It is during uncertain times like our current COVID-19 crisis where we see Positive Psychology in practice. Since the world feels a little scary and very unpredictable right now, I thought we would take a deep dive into resilience. What is it? Are you born with it or is it acquired along the way? What can you do to get more?
Merriam Webster defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”. Our team at Positive Minds International gives that definition 2 thumbs down!
- Implying resilience is easy isn’t okay.
- Blaming misfortune denies your important role in resilience
We like to think of resilience as choosing to work through challenges so you become stronger than you were previously.
It’s similar to the way our bones become stronger they more we use our muscles. No gain without a little pain!
Another example is Kintsugi 金継ぎ, the Japanese approach to ceramics founded in a belief that damaged pottery shouldn’t simply be neglected or thrown away. Repairing with enormous care symbolizes a sort of reconciliation with the flaws.
Kin = golden
tsugi = joinery
Literally, ‘to join with gold’.
Resilience came from the word resiliens, used in the 1600s to describe how organic matter could bounce back to what it was before – like bamboo in the wind.
The American Psychological Association’s definition is more aligned with the way we teach resilience-
“Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress”
Some of our favourite research on resilience comes from the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota where Ann Masten refers to resilience as “ordinary magic”.
Masten’s checklist for resilient children includes:
- Capable caregiving and parenting
- Other close relationships
- Problem-solving skills
- Self-regulation skills
- Motivation to succeed
- Faith, hope, belief life has meaning
- Effective schools
- Effective communities
- Effective cultural practices
Here’s an excellent teaching story about resilience:
A young woman went to her mother and complained that everything in her life was going wrong; her relationship had fallen apart. She was in a job that felt repetitive and mindless and she was lonely- she felt she had hit rock bottom. As the young woman started to cry, her mother went to the stove and put 3 pots of water on to boil. In one she placed a carrot, in one an egg, and in the last some coffee beans. The mother sat silently as the daughter dried her tears and watched all 3 pots boil. After a while the mother asked the daughter to feel the carrot which was soft, to crack the egg which was now hard, and to taste the coffee which was delicious. The mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity. When the carrot was placed in the water it had been strong, hard, unrelenting and yet it came out soft and weak. The egg had been fragile with a soft center and it came out hardened and unforgiving but still easy to crack. The coffee beans were unique- they had changed the water. In the face of adversity, the beans adapted by changing the world around them.
As our team prepares this post the world has been rocked by COVID-19. Like many past challenges humans have encountered ( AIDs, smallpox, Y2K) the fear can either set off a panic ultimately leading to isolation and desperation or it can be the precursor to a new way of working together to overcome it. The difference that we see, the thing that separates the carrot and egg from the coffee bean, is hope.
How does this relate to you? If you are an educator or a parent, it’s important to note one recent study showed that better educational opportunities were associated with resilience, hope and emotional wellbeing. And yet, there has never been greater uncertainty around education than we see today. I like to see the opportunity this gives us- for far too long we have let the system of education dictate both what is and what is not possible for our children. I believe the chaos of COVID will settle, leaving in its wake an opportunity to rethink education.
“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.”
― Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I invite you to share your dreams for the future of education. Let’s imagine a system where every child’s strengths are seen and harnessed. where curiosity continues to flourish throughout the teen years and where we empowered learners with the skills they will need to be their best and do their best as lifelong learners and leaders.
Check out our Facebook group for ideas on helping children foster resilsince.
According to positive psychology pioneers Martin Seligman and David Petersen in their book Character Strengths and Virtues, kindness refers to “doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.” Kindness can be broken into two main categories:
- Being kind
- Receiving kindness from others
Often we prioritize the being and focus less on the receiving. Let’s break both apart. What constitutes a true act of kindness? “Acts of kindness focus on promoting positive outcomes for others rather than for oneself.”according to researchers Trew and Alden.
