Changing the lens, is it really that simple? The idea came to me when I was watching Shawn Anchor’s TED talk, ‘The happy secret to better work’ when he discussed his time at Harvard and how he truly believed that all the students who attended Harvard would feel the same as he did. An immense sense of gratitude to study at such a prestigious institution, seeing the opportunity as a real privilege. Instead he found that after just two weeks the students lost that feeling of pride they originally felt and soon focussed on the competition, the workload, the hassles, the complaints and their sense of gratitude diminished. A boarding school in New England talked to Shawn about their wellness week where they were having a talks throughout the week on subjects such as depression, bullying, drug use and eating disorders. This wasn’t a wellness week, it was a sickness week.
A sense of pride
Many students who attend my school feel this initial sense of pride that they have the opportunity to study at the first school in the UK to specialise in science and health care for 14-19 year olds. The school aims to bridge the gap between education and business and works closely with employers to create the next generation of health care practitioners, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. Yet I too see the same negative thinking approach from our students soon after they arrive. We should not assume our external world is a predictor for our happiness yet so many of us do. When I get that job, when I buy that car, when that house is mine, then I’ll be happy. However, as a positive psychologist I understand that 90% of our happiness is actually determined by the way we see the world, by how we look at it. That means 90% is up to us – we can change this simply by changing the lens.
So just before we break for our Easter holidays we are holding our first ever wellness week where students and staff will be encouraged to carry out random acts of kindness, take part in yoga and aerobics at break and lunch times, and learn about nutrition and a healthy diet sampling some healthy options in the refectory rather than pizza and cookies. Students and staff at the school already have the opportunity to attend a 10 minute guided mindfulness meditation session in the cinema each morning before lessons start which will continue in wellness week along with a meditation masterclass to educate students and staff about the benefits of meditation. Students will be encouraged all week to write down the three best things about their day and head, neck and shoulder massage will be available to all. Additionally I have teamed up with a clinical psychologist, Dr Caroline Belcher, to hold a masterclass on strategies to beat anxiety.
Students and staff are entering the most stressful part of the year, exam time, and it is essential we look after each other and encourage the whole school community to focus on the positives and show them ways to relieve the stress they may encounter over the next few months. After all the positive brain performs better than the stressed brain and it is time we turn the formula for happiness and success on his head. Instead of the work hard, be successful, be happy formula many of us are used to consider the be happy, be successful, work hard formula instead. By doing this we will encounter what is known as the happiness advantage where dopamine is released into the brain not only making us feel happier but it also turns on all the learning centres in your brain where you will experience rises in your intelligence, creativity and energy levels and you will avoid burnout and become more resilient.
It’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us but the lens through which you see the world that shapes your reality. If we change the lens who knows what is possible.
About the author: Katie Small graduated with a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of East London in 2014. Katie’s passion is to teach teenagers about the power of positive psychology and how it can enable human beings to thrive. Katie is an Assistant Principal at Liverpool Life Sciences UTC.
‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’