Poldark is back on our screens with a new, and final, season. Even as a recently new convert to the show I’m finding it is hitting the happiness mark for me yet again. After the latest episode I found myself thinking about the characters and how people lived in those times. The show is set in the 18th century, this was a time period that was extremely harsh compared to today’s standards of living, and yet life is portrayed as being somewhat more straight forward and simpler back then.
The show is set before the aftermath of WW1 and WW2 required the medical profession to increasingly focus on mental health problems and for me evidence of Positive Psychology is in every episode. Work, family and community are shown as the most important aspects of people’s life and people supported and helped each other in times of need. In today’s displaced busy lifestyles of commuter careers and families often living great distances from each other, it is easy to lose sight of the simpler side of life and become consumed by the daily hamster wheel of living in the 21st century. In Poldark it seems to me that through their individual stories, the characters in the show display three strong Positive Psychology behaviours that we can all learn from.
In looking back at our ancestors I am always overwhelmingly inspired by how resilient people are. My great grandmother for example, lived through two world wars and outlived two husbands and yet lived until well into her 90’s. I am always in awe of the amount of emotional resilience it must have taken to go through those experiences whenever I think about it. Indeed in Poldark the characters are shown to suffer through many different kinds of tragedies however continue to go on and thrive in finding happiness again, whilst becoming stronger in their ability to cope in future adverse situations. Change is accepted as part of life, as is tragedy. In accepting that life is full of change and maintaining a hopeful outlook emotional resilience is built over time allowing people to grow and bend in facing the often-harsh realities of life. Having a sense of perspective when things go wrong is key in developing resilience which leads me on to gratitude.
One thing the 21st century appears to have negatively impacted is people’s sense of gratitude. In today’s never-ending social media feeds showing people who have what we do not it is all too easy to become stuck in a cycle of comparison and feelings of resentment and envy. In the simpler but harsher life portrayed in the 18th Century times of Poldark the characters are shown to easily display a greater sense of gratitude for what they have. By counting their blessings for the food they have, their family’s safety and the community as a whole, by being kind to each other and helping out others in times of need ‘giving thanks’ is a normal way of life which many of us seem to have lost. The benefits of gratitude are well documented in research. A regular practice of gratitude contributes to increases in happiness, health and optimism alongside reductions in materialism. An easy way to start increasing gratitude in our lives is by keeping a daily gratitude journal and noting three things daily that we are grateful for. The activation of regions of the brain when practicing gratitude which produce the ‘feel-good’ hormone dopamine makes us want more of that feeling which in turn strengthens the neural pathways over time leading to longer-term benefits.
People living in the 18th century were in no doubt a lot more religious than people living in the 21st century are. Poldark often portrays how people use their faith to guide them in finding meaning thereby allowing them to live authentically according to their values and cope with suffering through acceptance of the dark side of life. Regardless of whether a person is religious, spiritual or not at all interested in faith of any sort we all have the ability to give meaning to our lives. By connecting to activities that allow for something greater than ourselves, whether that is through religion or something else, meaning can found as a by-product. Find meaning through the daily work they do is an obvious example that most people can try. Many of us are unhappy at work because we find no sense of purpose in what we do. By seeking work that provides us with a sense of purpose or reframing our experiences of the work we already have in order to gain a sense of purpose, our lives become meaningful and we become more fulfilled and happier. My own example of this is where I can either view the seemingly boring job of processing university applications as a mundane task, or I can view it as a task which provides an opportunity for others to fulfil their goals and dreams and gain meaning and happiness in that.
Whilst Poldark can purely be viewed as a show to provide Sunday night entertainment, if we look past the surface of the show, we can see evidence of Positive Psychology alive and kicking in the 18th century and use it to remind ourselves of how to live a good life in the 21st century regardless of our circumstances.
About the Author: Emma Willmer