MEPA Positive Psychology

There are two important words in the definition of positive psychology. The first is “psychology.” Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that follows the same scientific methods of investigation to make sense of the world, our interactions with others, as well as our thoughts and emotions. In that sense, positive psychology is no different than cognitive psychology or behavioral psychology.

The second important word is “positive.” For too long, psychology has focused on the negative aspects of life, such as depression, anxiety, anger, divorce, eating disorders, trauma, etc. Yet, there is more to this in life. There are also positive emotions like curiosity, inspiration and love. There are also positive experiential states like flow and peak experiences. There are also ways to be more productive, kind, altruistic, and loving, instead of only learning ways to NOT be depressed, anxious or miserable.

In short, positive psychology is the scientific study of how humans, families, communities, societies and nations as a whole, can be better versions of themselves. It is a reorienting of psychology towards the full spectrum of human experience. It does not ignore or overlook the negative; it just gives the positive its rightful place in science.

Positive education aims to deliver the skills to promote wellbeing in students, staff, management and parents. This field is focused on understanding what makes schools and universities good places to be; that is, where students learn, grow and enrich themselves as human beings and not only as future workers. The goal of positive education is to nurture positive emotions, strengths and talents so that students, who will become future citizens, may contribute to the world in positive, constructive, and beneficial ways. Researchers in this field might be interested in answering questions like: How can character strengths development, as well as positive psychology intervention strategies be embedded into curricula? How can positive parenting become an integral pillar of positive education? How can school administrations champion positivity for teachers and management through HR policies?

The field of positive health seeks to understand, research and promote the physical and psychological strengths that prolong life, promote better disease prognosis and predict health outcomes. It is not (only) interested in the absence of illness, but more importantly, the presence of protective and sustaining factors that contribute to living and enjoying a good life from a health perspective. These assets might include cardiorespiratory fitness, optimism, a sense of hardiness and good relationships. Researchers in this area might seek to answer the following: What role does optimism play in the treatment of cardiovascular disease? Does religiosity influence the remission of cancer? What effect does mindfulness have on blood pressure? How can researchers partner with healthcare organizations to develop interventions with both patients and healthy individuals?

Just like positive psychologists seek to discover what makes life worthwhile, they also seek to discover what contributes to good workplaces, great jobs and awesome working environments, including the processes, motivations, and interactions that go into the world of work. Researchers working here are curious about what makes people more productive, motivated, innovative, or altruistic in the workplace, as well as what makes organizations contribute to the greater good of society versus focusing solely on profit as examples. Questions of interest might include: Can positive psychology interventions boost organizational citizenship behavior? What leadership qualities contribute to the development of virtuous organizations? What leads to employee engagement? How can resilience mitigate the stress of economic downturns?

This branch involves the clinical applications of positive psychology interventions – known as PPIs – to generate flourishing states of mental health in individuals and families, as well as to remediate negative clinical states of functioning. It is focused on minimizing negative symptoms of emotional and relational distress and, more importantly, on building states of mental health as resources for the present and protection for the future. It’s not enough to not be depressed or anxious, for life to be worthwhile, individuals must also enjoy positive emotions and experiences too. Researchers in this area might ask: What role do positive psychology interventions play in increasing wellbeing in the elderly? How can positive emotions remediate and prevent mental illness? How are positive psychology interventions mediated by culture and religion?

To be honest, the word “happiness” means nothing in the scientific literature. It’s the word that gets used in the popular media and that is associated with smiley faces, and which usually refers to how positively you feel at this very minute. But, from a scientific perspective, that’s not enough. We use terms like satisfaction with life, flourishing, flow, meaning, engagement, subjective wellbeing, or other concepts that are scientifically defined instead. The most common measure and term that you’ll run across in the research literature is “subjective wellbeing”, which refers to how much positive and negative emotion you regularly feel, as well as how you feel about your life overall.

Because there are many ways to understand happiness – wellbeing, that is – there are many ways to measure it. In fact, there are over 200 measures and this is why some countries for example, might score high on one scale, but lower on another. We can measure many concepts at once or one at a time; that accounts for why results differ. Think of it this way; some people like to party, eat, dance and live for the moment – that is an aspect of happiness – while others might find meaning in fulfilling their obligations to family and communities instead – that’s also a part of happiness. Researchers are still working out which is the best way to measure wellbeing and over time, better measures will emerge.. In the meanwhile, if you are doing research, stick to the measures with the most validity and reliability. If we all use the same good measures, over time, it becomes easier to compare scores. However, the point is not to see who is happier necessarily, but how certain components of wellbeing work with other components, as well as what contributes to, or undermines scores.

