As 2020 begins many of us pause to reflect on the year that’s been and plan for the year ahead.
This year it holds extra significance as the world stands on the verge of a new decade (yes, I know for some the new decade begins in 2021 rather than 2020). For me it’s a major turning point as I lost my mother in 2019 bringing to a close a half-decade of care and opening up a new freedom. I remember being shocked by the World Health Organisation’s chilling prediction that depression would become the second leading cause of disability by 2020 before moving into the top slot by 2030. Is it possible to turn the tide and reverse this epidemic? Mental health is more openly discussed now with campaigns such as time to talk but my vision for 2020 is to see the spotlight move from talking about mental health to actively building it. A good place to start is with our intentions for the 2020s. Here’s how to use positive psychology to plan for a better year ahead and plant the seeds of a flourishing decade.
Savour the Decade: What helped in the past can help in the future. A good place to start is with an ‘appreciative inquiry’ into the decade that’s been. Draw your life as a river with bends and curves representing the highs and lows of the past ten years. Reflect on the peak times. What was good about the experience? What did you appreciate and value? Which of your strengths played a role in the experience? Now moving onto the lows. How did you get through the tough times? Which of your strengths helped you to move forward? Our strengths are like friends that accompany us through life and can be used in different ways in new situations. They are tools that grow wellbeing and help us flourish. Take this free test to find out what your character strengths are.
‘Best Possible Self’ is one of the better-known positive interventions. This involves writing about your life and how it will be when everything has worked out for the best. It’s a fantastic journalling exercise to do at the dawn of a new year and now is the perfect time to think about what you would like to achieve over the next decade. Write free form for 15 to 20 minutes a day over 4 consecutive days. I like to take myself off to one of my favourite cafes to do it. This practice is not only uplifting, it also builds the motivation to achieve your dream. Prospection, the ability to conceive of a positive future, is one of the essential skills for wellbeing according to Prof Martin Seligman, the co-founder of positive psychology,
Choose Meaning for Sustainable Wellbeing
There are two major branches to authentic happiness. The pleasurable life of hedonic wellbeing, which is about enjoyment and the feel-good factor and the deeper happiness of eudaimonic wellbeing. While hedonic activities deliver the momentary peaks of happiness, it is living a life of meaning that delivers the sustainable wellbeing. The Japanese ‘ikigai’ – your reason for getting up in the morning is spot-on here. Meaning is the ‘why’ in life – why we do the things we do. So, as you’re journalling about your best possible decade, ask yourself what is most important to you? Your sense of purpose is the ‘how’ – how you live your meaning in life. There are many aspects to eudaimonic wellbeing but one simple formula. If you put effort into something that’s meaningful to you, you can access the deeper happiness of eudaimonic wellbeing.
This is one of the best tips I pass on to clients, which comes from Dr Chris Johnstone, my co-trainer in the Positive Psychology Foundations. When you’re making choices ask yourself if this is a ‘heart sing’ or a ‘heart sink’? It will help you tune into your deeper motivation. If the choice is something that makes your heart sink, it may be coming from a place of extrinsic motivation, something you feel you should do. This type of motivation is often linked to gaining an external reward such as money or status. If it makes your heart sing, then it’s something you feel inspired to do for its own sake because it’s intrinsically motivating. The positive news is that intrinsic motivation is associated with achievement because you’re more likely to put the effort in to make it work. With the bonus that it will also add to your wellbeing.
If you want to increase your motivation then apply the three fundamental needs for wellbeing (autonomy, competence and relatedness) to your goal. So give yourself the autonomy to do things your preferred way; make sure you notice the progress you’re making and celebrate the small steps along the way to the goal and look for a way to involve other people in your intention so that it gives you a feeling of connection and belonging.
Miriam Akhtar is a positive psychologist and the author of Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression, What is Post-traumatic Growth and The Little Book of Happiness. Her annual course in Positive Psychology Foundations begins on January 29 with a free taster course available now and a chance to ‘meet the trainers’ in a webinar on January 15.