Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Research psychologists have developed a genuine interest in positive psychology. What better news could there be for a HOPE LADY? It’s hard to say why that interest took so long to develop. But some things are worth waiting for.
Hope is one of ten positive emotions Barbara L. Fredrickson discusses in her book Positivity. The other 9 are: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. She asserts that positive emotions broaden our repertoire of responses and build our inventory of resources. I was thinking about this theory last Friday night while a thunderstorm raged outside my bedroom. The room was ablaze with flashing and the air roared. All over the city people and pets were trembling with fear. Trees might fall. Power might fail. Gardens might be ruined. Fires might start. Those who were fearful had good reason to be. I was a little frightened myself. I am not certain whether you can decide not to be frightened. You can try to be safe, and still you’ll feel the fear.
While fear is a legitimate response, other responses are also possible. While you are feeling the fear, you might be able to feel other things. I decided to notice what I could feel. I could feel interest—could be interested in the cause of such storms. I could feel awe—be awe-struck at the power of the thing that was happening in my city. I focussed on the awe and the interest as I crawled out of bed to protect the computer by shutting it down. A fascinated person—more resourceful in some obscure way--finds it a little easier to leave the bed for an entry into the uncertainty beyond.
The focus on positive psychology brings with it a shift in perspective regarding emotional life and the role of a professional counsellor. When the primary emotions of interest are anger, sadness, guilt, etc., the professional seeks to help people reduce the emotional severity and subsequent consequences. But when it comes to positive emotions, the professional seeks to produce the positive emotions. The goal is to enliven them, to intensify them so that they can become a vibrant component of emotional life.
The counselling program at the Hope Foundation of Alberta was ahead of its time in the early 1990’s. As a new employee I was asked to do an unusual thing: use all my psychologist skills to create an atmosphere of hope in which problems could be addressed. The atmosphere of hope was more important in the hierarchy than the problem itself. Nowadays this idea would not seem radical, but at the time professional respect for the theory was hard to come by.
In the current research environment a considerable amount of energy is being devoted to the study of basic positive emotions. As we learn more about how they work, counsellors are asking what they ought to do with the information. To THE HOPE LADY, this perspective shift brings joy and a sense of serenity. And—oh yes—it also brings hope.

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