Positive Psychology in Education
Modern society faces many challenges, fears, and emotions, which cause stress, depression, dissatisfaction with life, hesitation, and uncertainty about the future. Young people, namely students who are at the stage of self-affirmation and searching for their way in the life, are one of the most vulnerable categories. Today, it is difficult to achieve this goal, because a post-industrial society accelerating all the vital processes often takes a negative outlook on life, a discontent that can cause the lack of self-esteem, motivation, and self-realization (Merrell, 2008, p.57). The problem is vital not only in the USA, but also around the world because children, stepping into their adulthood from the school bench being not ready for this, experience many stresses. According to Zajacova (2005), anxiety and fear of a session, a large workload, relationships with peers and intimate relations belong to the biggest stresses of the student life. Senior students face the problem of future employment and further financial independence.
The higher education does not mean just knowledge acquisition. We consider it in the process of the development of the individuality for each member of the educational process in the desire to develop and become more successful, gain stability and a positive perception of life. We believe that the main principles of positive psychology can help to solve the existing problem in the society. According to Seligman (2002), the goal of psychology was to make poor people less miserable. Psychologists perfectly learned how to bring a person from the state of (-5) to the state of (1) or (0), but they did not think how to change the state of (0) or (2) to a point of (5) or (7) (Seligman, 2002, p. 25-27). Analyzing the works by Seligman (2002), we can argue that psychology should, firstly, focus on the strengths of the individual; secondly, it should be interested in the “building” of the best things in life, not in “repairing” the worst; thirdly, psychology should focus on the way how to make the existence of people fulfilled and how to develop their talents. Indeed, in today's society, education is moving according to the universal and line track leading to the crisis of human resources (Robinson, 2010). Starting from kindergartens and ending with universities, education does not promote the talents of students.
The purpose of this study is to investigate students’ approach to life and determine the influence of positive psychology (namely, such its instruments as happiness, satisfaction, positive emotions, optimism, flow, interest, and creativity) on the formation of a positive view of the world, overcoming fear and dissatisfaction, and the development of motivation and self-affirmation through one’s talents. Zajacova (2005) confirms that stress destroys such functions as attention, memory, and organization. Moreover, the long-term effect of stress kills brain cells and affects the basic structure of the brain associated with memory. The statistics of the ISA shows that 10 million students take antidepressants; in addition, suicide is the third cause of death among adolescents (Stixrud, 2014). 70% of undergraduates have psychological problems, but they do not receive the necessary assistance.
We can consider the positive attitude to life through three components:
- a positive view of oneself (self-esteem);
- a positive interpretation of the current and past life experience;
- positive expectations concerning the future (according to Seligman (2002), it is called optimism).
The first component is being studied since with the 1950s; however, the analysis of the second and the third ones began later by Seligman and Peterson (2002). Seligman (2002) together with his colleagues undertook a series of studies showing the positive impact of the optimistic approach to life events on the success of the professional, educational, and sports activities (p. 87-89). According to Clonan (2004), education experts can use many principles of positive psychology, which are based on positive emotions including optimism and life satisfaction to enhance the positive attitude to life and self-efficacy of students by focusing on their talents and intelligence, as well as creating positive learning environments (p.101).
Positive thinking (in particular, the style of explaining the successes and failures, the positive expectations and self-esteem) serves an important function in the process of developing motivation, self-efficacy, self-regulation, and overcoming stresses. All these things lead to the growth of educational activity and academic success. In this study, the concept of a positive outlook through the eyes of learners will be explained as an active creative principle, which allows a person recognizing and positively evaluating themselves and their personality. It also enhances directing and consciously organizing their activities and life in general from the position of self-improvement and self-actualization. The result is achieved through self-affirmation and development of students' talents and positive self-esteem.
Conducting a survey among the students from several universities and colleges aged 15-25 (about 30 people), I concluded that the majority of them do not have a global self-attitude and self-respect. They do not believe in their strength, abilities, energy, and independence. They underestimate their capabilities, think pessimistically about their studies and life that affects their academic success. Many of them primarily see their shortcomings, have a low self-esteem, and tend to self-incrimination. Such negative emotions as anger and contempt lead to frequent depressions among the youth.
Having analyzed the responses of the students, we can conclude that they see a lot of negative situations and obstacles on their way to self-actualization and achievement of the set goals. In particular, they worry because of the political and economic situation, the world financial crisis, the struggle for survival, epidemics, and terrorism. Moreover, they face trouble because of their abilities and character.
Thus, this study has allowed revealing the facts that speak of the need to focus education on the upbringing of the individuals with positive thinking and approach to life. After all, Pajares (2001) confirms that positive-minded students often smile, their voice sounds confident, and movements are free and open. It also speaks of the students’ self-confidence and self-efficacy. An optimistic student is less excited but has a bigger success in the group (Zajacova, 2005, p.704-705). Moreover, such a person is more inclined to show his talents, creativity, and non-standard thinking.
Positive psychology will help to create a positive behavioral component in the process of the direct (during trainings) and indirect (in the course of lectures and practical classes) interventions. Therefore, universities should move from the focus on the remedial technologies working with the negative factors of the personal development to positive education (Seligman, 2002). To achieve this, we plan to conduct a formative psychological and pedagogical influence. It will comprise specially organized joint activities according to the schemes “teacher-students” and “student-student”. Its main aim is to create a positive outlook on life. The program consists of several main areas of the psycho-pedagogical interactions:
- training on the topic of optimism for students;
- a scientific and practical seminar about positive psychology for teachers;
- practical and theoretical trainings for the development of positive philosophy;
- training to develop talents and personal intelligence of students.
The practical point of view and our results confirm the relevance of the psychological training, modeling students' ability of positive, flexible, optimistic and constructive thinking. Moreover, they can help to interpret difficulties and setbacks from the positive side. Pajares (2001) says that the ability to respond to the favorable optimistic life situations as a predictor of achievements in the educational activity is of particular importance. The practice of gratitude for what is happening should be a widely used exercise. Gratitude possesses a big strength that helps to look at life from the point of view of what a person already has, rather than what he is missing. The daily writing of some positive aspects of the life teaches students how to keep focus on the positive life situations.
According to Stixrud (2014), a well-known clinical neuropsychologist in the USA, the problem of stress among students, low academic progress, and lack of optimism can be solved thanks to a transcendental meditation program. The latter creates a learning environment where students have a sense of security and, therefore, are able to cope with very difficult tasks and materials. Thus, the meditation classes should be expanded at universities and colleges. Meditation technique is an effective tool for developing concentration and calm of the mind. The regular practice of meditation promotes a spiritual and physical health and mental self-control. The development of a positive attitude to life is one more meditation’s benefit.
These interventions will teach students how to focus on positive feelings and emotions such as happiness, joy, satisfaction, and peace. At the same time, it can aid to avoid pessimistic thoughts that cause negative emotions such as fear, anger, jealousy, disappointment, and discouragement. Positive emotions and satisfaction with education and life have a positive impact not only on psychological health of a person; they also strengthen the immune system of students.
In conclusion, positive thinking for students is the road to freedom, a new level of life, success and personal growth as well as a positive vision of life and the world. The optimistic approach facilitates the learning process and maintains a positive communication with others. The involvement of all students’ talents and creativity will make their goals real.
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