The Unhappy Positive Psychology Student?


Having recently completed the dissertation for my MAPP program, I can now reflect on the final few weeks before my submission. I felt pressured, had a drop in my well-being, and struggled to get into flow. Worse still, I wasn’t great company to be around. I was often lost in my own thoughts, mainly about what I still needed to do. I wasn’t very talkative since struggling to put a sentence together seemed to take creativity I didn’t have left over.

A dissertation is a mass of details.A dissertation is a mass of details.

A dissertation is a mass of details.
Not my top strength!

I thought to myself, as a student and researcher of positive psychology, how could I be unhappy and not flourishing?

At least I wasn’t languishing.

With the benefit of reflection, I can now see that areas of positive psychology at least played a part in preventing me from languishing. Keyes suggested that there could be a continuum of mental health, from the full presence of mental health called flourishing to the complete absence of mental health called languishing. In the effort to complete my dissertation I may not have been fully flourishing, but I certainly wasn’t languishing.

What kept me from dipping into languishing? I displayed hope that I would finish the dissertation to the standard I wanted and resilience to withstand the pressure of completing a major project while holding down a full-time job and having a family.

Additionally, I realized that my strengths kept me from languishing too. Humor helped to alleviate stress from spiraling out of control, gratitude enabled me to appreciate the good things in my life, and perspective helped me remember what I wanted to achieve with my dissertation.

The Role of Hope

Snyder defined hope as the combination of mental willpower and strategies that one pulls together in order to reach one’s goals. Willpower may be related to the strength of persistence from CAPP’s Realise2 classification of strengths, whereby a person can keep going to ensure that a goal is achieved despite challenges.

Writer's blockWriter's block

Writer’s block

For me, the challenges were

  • Time: both meeting the deadline and fitting the dissertation into my life. I had recently started a new job and was required to travel all over the country, often at short notice. This made fitting in time for the dissertation even more difficult.
  • Finding the inspiration to break through the writer’s block. I often struggle to put down on paper what is in my head. So it wasn’t just writer’s block that I came up against, but also the fact that I’m not adept at writing long assignments.
  • Finding meaning in my research results. My goal was to enable salespeople to perform effectively in their roles by discovering and applying their strengths appropriately. I wanted to create a strengths-based selling process.

Even though at times I doubted myself and my ability to complete the dissertation, my willpower to succeed with my goal won through, even though my strengths usually lie more in discussing things with others and taking physical action rather than writing by myself and paying attention to detail.

Strengths Supporting Willpower

To complement my willpower, I stayed focused on the end result that I wanted to achieve. I also used mindfulness and finding ways to apply my strengths.

Focusing on the end result motivated me to ensure that I made it become a reality.

The practice of mindfulness enabled me to quiet the conflicting thoughts in my head, thereby freeing me from writer’s block. This permitted me to become creative again and put pen to paper.

Laughing togetherLaughing together

   Laughing together

Finally, I thought about ways I could apply my strengths, in the appropriate context and measure, in order to overcome any issues and to complete my dissertation. I wrote down on a daily basis three strengths that I applied the previous day. This really helped to boost my well-being and support my determination to succeed. Here are some examples of the strengths I wrote down:

  • Strategic awareness to generate ideas for a new product with a director
  • Listening to notice what a client was really asking for and what colleagues were not aware of and reflecting the client’s requirements back to them
  • Using humor to make my colleagues laugh and relieve the tension in a meeting

So now I await the results of the dissertation in the knowledge that hope and resilience played a key role in helping me to prepare it for submission.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience.. New York: Harper Perennial.

Keyes, C. L. (2002). The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 207-222.

Linley, P. A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising Strengths in Yourself and Others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press.

Linley, P. A., Willars, J. Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). The Strengths Book: Be Confident, Be Successful, and Enjoy Better Relationships by Realising the Best of You.

Snyder, C. R. (1994). Psychology of Hope: You Can Get Here from There. NY: Free Press.

Williams, M., Penman, D. (2011). Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Rodale.

Photo Credit: via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Mass of details courtesy of mararie
Writer’s block courtesy of Sharon Drummond
Laughing together courtesy of Reina Cañí


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