Let’s Stop Trying To be Happy

Let’s Stop Trying To be Happy

I know, not what you might expect from a positive psychologist but sometimes we need to step back to get a broader perspective. Whilst I love that the science of wellbeing has become increasingly mainstream, this does leave it at risk of over-simplification which can easily sink into generic concepts that don’t help, or worse, might have a negative impact. Listen to the audio version of this article   Life Is For Living Not For Hacking Quick fixes and concepts broken down to three basic steps is the bread and butter of social media and the self-help industry but when something is stripped to the bone the meat is quickly lost. Positive emotions are subtle and hard to grasp. When we push towards them they bob away from us like an inflatable ball on the water. When we actively strive for happiness it can, ironically, move further out of reach because we focus so much on what we lack that it becomes even more front and centre to us. What Gives Meaning and Purpose Is As Individual As We Are Happiness is not a one size fits all commodity. Yes, there are generalities like ‘getting outdoors will boost endorphins’. Most of us will derive some benefit from being out in nature, but the greater magic lies in our personal preferences; the way we, as individuals, most enjoy experiencing the outdoors. For some, feel good vibes will be best taken from a restful afternoon reading in the garden, another will want the thrill of hanging from a rockface, and there are a myriad of options in between. Knowing your signature...
Evolving Identities

Evolving Identities

This week I left my job. Something most of us have done at some point, but this time it wasn’t just the job I was saying goodbye to. I left my role as a housing professional after 25 years, and it has taken time to get my head around that! I knew I was nervous to leave behind the world of employment with its safety net of a regular salary and associated benefits, but beyond those practical considerations, there was a deeper concern at play. One that was more enmeshed in my vision of who I was. Listen to the audio version of this article Identity Personal identity is how we see ourselves. We create this sense of self from a complicated set of interrelated physical, psychological, and interpersonal characteristics which sit within the social environments that we are born, grow and live in. We each belong to many overlapping groups, like our ethnicity or religion, and we adopt roles from our society and culture1. These factors weave together to create a unique mosaic that we call ‘ourself’. This identity lends us a coherent sense of self over time. As we develop we start to collect stories about who we are, our values, what we want to achieve and what society expects of us. The more aware we are of these components the easier it is to make choices that align to our likes and dislikes. When we know what motivates us and what we stand for we can be consistent in these guiding principles. This in turn promotes better relationships, both with ourselves and with others, because we...
Positive Psychology and Mental Health : Clearing The Path

Positive Psychology and Mental Health : Clearing The Path

The ethics of working with clients who are mentally unwell is a hot topic in the world of positive psychology and coaching. It can seem a grey space, especially as clients aren’t always aware of the differences between counselling, psychology, therapy or coaching or the range of modalities used, from talking to hypnotherapy, EFT to somatic bodywork. It can be difficult for clients to sift through the options and find what is right for them. So how do we support clients to understand what we do? And if we feel we are not the right person to help, where is our responsibility in that? Coaching might attract clients with a variety of needs, and because it is often a shorter term investment with less stigma attached, it might be seen as a more accessible option. Where too does positive psychology sit in this? What role does it have to play in ill-health when its initial remit was, as Peterson (2008) tells us, to build on the good in life, rather than repair the bad.   You may wish to listen to the audio version of this article Ethical Considerations Navigating this uncertainty is our responsibility as practitioners. We need to understand and acknowledge where we are comfortable to go with our clients, and when we are moving into territory that is out of our remit, maybe taking on a role better filled by another professional. This shouldn’t be seen as a failure, the client simply needs a different set of skills. These discussions with clients must take place prior to the work starting and again at the contracting stage...
Building Your Psychological Safety

Building Your Psychological Safety

Listen to the audio version of this article This photo of a spider’s web, with one section in need of some serious renovation, resonated this month! Everything can be ticking along nicely then something, or someone, accidentally wanders into one of those flimsy areas and I can quickly feel small or spikey. When we feel threatened, we can react in all kinds of unhelpful ways. We might be defensive or submissive or simply want to hide away, falling back on old responses that are no longer helpful. We may not be aware of any of this because we are very good at hiding the motives behind behaviours, even from ourselves, but we recognise when outcomes are not what we want. Negative reactions, missing out on promotions, friendships lost, the same old arguments with family. Coaching psychology is about shining a light on this inner world, noticing what works well and where developing different strategies could be useful and it’s often in our interactions with others that ‘problem areas’ are brought to our attention, because how we react to others varies with how psychologically safe, we feel. What is Psychological Safety? Psychological Safety is about how safe we feel in relationships. Are we willing to take risks like expressing our thoughts and needs? In the same way we make decisions to avoid people we don’t feel physically safe with, we make decisions about how psychologically vulnerable we are ready to be with others too. When we don’t feel threatened, we are more willing to speak up, take chances even if there’s the possibility, we might make mistakes. We have an...
Strengths: Getting Back to Basics

Strengths: Getting Back to Basics

Listen to the audio version of this article.   Journeys are best begun with an initial reconnaissance. We want to get our bearings, check out what supplies we have in our backpacks, decide on a destination. A self-development journey is no different and learning more about our strengths is an excellent starting point because they are the foundations on which we can start to build greater self-awareness. Today, as I started out on a fresh adventure with a new client I reminded myself why.   Why Start With Strengths? At the start of a coaching relationship, hope is high but trust has yet to be built. Your client might be nervous, wondering what they’ve signed themselves up for. I am asking them about some broad concepts; Zest, Honesty, Bravery, any one of Peterson and Seligman’s (2004) 24 character strengths. The client is new to this work and I can tell they’re not sure. How will becoming aware of their strengths benefit them, what can this knowledge offer? Well, to begin with, strengths are a great place to start a conversation. A way into the stories we hold about ourselves. It helps the client notice the lens they are holding up to their lives and in turn builds self-knowledge and understanding. It also provides a language with which to discuss our drivers and interests. It helps us name our choices and see the threads that have guided our decisions all through our lives, even when we didn’t realise it. Humour, one of my top strengths, helped me recognise the truth of this.   Seeing The Funny Side I had always...
Positive Menopause; Taming The Dragon

Positive Menopause; Taming The Dragon

By the time you get to your 40s and 50s you think you have a pretty good handle on who you are, then along comes menopause and everything can get turned on its head. It is a time in life that often involves considerable external pressures so it may not be obvious that hormones are playing a part in how you are feeling. Caring for aging parents, dealing with children, work, relationships; there are so many reasons to be sleepless, tired and overwhelmed. We don’t always stop to consider ‘oh, this could be a menopause symptom.’ For me, I was left questioning my identity, not just because I was aging but because mood swings could leave me wondering who I really was. Something I took in my stride one day could cause a melt down on another, so which was the real me? It isn’t always comfortable to realise that our reactions are dictated by the presence or absence of hormones, we believe in our stories – my manager made me cross, a late train made me anxious. Cognitive dissonance doesn’t sit well with our minds. When the outside world doesn’t match up with how we feel on the inside, it searches for explanations, and we invest a lot of effort into finding things to blame for our difficult feelings.   But all women go through menopause, what’s the big deal? It’s true, menopause will happen, and some sail through with few complaints. Some find it a difficult time without ever realising why and many simply put up and shut up because our health has never been that high...