Not only is happiness a word that the scientists who study it avoid using, but it’s also something neither they nor most of the rest of the population can agree on a definition for. What is happiness? How do you know if you have it? If you don’t have it, what can you do to get it? And if you do have it is it greedy to want more?
Happiness is sort of like the weather. There are aspects of the weather that we can agree on a measurement for, like temperature, barometric pressure, precipitation, or windchill factor. Where the confusion happens is when we try as a collective to decide on one “best weather”. I like it warm and sunny but not humid. My 16 year old likes it really hot and humid and my husband loves a cooler, more crisp temperature with occasional rain. To add to the fact that each of us has a different “best weather”, our judgment changes if we are on a boat, on a ski hill or hiking through a forest- it’s contextual.
Happiness is a lot like this. Some people describe it as peaceful. Others would say joyous or invigorating. Some equate pleasure with happiness where others associate it with a warm embodied hope.
The good news is The Happiness Reset (my book) is designed to help you to decide what your best weather is across all the contexts of your life.
Here’s the model:
The individual challenge is to decide how you want to feel and then to figure out what you need to do more or less of to maintain that feeling. These six domains contain a smorgasbord of options.
The domain of purpose includes sub-topics like:
Sense of Meaning – ask yourself “to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?”. People who have a high rating on this question live lives characterized by health and wellbeing.
Intentional Living – One of the best ways to derive fulfilment in life is to work on projects you initiate intentionally.
Accomplishment – Martin Seligman, the founding father of Positive Psychology, includes accomplishment as foundational for happiness. In his model purpose and accomplishment are two separate domains. I see them as too connected to separate and I see too many instances where hyper-focus on achievement depletes happiness. By combining purpose with accomplishment we ensure that achievements are for the greater good.
Greater Good – As mentioned above, questioning whether your actions are personal for the benefit of your community can act as a GPS to purpose.
The domain of social connection includes:
Cultivating Trust and Respect– the foundation for all relationships, be they friendships, romances, or workplace relationships relies on trust, respect and vulnerability.
Fixing Friendship Stumbling-blocks – the skills of finding and forming friendships is often left to chance rather than taught. The skills to fix a relationship require the ability to communicate clearly and to find a balance of give and take. There is also a skill to apologizing and overcoming hurt, Knowing how to leave a toxic relationship is also important.
Belonging vs Fitting In – learning to be who you are rather than who “they” want you to be.
The domain of letting go includes:
Forgiveness – To forgive is to stop feeling angry or resentful towards someone for an offence, flaw, mistake or something they did that was wrong. Forgiving is more for the forgiver than the forgivee.
Conscious Action – Awareness and intention help you maintain present moment awareness, keeping the past and future at bay.
Detachment – In order to acquire something, you have to relinquish your attachment to having it. When you recognize that the only genuine source of security is living as your true self, then you can more easily detach.
Acceptance – awareness of the present moment without judgment.
The domain of self-knowledge includes:
Character Strengths – the scientific classification of 24 universal traits that provide a common language of what’s right with you.
Core Values – fundamental beliefs that guide principles, dictate behaviour, and can help people understand the difference between right and wrong.
Habit Formation Tendency – what strategies work best for an individual to do (or stop doing) something.
Personality Type – the psychological classification of different types of individuals.
The domain of Positive Experience includes:
Positive Emotion – Developing the ability to initiate, prolong, and build emotional experiences that feel good.
Flow – also known as being “in the zone”, flow is the mental state where performing an activity is immersive and energizing. It requires a meeting of challenge and skill as well as enjoyment in the process of the activity.
Prosocial behaviour – doing something that benefits others.
The domain of Mindfulness includes:
Meditation – is the practice of embracing internal stillness with intentions of ultimately reaching a different level of consciousness.
Savouring – the use of thoughts and actions to increase the intensity, duration, and appreciation of positive experiences and emotions.
Reflection – the examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings.
Presence – paying attention to the present moment without being drawn into the past or forecasting the future.
The domain of gratitude includes:
Feeling – the physical sensations that accompany the experience of the emotion of gratitude.
Expressing – the verbal or physical action that shows someone you are grateful.
Receiving – having gratitude for something you are, did, or said expressed to you.
Each of these areas offers unique was to enhance your happiness. Learn more by reading my book The Happiness Reset- What to do When Nothing Makes You Happy. Available November 15th on Amazon.com.
One of my colleagues, David Bott, and I recently spent a week together training a whole school faculty in Positive Education. The headmaster notably remarked:
“We may be primed, we may be inclined but we still need voices of experience to show us how to use this science.”
I love the mindset demonstrated here. It takes role modelling from leaders and teachers to help students develop the skills to manage their wellbeing.
On September 20th, 23rd and 24th, my team will be in California delivering our Introduction to Positive Education workshop.
