First of all, let’s clarify what positive psychology is not, as it’s commonly misunderstood. Smile, think happy thoughts, be positive and never give up. While there are benefits to those suggestions, we must be cautious of toxic positivity as it’s much more complex than that. Ultimately, Positive Psychology is a field of study that explores how people can live their best lives. While some people like to distinguish it from traditional Psychology, it actually encompasses all of the differing schools of thought.

It has helped me see my past and future through a different lens, which has helped me to grow in endless ways. Since taking the time to reflect, I’ve felt less regretful when looking back on my life and much more hopeful when looking forward. I’d like to share some valuable lessons I’ve learned.


Learning changes people

One of the most memorable moments of my childhood was when my dad told me ‘You never stop learning’.  I’ve always been a curious individual and one of the many questions I dwelled on during childhood was what makes people change?  There are some people who seem like they never change, perhaps those who live with their parents for large parts of their lives or rarely venture outside of their hometown. On the other hand, there were people who I aspired to in school because they competed in national competitions and ventured abroad. While of course, some opportunities aren’t necessarily available to all, we not only learn from our own experiences but from other people’s too.

People don’t need solutions

Another thing I wondered about when growing up was why people came to me for advice, listened and then went away and did something completely different. It was so frustrating for me to see at the time, but now I think know why. People neither want nor need you to tell them what to do with their lives. In fact, it’s possibly one of the worst things, as it takes away their autonomy and sense of control (see Deci & Ryan’s self-determination theory). They either want you to listen (without trying to fix or solve) or to open their mind to other perspectives. This knowledge has removed the frustration and replaced it with a useful realisation, like a magic spell!

A natural desire to nurture others

Developmental Psychology has also helped me understand why people change. Specifically, we value certain things at different stages in our lives. I’ve always wondered why so many people have children and I think this desire stems from the sense of caring we develop during our middle-ages. People want to nurture future generations, as this provides both a sense of belonging and meaning and purpose in our lives. This doesn’t mean having a child is the only way to establish purpose, but rather a common goal for many.

Being open to experiences

For most of my twenties, I was immersed in an appreciation of beauty and excellence. I wanted to enjoy many of life’s pleasures and rarely gave a thought to my future. I was happy because I let some of my values determine my behaviour (being open to new experiences, learning about the world and personal growth). As humans, we are naturally creative, so it’s important to allow ourselves to go with the flow at times. Important events in our lives help reveal our values and for me, it was going abroad for the first time to be a soccer coach in the US.


My own Happiness Project

My interest in Positive Psychology started with reading popular self-help books, particularly Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project. This book is based on setting weekly or monthly goals with a motto for inspiration and motivation. I decided to set 30-day goals for each month of the year and a few of these led to some big revelations. My first was to start a happiness accountability group, where a group of like-minded people would get together in a café once a month to talk about their goals and progress. The group served as a source of motivation and support for each other. It was fascinating to observe how some people implemented change, while others stuck to old habits. I really wanted to know why, so I remained curious.

Meaningful goals

Another goal of mine was to write a book, and I’m proud to say I did this in just 30 days, which was a major achievement for me (being a true perfectionist). Though the book is written, it has not yet been edited and published. My goal back then was just to get something written, to see if I enjoyed the process and I did. Since then, it has inspired me to write blogs.

One of my last goals was to enroll in a Positive Psychology course, and my curiosity led me to a course on Coursera. I stumbled across the PERMA theory of well-being, and it helped me identify different elements of my life that contributed to my overall well-being (Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment). I was so eager to learn more and this led me to complete a Diploma in Positive Psychology and become an accredited coach.

Value-based goals

I wanted to understand why I had ebbs and flows with my 30-day goals. Why were some goals effortless to achieve, while others required so much effort with little gain? A question my tutor asked me that has led me on a journey to find the answer ‘What does it mean to you to achieve these goals?’. Since then, I’ve searched for science to support my own theories about setting goals and achieving them and realized that one of the fundamental building blocks is our values. When goals are aligned with our values, something clicks and what may feel like a challenge (e.g. writing a book) becomes not only achievable but extremely enjoyable!

Discovering your values

What is a way of accessing our values you may wonder? Founder of Positive Psychology Martin Seligman co-created the VIA Character Strengths, also known as Values in Action. There is a free survey you can complete here (as a way of discovering your own). Note, the list of 24 strengths does not cover all the things people value, but starting here may give you a good insight into what you value. Then, see where your values take you and let me know.

Read more about James McIntyre-Ure and his other articles HERE






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