Positive Psychology – do you mean joy?

Biblical principles sneak up everywhere to me: usually it’s literature, but today, it’s contemporary psychology.

From Australian psychologist Lea Waters’ talk on positive psychology.

There are various negative psychological states that characterise mental illness:

When psychologists try to help people in such states, should they focus on the burden or the blessing? (Dealing with the negative state or encouraging positive attitudes.) Waters’ answer is BOTH.

Positive Psychology:

She calls these attitudes “an armour against life’s challenges.”

Excuse me while I mentally connect each one to a facet of Christianity: Hope in God’s Plan, Trusting in God’s Goodness (through anything), Expecting and Undergoing Trials and Tribulations, Giving Thanks to God, Persevering in Obedience and Resisting Sin, Compassion. And are we not told to put on the armour of God? The assurance that if God is for us, none can be against us – not even the dark forces of hell.

Furthermore, that question of whether we focus on the burden or the blessing, and the answer being, “both.” When we recognise the burden of our complete depravity (sinfulness) AND the blessing of God’s complete goodness and sacrifice for our sakes we are much closer to the untouchable armour that is the joy of grace accepted.

Modern psychology just corroborated the truth of the gospel and Christian living.

Her talk is here:


The Scoreboard of Life

This is ultimately not about the World Cup happening right now this beautiful 2014, but the title was inspired by it being that I think scoring goals in soccer / football is not just due to skill and teamwork but also a matter of psychology. You know when you are so sure that a certain team is not going to catch up after losing a goal? I don’t think it’s purely thanks to skill and teamwork, but also the momentum of morale at that point.

Anyways, these are actually thoughts about living faith and the psychology behind it that I got from some insights about the psychology of learning.

Carol S. Dweck speaks about the psychology of learning in education, and has an acclaimed book entitled Mindset. This is my transcript from the first part (the first 2.5 minutes) of a talk she gave on the subject, entitled How to Help Every Child Fulfil Their Potential:

Here’s that talk:

  • [Picture of a happy baby.] We all come like this: infinitely curious, always experimenting, always learning, and addressing the most difficult tasks of a lifetime with tremendous gusto. You never see an unmotivated baby. [Picture of a bored, smoking baby ‘bum’, face propped by up a hand.] Nooo. And yet, just a few years later, you start seeing lots of kids who look as turned off as that baby. [Picture of a young student in a pose like the baby, minus the cigarette.] Not so different from the baby.
  • But what we have now discovered is that mindsets are at the heart of this kind of problem. Mindsets that make kids afraid to try, and make them easily derailed by setbacks. But what’s important is that we are also discovering why this happens, and what to do about it.
  • In my work, we find that some students have a fixed mindset about their intellectual abilities and talents. They think intelligence is just a fixed trait: you have a certain amount and that’s that. This is the mindset that makes kids afraid to try, because they’re afraid to look dumb.
  • But other students have a growth mindset. They believe that intelligence can be developed through their effort, dedication, learning, and mentorship from others. They don’t think that everyone’s the same, or that anyone can be Einstein, but they understand that even Einstein wasn’t the guy he became before he put in years and years of dedicated labour.

It’s a great talk on its own, but being the distracted listener that I am whenever someone gives an informative talk, I started to draw the parallels between a mindset about intelligence with a Christian walk and the mindset about faith:

