Introduction to Thriving

This page is meant to be an orientation to some of the key focus areas of our training. Please take a few moments to read through this page and complete the activities we’ve provided. With this baseline knowledge and skills, you’ll be ready to start our daily exercises.

What is Positive Psychology?

For years, psychology has been almost exclusively concerned with psychological and emotional dysfunction. When someone falls below average health, or suffers from a disorder, we’ve studied them and developed ways to get them back to the average. Something like this:

It wasn’t until about the 1990s that enough people started wondering about the positive outliers as well. Similar to how some people fall below the average, people sometimes perform far above the average. Could we study these people, and figure out a way to move the entire average up to their level? Something like this:

And so, positive psychology was born. Since that time, we’ve learned so much, such as:

  • What allows certain people to be exceptionally happy
  • Skills and techniques that foster strong connections and relationships
  • Perspectives and beliefs that make us resilient to stress, and enable us to learn and grow at an accelerated rate
  • Techniques for deepening engagement at work and in our daily lives, which allows us to squeeze a little more richness out of life

Positive psychology is about identifying what makes for “the good life”, and providing the techniques we need to create it. It’s not about just thinking positive all the time; it’s about sustained training that builds skills and abilities that help us feel and perform better across the board. What you’ll find in our daily exercises are research-backed techniques from positive psychology for moving the average up.

Introduction to the 10 Positive Emotions

One of the core goals of positive psychology is to teach us how to identify and create more positive experiences in our lives. This process involves two steps:

  1. Learn which experiences we consider “positive”
  2. Identify ways to create more of these experiences (and then act on them)

So what do we mean by “positive”? There’s actually a surprising amount of research on this topic, and it turns out humans everywhere converge on common criteria for “positive”. Barbara Fredrickson, a researcher and positive psychologist at UNC, has categorized these common criteria into The 10 Positive Emotions. They are:

  1. JoyJAGPHILIAS
  2. Amusement
  3. Gratitude
  4. Pride
  5. Hope
  6. Interest
  7. Love
  8. Inspiration
  9. Awe
  10. Serenity

We at Renaissance Performance use the acronym J.A.G.P.H.I.L.I.A.S. when referring to this list. It’s definitely not the cleanest of acronyms, but it’s got good “mouth-feel”, and it’s surprisingly easy to remember.

Anyways, back to the point.

When we examine positive experiences in our lives, we are sure to find at least one of these emotions at its core — often several. Importantly, this relationships works in reverse, as well. If we want to bring more positive experiences into our lives, we need only look at this list, and brainstorm ways to evoke these emotions.

As you follow along with our daily exercises, you’ll notice us refer back to JAGPHILIAS repeatedly. Usually, this will take one of two forms:

  1. A day dedicated to an emotion (i.e. “serenity day” or “gratitude day”)
  2. A positivity ratio test, meant to bring our awareness to the activities that evoked these emotions

In the future, we’ll review The 10 Positive Emotions, and their benefits, in more detail. But for now, you should know all you need to begin working with JAGPHILIAS in some of our exercises.

Diaphragmatic Breathing Tutorial

Many of our exercises will involve some form of rhythmic or intentional breathing. It may surprise you to know that that majority of human adults don’t actually breathe correctly. Or, more specifically, we breathe very inefficiently.

Most of us breathe into our chest, using only the upper portion of our lungs. Unfortunately, the upper portion of our lungs is considerably less efficient at transferring oxygen to our blood.1If we want to increase both the volume of air we take in, and increase the amount of oxygen that makes it into our blood (what really matters), we need to breathe deeper into our lungs, using our diaphragm.

You’ll know when you’re using your diaphragm because your stomach will push out when you breathe in. This is because your diaphragm stretches your lungs down into your abdomen. This physically pushes your stomach/intestines out of the way, causing your stomach to protrude. We know, science, right?

The basic instructions for diaphragmatic breathing (sometimes called alligator breathing) is to draw your breath first deep into your stomach. Only after your stomach area is full should your chest start to move. So the process goes something like this:

  1. Breathe in – stomach expands (chest does not move yet)
  2. Once stomach area is full, continue to breathe into your chest to fill your lungs

On exhale, we get the reverse process:

  1. Exhale out of your chest first
  2. Continue to expel the air from deep in your lower lungs, causing your stomach to retract back inward

So that’s a deep breath. Check back soon for a video demonstration!

Find Your Character Strengths

Just like we can classify disorders in psychology, we can also classify positive attributes. Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson painstakingly surveyed people from all over world. Through their research, they identified six key Virtues across cultures. From there, they found 24 Character Strengths that support one’s growth along these virtuous paths.

They then created a survey to help you identify your own strengths (link to the right). Many of our exercises will draw on these Character Strengths, so it’s important to know yours! Take a few minutes and complete the survey. Be sure to add your results to your profile page!

Step One:

Download our worksheet to fill out after completing the next step.

Step Two:

Take the VIA Character Strengths Inventory.

Step Three:

Fill out our worksheet to keep, and add your top five strengths to your profile page!