Biologically humans needed social instincts like kindness to:
- Enhance group cohesion and bonding
- Help us act as caregivers
- Keep us safe from other tribes
- Increase our experience of Positive Emotions
- Relax our facial expressions (we smile more, our faces soften)
- Neural firing pathways (begin thinking down the same lines)
- Heart rhythm (heart rates slow and begin to match each other)
According to Dacher Keltner in his book Born to Be Good. Kindness enables us to work together as a tribe. It’s innate. Yet just because something is innate doesn’t mean we always do it. Kindness can be both caught and taught. It involves nature AND nurture.
So while we may initially experience intrinsic motivation to do something, it still requires environmental supports. Most children begin to hear about kindness as one of their first lessons in a school setting. Kindness includes manners, fairness, generosity, turn-taking and words of praise or gratitude.
Neuroscientist Jamil Jaki from Stanford has developed a ten-week experiment “Becoming Kinder” exploring generosity, goodwill, and empathy. Designed as an empathy gym with ‘kindness challenges like
- Reverse the golden rule
- Spend Kindly
- Disagree better
- Kind Tech
- Be a Culture Builder
that are specifically designed to encourage individuals to step out of their comfort zones in the name of being kind.
Another common kindess practice is a random act of kindness. According to the Greater Good Science Center there is actually an optimal dosage for random acts of kindess- 5 acts of kindness in one day.
One of the benefits of kindness according to psychologist John Gottman who has been researching couples in his “Love Lab” at the University of Washington for over 4 decades is better relationships. His obsession involves understanding what factors predict a successful relationship. Over decades he has interviewed hundreds of newlyweds with one goal, to see them argue. When Gottman observes a couple argue he can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples will stay together and be happy, stay together unhappily or split up. What it comes down to is kindness and generosity. “Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger, but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger.”
Being kind to yourself, self-compassion, is also incredibly important to wellbeing, People who treat themselves kindly feel more empathic concern, they are more altruistic, they feel more connected to the world around them and they feeling more socially connected (especially in the teen years).
Kindness can be as simple as a smile and using someone’s name in conversation. When you make eye contact and use people’s names you elicit oxytocin production. This small act of kindness increases wellbeing.
Kindness can also be a grand gesture like the ones told on the podcast Kind World such as carrying a baby for a sibling or crossing the border multiple times a week to deliver water, food, and lessons to children seeking asylum.
Try these simple ways to activate kindness:
- Use someone’s name
- Hold a door for someone
- Pick up litter
- Let someone into your lane while driving
- Pay for the order behind you in the drive-thru
- Take a neighbor’s garbage bins to and from the curb
- Compliment someone
- Clean up after yourself
- Send a “thinking of you” text
- Remind someone of a positive shared past experience
- Include someone new on a social outing
- Let someone who wants to help you, help
- Don’t offer advice unless asked
- Share silence with someone
- Engage in random acts of kindness
- Engage in kind acts that are not random at all
If you are like most people, you probably find it easier to be kind than to be on the receiving act of a kind act. Indications that this is true include deflecting compliments or not accepting gratitude. Sometimes receiving kindness and compassion can feel threatening, as though the one being kind is somehow superior. If you notice you have trouble receiving gifts, compliments, or acts of generosity and love, spend some time reflecting on why. Who taught you to behave this way or modeled this behavior? Many people have adopted this learned behavior as a way of being humble. If someone gives you a compliment, not receiving it stops its power for both the giver and the receiver.
*originally written for the Institute of Positive Education
I wish these were my words. They came from Mark Turner, the new head of my sons’ school. They are the words that convinced me he is awesome.
He was talking to parents at our school and explaining that after students have forgotten the history of Canadian pioneers and the Pythagorean theorem, the lessons we sometimes call soft skills will be what remains. These are the parts of education that are truly important to a student’s success and happiness.
This lesson was reinforced when we held a research event on campus at Geelong Grammar School that included 2 current grade 12 students and 2 students in their 3rd year of university. When asked about their experience of Positive Education classes at the school all four agreed that despite moments of resistance (that included eye-rolls and groans about gratitude letters and mindfulness) they all use what they learned in “Pos Ed class” every single day.