Positive psychology interventions – also called PPIs in the literature – are strategies used by researchers, clinicians and people like you, to boost wellbeing. They are empirically derived, that is, tested on thousands of people and their impact is watched observed to see whether gains hold across 3, 6, and 12 months. PPI examples include gratitude, savoring, capitalization, engaging in acts of kindness, spending time in nature, imagining time as limited, pursuing goals, and taking part in physical activity. Meta-analyses show that PPIs successfully improve wellbeing and decrease negative emotionality with changes lasting up to one year and relative to control groups (Bolier et al., 2013; Chakhssi, Kraiss, Sommers-Spijkerman, & Bohlmeijer, 2018; Dickens, 2017; Hone, Jarden, & Schofield, 2015; Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009; Weiss, Westerhof, & Bohlmeijer, 2016). PPIs reduce ill-being, protecting against stress, negative emotions, and attenuating symptoms of mental illness and serve as a protective factor against mental health issues by offering individuals the tools with which to generate better success and functionality.

What’s happening in the region when it comes to positive psychology?

We’re glad you asked! As you know, it’s a new area of interest in the region and while it was slow to catch on, there is no denying that the movement has started and is spreading throughout the region. While there are new developments every single day, which we’ll try and regularly capture on this website, here are a few things we can tell you.

 Publications and Information

There is a peer-reviewed academic journal in positive psychology that is specific to the region. It is always accepting research articles of work done by researchers and/or student researchers in the region. It is also open to publishing regional conference proceedings specific to positive psychology. Sign up as a reader to be informed of new developments and issues. It is free and entirely open-access: https://middleeastjournalofpositivepsychology.org/index.php/mejpp/index

There is one newly published book on positive psychology specific to the region and we’re hopeful more will follow. It is available for purchase here and is useful for policy makers, researchers, as well as educators who will be teaching in positive psychology. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-13921-6

There is a weekly dedicated positive psychology newspaper column in the Al-Ittihad newspaper written by Dr. Sherif Arafa. In it, you will find the science of wellbeing translated into understandable and actionable ideas and strategies. Taken from the research literature, this column provides a way for science to be relevant and applicable to the lives of people in the region. See more at https://www.alittihad.ae/

 Research Labs

While there are two research labs specific to positive psychology, one in Saudi Arabia, the other in the United Arab Emirates, there is much research being undertaken by researchers independently of such labs. See our “Who is doing what” section to know more.

The Positive Psychology and Wellbeing Research Lab (PPWRL) is dedicated to exploring the practical uses of positive psychology in fostering individual wellbeing. Situated in Effat University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the lab is committed to conducting research that investigates the practical implications of positive psychology theories in improving the wellbeing of Saudis. It also aims to validate assessments and ensure they are appropriate to use nationally, as well as create valid and reliable assessments. The lab arranges workshops, events and lectures to educate the public on the benefits of inculcating positive psychology in everyday life and provides professional and personal development workshops, training, certificates and diplomas.

The Emirates Center for Happiness Research is housed in the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain (UAE). It aims to produce research in the field of wellbeing and happiness, monitor and assess the nation’s happiness indices, as well as develop capacity-building and professional consultancy programs.

 Regional Conferences

Every year, the Middle East Psychological Association (MEPA) hosts a psychology conference in countries around the region. From now on, as part of the Division’s activities, there will be a dedicated stream to positive psychology. Next year’s edition will take place in March 2020 in Kuwait City – stay tuned for exact dates and the location, as well as the call for abstracts and line-up of presenters. You won’t want to miss it and we expect to see you there!

Who is doing what in the region?

We will be featuring interviews with active researchers and practitioners from time to time; but, for now, take a look at who is doing what in the region here: https://middleeastjournalofpositivepsychology.org/index.php/mejpp/article/view/76

Also see a previous issue of the Middle East Journal of Positive Psychology which featured interviews with a number of regional practitioners and researchers in positive psychology: https://middleeastjournalofpositivepsychology.org/index.php/mejpp/issue/view/10

The Division of Positive Psychology is a special subject area in psychology. Our Division is supported by the Middle East Psychological Association (MEPA) and is dedicated to providing an organized, supportive, and collaborative platform for researchers, practitioners, academics, and interested individuals to share in all aspects of positive psychology in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region. The Division offers a mutually beneficial setting in which professionals and individuals can exchange scientific knowledge, practice information, develop collegial relationships, and meet the needs and opportunities of the MENA region.

To promote rigorous scientific positive psychology research that will create a basis of evidence in the MENA region

To encourage the growth of positive psychology by defining, maintaining and improving standards of expertise and evidence-based practice

To support the dissemination of knowledge by participating and sharing best practices in professional positive psychology events, as well as assisting and participating in professional activities with MEPA

To create a collaborative space where practitioners, researchers, academics and students can share and engage in topical debate and discussion, work together, and affirm and define their professional identity

We can think of several reasons why you should join the Positive Psychology Division! Join us to…

  1.   Network and connect with others to know whom you can ask relevant questions of interest, whose research you should read more about, and potentially partner with for your own research advances.
  2.   Affirm a professional identity that is visible to governments, organizations and other stakeholders and take pride in your chosen profession and/or interest.
  3.   Develop the field regionally by contributing to the generation and application of scientific knowledge, and promotion of wellbeing for the sustainable development of MENA societies.
  4.   Grow as a positive psychology professional through access to continuing education, professional development, resources and sharing of research findings.
  5.   Benefit from special events and conference discounts.

