Supervised by: Ellen Froustis MA, MSc. Ellen Froustis is a DPhil. Education candidate at the University of Oxford. She has a Master’s of Education-Special Emphasis School Counselling and a Master’s in Clinical Psychology. As the founder and director of EIMAI, and regional director of Peace Jam Greece, Ellen provides youth leadership development programs, bringing together youth with Nobel Peace Laureates and university students to create positive change in themselves and their communities. Ellen has served as General Secretary of the Greek Adlerian Psychological Association (2012-2016) and Vice President of Habitat for Humanity, Greater Athens (2006-2010). Ellen’s work with youth and schools has been awarded by the Near East Council of Overseas Schools, The Loukoumi Make A Difference Foundation, The Nobel Peace Laureate’s Billion Acts of Peace and Character.Org for best practices in character education.
Globally, one in seven (around 14.3%) of 10–19-year-olds experiences a mental disorder, and suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in 15–19-year-olds (World Health Organisation, 2021). Considering the prominence of such an issue, we wanted to investigate positive psychology as a new science and how that might be used to address it. Positive psychology focuses on recognising the importance of internal character traits to improve mental health and well-being, but also to strengthen traits that are less developed, which may be at the root of an individual’s distress, in order to promote resilience. We looked at the role of character traits in managing depression, anxiety, and trauma through positive psychotherapy by reviewing outcomes of 10 research studies targeted at strengthening character traits to improve mental health. In depression, anxiety and trauma, we found that people with certain positive traits such as kindness, optimism, or self-gratitude are more resilient and may recover from and manage their disorder with more ease, as opposed to those who lack these characteristics. While these traits vary with specific mental disorders, positive character traits, in general, help manage mental health issues with positive psychology interventions.
Through the exponentially growing research in positive psychology, future considerations in research could explore the role of culture, gender, and age in response to positive psychology interventions to further support character trait theory.
Mental illness greatly affects the lives of the modern youth. If left untreated, it can extend to adulthood which may impair their physical and mental health and limit their opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults. In the United States, it was reported that 13% (or 3.2 million) teens, ages 12 to 17, had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year (National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2017). It was also estimated that 31.9% of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 in the U.S. had an anxiety disorder (National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement; National Institute of Mental Health, 2004). Seven in ten U.S. teens referred to anxiety and depression as a major issue among their peers in their community (Pew Research Centre, 2019). A study done by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network in 2014 to determine the prevalence of trauma in children aged 12 to 17 showed that close to 40% of students in the U.S. have been exposed to some form of traumatic stressor in their lives, 8% reported sexual assault, 17% reported physical assault, and 39% reported witnessing violence (National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2014).
Psychology is a science that focuses on the human mind and its functions, especially those that affect behaviour in certain circumstances. The first three missions of psychology are to treat mental illness, make life more productive and nurture high talent. However, after World War 2, psychology became mostly focused on healing the diseased mind, leading to the complete disregard of the other two main missions of the science – making the lives of all people more productive and fulfilling, and identifying and nurturing talent. This exclusive focus on pathology and the disease model of the human mind was created as a result, and made the need for positive psychology so blatant. The aim of positive psychology is to change the focus from a preoccupation with healing to building and nurturing positive qualities (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
Positive psychology is rooted in the humanistic part of the biopsychosocial model of psychological perspectives. It is related to exploring positive emotions that are usually ignored, as, most likely, negative emotions are more visible and have a stronger influence than positive emotions (Hanadhya, 2021). Psychology is not just the study of the pathology of the human mind, but rather also the study of strength and virtue. Treatment of psychological disorders shouldn’t be just about what is broken, but also about identifying and nurturing character strengths that enable resilience.
Positive psychology has helped with the treatment of people with multiple disorders and conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and trauma, while at the same time catalysing a change of the focus of psychology to the two forgotten missions. Certain positive emotions such as joy, pride and love can build people’s physical and psychological resilience (Fredrickson, 2001), and there is also evidence that amplifying and nurturing positive traits and virtues could lead to them acting as a buffer against mental illness (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
First, however, we must understand the difference between virtues and character strengths. Virtues are described as: “the core characteristics valued by moral philosophers and religious thinkers: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004, p. 13). Meanwhile, character strengths are defined as: “the psychological ingredients—processes or mechanisms—that define the virtues. Said another way, they are distinguishable routes to displaying one or another of the virtues” (p. 13).