If you think your school isn’t part of the problem, you’re wrong. If you have 20 students in a class, 5 are suffering from some type of mental health issue. Positive Education is a proactive way to equip students and staff with the skills not only to cope and manage, but to flourish
As you may know, the OECD does a lot of work studying education – especially in the area of predicting challenges to of the future of education. As Bob Snowden, founder of the Futures Project said in a recent conversation “OECD’s recent research indicates that the top priority in schools over the next 10-15 years won’t be one of the academic priorities as you might expect, but wellbeing.” Those of us working in the Positive Education space don’t find this surprising. We see first-hand the benefits of placing wellbeing at the heart of education, of flipping conventional wisdom placing the so called “soft-skills” to becoming the priority (feels like eating dessert first doesn’t it?) The level of stress, depression and anxiety that continues to climb in Canada, U.S., Australia and other countries of similar economic stability is a source of much confusion. When we don’t have a real problem like safety, getting enough food, or avoiding disease why is it that we don’t thrive? Why then is it so hard to take students from surviving to thriving?
One idea is that the goals students are setting, either on their own or with help of caring guidance teams parents and teachers are a root. PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) has done international research that showed students who are more motivated also have greater anxiety. “Motivation seems to be more closely linked to anxiety when it is imposed by others. Students who feel undue pressure to meet the expectations of their parents or teachers, or who constantly compare themselves with others, may feel tenser and more anxious. Conversely, PISA data show that when motivation is intrinsic – when it comes from a student’s own desire to be the best that he or she can be – students may feel slightly less anxious.” We need to figure out ways of ensuring that students motivation is led by their own curiosity and meaning rather than taking on the motivation of their peers (“I applied to Stanford and Harvard”) their parents (“wouldn’t medicine be a great option for you?”) or their past performance (you should keep taking History, it’s your top subject”).
Another challenge is comparison. Recently Instagram has experimented with removing an anxiety provoking feature from its platform in Canada. The social media leader has often been accused of creating a platform where teens compare the messy unedited version of their own lives to other teens’ highly edited and curated highlight reels.
Parents are quick to point our that the rise in technology use coincides with the rise in teen depression and anxiety. I believe that technology, like money, is an amplifier of who you really are. If a student is disengaged, disconnected, and distracted the removal of technology doesn’t change these traits, Of course there are appropriate developmental guidelines from a neuroscience standpoint, but we cannot blame technology for a lack of appropriate psychological attachment. As attachment theory expert Dr, Gordon Neufeld writes “Technology is a wonderful thing: it can be used in amazing ways to enhance life, but it can also create huge problems if structures are not defined around how it is going to fit into healthy development and family life, particularly with our young. “
According to Dr. Shani Robins of Stanford, wisdom skills like emotional intelligence, mindfulness, empathy & compassion, humility, gratitude and realism must be taught. These are skills that students need to avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism, comparison, overgeneralization and catastrophizing that lead to mental illbeing. Check out this fabulous video about the wellbeing continuum.
Think Differently and Your Anxiety Changes
Dr. Ellen Hendrickson has fabulous tips for people who experience debilitating levels of anxiety. She reminds us that the positive features that often accompany social anxiety like extreme empathy, inclusiveness, deep connection in relationships are all still there when anxiety is avoided. Alternately, the opposite of social anxiety is psychopathy (not confidence) so those who experience zero anxiety are not very emotionally healthy! One technique she uses that I love is to personify your inner critic. In fact, I love having kids think about what their mean inner voice might look like. Some see a monster, a dark-fanged nightmare ghoul. Mine looks more like this:
Hendrickson also recommends anxiety Madlibs, a really cool technique to get to the heart of your anxiety. By making it seem like a game it can feel less personal. Use this statement:
When I ______, it will become obvious that I _______
When I put my hand up in class, it will become obvious that I am not smart
When I walk alone in the hall, it will become obvious that I am a loser without friends
When I go to a dinner party, it will become obvious that I am a boring person.
Once you have the obvious blank filled in you can
- realize it’s not true,
- realize it might be true and have a strategy
- ask what’s the worst thing that can happen and think about how to cope if it comes true
To listen to her interview, click here .
This week an amazing group of professionals gathered at Claremont Graduate College for the Western Positive Psychology Association’s conference delving into Evidence-Based Applications in Positive Psychology. I was lucky to present 2 sessions.
10 Years of Positive Education discussed the top 10 mistakes my team at the Institute of Positive Education sees as they reflect on our decade of delivering positive education and what successes ensued once we learned from our mistakes (a little growth mindset modelling). In Is Wellbeing Enough? I led a discussion about measurement of wellbeing and its role in organizational psychology (because what gets measured matters!). Presenting to such an engaged group of Positive Psychology experts certainly had me feeling in the flow which was another focus of the day- recognizing Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – “Father of Flow” and Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management who will be retiring at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year. Mike shared his story beginning with reflections on how his family’s displacement post WW2 led to a serendipitous meeting of Carl Jung where the seeds of his passion for psychology were planted. He also touched on his hope and perspectives for the Future of Positive Psychology. This post will delve into the science of flow and why it impacts wellbeing.
According to Csikszentmihalyi there are 8 states of engagement. We know that engaged living is a predictor of wellbeing, life satisfaction, and enjoyment at school or work.
A flow experience has nine characteristics:
- What you are doing balances challenge with skill level. Like Goldilocks, the task cannot be too hard or too simple- there is a sweet spot of difficult but not too difficult that encourages flow and is just right.
