Would you like some positive practices to boost your happiness and wellbeing?
Sue Langley recently conducted a free webinar on Practical Ways to Apply Positive Psychology in conjunction with the Wellness Show.
In this webinar she explored some of the research and strategies around seven of them. She also took participants through interactive exercises to illustrate each factor along with reflections and techniques you can try at home.
If you have one hour you can listen to the webinar now or read some highlights (excepted and adapted) from the recording below.
Generating positive emotions helps broaden and build our resources and moves us toward greater wellbeing.
One of the things Barbara Fredrickson, who developed the Broaden and Build Theory, explains in her books is the range of the positive emotions we have available to us. We often tend to lump everything into “happy” and yet happy is only one of them. Barbara Fredrickson lists ten distinct positive emotions including Joy, serenity and interest.
Think about the impact on your performance and on others when you are in your best mood. What does that look like? What is the impact? People often say they feel more confident and energised and that those feelings are contagious. They help people feel more motivated to move toward their goals. One of the key findings from Barbara Fredrickson’s work is that positive emotions actually have a reset effect on negative emotions.
Adopting a positive attitude and Growth Mindset enhances learning and opens our mind to new ways to raise happiness levels.
Look at Carol Dweck’s work around the difference between Fixed and Growth Mindset. The Growth Mindset is about understanding that we have the ability to grow and expand through effort and learning. What is important here is knowing we have choice. If we have a Fixed Mindset – when we don’t think of ourselves as growing and changing – we do tend to give up a bit when we come to obstacles and feel less motivated by the success of others rather than inspired by it.
Sonja Lyubomirsky’s work around the Happiness Pie comes in here, though her research is often misinterpreted, Sue says. The Happiness Pie refers to the difference between people and their levels of wellbeing. Her research, building on others’, suggests that the maximum impact of DNA is 50%. People used to believe you were born with it – what your parents had you were stuck with. Maybe that’s not the case. 10% of the difference between you and another person’s level of wellbeing is linked to your circumstances, which again people are often surprised by in terms of the difference in socio-economic environments. The last 40% is linked to what we call intentional activities – the things you have the choice to learn and practice. This 40% can influence your circumstances (the 10%) and can also potential impact gene expression!
Sue went on to explore motivation theory and how you can choose to change your approach about how you approach things you WANT to do rather than HAVE to do.
Mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness. Learning to be mindful allows us to stay present in the moment.
Mental activities like meditation can actually change our brain. It can even grow white matter. She summarised some of the new research in this area, including the work of Matthieu Richard.
If you are not practicing mindfulness and want to bring positive psychology into your life, mindfulness is a wonder tool that doesn’t have to be too complicated. Yes you can go on retreats and really study it in depth and even link it to a religious practice. It can also simply be about being more mindful about what you are doing in this moment. More mindful when you eat, when you talk to friends, when you see a beautiful sunrise. Being mindful about the task you as you are doing it. Here’s an article we wrote with some more insights about mindfulness.
Resilience is the capacity to withstand and adapt to the challenges life throws us. There are many ways to build resilience – this is where the smorgasbord approach really comes in. What strategies are in your tool kit around resilience?
Karen Reivich has a great book if you want to learn about resilience. What we like to think about is proactive strategies and reactive strategies. A lot of positive psychology comes in around being proactive. How do you keep yourself at a higher level of wellbeing, so that when adversity does hit you don’t fall down the hole quite so much. Proactive strategies might be something like mindfulness, exercise, good diet, making sure you are getting a good night’s sleep, journalling, connecting with friends, random acts of kindness. Things that are proactively keeping your wellbeing levels high. You also need reactive strategies to manage negative emotions when they are upon you. These are the strategies you use in the moment. It could be things like breathing when you are in a meeting, are getting frustrated and know you have to bite your tongue. Sitting on your hands, changing your posture, which will change how you feel. Focussing on something else to reduce the impact of that emotion.
Sue gave many more examples of strategies people use and went on to explain how to select the best ones so they are productive and sustainable. Having a variety of strategies for a variety of emotions is key. That’s where your emotional intelligence really comes in.
Optimism is a tendency to expect the best possible outcomes. We can learn strategies to be more optimistic.
Martin Seligman contributed his work on learned optimism and has a framework for thinking about optimism. Sue explains that optimism is an explanatory style. Many of us grew up thinking that optimism is something you are born with. We put people in buckets – are they an optimist or a pessimist? We know know it is more like an explanatory style – a dimension we can move around. We also know from neuroscience that the way we think can change due to neuroplasticity. So we can learn a more optimistic explanatory style.
Sue went into more detail about Seligman’s model and the difference between an optimistic and pessimistic style. An optimistic style is not about wearing rose-coloured glasses or being blind to the obstacles ahead, it’s about seeing there are rocks in the road and being optimistic in your ability to navigate them. Sue then shared a great tool to shifting your thinking style – the ABCDE model for cognitive reframing.
Practicing gratitude makes us aware of the good things that happen and connects us to a sense of life’s wonder.
Some great research has been done around gratitude and different ways to practice it. Sue talks about four gratitude practices – creating a gratitude list once a day, once a week, in the form of a letter to express your gratitude about someone in your life, and by visiting them in person. All four are powerful and have unique benefits and challenges. For Sue personally, writing the three things she is grateful for every night in her journal is the most powerful. The research actually supports doing it once a week, though some people find that is too little. What is important is finding out what works for you. Sue shared some more ideas and got some great ideas from the audience. This article gives more details.
When we use our strengths, we enjoy what we are doing, do it better, and feel we are working toward our potential.
There is a lot of research about the benefits of knowing and using your strengths. Some examples Sue shared are greater goal attainment, higher productivity, increased wellbeing and reduced stress (see Alex Linley’s work for more).
The three main tools for identifying and working with strengths are the VIA Inventory (which shows 24 Character Strengths), Strengths Finder from Gallup, and R2 Strengths Profiler, Alex Linley and Capp’s tool.
Sue really loves and recommends R2 Strengths Profiler because it is the only tool that measures performance, energy and use – how well you do something, how often and most importantly the energy it gives you when using that strength. You can see whether something energises or de-energises you – and this is really critical when you want to stay motivated, avoid procrastination and keep doing your best every day.
More tools and techniques
In the webinar, Sue also shared tips on curiosity, savouring, positive relationships and posture.
You can also learn more about the practices in this webinar and how to apply them by downloading our free eBook, 7 Ways to Apply Positive Psychology. You can learn all these tools, the research behind them and many more positive psychology practices in our Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing.