Positive Psychology Interventions

What are they?

Positive psychology interventions (PPIs) offer an opportunity to create deliberate personal change to your outlook and behaviour.

There’s more than one definition of what a PPI entails and this lack of clear conceptualisation can lead to criticism. When discussing PPIs, I personally use Sin and Lyubomirsky’s (2009) broad definition:

“treatment methods or intentional activities aimed at cultivating positive feelings, positive behaviours, or positive cognitions” (p. 467).

In addition to this, interventions should be driven by empirical evidence that they will positively impact on the target variable (the aspect they’re trying to change) and create positive outcomes for users.

Who might use them?

PPIs are designed for anyone who has identified an area in their life they want to change or enhance. However, they’re not a replacement for counselling or psychological support and those of us that need this should continue to seek professional support.

There are no pre-requisites to engaging with a PPI except being open to trying something new and a willingness to commit time and effort to engage with the activities.

How can you access them?

Traditionally, interventions have been offered face to face by professionals (coaches, psychologists) in 1:1 sessions or workshops. They can also be found in a number of ‘self-help’ positive psychology books. PPIs can be self-administered and at the bottom of this article are some useful links to explore. In other posts on this blog, some well-known interventions will be outlined that you may wish to try.

The popularity of and advances in technology provide a useful alternative method of delivery that may have the potential to reach a wider audience and encourage more innovative designs in the near future. However, issues such as access to technology and computer literacy must be considered as well as users’ data privacy and it’s likely that PPIs offered face to face and via books will also remain popular.

How effective are they?

Despite disagreeing on the level of effectiveness, numerous studies (Bolier et al., 2013; Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009; White, Uttl & Holder, 2019) suggest that PPIs can both enhance well-being and alleviate depressive symptoms.

Suggested reasons for effectiveness include:

  • The strategies used are well researched and theory driven, resulting in increased experiences of positive thoughts, emotions and behaviours.
  • The deliberate, intentional act of engaging with a PPI acts to satisfy the basic psychological needs of autonomy, relatedness and competence. Users have more control over their goals and a sense of achievement and efficacy as they work towards these.
  • The deliberate act and belief that one is doing something positive has an effect on users rather than the actual PPI itself.

Factors impacting level of effectiveness

Personal fit (how well an activity suits an individual) must be actively considered when engaging with a PPI.  

Not all interventions will be suitable for everyone due to individual differences and cultural values. These are important considerations to take into account as they influence concepts of happiness and may affect how desirable and effective you find an intervention.

Before you look to engage with a PPI, identify an area in your life you wish to enhance or change. When you have this in mind, some aspects to consider when choosing a PPI are:

  • Does the action feel ‘natural’ and link with your goals and beliefs?
  • What behaviour or outlook is it targeting?
  • Is it focused on you, or on other people in your life?
  • Which period in time (past, present, future) is it encouraging you to focus on?

As well as the activity undertaken, the design of the PPI will influence personal fit and it’s important to consider:

  • How often are you being asked to engage with the activity?
  • Does it offer you any variety?  
  • Does it sound enjoyable/interesting?  

These aspects are all likely to impact on your sustained engagement with the PPI. It will take effort and commitment to make lasting changes to the targeted behaviour or thoughts. A PPI will introduce small, impactful changes that can be built into lasting positive habits. This should be viewed as an ongoing process – much like when we change our diet to one that is healthier or build more exercise into our week.  We are more likely to see lasting changes in our health if we make this our new outlook and maintain healthy lifelong habits.

In her book ‘The How of Happiness’ Lyubomirsky (2008) offers an interesting initial introduction to positive psychology, including PPIs. It also has a ‘person-activity fit’ test which aims to connect you with the type of PPIs that are more likely to match with your values and interests. While this test is not overly user-friendly (the numbering system can get a little confusing!) it’s a useful tool. Alternatively, you can simply self-select an intervention by reading about it and just decide whether it appeals to you.

Thanks for reading!

Further reading

Bolier, L., Haverman, M., Westerhof, G., Riper, H., Smit, F., & Bohlmeijer, E. (2013). Positive psychology interventions: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. BMC Public Health, 13. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-13-119

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. Penguin.

Parks, A. C., & Schueller, S. (Eds.). (2014). The Wiley Blackwell handbook of positive psychological interventions. John Wiley & Sons.

Sin, N., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: a practice-friendly meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 65(5), 467–487. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp

White, C., Uttl, B., & Holder, M. D. (2019). Meta-analyses of positive psychology interventions: The effects are much smaller than previously reported. PLOS ONE, 14, 1–48. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/ 10.1371/journal.pone.0216588

Published by Improve My Well-being

Laura is an experienced mentor and teacher, with a MSc Applied Positive Psychology (Distinction). She enjoys living and working in multicultural environments and is passionate about promoting social well-being. Blogging is her outlet to share and explore well-being initiatives and practices with as many people as possible.

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