Positive psychology: lessons for advisers

Working in a people profession, where emotions can often dominate, financial advisors can find useful tools from the burgeoning field known as positive psychology.

That was the message to GAIA members in a presentation from Brad Steiman, head of the wealth management group at Dimensional in Canada.

Described as the scientific study of what makes life worth living, positive psychology is an approach to studying human thoughts, feelings and behaviour but with a focus on strengths, instead of weaknesses.

A key thinker in the movement is American psychologist Professor Martin Seligman who advocates a five-factor model for well-being which he calls PERMA – standing for Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievements.

For clients overwhelmed with negative thoughts, the positive psychologists recommend turning their attention to just being mindful of their thoughts without judging themselves. Meditation, even for just a few minutes a day, can return a sense of perspective and positivity.

Another strategy is to suggest to the client they focus on those activities that fully engage them. These might be a hobby, like gardening , photography or bush walking, in which they spend most of their time observing what is around them.

Positive relationships are another under-estimated path to well-being. The psychologists suggest getting in touch with people you have not heard from in a long time or joining classes or groups in areas that interest you.

Even amid adversity, as millions of us have experienced during the pandemic, asking ourselves what is our purpose or meaning can moderate the worry. Getting involved with causes, such as sustainability, can bring us out of ourselves. In addition, helping others in need or mentoring refugees will bring great joy.

Finally, a sense of accomplishment is a key driver of well-being. But the emphasis should be less on material aspirations than intrinsic goals such as growth or connection.

Brad recommended a series of books for those interested in pursuing these ideas. These include Seligman’s landmark publication ‘Authentic Happiness’, Dan Harris’ ‘10% Happier’ and Jonathan Haidt’s ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’


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