As we begin a new school term completely unlike any other we have ever experienced, we are focusing this week on Positive Psychology. It is easy at this difficult time to focus on the negatives – and there are many – but we are also seeing the positive side of human nature and ultimately it is our resilience that will see us through this.
With huge thanks, as always, to the Catalyst team for their creativity, research and ideas.
Ruby has reviewed and summarised the research base for Positive Psychology:
In January 2000 a special issue of the American Psychologist journal was published that introduced the idea of Positive Psychology. Guest editors Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi felt that Psychology as a profession was increasingly focusing on mental ill health and related treatments but wasn’t looking at “the factors that allow individuals, communities and societies to flourish”. They called for more focus on and research into the positive events and influences in peoples’ lives. Thousands of studies have since taken place about the benefits of Positive Psychology (too many to summarise here), but here is a selection of some of those findings:
- People who have networks of happy friends, family and significant others are themselves significantly more likely to be happy in the future
- Optimism is a predictive factor of good physical health
- Adolescents who build connections to others and to purposes larger than themselves show higher levels of well-being
- Students who performed acts of kindness for their peers reported improved well-being and increased peer acceptance
- Recalling positive experiences leads to increased generosity
Positive psychology focuses on the positive events and influences in life, including:
- Positive experiences (like happiness, joy, inspiration, and love).
- Positive states and traits (like gratitude, resilience, and compassion).
As a field, positive psychology spends much of its time thinking about topics like character strengths, optimism, life satisfaction, happiness, well-being, gratitude, compassion (as well as self-compassion), self-esteem and self-confidence, hope, and elevation.
You can find a full list of links to the research on our webpage here.
Taking an optimistic perspective and thinking about the children in our schools, this is a good time to remember that children are typically resilient, and most children are likely to come out of this experience with no long term ill-effects. When schools re-open and regular routines are re-established, children will pick up their learning and friendships again, and they will be happy to do so.
Thinking about ourselves as adults, we can remind ourselves that most of us are able to make our own decisions about who and how we want to be during this time. This diagram from our Facebook page has been the most shared post we have ever had.
The diagram is not original to our team and it is not clear who originally developed it, as it has been widely shared on various internet sites, but now is a good time to resolve to stay in the ‘growth zone’ as far as possible.
Positive things to do
Ideas for children and adults. Some activities will need adult support, or adaptation for younger children:
1. Positivity_Project_Manchester: a positive psychology informed art collaboration on Instagram
Gratitude is a big contributor to happiness in life. The more we cultivate gratitude, the happier we feel. It can seem difficult to feel grateful about the current situation, and the constant flow of worrying information being beamed into our homes 24/7, can negatively affect how we feel. Sometimes it helps to start small, to start to notice the little things we are grateful for and that help to grow our feelings of hope. What better symbol of hope for the future than a simple heart. Once you start looking, you’ll see them everywhere, and you’ll have started helping to focus your thoughts back to something positive.
The Positivity Project Manchester is a positive psychology informed art collaboration, using your uploaded photographs of hearts, to create a lasting symbol of how we all fostered hope during this difficult period. All you need to do is to follow us on Instagram at @positivity_project_manchester, and then start tagging us in your heart photos along with telling us where you are, and we’ll do the rest. For more information contact Paula Muir (email@example.com)
2. Staying with the theme of Gratitude
I loved this clip on Newsround of Paul and Freddy’s Top Tips for Mental Health (write down something that you are grateful for each day). Paul is a wellbeing coach and Freddy is his son:
3. Action for Happiness
..have lots of ideas on their website, with information about why happiness is important and how to focus on remembering what makes us happy. Have a look at their ‘Coping Calendar’ here. I especially like Day 2: “Enjoy washing your hands. Remember all they do for you!”
4. Visit the Museum of Happiness
..and learn about the science of happiness. Their Cultivating Happiness Toolkit could be used with older children and young people. They have adapted the ‘5 ways to well-being’ for the ‘happiness’ agenda, for example “Take notice: Remember the simple things that give you joy”. During the Lockdown, the museum has produced a number of virtual events for adults too: more information here.
