‘The world needs positive psychology for the next few months’
I first heard the term “positive psychology” in 2006 when I was living in Australia, finding life very tough with a new baby, far from home and going through marital issues. Discovering Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, I felt like I had come home.
Positive Psychology (not to be confused with positive thinking) is the scientific study of human flourishing, and an applied approach to optimal functioning. It has also been defined as the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities, and organisations to thrive (Positive Psychology Institute).
Since my mid-twenties, when it was deeply unfashionable, I have been fascinated by what it takes for human beings to thrive in life. We have this deep-seated view that we intuitively know how to be happy, and that if we have to manufacture or shape it, that somehow it is inauthentic. Some people have even expressed the view to me, that if you have to think about how to be happy, that is pretty sad.
Whilst it is a relatively new term, its study goes back to ancient times, with some of its exploration being based upon the conclusions of great Greek thinkers such as Aristotle and Plato. In more recent times, Maslow could have been viewed as a positive psychologist and I am sure that a great example also comes from Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” written about his experiences of being in a concentration camp and the power man has to shape his thoughts.
Positive psychology is definitely not to be confused with positive thinking. More latterly it has focused on integration of the light and dark of life, the acknowledgement that we need to feel those difficult emotions and on the possibility of post traumatic growth.
So why do I say positive psychology is needed right now?
There are very few people who during this COVID-19 period will not find themselves feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed at some point. It may be trying to work from home with our partners and kids there too, or being completely isolated, not being able to exercise in the normal way, or fear of being without money or about catching the virus.
This period will force us to make plans to keep our mental health intact, to focus on our happiness in a way which the normal hamster wheel of home and work commitments, the pace at which we live our lives does not normally. So, it is a good job that there are a wealth of research driven ways to keep our happiness intact even in these difficult times.
Looking after the basics– sleep, exercise, nutrition, rest
We need creativity and focus on these areas over the next few weeks. We might find it difficult to sleep because of worry. Close off the day with a list of what we managed to achieve and what our worries are/what we plan to do the following day. That way it is less likely to bother us at night. Be really fastidious about sleep hygiene – you really can get that extra hour you have been needing now, there are no excuses.
Exercise might be limited to the back garden, our front room or a short walk but the key things we must do is ensure we regularly get up and stretch (especially if our workstation is less than ideal) and get some fresh air. When it comes to nutrition – maybe we have a chance to cook from scratch and improve our skills here? Perhaps cooking together for once. Rest – don’t become completely obsessed with one task, we need to change it up regularly and take some time to relax– perhaps reconnecting with our partners or our children or getting involved in a hobby we haven’t had time to do for years.
Beyond the basic things we need to do to impact our physical health, which in turn impact on our mental health, there are a plethora of other things we can look at – and we are all different. What works for me may well not work for you. Try some and then change it up over the period and try some more.
Managing our thinking
Our thinking patterns are habits. I know we think that that negative thought is the truth but try on that it is just a perspective. We can relate to this period as a curse or a blessing. Partly this will be dictated by what we focus on and if I had a penny for everyone who told me they had become addicted to reading the news about the latest situation… Just don’t. Limit yourself to official channels and just once a day.
We may only be able to see our nearest (and hopefully still our dearest) until the end of this period but social media, which we have all thought was incredibly bad for us really comes into its own here, as does video conferencing. Some of my connections are running virtual book clubs running, gigs from people’s sitting rooms, quizzes…
Perfect for the self-improvers – I plan to do an online course with my 13-year-old, who has similar interests to mine. Learning allows us to expand ourselves and puts our situation into perspective
Kindness and giving
We all feel good if we help the elderly lady next door by getting her milk in for her. Much easier than being kind to our partner who’s very tapping on the keyboard is starting to annoy us but be kind to them too.
We are here, we are alive, we have a roof over our heads. Focusing on what to be grateful for is the most amazing tool for happiness. We have been inundated with blessings and often have only seen what is missing – now we are faced with what we have and can chose to be grateful for.
Savouring and appreciating
We have lived mad busy lives. We rarely get the chance to really take in that smell and taste of coffee, the bird singing, or even going through precious memories of previous times in our photo albums.
Anyone who never had time to try this – might have time now! It has been proven to have huge benefits, not only in stress prevention but even in improving cognition.
Finding meaning and purpose
Often the happiest people are those who work really hard for something outside themselves and in service of others.
Creating mini goals for what we want to change
If this period makes us understand things in our lives we would like to change, let’s put some mini goals in place to do that. Psychological capital is a concept from resilience research and people with lots of that are goal driven, have high self-esteem and high self efficacy.
Accepting what is so
The fact that we are all in the same boat is incredibly helpful here. But in general, in life, railing against things we can’t change is not only detrimental to us, but also to those around us . Focus on what we can control or influence. “When we can’t change our circumstances, we are challenged to change ourselves,” Viktor Frankl.
A good laugh and a good night’s sleep make everything seem better. We may find our humour gets a bit black over this period, but better than being blue.
This too shall pass. Almost every one of us will come out of this poorer financially than we were. It is quite possible we may still come out of it happier.
A guide to home working and self-isolating
This hub has been put together by SHP, Barbour EHS and Heather’s firm, The Healthy Work Company, to provide research, case studies, videos and resources to enable you to lead this transition in a way which safeguards the wellbeing of your teams and maximises the opportunity to embrace new ways of working for the future.
Click here for our home working advice page.
A guide to home working
This hub has been put together by SHP, Barbour EHS and The Healthy Work Company to provide research, case studies, videos and resources to enable you to lead this transition in a way which safeguards the wellbeing of your teams and maximises the opportunity to embrace new ways of working for the future.