- The task allows for some level of direct and immediate feedback- when walking a balance beam your feedback is either falling off, staying on, or almost falling and then recovering. The feedback is part of the process.
- There is a clear goal.
- Action and awareness of action are merging. You are able to participate and reflect on your participation almost simultaneously.
- You are absorbed in the task. There is engagement and there is not distraction.
- You have a sense of personal control. You are impacting the outcome with your effort in a palpable way.
- Your lose any self-consciousness. You are not thinking about how others respond to what you are doing, you are just doing.
- Time seems to either stand still or pass quickly. There is a warped sense of noticing the passage of time in a positive way.
- The task itself is intrinsically rewarding. You aren’t there for the medal or gold star, you are there because the activity that gets you to the medal is important.
When people talk about flow state, they often use terms like “in the zone”, “total absorption”, “feeling at one” or “peak performance”. As Csikszentmihalyi said in his book Finding Flow.
” Contrary to what we usually believe, the best movements in our lives are not the passive, receptive relaxing times…The best moments usually occur is a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is this something we make happen.”
What happens to Your Brain When You Are In a Flow State?
- Transient hypofrontality– the focused thinking part of our brain gets a rest and other parts and functions of our brain to become more predominant (like creativity)
- Dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex quiets– This is the part of your brain that deals with executive functions such as impulse control
- Medial pre-frontal cortex becomes highly active
- The neurochemistry of flow floods your body with performance enhancing chemicals like dopamine, noradrenaline, endorphins, serotonin allowing for amplified learning, motivation, and creativity.
Often thought of as a solitary experience, we now know that flow can be experienced together. In fact the flow experience is quite contagious- when we see flow happening on the soccer pitch or at a musical performance, we get a bit of the beneficial chemicals for ourselves.
Interestingly. even though most people would might prefer leisure to work, people experience flow 54% while working compared to 18% at play according to one of Csikszentmihalyi’s studies.
Want More Flow?
- Minimize distractions
- Seek feedback on your performance
- Have clear goals
- Find the sweet spot of challenge and skill
- Reflect on when and where you feel flow most
- Give yourself time- rushing is a flow-blocker
I’m compiling a list of activities that seem most connected to flow. Send me yours and I will add it:
dance tennis swimming horseback riding drawing singing tennis playing an instrument public speaking juggling
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. Basic Books.
Dietrich, A. (2003). Functional neuroanatomy of altered states of consciousness: The transient hypofrontality hypothesis. Consciousness and cognition, 12(2), 231-256.
Historically psychologists have dealt with mental health deficiency or mental illness.
One pioneer, Martin Seligman, recognized that the absence of metal illbeing was not the same as mental wellbeing; if you remove unhappiness you don’t get happiness. Thus began the science of positive psychology, a proactive area of mental health designed to help an individual to flourish.
What is Flourishing?
To flourish is to find fulfillment in our lives, accomplishing meaningful and worthwhile tasks, and connecting with others at a deeper level—in essence, living the “good life” (Seligman, 2011). Flourishing as an individual means feeling good and living a life that feels meaningful and impacts the community around you for the greater good. It is not the absence of emotions like fear, anxiety or jealousy that might be considered negative emotions nor is does flourishing mean you are happy all the time. When an individual is flourishing they are experiencing more positive emotions (love, joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration and awe) and shorten the rumination over negative ones.
How do you learn the skills required to Flourish?
Until recently, learning how to flourish was left to chance. Psychologists or counselors sometimes helped. Religion, yoga, or deep conversations held in salons by academics might touch on some of the topics that fall under this umbrella. The problem with leaving wellbeing to chance is there’s a greater chance that it won’t happen than it will.
Researchers now agree (for the most part) on PERMA or PERMA-H being part of the equation to optimal wellbeing.
P = positive emotions (experience more of them intentionally)
E = engagement (immersion in a task, job, or hobby you love)
R = relationships (a sense of belonging and support to and from family, peers, and friends)
M = meaning (understanding the deeper why behind your actions or why you are on this planet)
A =accomplishment (having ambition and goals)
H= health (enough sleep, exercise & nutrition)
This is where positive education plays a key role.
What Exactly is Positive Education?
Most simply put, positive education puts wellbeing at the heart of education.
It started almost ten years ago at Geelong Grammar School, just south of Melbourne (which is where I am as I write this). Best practice teaching combined with positive psychology to embed the skills of positive psychology across an entire school organization from top to bottom. The GGS model has created a common language, a culture, and way to help students, educators, and community members like parents and support staff to thrive.
Positive education is what happens when you teach the entire organization of a school to flourish.
Evidence is showing that positive education programs decrease stress while increasing self-esteem, optimism and self-efficacy. Students who are flourishing exercise resilience and are more engaged in their learning. But it’s not just about the students. Teachers have the highest reported stress levels of any career including first-responders and physicians or nurses. Positive education helps teachers too. By using the PERMA H model the whole school learns and lives differently.
Over the next few weeks I will be sharing resources (from reading lists to worksheet downloads) to help your school get started. If you want to make sure you get access to these, please join the Positive Minds International mailing list and join our growing group of people making a difference in the wellbeing of children.