Nothing like attending 3-day residential course on Positive Education, staying in accommodation that was, until recently, a mental asylum to remind me of the virtue of gratitude. All on the first 3 days on my Chinese New Year holiday!
Still, the course was incredibly worthwhile and definitely uncovered some research pertinent to our idea of retiring next year.
In his book Flourish, the ‘Father of Positive Psychology’ Martin Seligman explains the purpose of positive psychology and how his findings, when implemented, can help nurture a happier life. Traditionally the study of psychology has been one of curing mental illness, ie fixing us when we are ‘broken’ however Seligman was interested in the notion of positive psychology, that is: being interested in building the best things in life more than just repairing the worst, and making the lives of all people fulfilling. The title ‘Flourish’ reflects the experience of life going well: feeling good and functioning effectively and Seligman created a model with 5 measurable elements:
P ositive Emotion
Positive Emotion is the ability to experience a range of positive emotions, particularly gratitude. Kerry Howe’s (in Gratitude in Education, 2012) states that gratitude needs to be felt and acted upon. Good advice, but what what does that mean in reality? What does it mean to us?
A course by Geelong Grammar School shared their research: that emotions both good and bad are important and that it is hard to appreciate the ‘good’ times if they are all you have! So true. Instead the idea of positive emotions are to accept our full range of emotions, and to try and focus on those that are more positive. They also discussed the ‘negative bias’ that a lot of us have – evolution ensures that we remember failures more than successes and we tend to analyse them more too, with the aim to get better and correct mistakes. All very well and good when survival was our main aim, but today it pervades our thinking still. How many times have I assumed the worst in someone else, or myself? However, thinking positively and focusing on positive emotions can make the most of both negative and positive events, especially if we can increase the frequency of positive emotions, and broaden our understanding of them. According to Barbara Fredrickson (2009), the 10 most common positive emotions are: Joy, Gratitude, Serenity, Interest, Hope, Pride, Love, Awe, Inspiration and Amusement. One activity on the course that I found really interesting and useful was writing down for each positive emotion, what experiences caused me to feel the emotion recently. Just sitting down and spending 5-10 minutes brought about a sense of wellbeing as I reflected on moments of joy, of gratitude, of serenity, and so on, and how abundant these emotions are in my life.
Another useful activity was to map the ups and downs of the past day/ week so we can physically ‘see’ the emotions felt- and then consider what triggers the ups and downs.
The Values in Action survey ( VIA- http://www.viacharacter.org/www/The-Survey) is also a good one to learn more about your strengths and for you to think more about how to use them to your ‘positive’ advantage in life. It is not difficult to see the wonderful things in life when you make the conscious decision to look.