One of the great challenges in the field of Positive Education is telling people what it is in a simple sentence. I often find myself saying “it’s difficult to define and easy to do”. This video from my colleagues at Flourish Dx is a really good beginning! It talks about empowering people to be mentally healthy. “Beacuse mentally healthy workplaces work better” Take a peek…
Want to learn more about increasing wellbeing at home, at school or at work? Contact me.
The world has become data driven. If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t matter. But for those working in fields like mental health, education, human resources and psychology, there hasn’t been a clear way to measure both the strengths and weaknesses of either an individual or an organization. Of course there are clinical resources like the DSM-5, PANAS, DASS, and Kessler-10, but these were all designed for clinical or research settings. And none of these measured wellbeing in a way that allowed proactive intervention.
But now, there is an evidence-based measurement (and intervention!) tool that works.
For Schools- FAS (Flourishing at School)
The FAS software platform includes the Flourishing Profile survey. This 62 item measure is a leading indicator of mental health, useful for proactive wellbeing interventions at both an individual and collective level. The approach is consistent with the other partnership we have at Positive Minds International the Geelong Grammar School Model for Positive Education (2013).
Instead of seeking to identify those who are “at risk” or already distressed, the Flourishing Profile survey uses a positive psychology approach to assess the degree to which individuals have developed the “pillars” of wellbeing. These pillars are commonly referred to by the acronym “PERMA”, which stands for Positive Emotions, Engagement (or flow), Positive Relationships, Meaningfulness, and Accomplishment. Consistent with Geelong Grammar model, the survey also measures Positive Health (nutrition, exercise, and sleep).
The online survey can be taken in about 15 minutes and enables objective assessment of the success of wellbeing interventions. It can also be used to benchmark wellbeing against whole school, cohort, sex and cohort AND sex specific normative samples. It is suitable for secondary students (ages 11-18+) and staff of all ages. Individual results for students are available to the school administrator in order to inform proactive and insightful pastoral care interactions.
Flourishing at School is more than just a measurement tool. It is a complete solution for wellbeing improvement for students and staff. It includes comprehensive administration instructions, tips on whole-of-school implementation, student specific feedback and wellbeing goal setting features, self-development resources (different resources suitable for student and staff users), and full lesson plans for classroom interventions.
For University Students- Flourish Dx (University)
The current approach to mental health in a collegiate setting is largely reactive, targeting the estimated one in six students who have a diagnosable mental illness (Eisenber et al, 2013). Student counselling services are commonly reported to be struggling to keep up with the demand on their time by distressed students.
FlourishDx allows for data-driven proactive mental health intervention at both an individual and collective level. The smartphone first application (it also is compatible with web/tablet), contains two measures: the Flourish Survey (a short version of the school-based Flourishing Profile survey which includes measures of PERMA+Sleep), and a psycho-social risk factors survey (including common student stressors such as study load, relationships, knowledge of and access to services etc.).
The solution also contains a strong educational component with more than 30 video modules covering a range of topics related to both mental health and sleep health. Students can use their results to identify priorities to maintain or optimize wellbeing, with almost two dozen evidence based activities contained within the app. There is also audio based guided meditations such as mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation to quickly address elevated stress levels.
To keep students engaged in the app, there is a “Mental Fitness” coach bot, that will regularly prompt students to check in and feed them relevant information and resources suitable for their wellbeing needs, and interests.
FlourishDx is a preventative approach to mental health for university students. The goal is to keep individuals well, assist to optimize wellbeing, reduce the load on student counselling services, inform campus-based wellbeing interventions, and increase the likelihood that individuals will seek professional assistance if there is a need.
For Corporations- Flourish Dx (Corporate)
Mental health is a growing concern globally. The World Health Organisation believes that unipolar depression will become the number one cause of the global disease burden by 2030. Positive Minds International is bringing Jason van Schie, People Diagnostix Managing Director, to North America in January 2019 to help spread the word that wellbeing is measurable and impacted by your actions.
“Traditionally mental health has been focused on the identification and treatment of illness. However, this is akin to only dealing with heart disease once someone has had a stroke. Like physical health, more needs to be done on prevention if we expect to see reductions on mental illness prevalence, and its burden on individuals, families and the broader community”.