Anyone with an active MEPA membership (see www.mepa.com).

1 FULL Member Positive Psychology Practitioners: Recognized terminal degree in positive psychology from an accredited institution (i.e., MAPPCP)
2 FULL Member Psychologists with a designated area of interest in Positive Psychology: Fully licenced professional MEPA members (Masters/ PhD), with documented training and/or education in positive psychology
3 FULL Member Psychology Practitioners with a designated area of interest in Positive Psychology: Licenced professional MEPA members (Bachelors + 5 years of practise), with documented training and/or education in positive psychology
4 Affiliate Positive Psychology Coaches: Recognized coaching certification from accredited body (i.e., ICF) AND documented training/education in positive psychology

We are open to your ideas and feedback. What would you like to see this division do and offer? Constructive criticism is welcome alongside constructive feedback of course! Send your ideas, in addition to your announcements and/or upcoming events.

For upcoming events: Please consider sending us any positive psychology events for posting from across the MENA region (Arabic, French or English postings are welcome; please also indicate the language in which your event will take place, as well as the country, location, contact details, timing, and relevant dates, website details, etc.).

Who are we at the Division?

Dr. Louise Lambert is a Canadian psychologist, consultant, professor and positive psychology researcher. She has lived in the UAE for 10 years. She is working with the Emirates Center for Happiness Research, and is also the Founder and Editor in Chief of the Middle East Journal of Positive Psychology, a journal dedicated to uncovering human excellence in the region. She has several evidence-based positive psychology intervention programs being used in primary health care, the workplace and educational settings across Canada, the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. She has also recently joined forces to launch the ‘iBringGCC’ character strengths campaign across the GCC region helping young graduates and industry become better working partners. To learn more, see https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-louise-lambert-89434927/

Dr. Saddigha Al-Ghalib, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Effat University (Saudi Arabia), is the founder of the Positive Psychology and Wellbeing Research Lab. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the Southern Illinois University Carbondale (USA) and has been active in the fields of educational psychology, leadership, learning styles, mindfulness, positive psychology, and wellbeing. She formerly served at Effat University as the first Dean of Graduate Studies and Scientific Research, Director of the Research and Consultancy Institute, Director of the Center of Excellence in Teaching and Learning and Chair of the Psychology Department. She is an experienced instructor, data analyst and statistical consultant. She has attended conferences and forums all over the world, both as a speaker and guest. She is a lifelong learner, always finding new ways to bring healing to people and making life easier for them.

Silvia King’s coaching work is firmly rooted in people‘s everyday working lives and real-life challenges. Silvia has worked in the corporate world for many years. She started her career as a finance journalist and international business correspondent. Later she moved into Corporate Communications for an international asset management firm. Silvia holds a Masters degree in business  management (Betriebswirtschaftslehre) from the University of Zurich. Silvia believes in the individual. In her view, any approach to coaching needs to take a holistic perspective and allow for individual preferences when it comes to addressing challenges and pursuing goals. That‘s why she is a lifelong learner, adding to her toolkit so that her coaching clients will get the type of support that works best for them. She is currently expanding her toolkit by pursuing an MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology at the University of East London. To learn more see https://www.silviaking.coach/

Hajra Hussain, CPsychol, MSc, is a Chartered Psychologist certified by the British Psychology Society and the Royal Charter as well as an accredited Positive Psychology Coach. She is an expert in Counselling Therapy and Coaching, with over ten years of experience in the fields of Health, Behavioral, and Positive Psychology. Her key areas of work are within character strength building, coping with stress/anxiety, relationships, and self-development/self-image. She has worked in London, UK and the UAE. To read more https://www.linkedin.com/in/hajra-hussain-cpsychol-msc-p2p-ppc-2847a032

Dr. Sherif Arafa is the founder and editor of the weekly news page, “The science of Happiness” in the UAE’s Arabic language “Alittihad” newspaper. He has an MS Degree in Positive Psychology, MBA in Human Resources and Bachelor’s degree in Dental Surgery. He changed his career path from dentistry to wellbeing awareness and opposing political extremism through his books and cartoons. Sherif has received many awards for his work; his interests lie in scientific journalism, the promotion of social tolerance and open-mindedness, as well as increasing the public’s awareness of positive psychology. See more here https://www.linkedin.com/in/sherifarafa/

Milad Hadchiti (Beirut, Lebanon), has a passion for human potential. Through his 20 years of work as a radio and TV host, Milad has developed a profound interest in the fields of Positive Psychology, coaching psychology and self-development. He is the founder of HUMANSHIP, a nonprofit organization and a resource network for positive psychology in Lebanon, and NEC PLUS ULTRA, a self-development firm which serves to spread positivity by engaging in specialized training. He is a certified Image Consultant from the Association of Image Consultant International (AICI) and a certified Personal Branding Coach. He is also the author of the best-selling book “365 for a Positive Life”, a daily guide to adopting a positive mindset. Milad completed his Master’s degree in Positive Psychology at the University of East London, UK. See more here https://www.linkedin.com/in/milad-hadchiti-8518a82a/