Positive psychology seeks to understand and improve talent, happiness, thriving, adaptability, well-being and other means by which we flourish and succeed. It has been recognized as a formal branch of psychology for over 15 years. It provides a unique and practical window into “how our minds actual work” and is therefore a vital source of insights for cognitive designers.
But what has it taught us? While that question is far too broad to deal with in a single post, I did find an interesting article, Three Insights from the Frontiers of Positive Psychology, that offers an interesting perspective. Here is the bottom line:
1. Being mindful (fully in the present moment) is essential for happiness but thinking about the future, in a constructive and empowering way is essential for meaningfulness.
2. Regular detachment from work has greater restorative power than your typical vacation.
3. Physical design of our environment has a distinct and lasting impact on our mood and other mental states. Open, green well-kept spaces have a positive impact.
None of these insights is a surprise. Indeed some are a part of our folk psychology or wisdom. For example, insight two sounds a lot like “don’t bring your work home”. While this is true having a scientific understanding or explanation does have its advantages. Most notably it helps to rationally justify investments in certain types of interventions and will take some of the guess work out of our design efforts.
It falls to the cognitive designer to turn these insights into useful interventions, programs, products, services and daily habits that help us flourish.