An international and intercultural study identified six common virtues comprised of 24 character strengths common to all people. Scores from 111,676 adult respondents from 54 nations were compared. In most nations, from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, the most commonly endorsed strengths were found to be: kindness, fairness, authenticity, gratitude, and open-mindedness. The less endorsed strengths around the world included prudence, modesty, and self-regulation. Love, hope and zest were the character strengths that were found to be related to life satisfaction for individuals across all ages. Gratitude is associated with life satisfaction for individuals over the age of seven (Park et al, 2018).
In this article, our aim was to research the extent to which positive psychology interventions (PPIs) that strengthen character traits can improve anxiety, depression, and trauma.
Journal articles were searched in the following databases to examine studies that were conducted that could answer the research question. They were: Frontiers in Psychology, Research Gate, Google Scholar and Social Science Research Network. The following search terms were used: “positive psychology interventions”, “character traits”, “character strengths”, “depression”, “anxiety”, “trauma”, “PTSD”, “neurobiology of emotions”, “positive emotions”, “stress” and “personality.”
The articles that were selected for this paper were the most current with the exception of classic studies that positive psychology and the study of emotions are based on. The journals from which the articles were selected were mostly peer-reviewed to reduce bias and decrease the chances of false information. Psychologists and psychiatrists were the primary researchers for these studies.
Character strengths are a vital part of who we are as people, how others view us, and how we view ourselves. A person’s mental health is greatly affected by their opinion of themselves, mainly, their flaws in addition to their strengths. “People see themselves differently from how they see others. They are immersed in their own sensations, emotions, and cognitions at the same time that their experience of others is dominated by what can be observed externally” (Pronin, 2008). As hard as it is for people to view themselves in a critical and analytical way, understanding our character strengths is a huge step in creating a healthy and happier lifestyle. First, however, we must understand the difference between virtues and character strengths. Virtues are described as: “the core characteristics valued by moral philosophers and religious thinkers: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004, p. 13). Meanwhile, character strengths are defined as: “the psychological ingredients—processes or mechanisms—that define the virtues. Said another way, they are distinguishable routes to displaying one or another of the virtues” (p. 13).
Peterson and Seligman (2004) created a classification system for character strengths and identified ten criteria to help define a character strength. One of the criteria was that the character strength has to contribute to fulfilment that constitutes the “good life” for oneself or for others. Also, it is morally valued, even without being attached to positive outcomes. For instance, hope is one of the character strengths that are used currently in positive psychology treatments, alongside kindness and many other strengths. Hope and kindness are morally ‘good’ even without positive outcomes. A big indicator of that is how hope is never perceived as harmful or ‘bad’ in any way, by the person being hopeful or by those around him. Even in the instance where one had hoped for a certain thing to happen, and it hadn’t happened, the person hoping would not be considered to have done anything morally wrong. So, character strengths should be morally right and not in any way harmful or deleterious. In addition, the display of a strength by one person does not diminish those surrounding him or her and it must manifest in a way that can be assessed, and it must be at least somewhat stable across time and situations. Hope, love, zest, spirituality, and courage are all long term character strengths. A person who loves wholeheartedly once is a loving person who will continue to love. It is very important for a person to work on maintaining their character strengths and to avoid giving up on them. A person who is courageous once should continue to be courageous, just as a hopeful person should not lose sight of their hope in spite of anything that may harm their character strengths. A person can (probably) be a “prodigy” in it, meaning they have an instinct towards it, whilst it is also an important criterion in classifying a character strength. A person can also potentially display a complete lack of it.
Biswas-Diener (2011) and his colleagues note that we can often suffer from “strengths blindness,” in which we fail to recognise when we excel at a particular strength. For example, the researchers point out, people who are especially kind and courageous may not realise that others would act differently in a situation that calls for kindness or courage (Hopper, 2018). That proves how important it is to work on discovering and bettering one’s character strengths. Character strength interventions are activities and exercises meant to aid individuals to apply their character strengths in their own lives.
