Youth Development

A positive education helps to develop a flourishing child. Happy children do better in school and in life. They have higher well-being and perform better. The education world now recognises the advantages of positive psychology to help children learn, develop their strengths, build resilience and equip them for life.  One key piece of research in positive psychology has demonstrated that learning optimism prevents depression and anxiety in children, roughly halving their incidence over the following two years.

The Happiness Zones is a positive psychology programme for young people, which has been highlighted by the Academy of Social Sciences as an example of best practice in mental well-being. This programme is suitable for young people aged 15+

  • Feel Good Zone (Positive Emotions & Savouring)
  • Future Zone (Optimism & Gratitude)
  • Me Zone (Strengths)
  • Chill Zone (Relaxation, Meditation)
  • Change Zone (Motivation, Goal-setting)
  • Me to You Zone (Relationships)
  • Body Zone (Nutrition, Physical Activity)
  • Bounce Back Zone (Resilience, Growth Mindset)

Applying Positive Psychology to Alcohol-Misusing Adolescents  Miriam developed the first ever positive psychology intervention in the UK targeting adolescents with issues of substance misuse. The ground-breaking study demonstrated that positive psychology can be applied successfully with the most disaffected of young people, who are not only ‘at risk’ but experiencing the reality of educational, social and health problems. The Happiness Zones were commissioned by Project 28 an alcohol & drug treatment service for young people in Bath and funded by the Alcohol Education Research Council (AERC). The programme set a precedent in using a health model approach to ‘at risk’ adolescents with coaching as a tool rather than a therapeutic treatment. The young participants, mostly NEETs (not in education, employment or training), attended weekly sessions and were followed up 6 and 12 weeks after completion of the programme.

“I’ve changed a lot for the better… I feel like a completely different person to be honest.” 

The results showed a significant decrease in alcohol dependence along with significant increases across 4 dimensions of well-being – hedonic, eudaimonic, physical and social well-being. Many of the participants described the programme as ‘life-changing’. The transformation was both internal and external shown in improving circumstances. 

Key Findings

  • Alcohol dependence fell by two-thirds.
  • Drug use declined becoming a part-time rather than full-time activity. Several participants gave up altogether.
  • Statistically significant increases in happiness, optimism and positive emotions.
  • The development of a future goal orientation. Participants set and achieved goals, becoming optimistic about their futures.
  • The ratio of positive to negative emotions increased with evidence of the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions at work. Many of the participants went into a state of flourishing.
  • 80% re-engaged with education. 40% gained new jobs. 40% were re-housed into more suitable accommodation.
  • Coaching with positive psychology works well with vulnerable adolescents. The coaching question of ‘what do you want’ orients young people towards their future and motivates them to take steps towards achieving their goals.

“I think the future’s good for me whereas before I thought oh no, nothing’s going to turn out alright but I changed.”

You can read the academic study based on this pioneering research, published in the Journal of Groupwork. The research features in the official Making-the-Case-for-Mental-Wellbeing AcadSocialSciencespublication as one of a dozen inspiring projects alongside the Penn Resilience Programme and nef’s 5 Ways to Wellbeing.  Read the article on p20 of the American Psychological Association’s Addictions newsletter, which came out in autumn 2015.

We offer training in positive psychology for education, combining knowledge and tools in areas such as strengths, mindsets, resilience and well-being. This is suitable for teachers, young people services and those involved in pastoral education. Some of the organisations we’ve worked with include How To Thrive, Cardiff Against Bullying, Barnardo’s Cymru, Kids’ Company, MIND and In-Volve.

“Thanks for a really useful, thought-provoking session – we all went away with a toolkit of different positive psychology strategies to help both us and our students! Looking forward to trying them out and working with you again in the near future.” Asad Butt, Teacher, Leyton Sixth Form College

“I would highly recommend Miriam to any organisation that is looking to inject some well-being into their culture. We had Miriam deliver an INSET session with our staff and it was very well received. What is great about Miriam is not just her knowledge and expertise, but also her enthusiasm and authenticity which suggests that she lives by the same principles that she is extolling to the group. Her presentation is both engaging and interactive; even the most ardent cynics will come away with something of value.” Ben Sandford-Smith, Head of Sixth Form, Solihull School

‘We would thoroughly recommend the Positive Psychology training delivered by Miriam, the two days are packed full of information and all staff who attended the course were able to apply the principles to their work and personal life.  We have managed to make improvements to the way we work, benefitting our service users.  Both days were full of energy and Miriam’s training style makes the learning environment fun, safe and encouraging.  We look forward to working with you again in the future’ Rachel Beddoe, Project Manager, Cardiff Against Bullying, Cardiff Council