Psychology professors say it pays to be positive

COD psychology class offers insight on achieving success

by Debbie Fried
Staff Reporter

Martin Seligman and COD Prof. Linda Emerson at the First World Congress of Positive Psychology 2009, Philadelphia, PA. (Linda Emerson/Courtesy Photo)

Six different psychology courses are currently being offered at College of the Desert this semester.  Choices range from Developmental Psychology to Human Sexuality.  However, many of the department’s offerings have been limited due to cuts in the state’s educational budget for community colleges.  One of those choices, which has been offered only two times prior at COD, and may not be familiar to many, is called Positive Psychology.

Positive Psychology had been offered at COD for only the third time since the curriculum was planned and organized by Professor Linda Emerson.  Although not currently being offered during every term, the course happens to be offered this spring semester. For example, the Positive Psychology class, as well as the Personal and Social Adjustment class, once offered regularly, is now only offered every other year at COD, due to budget restrictions, says Emerson.

While the traditional psychology of the 20th century focused on what can go wrong with a person, positive psychology places the focus on what can go right when a person’s outlook is changed from perceived weakness, to the unveiling of their inherent strengths.  In other words, it can teach us “how to flourish”, says Emerson.

Emerson has experience studying with Martin Seligman, the pioneer in the field of positive psychology.  She attended the Philadelphia World Conference of Positive Psychology in 2009, where Seligman is the Director at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.  Emerson also participated in a think tank for four years, where participants discussed and developed research applications in the field.

Martin Seligman, president of the American Psychological Association, posits the question, “After a therapeutic treatment is completed [for a patient], then what?”  Seligman proposes positive psychology is “the other piece of the puzzle.” Seligman is also a on the Board of Directors for Parent’s Magazine and promotes the movement as “a buffer to mental illness.”

Each student lives a multi-faceted life, and achieving balance within its many dimensions is crucial for success, say numerous experts.  If a student’s relationships are poor, they are not engaging in life in an active and constructive way, and if they often experience negative more than positive emotion, the outlook for success is significantly diminished, say positive psychologists.

Emerson describes the application of the tenets of positive psychology as traveling an upward spiral, where positive interactions and emotions broaden our “thought process repertoire.”  Said another way, the more positive coping behaviors students learn, the more tools they have at their disposal.  “It’s not a ‘one size fits all” proposition, adds Emerson.

Achieving superior mental, social and emotional functioning has been studied and observed in many scenarios of human existence and provides practical applications to students, in particular.  Seligman has a formula for “the good life”, whose acronym is PERMA; it consists of five elements:

  • P- positive emotion
  • E- engagement
  • R- relationships
  • M- meaning
  • A- achievement

Barb Fredrickson, a leading scholar in positive psychology at the University of North Carolina on positive emotions and psychophysiology, teaches that positive emotion enhances learning; and Emerson agrees, adding: “The study of well-being is both scientific and applied, and looks at practical implications and applications.”

Students in the COD course are instructed on methodologies for building emotional strength and resilience to apply to daily living and academic success. The field of positive psychology is not “touchy feely,” reminds Emerson; “it is backed by sound science.”


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