One of the most crucial steps in applying one’s character strengths to their daily life is to first figure out what it is that makes a person who they are and what acts and activities cause happiness in one’s daily life. Many schools and home environments are working on using children’s personal strengths to help improve their self-esteem, which later leads them to apply those strengths in their daily lives. Studies have found that character strengths increase well-being and social skills, and academic performance, and improved problem behaviour (Rashid et al., 2013).
According to the DSM-V (APA, 2013), anxiety is broadly characterised by a state of constant uneasiness and nervousness, that sometimes includes palpitations, sweating, and feelings of stress. It can also include, irritability, edginess and create difficulty sleeping. It has become especially prominent in recent decades. The relationship between anxiety and varying personality traits and characteristics is not a recent development. In fact, psychologists and physicians dating back to 460 BC, such as Hippocrates and Galen, have theorised that the differing traits one exhibits can subsequently predict their likelihood of psychological disorders, the chief being anxiety (Alizadeh et al., 2017). However, the theories of both Galen and Hippocrates have not stood unrefuted nor unsupported by more recent investigations into the outcomes of personality on mental behaviour. It is important to examine how personality traits can increase the development of anxiety and how positive psychology interventions can mitigate them.
The study of the five main personality traits, known as “The Big Five”, reveals which ones are prominent or obscured within those who exhibit anxiety (McCrae & Costa, 1987). They are the following: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (Alizadeh et al., 2017). Neuroticism manifests itself in feelings of self-consciousness, irritability, and emotional instability. Without the ability to regulate emotions, individuals with the trait of neuroticism typically decend into feelings of distress and uneasiness (Newbury-Birch and Kamali, 2001). Dolcos (2018) and her colleagues suggest that emotional stability, self-evaluation, and reward can promote well-being and reduce stress levels dramatically. A lack of these characteristics inherently predisposes factors of anxiety and stress (Newbury-Birch and Kamali, 2001). A study of 145 junior doctors in England concluded that those who exhibited characteristics consistent with neuroticism also struggled with anxiety (Newbury-Birch and Kamali, 2001).
While the small sample size of English doctors is not sufficient to argue that neuroticism is directly related to anxiety, other studies also confirm this point. A study of 547 teenagers of varying socioeconomic and geographical backgrounds concluded that those who exhibited higher levels of neuroticism were more likely to develop anxiety as adolescents, but also later in adult life (Zinbarg et al, 2016).
Positive psychology interventions, which often include mindfulness to alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety, also focus on interventions that strengthen character traits that can allow one to have greater confidence in managing situations in their life that cause stress, despite their personality. Extraversion defined as the state of being sociable and seeking social interaction (Merriam-Webster) is a trait that can be developed. A study of 1,364 individuals concluded that those who possessed more extroverted qualities tended to be happier and more satisfied with their life, often feeling less anxious on a regular basis (Oerlemans and Bakker, 2014). A study by Jacques-Hamilton et al. (2019) applied a positive psychology intervention to increase levels of extraversion in individuals by instructing participants to act bolder and more outgoing and then report their moods periodically. The behaviour alterations that occurred as a result of this PPI found a profound increase in levels of extraversion. Individuals then reported higher levels of positive emotions and feeling better as a whole (Jacques-Hamilton et al., 2019). This study greatly exemplifies the implications of PPIs to increase levels of extraversion and subsequently reduce levels of anxiety.
Optimism is another character trait that PPIs try to build in individuals who struggle with anxiety. In fact, optimism and anxiety have been found to have an inverse relationship. Positive psychology interventions aim to reduce anxiety by fostering more optimism which promotes positive emotions. As a result, optimism is associated with psychological well-being and can mitigate symptoms of anxiety (Dolcos et al., 2018). Positive psychology interventions, therefore, aim to strengthen optimism and extraversion in order to decrease negative emotions often associated with neuroticism.
From a neurodevelopmental perspective, trauma is not an event, but rather an individual’s response to the continuous effects of the event on one’s neuroimmune, neuroendocrine, autonomic and central nervous systems. Directly experiencing trauma, witnessing someone else’s trauma, learning about certain traumatic events and exposure to aversive details can lead to trauma and stress related disorders, such as reactive attachment disorder, adjustment disorder, acute stress, disinhibited social engagement disorder and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Brunzell, 2016).
