of Happiness
  • 3:25 What Makes Us Happy?
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ellie Green

Ellie holds a B.A. with Honors in English from Stanford University. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature at Princeton University.

There are folks who see the glass half-full and those who see if half-empty. But it's the same glass, so why does it matter what kind you are? Find out just how big of an impact your answer to this common question can have on how you live your life.

How can positive emotions protect us against stress? Consider this scenario: John is laid off his job. He becomes depressed and despondent, and spends day after day watching television on his couch.

Now, Trent is also laid off his job. He decides to use the time to find a job he likes even better. He works with a career counselor, updates his resume and actively seeks new positions. Trent feels much better during his layoff than John does during his, and he finds new employment.

Trent also approached his situation more positively. In this segment, we'll note three concepts associated with positive emotions. They are optimism, self-efficacy and happiness.

Optimism: Hopefulness about successful future outcomes. Its opposite is pessimism. Optimists and pessimists differ in how they deal with adversity and with people. Optimists tend to be confident they can solve problems, even when facing great adversity, whereas pessimists tend to doubt. And, so, optimists tend to experience less distress than pessimists, which leaves them better able to cope.

There is some evidence that the extent to which we are optimistic is genetic. But other psychologists, notably Martin Seligman, focus on optimism as a learned skill. For example, Seligman believes that we can learn to change our self-talk, or the unvocalized thoughts that run in our heads. Pessimists tend to have negative self-talk, but these thoughts can be challenged.

Optimists also tend to have greater self-efficacy, which is the belief in their own competence to produce desired outcomes. People with higher self-efficacy are more likely to take on new challenges. People with lower self-efficacy, by contrast, are more likely to avoid new challenges, and they are more likely to believe existing problems are more difficult than they actually are.

Finally, optimists tend to be happier than pessimists. What is happiness? It's one of those things that we often think we understand intuitively, but then when we actually try to define it, an easy definition eludes us. Positive psychology has identified three different layers to the meaning of happiness. First, happiness can mean the experience of pleasure and positive emotions. Second, happiness can mean feeling engaged in, and absorbed by, a certain activity. And finally, happiness can mean feeling engaged not just in any activity, but rather in a meaningful activity, or in something that is valuable to more than just the person doing it.

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