What is the Science of the Positive?
The Science of the Positive is the study of how positive factors impact culture and experience. It focuses on how to measure and grow the positive, and has been applied over decades with agencies, communities, and businesses. It is based on the core assumption that the positive is real and is worth growing – in ourselves, our families, our workplaces, and our communities (Linkenbach, 2007).
Those of us who work as health and safety professionals can sometimes become so focused on the dangers and problems we are trying to decrease that we forget this core truth. The Science of the Positive reverses this problem-centered frame, and focuses on growing the healthy, positive, protective factors that already exist in our communities. When we start to look at the world through this positive, hopeful lens, it has a profound on impact the questions we ask, the data we collect, and the way we address health and safety issues.
The Science of the Positive should not be confused with simple “positive thinking.” It is a rigorous process that works across entire cultures. And while the Science of the Positive is based on the core assumption that the positive exists in every community and culture, it recognizes that suffering, pain, and harm are very real. One of its principal outcomes is to reduce suffering in our families, our communities, and ourselves.
The Spirit-Science-Action-Return Cycle
Four essential stages – Spirit, Science, Action, and Return – make up the transformational process of the Science of the Positive. These stages, when fully engaged, work together to create a synergistic cycle of positive transformation.
We have gotten locked into a two-dimensional approach to our work, in which science leads to action. The Science of the Positive directs our efforts in a unique way by incorporating and integrating spirit into this process. By re-engaging with spirit and re-igniting hope, our work proceeds guided by core values that allow us to ask different questions, reach people with more authenticity and truly create room for cultural transformation.
Once we identify our core values and purpose, we must next seek an accurate understanding of the world around us. Science is about asking the right questions, answering those questions with rigor, and seeking the best possible understanding of the communities in which we work. Our perceptions of what is happening both in our communities and in our own organizations are often inaccurate. These misperceptions will cause us to get stuck in our work.
...To Lead Action
Health promotion professionals are always eager to jump in and take Action. We want to start improving the health of our communities immediately and start seeing results yesterday. But Action must come last. Without clear understanding of our purpose and the community we are working in, we cannot engage in meaningful Action that fosters both change and transformation.
...For Desired Returns
A crucial and often overlooked part of health promotion work is the element of Return: a time of rest, recovery, and renewal before the cycle begins again. Our dominant culture is fixated on action. But the reflection required by Return is hard work. Stillness takes enormous energy. This last step of the Spirit-Science-Action-Return Cycle is a place of humility and authenticity. We have set our intentions, used our best science, and taken action to make change. We have grown, learned, and been tested, and now have wisdom from the journey. And it is because of this authenticity that we have something of value to return to the community.