Notes from a Positive Psychology Author…

Notes from a Positive Psychology Author…

On World Mental Health Day.

I first got into positive psychology when I was looking to self-medicate out of depression. The idea of putting the focus on practices that grow wellbeing, felt alien but amazingly it worked.  Not only did I find a way back to feeling good and functioning well but I’ve now gone through a whole decade without a single visit from the black dog. I also found 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.

The first book I wrote, Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression, showed how to apply the science of happiness to recover your wellbeing and went on to be the subject of a bibliotherapy study (books as therapy) which demonstrated 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 the benefits for mental health. My new book 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 – happiness.

Join us for the Positive Psychology Foundations online course, 8 live webinars starting January 2020.

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