This blog is looking at the area of Positive psychology, what positive psychology is and how it can be helpful to you, particularly at this time of Coronavirus when the world can seem a negative place to be living.
As time in isolation continues you could be finding yourself experience something along the lines of ground hog day, every day seeming the same.
Entering the 4th week of isolation, it could be you are starting to either find things easier or it may be you are struggling more, whichever place you are in positive psychology can help you think about your perspective on things.
This last week when taking my daily exercise it felt strange for it to be polite for people to cross the street when they see me approaching, observing the social distancing rules.
Previously I might have seen this as rude or taken offence, but now the opposite is true and I can feel it is rude if people don’t move out of my way.
See how easily our perspective on things can change if we believe in something to be right, or wrong.
This applies to how our brain is programmed to either focus on the negative or the positive, perhaps you consider yourself a glass half empty person and feel it will be too difficult to change your perspective on life.
In fact science has shown it is possible to change your perspective and from that positive psychology came about. Positive Psychology focuses on moving away from looking at the hopelessness of life and focusing on the optimism of life.
Recently when out on my daily exercise I noted that many people would walk with their heads down not interested in those around them, I like to smile at people as I pass by and enjoy the returning smile or greeting I get from others.
This reminded me of a poem I once heard. I came home and looked up the poem I had thought about and was quite startled by how this poem captures feelings of an epidemic and infection but from a different perspective.
Here is the poem, I think you will see what I mean.
Smiling Is Infectious By Unknown Smiling is infectious, you catch it like the flu, When someone smiled at me today, I started smiling too. I passed around the corner and someone saw my grin. When he smiled I realized I'd passed it on to him. I thought about that smile, then I realized its worth. A single smile, just like mine could travel round the earth. So, if you feel a smile begin, don't leave it undetected. Let's start an epidemic quick, and get the world infected!
How interesting that at this time I should think about this poem, which looks at an epidemic not of negativity but of positivity.
Positive psychology looks at what makes life most worth living and focuses on the positive aspects of human experience, on your strengths rather than your weaknesses.
The goal is to minimize pathological thoughts that may arise in a hopeless mindset, and to, instead, develop a sense of optimism toward life
Psychologist Martin Seligman started looking into this in the 1970’s but it was not until 2000 he published his first paper and the new field of positive psychology was born.
According to Seligman positive psychology is concerned with three issues: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions.
Positive emotions are concerned with
1. Being content with one's past, being happy in the present and having hope for the future.
2. Positive individual traits focus on one's strengths and virtues.
3. Finally, positive institutions are based on strengths to better a community of people.
Another Psychologist Ed Diener, who is known as Dr Happiness, because of the work and research he has done on Subjective Well Being, contends that in general people are happy if they THINK they are happy;
The greatest potential benefit of positive psychology is that it teaches you the power of shifting your own perspectives.
Through learning techniques and exercises that show you small changes you can make in your lives, you are able to make shifts in your well-being and your quality of life.
These exercises inject optimism and gratitude into your life and give you a more positive outcome, making normal life more fulfilling for you
At this uncertain time when we are all facing some difficult challenges, being able to change your perspective and look at the positive things that are going can lift your mood.
Here are 3 exercises that you can do to help lift your mood now, whilst living through the isolation of coronavirus and in the future.
Like all things new these won’t change things overnight, you need to practice and persevere with them, but if you do there is research that shows these will move you towards looking at things in a more positive way which in turn will enhance your mood, your well-being and your quality of life.
The first exercise I have touched on already
1. Smiling and spreading happiness.
Happiness is a positive experience and the more you have this experience the happier you will be.
Studies have shown that recalling pleasant memories and smiling can significantly and immediately improve your mood.
A simple exercise is to spend a moment every day recalling a happy memory and smiling because of it.
Another study, The Dynamic Spread of Happiness, showed that if you surround yourself with happy people you are more likely to lead a happy life.
If you do things to make others happy or find people who make you happy then you are more likely be happier yourself.
A simple way to implement this at the moment, if you know someone who makes you happy call or face time them, make a point to surround yourself with joyful people,you will immediately feel happier after speaking with them.
You could look up your favourite comedian on You Tube and spend some time watching them.
