In this blog, I look at how Positive Psychology (PP) can provide pathways to help us engage with questions about what is important in life, whatever your background.

The benefits of talking in groups

One of the things many people have noticed during the pandemic is how much they miss meeting in groups. We have been fortunate that technology has helped us address this to some extent via videoconferencing platforms. Indeed, some people have found that they have connected more with family and friends because they have had to be organised about it. They even aim to continue meeting in this way when it proves impossible to synchronise everyone’s diaries for a (guideline permitted) face to face meeting. Talking with other people helps boost our sense of connectedness, allows us to reflect on what we have been doing and gain feedback and affirmation. It promotes interest and curiosity in others, widens and challenges our perspective and ultimately both builds the social relationships vital to our wellbeing and encourages personal growth, as we learn vicariously from the experiences of others. We are social creatures and we learn and thrive from being with one another.

Life’s big questions

Another related gift of the pandemic has, perhaps, also been a shakeup of our values and engagement with meaning. When we can’t see people, we notice we miss them. When people are dying and our lives disrupted we tend to ask questions like; “what really matters?”, “who do I value more, my delivery driver or my accountant?”, “how do I balance physical health risk to myself and others with mental health needs?” These touch on life’s big questions, what’s it all about, why are we here, what kind of society do we want to live in, what do I want to do with my life? Even apparently straightforward questions such as “what makes me happy?” are not as easy to answer as you might first think.

The topics of happiness, meaning, purpose, values, authenticity and compassion are key subjects in PP. Talking with others about these issues is invaluable in helping us find our own answers. Modern culture does not provide many opportunities to contemplate these issues. Many people are disengaged from religion and politics, which are the traditional arenas for such discussions. I would argue that PP offers a great forum for engaging with these issues and a variety of means to interact with others in exploring them. PP research also has interesting and sometimes counterintuitive findings which can help promote exploration. So whatever your background, if you are seeking to understand the world and your place in it better, here are some PP based suggestions for your journey.

Take a course

There are loads of courses in PP, from full-on Masters courses which require committed academic study and assessment through to short workshops. PP is crucially not considered to be a spectator sport, learning about it involves working on trying interventions on yourself before you look at applying them to help others, so all such courses tend to include personal growth and reflection elements.

I’m a part-time associate lecturer on the Buckinghamshire New University MSc in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) course. One of the things that comes out of research into people’s experiences of MAPP courses, is the value placed on interacting with like-minded people. It is certainly my experience that students learn hugely from one another and I (and my fellow tutors) feel we are continuously developing from the new ideas, experiences and perspectives that different people bring to talking about wellbeing and the questions of what makes a good life. Most courses include elements of both large and small group discussion as part of the learning process. The pandemic has accelerated the provision of full distance learning so that many courses can now be accessed by people across the world. Although there is likely to be a move towards face-to-face teaching elements as this becomes permitted again, I think the core online teaching forums for many courses will persist and this has to be good for cross-cultural inclusion.

Many shorter PP courses, from a variety of providers, at different levels, are available online, in person or as blended learning. Whatever your level of interest, interface preference, available time and financial resources, there is likely to be something to suit you. There are even some free courses! Try and make sure the course you choose matches what you want to get out of it, be it personal and/or professional development. These websites provide some ideas, although there are lots of other choices https://positivepsychologyonlinecourses.com/ https://ppnetwork.org/

Join a discussion group

If you don’t want to study but want to engage informally with looking at how PP ideas can help you in your life, then a great place to look is Action For Happiness (https://www.actionforhappiness.org/). This is a UK based charity (with some international branches) committed to building a happier, more caring society. They organise small groups, which are currently online, known as 10 keys to happier living groups. These are run by volunteers and supported by Action for Happiness. They provide an excellent means for connecting with others and exploring ideas around wellbeing. The website also has lots of free resources to download and practical ideas to try and again all of it is based on the science of PP.

Join a community of practice

PP as a discipline has expanded rapidly since its inception in the late 1990s. There are now many practitioners using PP approaches as part of their work in coaching, counselling, therapy, fitness, sport, teams, businesses, schools and organisations. Partly because PP spans so many diverse areas of intervention, it’s not easy for those who primarily identify as PP practitioners to find a professional home. This is important because, while PP Practitioners are not currently a regulated profession, it is necessary and integral to the philosophy behind PP, for practitioners to engage in continuing professional development.

As with other professions, this involves facilitating ethical, reflective practice and ongoing growth in terms of updating and extending knowledge and skills. The Positive Psychology Guild (https://ppnetwork.org/) is a not for profit organisation that aims to provide this home for PP professionals. It offers benefits including networking, insurance, publications and professional practice guidelines, as well as affiliate membership for those who use PP in their work in allied areas. I’ve recently joined the PP Guild team, part-time, in the role of setting up Communities of Practice. This initiative aims to provide small groups to facilitate peer learning, networking and support for PP Practitioners. This aims to encourage individual development, promote professional, ethical practice standards and further the standing of the discipline as a whole. Even for those highly qualified and experienced in PP, ongoing peer interaction is vital for growth.

Conclusion

From beginner to qualified practitioner, connecting with groups of people to explore your understanding of the big questions in life looked at in PP research, theory and practice is a great way to foster personal and professional development. I hope I’ve given you something to think about, wherever you are on your journey. If we want PP research, knowledge, techniques and principles to be able to really change our world for the better, as advocated in third-wave PP, such communities need to develop and connect to create a network for change at every level of society.

Read more about Sarah Monk and her other articles HERE

‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’

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