Positive Education is the practical application of the principles of the science of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology was founded by Professor Martin Seligman and can be described as the science of the good life (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005. It focuses on areas such as contentment and satisfaction, hope and optimism, flow and happiness. It also encompasses areas such as self-determination, character strengths, resilience, gratitude, mindfulness, creativity, forgiveness and savouring (Norrish & Vella-Broderick, 2009). The constructs we focus on are listed below:
Our program recognises the importance of individual strengths; identifying these strengths, utilising these strengths, recognising the importance of signature strengths, being aware of the shadow side of strengths, and realising the connection between strengths, flow and life satisfaction. A practical, working definition is that strengths are ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that come naturally and easily to a person and that enable high functioning and performance (Linley & Harrington, 2006).
A general definition of gratitude that can be applied to adults and adolescents is “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life” (Emmons & Shelton, 2005, p. 460). Gratitude is a strong part of the Mt St Michael’s College culture, with the mantra ‘having a positive attitude and a heart of gratitude’ deeply embedded in the student psyche.
Mindfulness can be described as purposefully paying non-judgemental attention to what one is actually experiencing in the present moment. The objective is to welcome and accept the current state including any emotions, thoughts and perceptions (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Regularly practising mindfulness is believed to lead to deeper self-awareness and increased capacity to manage emotional responses and can break the link between negative thoughts and negative emotions. There are those who link mindfulness with savouring and living in the present (Harris, 2008, 2011).
Flow was a concept developed by Mike Csikszentmihalyi in the 1960s when he was researching the creative process. Flow is Csikszentmihalyi’s term for the psychological state that accompanies highly engaging activities (Peterson, 2006). When students use their strengths and engage in activities and learning, they are very likely to experience flow. Flow is a state of mind that is associated with wellbeing (Lyubomirsky, 2007).
Savouring refers to our awareness of pleasure and our deliberate attempt to make it last (Peterson, 2006). Adolescents in secondary education spend a great deal of time striving to achieve their goals in multiple domains such as academic, sporting and cultural. Those who habitually savour are happier and more satisfied overall with life, more optimistic and less depressed that those who do not savour (Peterson, 2006).