When trauma is experienced by infants and children, the development of the brain is detrimentally affected, as is the attachment to the primary caregiver (van der Kolk and McFarlane, 1996). Trauma-affected youth may exhibit aggressive behaviour, defiance, limited attention, distractedness, poor ability to regulate their emotions, hypervigilance, and attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), among others. Many may try to perform daily tasks with minimal disruption but despite their efforts, they may find themselves frustrated, defiant and demanding (Brunzell, 2016).
Positive psychology can be used as a means to aid trauma-affected people, as the aim of the science is to focus less on the pathology and healing and focus more on building positive strengths (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). While the healing approach is critical, a focus on repairing the negative is not enough. Therapy must also move trauma-affected people beyond repairing dysregulation and disrupted attachments, and build positive resources and growth (Brunzell, 2016). It is theorised that certain human strengths can act as buffers against mental illness, such as courage, optimism, faith, work ethic, hope, honesty, and perseverance, to name several (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
The two-factor theory, presented by Keyes (2002), states that building mental health requires more than addressing deficits in mental health. Trauma-affected people need to be given opportunities to increase their psychological resources and build upon strengths toward well-being (Brunzell, 2016).
The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions by Fredrickson (1998) states that some positive emotions such as joy, interest, contentment, pride, and love, have the ability to build people’s personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual to social and psychological resources, which leads to an overall state of well-being. There is also evidence that suggests that positive emotions broaden the scope of attention, cognition, and action (Fredrickson, 2001). When in a positive emotional state, problem-solving and motivation to act on personal challenges increases according to Frederickson (2001). Well-being, therefore, is linked to positive outcomes, including productivity, creativity, positive relationships, social behaviour, health, and life expectancy (Huppert and So, 2013). Positive psychology offers an important perspective through understanding the full range of human experience.
Even as a trauma-affected person that struggles with relational attachment or self-regulation, they have character strengths that can be deliberately nurtured to strengthen deficits. However, many of the current trauma-informed approaches have failed to focus attention on identifying and increasing these strengths. The fields of positive psychology and positive clinical psychology place emphasis on strengthening dispositional optimism, flourishing, resilience, and functional reserve in coping with impairment. These fields point to a greater emphasis on intact skills, on past strengths and interests, and on how both rehabilitation efforts and domestic, social and work environments can be altered to take these skills and talents into account (Kapur, 2013). As such, trauma-informed approaches can be more effective by placing sufficient emphasis on growth, often known as “post-traumatic growth”, by building on the strengths of trauma-affected people (Brunzell, 2016).
The term post-traumatic growth (PTG), which refers to “the experience of positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances”, is a positive psychology construct that aims to better understand and strengthen individuals’ responses to traumatic experiences. It is a process during which the shattering of one’s pre-trauma assumptive core belief system occurs, and the reconstruction serves as a foundation for recognising personal strengths and new possibilities. There is emphasis placed on certain elements that facilitate PTG, such as positivity, perseverance, gratitude, and spirituality (Barbir, 2016).
It has also been suggested that a person’s capacity to make meaning out of their emotions is essential in emotion regulation and for trauma recovery. Other positive traits that have been linked to being an asset for coping with trauma are cognitive understanding, problem-solving and agency. If the trauma occurs later in a person’s life, trusting and healthy relationships become the ‘wellspring of hope’ on the road to recovery (Allen, 2008).
Evidence for understanding how character strengths are associated with trauma can be found in an Israeli study that examined the effect of the HEXACO traits (Honesty/Humility, Emotionality, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness & Openness to Experience) on trauma symptoms. There were 249 participants over the age of 18 who suffered from PTSD. Findings showed that PTSD symptoms were found more often in participants who had emotionality and less often in those with extraversion and honesty/humility. Stress symptoms were also associated with emotionality and negatively associated with extraversion and agreeableness. This study demonstrated the effects of personality traits on different manifestations of trauma, within clinical applications of PPIs (Weinberg and Gil, 2020).