5. Read a book
Beverley has written about one of her favourite books, The Happiness Project:
“Our theme of ‘positive psychology’ this week reminded me of one of my favourite books, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. The author, Gretchen, realised one day that, despite having a lot to be thankful for, she wasn’t as happy as she hoped to be. As she puts it, ‘Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter’. Following this realisation, the author decided to dedicate a year to researching whether she could become happier by making small but meaningful changes to her life. Whilst I do enjoy watching TV shows about more radical lifestyle changes, such as families relocating to far off islands, this isn’t something I’m considering anytime soon, so Gretchen’s research feels more relevant. The book is written in a fun and casual style and gives useful tips for many aspects of our lives, from boosting energy levels, to parenting, to work. At this time, when we have even less control over upsetting things than usual, rather than trying to mend what doesn’t make us happy, it might be best to focus on what does.
Gretchen’s website can be found at https://gretchenrubin.com/, and includes information about her books, podcasts, and other resources”
6. Focus on your strengths and help others to find theirs
Tim suggests taking some time to think about character strengths and what makes us resilient. He has provided some activities that could be adapted for use with your staff teams and/or children and young people. Download Tim's ideas sheet here.
App of the week
Lucy Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Gratitude Garden
The Gratitude Garden is an app intended to help you maintain the gratitude practice of noting down three good things that have happened over the past 24 hours. Research indicates that gratitude journaling is one of the most effective ways to increase happiness. Gratitude is also strongly correlated with pro-social behaviour and self-worth, and reducing stress, materialism and negative self-comparisons. It encourages you to think about what has gone right in your day. Every time you note down what good things have happened, you receive points you can use to build up a garden and also a Gratitude Card with suggestions for further things you could do to increase your gratitude and happiness. The app is available to download now for free at Play and Apple stores.
We have been listening to…. Happiness
Rebecca Wright (email@example.com)
From the series called Personal Best, episode entitled Happiness (28 minutes) from BBC Sounds App
This podcast explores happiness by discussing what constitutes happiness, why is it so important to us and in what ways can we seek a fulfilling life. During this time, it can be helpful to reflect on what brings us content and fulfilment in our lives. The podcast discusses thinking about happiness as a way of considering what creates contentment and joy. I particularly liked the distinction between external joy from pets and/or family members (people and things) and internal joy through exercise and things we do for ourselves such as ‘noticing’ which adds meaning to our lives.
There is an interview with workers at the Museum of Happiness in London and they draw on aspects of Positive Psychology to promote wellbeing and daily living. Something I am taking from this period of lockdown is to think about something that has gone well in my day. Looking for the positives in a time of much uncertainty is bringing much gratitude to my days and a much-needed distraction. I realise that contentment and seeking meaning is an ongoing journey and is our ability to adapt to the circumstances we face.
Stories from the team
Members of the Catalyst team have written about their recent personal stories of happiness, gratitude and noticing the simple things that bring us joy. If you are reading this newsletter whilst working from home, grab a brew and take 5 minutes to read our stories here:
You might have missed…
Manchester Council has set up a central hub to co-ordinate support for vulnerable residents. This includes help for young carers and care leavers. The helpline number is 0800 234 6123. For more information visit the Manchester Community Central website here. Information is available in a range of community languages (if you need this and have difficulty finding it email me directly)
The Greater Manchester Health hub has access to a range of online mental health support for children and young people as well as adults:
General well-being information and advice suitable for everyone is available here
The Silvercloud platform provides support for people (in Greater Manchester) feeling stressed and anxious as a result of the COVID19 outbreak
The Kooth online platform offers free counselling and support for young people aged 11 – 18 (GM residents only). The support includes online chat and links with other young people.
Thrive Manchester have helpfully collated a list of a wide number of services with contact details in a downloadable document here.
We are carrying out a small scale study into the feelings and concerns of school staff and also of children and young people at this time. The purpose of the study is to provide information that will inform our work over the coming months.
If you are a teacher and would like to help, please click the link into the survey questionnaire:
If you know of a child or young person who would like to help, the link to the children’s questionnaire is here (requires adult consent):