FlourishDx allows for data-driven proactive mental health intervention at both an individual and corporation/department level. The smartphone first application (it also is compatible with web/tablet), contains two measures: the Flourish Survey (a short version of the school-based Flourishing Profile survey which includes measures of PERMA+Sleep), and a Work Design survey (including common workplaces stressors such as workload, role clarity, autonomy, support, justice etc.).
The solution also contains three eLearning programs covering important topics including mental health, sleep health, and fatigue risk management. These can be pushed and monitored by the FlourishDx workplace administrator as well as being explored by employees on an as needs basis”,
Employees can use their Flourish Profile survey results to identify priorities to maintain or optimize wellbeing, with almost two dozen evidence based activities contained within the app. There is also audio based guided meditations such as mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation to quickly address elevated stress levels.
To keep individuals engaged in the app, there is a “Mental Fitness” coach bot, that will regularly prompt workers to check in and feed them relevant information and resources suitable for their wellbeing needs, and interests.
FlourishDx is a preventative approach to mental health for workers The goal is to keep individuals well, assist to optimize wellbeing, inform workplace-wide and departmental mental health interventions, and increase the likelihood that individuals will seek professional assistance if there is a need.
Eisenberg, D., Hunt, J. & Speer, N. 2013. Mental health in American colleges and universities: variation across student subgroups and across campuses. J Nerv Ment Dis, 201, 60-7.
It’s hard to define and even more difficult to measure. Until recently psychologists and researchers wouldn’t even use the word. Instead, terms like subjective well-being or positive emotion were substituted.
You would think that humans could agree that a basic goal of life is to experience more happiness and yet on podcasts, in the media, and in everyday conversation I regularly hear people making statements like “it’s not healthy to be happy all the time” or “creativity is born from discomfort, if I was happy I would lose my edge”.
While it may be true that some people use anger to ignite action I think many people would be surprised by how much more creative, successful, and flourishing their lives might be if they allowed themselves to prioritize positive emotions.
The science of positive psychology explores optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive according to Dr. Martin Seligman. When I think of thriving I include an entire spectrum of positive emotions appropriate to different situations as listed by Barbara Fredrickson in her book Positivity
Her list includes:
We know from research that approximately 50% of our potential for happiness lies in our genetics. If your parents were depressed, anxious, or tended to ruminate on the negative, you might inherit this potential. The reverse is also true; if your parents were happy-go-lucky types who see the glass as half-full, you may have a greater natural inclination toward happiness. The chemicals released by our brain when we encounter any stimulus (a large dog jumps out at you barking when you run or you smell freshly baked chocolate chip cookies) are not standardized across all people. Some brains are primed to pump out more of the happiness chemicals where others distribute these more sparingly. Some brains have an overly active fight or flight system compared to others. This is the first 50%.
A tenth of your happiness involves life circumstances like having shelter, food, and safety. This does not mean that people born into extreme poverty or living in dangerous situations cannot experience happiness. If you have ever seen children playing in the slums of India or two terminal cancer patients falling in love you know that happiness is possible even in extreme situations however there is an impact on the ease of experiencing happiness that accounts for about 10%.
What’s exciting about the research is the 40%. This bit of happiness potential is entirely up to YOU. It is impacted by the thoughts you think, the people you surround yourself with, the food you eat, and the beliefs you choose. Taking regular time to reflect, to incorporate happiness-boosting activities like gratitude, mindfulness, and even smiling more into your day can change this number.
I think of happiness as being in constant motion. It’s like a spiral. At any time yours is either spiraling upward or downward. The trick to using your 40% to it’s greatest potential is this:
- Learn to recognize when you start a downward spiral.
- Have a toolkit of simple things you can do at that moment to turn your spiral around.
- Spend more time trending up than spiraling down.
It’s quite simple really. It takes effort that is conscious and consistent at first, but eventually, it becomes second nature like driving a car or riding a bike.
What do you do to turn your downward spiral around? Happiness increases when your share so please comment with any useful habits or tips you might offer.