The next exercise is all about gratitude.
2. The Gratitude Diary
Gratitude is one of our positive traits and over time you can learn how to strengthen your gratitude and use gratitude to help you boost your happiness on a long term basis.
Remember I said happy memories make you smile
Well the gratitude exercise takes this to a next level by asking you to recall 3 good things that happened to you every day.
The psychologist Ed Diener has been one of the leading pioneers in scientific research on happiness for the past twenty-five years. Through his research he suggests the frequency of your positive experiences is a much better predictor of your happiness than is the intensity of your positive experiences.
He says when we think about what would make us happy, we tend to think of intense events—going on a date with a movie star, living in a mansion, buying a yacht.
But Diener and his colleagues have shown that how good your experiences are doesn’t matter nearly as much as how many good experiences you have.
Somebody who has a dozen mildly nice things happen each day is likely to be happier than somebody who has a single truly amazing thing happen.
A good way to start benefiting from this is to find 3 good things in every day.
Even the smallest things can make you feel good and you might forget about them as the day goes on so giving yourself a moment to recall them at the end of each day means every day you realise it can have something positive about it.
If you are used to erring on the negative side of life, this may be difficult to do at first as you will automatically recall the bad things that happened that day, but with practice you will realise there are always good things you can find.
It may be as simple as the great cup of coffee you had when you woke up, or that the cat sat on your lap and you had some time stroking the cat and enjoying its company. It could be a chat with your parents or your children,
It doesn’t matter how big or small your gratitude is.
I suggest you get a notebook and write down 3 things from that day before you go to sleep.
This will mean you are ending the day in a positive mindset. Then pick up your notebook in the morning and remind yourself of the good things that happened yesterday you will start the day in a positive way.
By keeping a gratitude diary and doing this every day you will find it easier to do and you will shift from feeling hopeless and move towards contentment and happiness.
The final exercise is
3. The Gift of Time.
Giving to others and helping others give us a sense of purpose and goodness.
Studies have shown that by giving the gift of your time to others it can reduce symptoms of stress and depression.
Currently, during the Coronavirus crisis, we have seen so many acts of kindness by others witnessed them giving their gift of time through supporting others less fortunate than themselves through shopping, collecting medicines, Chefs cooking meals for the vulnerable and people becoming NHS volunteers.
We can give gifts of time any time we want, it could be as simple as gifting your time to cook the meal for the family this evening or gifting your time to talk with someone who is isolating alone.
Giving regularly has been seen to reduce blood pressure, heart disease and improve sleep.
Currently a lot of us have time on our hands, maybe if you can find ways to be able to gift some of this time to others you will not only be helping others but also yourself improving your overall well being.
It has been noted that if you give just for your own benefit you will not receive the same level of well being, by giving your time you are more likely to be giving for the right reasons with the benefit of the other person considered more carefully.
Spend some time to think about how you can give your gift of time to others, you will both benefit from increased happiness and well being.
If you would like to know more about Positive Psychology than why not look up the work of Martin Seligman and Ed Diener.
Within my counselling practice I enjoy working with Positive Psychology and helping people to find ways to implement daily changes in their routine that lead to a more positive mindset.
At this current time being able to find things that make us happy can help with how we cope with this crisis.
Laura Knight Dip.Couns MBACP is an experienced and qualified counsellor and CBT Therapist who runs her own private practice SeeClear Counselling in Poole Dorset. She is an Anxiety UK Approved Therapist and specialises in working with anxiety and panic attacks.
Laura can offer Face to Face, telephone and online counselling and during the Coronavirus Crisis is offering a number of discounted counselling sessions.
Diener, E (1994) Measuring Subjective Well Being: Progress and opportunities. Social Indicators Research 28 35-89
Diener, E. and C.Diener (1996). Most people are happy. Psychological Science 7, no. 3, 181
Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Positive psychology: An introduction (pp. 279-298). Springer Netherlands.
Seligman, Martin E.P. "Positive Psychology Center." Positive Psychology Center. University of Pennsylvania, 2007. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
For a Better Day Smile| Michegan state University 2011
The Dynamic Spread of Happiness University of California, San Diego, 2008.