‘Our experiences, thoughts and feelings influence how we perceive the world and therefore how we behave. This is substantiated by neurobiological findings. Feelings arise due to external or internal stimuli, are accompanied by physical sensations and can be understood as a review of our opinions, needs, motives and goals. They are associated with specific facial expressions and postures and have an impact on our social relationships and general conduct,’ Blasbichler explains.
Robertson believes that this results in a cycle: ‘In principle, what happens is that a situation occurs; we perceive the situation – or certain aspects of it – and feelings such as sadness, joy or fear arise as a result of this perception. These feelings in turn lead to certain actions.’ Since feelings arise involuntarily as a reaction to external stimuli they cannot be changed. Thoughts, on the other hand, can be changed, even if they arise suddenly and automatically. Blasbichler explains further: ‘If we recognise them as negative thoughts, we can reflect on them, classify them and then change them if we need to.’
‘The glass-half-full analogy is a good representation of a fundamentally positive approach. It indicates that in the eye of the beholder the glass can be interpreted as half-full or half-empty. However, in life we are constantly faced with situations and periods during which it becomes difficult to maintain this attitude, and life’s challenges feel overwhelming,’ Robertson says. Blasbichler adds: ‘We need to recognise and accept negative thoughts and their impact on our feelings. This weakens their impact. If instead we rigidly try to avoid and control unpleasant feelings and thoughts, we can end up severely restricting our lifestyle.’
‘Allowing the feelings in and examining their impact is essential. Feelings are real and always right, particularly in the here and now, even if they relate to situations in the past or future. I cannot feel incorrectly. Thinking can help me to clarify how I’m feeling, why I’m feeling that way, and draw corresponding conclusions,’ Robertson says. In the 1990s, US-American psychologist Martin E P Seligman coined the term positive psychology to describe a field of psychological theory and research. It differs from the concept of positive thinking in that it is backed by empirical evidence, i.e. numerous studies have been carried out on its effectiveness. Seligman defined five measurable elements that contribute to wellbeing:
- Positive emotion (a pleasant life)
- Engagement (utilising your strengths)
- Relationships (a sense of belonging)
- Meaning (belonging to and serving something bigger than oneself)
Positive psychology was meant to provide stimuli and ideas based on scientific findings that would make life more fulfilled and positive, explains Robertson, but it’s not a formula for perpetual bliss. ‘Change requires personal commitment and motivation, and a fulfilled life involves dealing with unpleasant feelings and crises,’ Blasbichler stresses.