Difficult Times Require Positive Thinking

Taking care of our mental health is as important as looking after our physical health. Recently we may have found that social distancing and staying at home has been frustrating or lonely and that our mood and feelings were affected. We may have felt low, worried or had problems sleeping and we might have missed being with other people.

It is natural to feel worried or anxious during these uncertain times, but there are things we can all do to help ourselves and others, to prevent these feelings from becoming more serious. One strategy is to work on our happiness. I have been reading around the subject of Positive Psychology over the summer and have been on quite a journey in my thinking. Perhaps I am stating the obvious when I suggest that our emotions drive our behaviours and yet at times I have certainly been guilty of being drawn down by negativity. It is sometimes very difficult to challenge those around us who demonstrate emotions and behaviour that is not positive. These “mood hoovers” have the potential to sap the energy out of people with their constant focus on negative aspects of life. It is important to take control of our conscious thoughts, because what we focus on or think about the majority of the time is what our unconscious mind goes to work on attracting into our lives.

During our staff training this week I shared with colleagues the principles of ‘PERMA’, a Positive Psychology approach developed by Martin Seligman. He believes that there are five elements which can help people work towards a life of fulfilment, happiness and meaning:

P – Positive Emotions

E – Engagement

R – Relationships

M – Meaning

A – Achievements

By focusing on the five elements above, Seligman believes we can bolster our positive emotions which, in turn, will improve our happiness. It is all about focusing on the positive.

Too many people are putting into their lives low-energy, ‘cannot-be-bothered’ negativity, whingeing about the bad weather and supporting a perception from the news that the world is heading in a bad direction. They stick these ingredients into their ‘sausage machine of life’ and wonder why life is dealing them a doom and gloom, low-energy, ‘counting-down-to-the-weekend’ type of life. It is a simple rule – you get out what you put in. If you put poor ingredients into your sausage you will get a poorly tasting sausage.

Pessimists, Seligman writes, tend to react to negative events by explaining them as “permanent, personal, and pervasive” (he calls these “the three P’s.”) Failed a test? It is not because you did not prepare well; it is because you are not intelligent.  Optimists, in contrast, look for specific, limited, short-term explanations for bad events and as a result, in the face of a setback, they are more likely to pick themselves up and try again.

It is interesting that employers recruit staff based on their strengths yet many appraisal systems focus on weaknesses and how to target support to address them. Would it not be far more beneficial to really strengthen the positives in people and only address weaknesses if the member of staff is at risk of underperformance that could jeopardise the aims of the team?

Successful people focus on their strengths rather than their weak areas. In fact, often they succeed despite their weaknesses.

Positive psychology applies to children just as much as to adults. At Yateley Manor the positive emotions of staff is very important because the children view adults around them as role models. If we are positive and demonstrate happiness, so will they. The curriculum we offer is hugely creative and makes links across subjects. This not only gives the children context and meaning for their learning but also provides them with opportunities to “lose” themselves and become fully immersed in their thinking. Children need to develop relationships with others so we not only facilitate this through a broad range of extra-curricular activities but we also explicitly teach them how to be successful. The ‘M’ in PERMA relates to seeking a meaning or purpose for yourself in life. This is closely linked with the final word, ‘Achievements’, in that it is important for children to find strengths, give themselves personal meaning and celebrate their accomplishments.

Ultimately being successful with happiness is not about becoming a different person. It is a matter of finding out what really works for you, and doing more of it.

There’s nothing more important that you’ll ever do than spread positive, upbeat, energetic, passionate vibes. You’ll feel better for it. And, crucially, those around you will respond in a positive manner.

(from “The Art of Being Brilliant: Transform Your Life by Doing What Works For You”, Cope, A. & Whittaker, A. (2012))


Robert Upton