Rethinking Joy & Happiness in our daily lives – An introduction to the world of positive psychology in a post-pandemic world

Hi Everyone,

It has been some time since I have written a blog post – my writing time has been wholly focused on writing a draft of my first book – a historical non-fiction number that takes up current wellbeing practices through the instructional life of famous writer and pioneer, Catharine Parr Traill. This has been a fascinating process that brings together a lot of the work and research that I have completed in the past. I can’t wait to share it with you.

As we make our way through the gloomy days of November – not quite Christmas and fully ‘blah,’ I wanted to share a modified excerpt from my recent work that seems timely and needed – it’s been a tough transition for many adults and young people as we all ventured back into the classrooms and offices after 2 years of isolation. I think we expected this year to be invigorating and to represent a rebirth as the world (or at least the North American world) began to return to some form of normalcy – and while it has in many ways, in other ways, we’re still just dog tired after months of living in a perpetual state of flight or fight.

Looking back, I am not sure what would have convinced us that we would recover so quickly, both psychologically and physically, from the s*#t storm that was 2020 and 2021 just because we had vaccines – I wish it worked that way. While the amazing Jennifer Gonzelez offered a really timely and important call to action and some tangible ways for school leaders to support teachers this year, I wanted to focus on some psychological strategies that we can use at the individual level to recover more quickly – all grounded in the fabulous field of positive psychology. To be crystal clear – both individual and systemic strategies are needed for this journey.

Positive psychology is an important area of wellbeing research that takes up the fundamentals of flourishing, or that opposite state of ‘languishing.’ You might remember the NYT’s article in which Adam Grant unearthed the psychology surrounding that ‘blah’ feeling we all had, and continue to have (ugh), when we are functioning fine in our day to day, but aren’t really thriving – the ‘neglected middle child of mental health.’ This post offers some background and some hands-on exercises to help you, in some small way, move from languishing to flourishing. I do these exercises with my student in careers class (thank you to the Ontario government for including mental health in the new curriculum!) and it always resonates. I hope it does for you as well.

In his book, Flourish, the founding father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman coined the term PERMA-V – it is an acronym that really succinctly gets at the vast amount of academic research that has been collected about wellbeing and thriving in the past 10 years. Below is what it stands for and some questions you can ponder to think about this in your own life – I always like to ask myself these good questions when I start to feel as though my wellbeing is slipping in tense or stressful times: aka – the past two years.

Note: None of these areas of researched wellbeing practices are associated with ‘stuff’ – they are all derived from our inner worlds and the people around us who make us feel good. Think of all the best times in your life, and I can almost guarantee they involved others, as opposed to ‘things’ – a plug before that Christmas shopping commences in the face of a supply shortage!

  • Positive Emotion – what makes you feel good? 
  •  Engagement – What are the things that help you lose track of time?
  •  Relationships – Who brings you peace and joy? Who supports you? 
  • Meaning – What things are most meaningful to you? 
  • Achievement – what is important for you to achieve? 
  • Vitality – what physical habits make your body feel best?

Psychologists believe that if you ask yourself these questions, embedded in the PERMA-V framework, and seriously ponder if you are fulfilling these areas, you are on track to develop lifelong wellbeing – easy, right!? Just kidding, this is a lifelong process that ebbs and flows based on life circumstances and it’s important to know when you need to shift into ‘survival mode’ to get through your days, or if you are feeling in a place to dive into this work.

In survival mode, it is important to focus on just a few things that can get you through the day, and they are often physical – go for a walk, breathe deeply, hug a loved one – anything to remove your system from flight or fight. I always think back to my time just after having babies, when I was a hormonal puddle of equal parts love and overwhelm – doing soul searching in that time would have felt impossible – a walk or shower and a hug from my partner, doable. You get the picture!

If you’re feeling up to it, though, you can try this simple exercise below as a first step towards self-awareness;

Map your Happy – use this chart to plot out your positive source of emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. What areas are strongest? Where could you add more to contribute to flourishing? 

POSITIVE EMOTIONS – What brings you positive emotions?

ENGAGEMENT – What activities do you get completely absorbed in? 

POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS – What relationships bring you joy and support? What do you do to nurture them?

MEANING – What larger purpose or cause do you feel drawn or connected to? 


ACCOMPLISHMENTS – What would you like to accomplish in the next year/week/month?

TAKEAWAYS – in what areas are you strongest? Where could you give more attention to really flourish? What’s your biggest takeaway from this exercise? 

Have a restful Sunday and week ahead,

L.

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