Inspired by an article I just read which looked at the principles of positive psychology and happiness. I completed my dissertation using positive psychology (Seligman's practical theory).
What is happiness? What does it mean to be happy?
Sometimes we think or mistake happiness for the overwhelming joy that we feel, however, I think it's a lot deeper than just that one emotion. Nevertheless, because the 'happy' is the strongest emotion. We often crave to feel this all the time.
Happiness to me is a comfort and contentment. A comfort within yourself to appreciate who you are and accept who you are. Happiness is more about satisfaction rather than bursting with glee. It is the feeling of use and leading a meaningful life and working towards a purpose. To live with positive thoughts and feeling a part of something whether it be a community, a team, a job. Happiness involves the craving to learn and grow as a person.
We are bombarded with shows on tv where you see young people who are searching for a way to be happy whether it is by extreme dieting, extreme piercing, extreme tattooing. Are these people really happy with themselves? Do they feel a contentment with them self? I wish that instead of 5 lessons of maths in school, kids got at least one lesson about life e.g. How to be happy with who you are, how to resolve conflict, how to deal with anger, how to be healthy, how to get on with people, how to stop bullying and bullies. To me, these are the important things that will help youngsters be happy with themselves and will lead to more confidence in achieving.
Last night, I saw a group of teenagers crowed round two boys who were fighting. The last time I saw this, I wanted to stop them but instead we went to the police station due to the violence of it. This time, however, I went to them and asked why they were fighting. At first they looked at me like I was crazy especially when a couple of the girls were shouting, 'she is my psychologist', 'she coached me at Hutchie'. I guess this gave me a sense of empowerment to pursue helping towards a stop of conflict.
Did these two boys really want to be fighting? One boy was clearly angry but probably not just towards the other boy. Anger probably at many days of being bullied and he looked like he was going to explode. The poor boy. He seemed to have learned to deal with being bullied by using his physical strength. The other boy said he was coaxed into fighting and couldn't say no. Again, the pressure to fit in and the pressure to have an image of being brave made him disregard his fear and start fighting. For what reason?
Of course, I spoke to them about resolving the situation, and talking about it and asking many times, 'what was the point of fighting and what would change at the end of it?' I was happy that this did seem to make them think. Although I wasn't happy at another boy calling me 'a granny' haha. Nevertheless, I had the girls sticking up for me and telling me all about their football.
Anyway, who knows if when I left they start to fight again once I left but I tried to take my time with the boys, learn their names and their motives and just make them thinking. What does physical fighting solve? The release of anger, release of frustration, the boost of ego if you win, regaining power or losing it. I guess with kids these days, the way they can boost their confidence as being seen as the strong one, the one that should be feared, the one who won't say no to a fight.
So happiness? Would these boys be happy after they punched each other's faces? Would they have an inner feeling of contentment? How can we teach youth of today to feel good about themselves?
When talking about bullying, I always say that bullies usually bully because they feel bad about themselves and are just trying to make others feel bad. If you are truly happy within yourself, would you feel the need to bully? I wish we could teach youngsters to resolve issues in other ways.
Teaching psychology and also Health 4u in school helps towards this. I try to teach kids to accept themselves but also to continually try to be healthier and feel good about themselves. In Health 4u, we teach about different aspects of health and how they are connected. I use the example of football for me. Football fits all my aspects of health: physically, I work out and train hard so I meet my daily recommendation of physical activity. I have to eat well to get best out of my performance. For the social aspect of health, I am around people, and have to socially interact. For the emotional and mental, being around positive people makes me feel good, and also achieving goals makes me feel good and working towards things. How do you meet all your aspects of health?
So can we become happier?
According to research, being grateful can lift someone's mood. Being thankful for the things in your life and reflecting daily on the things you appreciate increase life satisfaction.
Another way to boost your happy emotions is by helping others and displaying acts of kindness. Lyubomirsky's study showed that by doing 5 kind acts a week, even all on one single day, gives a boost of happiness. Seligman uses various gratitude exercises such as writing a thank you later, recalling three blessings per day. The gratitude letter showed that people were measurably happier and less depressed a month later and with the recalling blessings showed that people were also less depressed and happier three months and six months later. I used these exercises in my intervention and the results of my study showed that the players displayed more positive emotions and also optimism levels increased.
So steps towards happiness:
1) gratitude journal: make note of three things you are thankful for each day.
2) be kind: help others e.g. Pay for someone's coffee, help an elderly lady cross the road etc.
3) thank others: write letters to those who have helped you or tell people you appreciate them.
4) forgive others: let go of any anger or resentment towards others. You can show forgiveness by also writing a letter or telling the person. Forgiving helps you move on and have less pain inside.
5) accept yourself for who you are: learn to love yourself by seeing your strengths and taking into account positive aspects of your personality. Personality traits will last a lifetime whereas talents sometimes don't. Knowing you are a good person will help your talents.
6) take care of yourself: sleep, exercise, eat well, learn to have time to yourself, laugh, smile, and feel free.
7) invest time in others: the biggest factor of life satisfaction is relationships with others. Build on relationships and spend time with the positive people in your life. "Almost every person feels happier when they are with other people" reports Csikszentmihalyi.
Wallis, C (2004). The New Science of Happiness. Time Magazine.
Flora, C. (2009). The Pursuit of Happiness. Psychology Today.
Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.