Similarly, another study was carried out in a hospital on 400 male participants and the aim was to explore the relations between personality traits, traumas, PTSD and depression. The five-factor model of personality was used, including disintegration, a trait that reflects an inability to fully integrate ones traumatic experience and results in psychotic-like behaviours. It was found that the severity of PTSD and depression symptoms is related to the number of traumatic events experienced in relation to the level of neuroticism, extraversion, and disintegration they have. It was noted that higher neuroticism values are related to PTSD symptoms and when combined with low extraversion and low agreeableness, the risk factor for PTSD after a traumatic event increases (Knežević et al, 2022).
The DSM-5 criterion for diagnosing depression includes experiencing five or more of the following symptoms within 2 weeks, with one of the symptoms being a depressed mood and/or having lost interest or pleasure in normal activities. The other symptoms include having the daily experience of: a) feeling mentally and physically slower than usual, b) feeling tired, c) feeling guilty or worthless, d) the inability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions and e) thinking about, planning or attempting suicide (APA, 2013).
Positive psychology, as a new science, first explored the effect that positive thinking has on depression (Seligman, 2006). Psychologists examine one’s relationship with themselves and other people when treating depression. The absence of positive outer connections can be the leading cause of depression. To address this, positive psychologists try to restore one’s personal well-being by studying how a positive emotion can combat a depressive one. By identifying the cause of the depression, positive psychologists use the reversal method to directly combat the negative emotions that feed the depressive emotions. Increasing positive emotions enables people to identify better solutions for their situation, such as building a social network, if that is the cause of their depression.
Positive psychologists have found that the most helpful way to address one’s shortcomings is to strengthen character traits. The three pillars of positive psychology are as follows: positive character traits, positive institutions, and positive subjective experiences. Positive subjective experiences are the pure essence of positive psychology: one’s happiness and well-being. Positive individual traits are key when identifying the areas of change in an individual and their exterior environment and are manifested through one’s strengths as an individual, as well as one’s virtues which can also be helpful in identifying one’s shortcomings. To help discover the best quality of life for a patient as analysed and developed through their character traits, it is important to understand the three types of a “good life:” the pleasant kind of life, the engaged life, and the meaningful life. The pleasant life is often superficial and typically exists in a 2-D version of what a perfect life “should” look like. This quality of life often only exists on television or in advertisements that try to sell an individual temporary happiness. The engaged life is nearly a direct contradiction of a pleasant life and consists of engaging in activities. This is a large pillar within positive psychology as it helps create a more fulfilled life, which in time allows for an extended and satisfied period of happiness and fulfilment. The meaningful life involves being engaged for a greater purpose beyond ourselves; it can also include spirituality. Aiming for a meaningful life is one way to reduce depression. The most recent evidence in the scientific field has found that the most common character traits associated with depressive tendencies include, but are not limited to, extraversion, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. The following studies will analyse the various methods used to combat the negative emotional, physical, and behavioural tendencies that come with these character traits.
One study conducted to evaluate the effect of character traits on an individual’s mental and psychological progress was a longitudinal Normative Aging Study (McCrae, 1980a, 1980b). This study allowed researchers to come to the consensus that personality traits have a leading influence on one’s psychological well-being and are often inherited through genes.
Another study that examined the extent of character traits through positive psychology on managing depression is Kim et al. (2018). The aim of this study was to identify positive character traits that can act as a protective barrier against depression and suicidal thoughts. The sample population included 151 female and 84 male employees, between the ages of 19 and 50, from the same socio-demographic backgrounds. The researchers evaluated their key baseline attributes, including their depressive symptoms, using the Beck Depression Inventory, suicidality measured by the Neuropsychiatric module, and character strengths measured by the Values in Action Survey-72. Once the standardised quantitative data was collected and analysed, researchers found that in females, ‘judgement’ and ‘kindness’ were protective factors against depressive symptoms and suicidality, whereas in males, ‘teamwork’ and ‘creativity’ scores were the protective character traits against adverse mental health (Kim et al., 2018). Researchers conclude that engaging in activities that constitute these character strengths can be used as a successful method for managing depression. These specific character traits reduce symptoms of depression by enabling a positive outlook by generating positive emotions, which in turn, increases their sense of well-being and optimism. If the duration of a positive mentality is sustained, it can effectively subdue the negative character traits such as pessimism, neuroticism, and impulsiveness, consequently curating a new-found attitude that releases the depressive cognition.