  • Babies are born with an openness and willingness to know God, and most children too. After some years, you get teens who become doubtful, skeptical, or legalistic, and they can grow into adults who are even more so.
  • Our mindset about faith and its cultivation at the heart of this problem. Certain mindsets make us afraid to trust God and easily derailed by setbacks. As such, we do not live freely.
  • Some Christians have a fixed mindset. This could be because they see ‘faith’ as a binary of believing or not believing, so you either have it or don’t have it. God chose you and that’s that, so we have no obligation to do more. This could also be because they see faith associated with ‘legitimate’ activities showing the abundance of your faith: working in ministry, being a missionary, successfully making lots of money (to tithe though, you know), being married, being a mom/dad… This mindset makes Christians narrow-minded and focused on the Scoreboard of Life. If they are hitting certain checkboxes they are on track as Christians, and easily satisfied by things other than God and God’s plans. If they fail in that work or lose that role, they do not know their purpose or value, and this can cause them to be embittered with God. They are afraid of change, because it takes away the confidence of faith they’ve built up in their chosen check points.
  • But other Christians  have a growth mindset. They believe that faith can be developed through their effort, dedication, learning, and mentorship from others. It’s not that they think everyone can save themselves through those efforts, but they know that after God has set us aside and saved us, we must respond by taking personal steps of faith, and not just to meet a set of standard criteria set by societal norms or even church norms. They understand that even the greatest men and women of faith put in years and years of dedicated labour, and even Jesus as a child made an effort to learn and know God’s Word well. They understand that faith is a constant development and that there is no plateau to reach and no stagnancy in what God expects of us. We are not to look constantly at a Scoreboard of Life on which we decide how successful or unsuccessful we are being as Christians personally, but we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, author and perfecter of our faith, not to grow weary with sin or prideful with success. They understand that being too occupied with the things of this world that can be seen is not the best that God intends for us, and they hold things and people loosely before God, despite loving them deeply.

Alright, I don’t know if my theology is completely straight with every word there, and I know for sure there are other good parallels I am not drawing, but I think the general outline compares well. Am I fixing my eyes on the Scoreboard of Life (I have a job, I’m witnessing to co-workers, I have a Christian husband, I have a beautiful family, I have smart well-adjusted kids…) or am I fixing my eyes on Jesus, counsellor for the one who gives and takes away?

To go further, Carol Dweck lists 3 worlds in which the mindset about intelligence works:

  1. Goals
    1. Fixed mindset: look smart at all costs
    2. Growth mindset: learn at all costs
  2. Effort
    1. Fixed mindset: it should come naturally; if you have the ability you don’t need effort
    2. Growth mindset: work hard, because effort is key
  3. Setbacks
    1. Fixed mindset: hide mistakes and deficiencies
    2. Growth mindset: capitalise on mistakes and confront deficiencies

I can see this translated too for faith:

  1. Goals
    1. Fixed mindset: look smart faithful at all costs
    2. Growth mindset: learn develop faith at all costs
  2. Effort
    1. Fixed mindset: it should come naturally; if you have the ability faith you don’t need effort works
    2. Growth mindset: work hard, because effort actively trusting God in everyday things is key
  3. Setbacks
    1. Fixed mindset: hide mistakes sin and deficiencies
    2. Growth mindset: capitalise on mistakes and boast in deficiencies and confront deficiencies sin



When I had to sort through some thoughts, emotions, and behaviour I couldn’t understand or control, my mother, a psychologist, recommended I try breaking it down based on Virginia Satir’s model of personal analysis. Being a thoughtful sort of confused person, I was extremely excited about the prospect of analysing my confusion, but my mother warned me to try it first and see if it helped before getting so excited about it. Well, one year on, I say it did help, for it certainly made even me consider more facets than my mind usually gets to. I was forced to be rational about something I really wanted to be on an irrational rampage about.

Sometimes there are ways that we have concluded we should be behaving or even ways we can’t help behaving, or sometimes we know the ways we should be coping, or how we think we should be feeling, perceptions we don’t realize we have, expectations we want to be true, yearnings we wish we didn’t have, and a self we perceive ourselves to be based on circumstances or assumptions. Letting that fester as an indistinguishable mess is like letting weeds consume your garden; the plants that you want to grow will not be able to grow. The behaviours or feelings you want cannot grow, and the yearnings you have may not be realistic or you may not even have admitted to having them.

Although I don’t think Virginia Satir meant this to be religious (rather, the submerged iceberg smacks of Freud’s subconscious), I find it a helpful way to figure out what and how to confess and pray. Facing a blank piece of paper draws a blank, but having categories like this is like filling in the blanks. Wherefore confession if you don’t see your state clearly?

Satir Iceberg

The iceberg metaphor in the Satir model… in a bilingual poster!