Notes from the Author

Notes from the Author

A New Approach to Mental Health

The Little Book of Happiness is the third in my trilogy of practical books, based on positive psychology, the science of wellbeing. I first got into positive psychology when I was looking to self-medicate out of depression. Not only did I find a way back to feeling good but I’ve gone through the last decade without a single visit from the black dog. It also led to a fresh sense of purpose – to help others on the path to happiness. This is my ‘ikigai’, the reason I get up in the morning, which is one of twelve habits of happiness in the book.

The first book, Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression, revealed how to apply the science of happiness to recover wellbeing and went on to be the subject of a bibliotherapy study (books as therapy) which showed that positive psychology can work as well as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). The second, What Is Post-traumatic Growth, explored resilience and how adversity can act as a springboard to growth, or in other words ‘what does not kill you makes you stronger’.

Since I wrote that first book, there’s been a seismic shift in the way we talk about mental health. Back then I kept quiet about my black dog. The irony was not lost on me that I was a happiness expert with a history of depression. People in the public eye from celebs to the young royals, have opened up since about their mental health. Like Princes William and Harry, I was a child whose parent died suddenly. Their privilege was no protection from the devastating consequences of a bereavement at an early age. Now we have campaigns like Time to Talk and Heads Together which encourage us to talk about mental health and challenge the stigma around it.

However, I don’t think that it’s enough to talk about mental health, what we really need to do is change the way we tackle it. Even the term needs to be re-packaged. It still amazes me to hear broadcasters talking about ‘suffering from mental health’, as if that’s a bad thing rather than good! We want mental health, it’s mental illness we want less of. What we need is more focus on building mental health rather than defaulting to the usual treatment of repairing mental health through prescribed medications or talking therapies. Mental health is like a muscle – if you invest your time and energy in developing it, it will grow. What you focus on expands. What I find when I work with people is that, as their wellbeing grows the source of distress seems to shrink away. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is the talking therapy of choice, teaches practices to challenge negative thinking. What’s missing is the focus on growing our wellbeing. Positive psychology gives us practices, backed by research, that can increase our positive emotions, thoughts and behaviour with all their benefits for mental health.

The Little Book of Happiness describes twelve of these happiness habits.

  1.  Learn to play
  2.   Express gratitude
  3.   Savour the positive
  4.   Harness your strengths
  5.   Live with meaning
  6.   Learn optimism
  7.   Value relationships
  8.   Practise kindness
  9.   Get physical
  10.   Turn to nature
  11.   Practise mindfulness
  12.   Strive for Success

We’re constantly being told to eat five-a-day of  fruit and veg for physical health, if we adopted the same approach to these habits, then we’d feel better, function better and make progress towards the number one goal of humanity – greater happiness.

The Little Book of Happiness, is published by Gaia Books, part of Octopus Publishing and available online and in all good bookshops.

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