I remember my first ever Happiness course at Alcester Grammar School, Warwickshire.
I mentioned the project in assembly, blasted out “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, and I expected perhaps 10 students to show up, after all, it was a lunchtime club. Surprisingly, we had 70 students that day, no match for Yale’s 1200 and 11,000 more online, but for us that was amazing. I was surprised and awakened to the needs of these high achieving students, these young people wanted to know how to be happy and they were looking for answers and guidance.
These 70 students were just the students willing to show up, the ones who were motivated and interested and didn’t mind a sandwich for lunch. It made me wonder and slightly worry about all the other students out there who didn’t come, who wanted to but were too shy, too embarrassed or to busy to explore the concept of happiness and well being.
I was a novice. I had read “Flourish” by Martin Seligman, but there was little else out there ten years ago in the public domain, that I could refer to for science based research on wellbeing and positive mental health. Seligman had inspired me from page one, here was someone who wanted more than to get someone to live without depression but to move to a fully flourishing life. This was exactly what I wanted for my students, especially the ones who were anxious and depressed or the ones who were just downright sad and overwhelmed at times. This idea of flourishing is what I wanted for myself, for my family and for those in society who were desperately struggling.
We explored together on our 6 week course, with a week of Acts of Kindness, Laughter Yoga, Gratitude, vision boards and looking at the differences between hedonic and eudaimonic kinds of happiness (although we didn’t know they were called that at the time.)
Mostly, we had fun, we looked a little bit silly at times, we gave flowers to people who mattered to us. There was no agenda, there was just a teacher talking to them and listening to them about the things that mattered to them, that made them laugh, with no exams, no tests, no grade. A teacher asking them about the things they loved, the things they believed in and the things that filled them with joy. I wanted to know, what was right not what was wrong.
This was the start of my love for positive psychology, I could see the difference this short course had made to the attitudes of young people. I knew I wanted to take this further and I am now part way through a Masters in Positive Psychology at UEL and loving every second of it.
I am using it in my volunteering with a fabulous charity called Lifespace who mentor young people across schools in Warwickshire.
I am also delivering training to teachers about their own personal well-being and how they can pass this knowledge onto their students enabling them to be mentally healthy and resilient. through a whole school approach, for a company led by Liz Robson-Kelly and the amazing Worth-it training, that enables schools to develop whole school wellbeing and positive mental health.
Positive psychology is ‘the scientific study of what makes life most worth living’. It is about looking at human strengths as well as human weaknesses. It is not just about healing those who are broken but just as much about making the lives of ordinary people as fulfilling and enriched as possible.
Please don’t think this is all unicorns and rainbows where we all skip, holding hands into the hills. It does not dismiss the hardships of life, mental illness or pathology. It is embedded in scientific research and enables us to research the areas of life where people can flourish and not languish. Among other things it explores, researches and applies to optimism, hope, resilience, mindfulness, character strengths, gratitude, wisdom and experiences of flow.
It is important for young people today to learn the skills to prevent and protect them from mental illness. It has to start with their teachers feeling mentally well and resilient and in a good place to educate them. This needs a holistic approach and parent, teenagers and students can only benefit from the current research and application of this research. Much, much more about this in further posts.
I love this TED talk by Shawn Achor watch and enjoy and have a better understanding of Positive Psychology and the importance of this science for us all.