A further study that explores the role of character traits in managing depression is Seligman et al. (2006). The aim of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of implementing positive psychology interventions in the treatment of depression (Seligman, 2006). These character traits included gratitude, self-reflection, kindness, and curiosity. The participant sample consisted of 40 students at the University of Pennsylvania and there was a single inclusion criterion of a score in the mild to moderate symptom range on the Beck Depression Inventory-II (Seligman, 2006). Participants were placed in a treatment or control group. The treatment group participated in a six-week, two-hours-per-week group positive psychology therapy (PPT) intervention using exercises such as: “using signature strengths, thinking of three blessings, writing a positive obituary, going on a gratitude visit, active– constructive responding, and savouring” (Seligman, 2006). The researchers then used two outcome measures including the Satisfaction With Life Scale to assess the change in mental well-being, and the BDI to explore the extent of the depressive symptoms. Both these measures were administered in four different time slots: immediately after the 6 week period of positive psychology therapy including character trait recognition, 3 months, six months and one year post-therapy. Overall, group PPT had stronger outcomes than the no therapy group.
Participants experienced relief from depression through the one year follow-up. One year after the end of treatment, participants reported in the nondepressed range of symptoms, while the control group continued to experience mild-to-moderate depression, similar to when they entered the study. Overall, the character trait recognition within the positive psychology demonstrated that the participants had a significant decrease in depressive symptoms while simultaneously increasing their satisfaction/happiness rate, compared to the control group that did not.
Lastly, another study to investigate in order to evaluate the role of positive character traits on psychology is Tehranchi et al. (2018). This study investigated whether positive character traits (such as critical thinking, hope, vitality, gratitude, forgiveness and spirituality) through positive psychology interventions would increase happiness and decrease depressive symptoms. The sample consisted of recruited patients from a clinical psychology centre in Mashhad, Iran. All the participants were tested on the DSM-5 criteria and were diagnosed with major depressive disorder and were interviewed to ensure they met the inclusion criteria (Tehranchi, 2018). Then a questionnaire in relation to well-being status and depressive symptoms was given to the participants which took approximately 60 minutes. The analysis of the data highlighted there was a correlation between positive character strengths and happiness through SPSS-23 and AMOS-23 analysis software (Tehranchi 2018). Moreover, the study demonstrated a negative correlation between character traits/emotions and dysfunctional attitude of depression, highlighting the benefits of positive character traits on depression behaviours.
Three studies including Kim et al. (2018), Seligman et al. (2006), and Tehranchi et al. (2018) are used to support the use of character traits in relation to positive psychology to manage depressive symptoms. Through the analysis of these results, it is possible to determine that building positive character traits such as gratitude, kindness, creativity, can reduce symptoms of depression.
Character traits play a large part in the science of positive psychology and are an important tool used to aid people in managing depression, anxiety and trauma. In all three cases, it has been found that people with certain positive traits are more resilient and may recover and manage their disorder with more ease as opposed to someone who lacks strength in these characteristics. There have been different studies conducted to research which traits help specific mental disorders, but overall, positive character traits can be considered an asset when dealing with mental health issues through positive psychology.
Overall, the three mental disorders researched all have varying character traits associated with them and with having a positive/negative effect on treatment. The one trait that was found to be common between all three was optimism, as it has been found to act as a buffer for mental illness experienced as depression, anxiety and trauma-related stressors. Therefore, helping patients to develop this trait to a stronger degree through positive psychology interventions is recommended.
The link between anxiety and depression has been found to be well-being and self-reflection, which has been said to significantly decrease symptoms while simultaneously increasing happiness and satisfaction with life.
Anxiety and trauma not only share some of the same character traits that have a positive effect on treatment, but also the negative. In both cases, extraversion and agreeableness have been found to have a positive effect on treatment, as being more open and sociable has been linked to higher levels of happiness, aiding the effectiveness of treatment.
