Positive psychology and hardiness

'Stress Shoot' exercise, from The U.S. Army's Photostream (Flickr)

‘Stress Shoot’ exercise, from The U.S. Army’s Photostream (Flickr)

Hardiness helps people resist many of the harmful effects of stress on daily life. So should UK students be trained in hardiness? Dr Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, speaking at last week’s Positive Education Summit at Wellington College, says they should. He thinks techniques designed by the US Army to mentally prepare soldiers for war could also help students develop mental fortitude.

Over 2,000 US Army drill sergeants attend Dr Seligman’s course on positive psychology each year, with the idea being that they then pass on what they have learned within their battalions to help reduce the impact of post-traumatic stress. The course is based on Dr Seligman’s PERMA model: Positive Emotion (P), Engagement (E), positive Relationships (R), Meaning (M) and Accomplishment (A).

Becoming aware of one’s negative thoughts and then challenging them is at the heart of the positive psychology approach. Some critics of the approach think this may lead to unrealistic views of life, to denial about problems and to an inability to reflect objectively on what has gone wrong and how to put it right.

As A Level Psychology students will know, research on the hardy personality is based on the fact that within any population of highly stressed people, some of the people appear to be able to deal with stress better than the others. For example, in Kobasa’s study of stressed US business executives, some executives had lower illness records than others, although their SRRS scores were equally high.  So can this hardiness, or emotional resilience, be taught? And if it can, should it be?