Introduced at a key component of positive psychology, positive institutions strive to create schools and workplaces that facilitate the formation of strong moral character and emotional learning, alongside traditional academics. These institutions are reflective of Greek academies, instilling positive values, education and moral lessons. Philosophy and psychology are inseparably intertwined and positive institutions are reflective of the symbiotic nature of the two, with morals being the fundamental essence of positive institutions.
What is a Positive Institution?
The main characteristics of these institutions are that they drive individuals to attain all-encompassing positive assets, these include:
- Tolerance and
Overall, these institutions are concerned with real-world knowledge – not just formulas and academia.
White and Murray (2005) give empirical evidence for the effectiveness of positive institutions, citing the first and only school,at the time, to apply Seligman’s theory of positive psychology – St Peters in Australia. The fundamental concept of the school is not it’s academic curriculum, but that it strives for developing moral character. White and Murray (2005) examined the school’s curriculum, values and endeavors of the students post-education and found the results astounding. The school’s alumni had gone on to achieve success in multidisciplinary fields, from literature, to scientific work and philanthropy.
The Third Pillar of Positive Psychology
Positive institutions have been conceived as the third pillar of positive psychology and are effective in implementing practical life skills (Menegazzo et al., 2015). In the ever changing world today of today, with technology and unconventional jobs on the rise, these institutions cater to guiding students through the break in tradition. As with third-wave psychology, positive institutions harness the power of living in the now and seek to develop a wholesome self through techniques such as mindfulness and acceptance.
Menegazzo et al. (2015) undertook a study demonstrating the positive impact these institutions can have on work, sampling 69 work teams and discovering the presence of empathy, a vital concept in positive institutions, as a key factor in leadership and team performance. The benefits of positive institutions are vast, as they focus on work improvements, moral character development and value congruent education environments.
Seligman created the concept of PERMA and these policies are integrated into positive institutions in the appraisal of staff to ensure that they too remain content in their work and see their role as meaningful. PERMA advocates for our strengths, our inherent values and praise for our accomplishments; ensuring that individuals are built up and broadened to achieve optimum success in their pursuits.
The Power of Place: Learning in a Positive Environment
Attention is crucial in regards to the process of learning, and how information is received will dictate how much is integrated. If we are inundated with negative stimuli, then is very likely that a negative attentional bias will be formed. Attuning us to our negative experiences, the criticism we receive and our feelings of self-doubt. Consequently, negative attentional bias can result in individuals becoming more inclined to experience negative emotions and, as Seligman discusses, can even lead to mental illness such as depression.
On the other hand, a positive learning environment brings about the opportunity to thrive. An abundance of positive stimuli, praise and constructive feedback are the essential components of positive institutions that can instill a positive attentional bias. This results in us learning to attribute our successes to our internal qualities, and our failures to once-off external factors. Whilst interpersonal relationships affect our mood and performance, being in a positive environment can subconsciously alter mental states for the better and bring about positive education.
The 3 Essential Steps to Creating a Positive Institution
There are 3 essential ingredients that must be present in building an effective positive institution. These are:
It is imperative that leaders have and express their empathy to create a harmonious co-existence within the institution. We are social beings and leaders must be able to identify with their subordinates, coming across as a fellow human being, and not a person of superiority. It is crucial that employees, students or colleagues can relate to the head of the institution, therefore practicing empathy is the first ingredient to bring in when developing a positive institution.
Unification is effective in creating a community-supported environment. If an institution is rigid and lacks cohesiveness, then students or employees will not be able to reach their potential as they will not feel a sense of belonging and commitment. A hostile environment does not breed enjoyment, or success, as mentioned above it can also result in negative attentional bias and even mental illness.
The key to implementing a positive community atmosphere is to focus on teamwork and the social spirit of the institution. These two elements facilitate healthy communication, the chance to create meaningful work and consequently, positive relationships.
3. Positive Enthusiasm
A positive atmosphere is imperative to creating a positive institution, nothing can thrive in an uncomfortable and hostile environment (expect perhaps a cactus). To facilitate a positive atmosphere, hold team meetings, or encourage employee or student led initiatives. Let the members of the institution create something meaningful and creative as a group. This will bring people together and enable them to be their authentic selves whilst producing something that will infuse the institution with positive enthusiasm, which as we known is highly contagious.
Take Home Message
The creation of positive institutions holds vast implications for both education and the workplace. These institutions foster respect, mindfulness and the creation of moral character. Whilst offering a range of learning approaches that are inclusive to all learning styles and are effective in forming well-rounded individuals. In conclusion, a positive environment is one that breeds creativity, contentment and banishes stagnation. In order to develop a community and society which is infused with positive values we have start with the environment and our daily social connections.
Are you part of a positive institution or not? What do you believe are the greatest assets of your institution which makes it a positive environment?
Waters, White and Murray: Toward the Creation of a Positive Institution, May 2012, Volume 14, ISBN 978-1-907549-08-3
Jessica Solares Menegazzo, Valeria Cruz-Ortiz, Alberto Ortega-Maldonado, Marisa Salanova, Positive Institutions and their relationship with transformational leadership, empathy and team performance, 2015
Mathew White, Simon Murry and Martin Seligman, Evidence-based approaches in positive education: implementing a strategic framework for well-being in schools, Dordrecht: Springer, 2015