Trauma and depression are very closely linked and have a large number of similar, desirable character traits in patients. Hope, creativity, and spirituality were all found to promote well-being in patients, allowing them to manage their conditions with more ease. Critical thinking and problem solving, alongside work ethic and teamwork were also found to possess the capability of reducing the symptoms, increasing their sense of well-being and optimistic mindset.
This study reviewed numerous peer-reviewed scholarly journals and compiled the most relevant material from each article. This provided us with credible, reliable information from experts in the field of neuroscience and psychology, making our study interesting and informative when assessing outcomes from each study. The additional strength of this review was the high level of generalisability across people of varied ages, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. The relationship between personality traits and levels of anxiety was clearly noted, to a greater degree than depression or trauma induced mental distress.
A limitation of this study was that there was not sufficient time to produce a quantitative or qualitative study of our own, however, this review created groundwork for understanding how research is conducted, prompting interest in pursuing an original study of our own in the future.
Another limitation was adequately analyzing the impact of positive psychology interventions on mitigating symptoms of anxiety, depression, and trauma across studies, as different character traits were often examined. However, we were able to compare and contrast, and identify some commonalities which we were very interesting. Additionally, we found that varying levels of character traits exhibited within individuals directly correlated with the effectiveness of positive psychology interventions, making our study ungeneralisable among varying levels of personality traits.
Character traits can significantly affect a person’s response to various challenges in life, and therefore affect mental health. By focusing on building character strengths, managing mental health with positive psychology may be more effective towards building better well-being. Furthermore, this focus on building character traits can be a form of self-development as well as a focus on good health and wellbeing, which can help people overcome adversity and challenges they face in life. More specifically, traits like optimism, openness, and extraversion, can be especially helpful in positive psychology practices to help manage mental health well.
Overall, character traits implemented through positive psychology to manage anxiety, trauma and depression is a growing concept in the psychological research field that has made more recent appearances and is being implemented in more therapy environments. In order to ensure this field is one that is growing with validity and accuracy, it is crucial to evaluate the baseline requirements and inclusion criteria for future considerations of possible research to take place. Primarily, in many of the studies we investigated (e.g. Seligman (2006) and Kim et al. (2018)), because of the nature of experiments, when they take place in the same country with similar mindsets, it can be difficult to generalise to other cultures of the world, such as Western and Asian populations. While character strengths and virtues are universal to all peoples of the world, how depression, anxiety and trauma are expressed is different and therefore, it is possible that character strengths that can benefit treatment also might differ culturally. Future cross-cultural comparisons would be of value.
Moreover in the future, researchers could place a heavier emphasis on the naturalistic difference of baseline character traits in female and male populations in the control variables, as these differences can affect the outlined finalised result. This is supported as women are conventionally considered to have stronger enthusiasm, optimism and compassion whereas men are traditionally thought of as more dominated by intellect and assertiveness. If these standardised baseline assessments are evaluated in every study, this can allow more detail in the data which can consequently increase the specificity and individualization of the findings. Lastly in future research, there could be a wider sample size of varying ages to ensure the findings are paralleled throughout all ages and not just a specific sector. This could be utilised as numerous studies currently study the younger population and tend to reduce their focus on individuals 50+.
Mental health is the root of all human behaviour. With declining mental health comes infinite issues that affect not only those struggling mentally and psychologically, but also those around them, eventually leading to bigger problems worldwide. Shedding light on what leads to people maintaining a more positive lifestyle can not only improve peoples’ lives, but also help manage mental illnesses, prevent depression and anxiety, and heal trauma patients. Positive psychology reduces negative behaviour and increases productivity by merely implementing what we already know about ourselves in a healthy way using character strengths.
Positive psychology interventions can be seen as an effective method of dealing with patients that struggle with various disorders including anxiety, trauma, and depression, and the integration of character traits in these interventions is vital toward maximising the possible effect they can have. By being able to increase or decrease the presence of character traits in individuals through interventions, psychologists can change an individual’s outlook on their own lives.
Our group strongly believes that psychologists and psychiatrists should use character trait-based interventions when dealing with future patients in order to mitigate these symptoms and improve the quality of life of those affected by these disorders, given the findings presented in this paper that support the conclusion that these interventions have positive effects on minimising the symptoms of these disorders and maximising resilience and positive coping skills.
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