We are about to run a course of five Positive Psychology workshops. These weekly sessions will be one hour long and will focus on the techniques that have been demonstrated by research to have a positive impact on our wellbeing levels. In week 1 we look at some of the barriers to happiness and how we can overcome them. Each week we introduce a different evidenced based technique from Positive Psychology. We then practice it within the group and at home with friends and family
Because we have a strong community ethos at Breathe and because we believe the knowledge emerging from this field should be widely available we are making these workshops low cost. The UK course, run by Madeleine, is £15 a week (£75 for the 5 week course) and $30 for the Australian course run by me ($150 for the 5 week course)
Madeleine and myself met in 2007 on the first Masters Degree in Positive Psychology outside of the US. We were early adopters and have a healthy respect and a healthy skepticism about this new science and what it can do for human flourishing. Course details:
2 GROUPS ON MONDAYS in London : 12.30-13.30PM OR 4-5PM
Humans tend to be optimistic about the future. When asked how satisfied we are with our lives the response is usually about 7 out of 10. When asked how satisfied we think we will be in the future most people tend to say they will be more satisfied.
Confusingly however, research suggests that we also have a tendency to focus on our deficits rather than our strengths, our failings rather than our successes and what we crave for rather than what we have. On the one hand we say we are satisfied whilst at the same time we feel restless and incomplete.
The power of restlessness can be a motivating energy that drives us forward and helps us to achieve great success in life. It moves us on, thrusting and conquering. It can be a force for great good. For example when scientists and philanthropists apply their energy, passion and knowledge to overcoming the challenges we face. It can also be the most destructive force on the planet destroying individual and global wellbeing.
Overcoming the barriers to happiness
So let’s consider the barriers to happiness and why we may feel this underlying restlessness:
The hedonic treadmill – When we enjoy a new material possession, for example a car or a house, our minds quickly adjust to the heightened experience. Research suggest that at first when we enjoy a new thing we feel “happier” but within no time at all we are back to where we started, restless and seeking the next thing to consume
We are more alert to danger and our defects rather than our opportunities and strengths – From an evolutionary perspective this makes perfect sense. In the 19th century life expectancy in the UK was 35. Prior to the 20th century it was often a violent and dangerous world and we needed to be on our toes. As Steven Pinker noted in his book, “A history of violence” , despite all its carnage the 20th century was statistically the least violent century there has been and the trend is continuing to improve in the 21st century. There are many challenges facing us now but in general we’ve never had it so good.
However brains change slowly and training the mind to be receptive to the positive as much as to negative influences requires tenacity and heightened awareness. There are many wonderful exercises explored in Positive Psychology research which remind us to cherish what we have and remind us to count our blessings. When we are aware of our evolutionary bias, which tends to focus our minds on problems, we can re train our minds to focus on our strengths and those of colleagues and friends. A positive mental outlook goes hand in hand with positive emotions and a healthy body. With positive emotions and a healthy body we are better equipped to overcome loss and suffering which inevitably will come into all our lives at some point
Our ancestors – Studies indicate that when we respond to a survey about how happy we are, the answer that we give is likely to be highly pre determined by heritable factors. Whether you are a 5 or a 9 out of 10 is determined by three main key factors:
the circumstances in your life (for example how much money you make) and lastly
the choices that you have made that day to influence your mood state.
50% of the variance between your answer and the average for the population is determined by heritable factors. In psychology that’s a huge percentage which suggests that the view that we have of our own happiness and how happy we think we will be in the future is fairly well determined at birth. And as a reminder of why this self evaluation of happiness is important – the more satisfied people say they are with their lives the longer they are likely to live and the healthier they are likely to be.
On the flip side studies indicate that just 10% of our self reported happiness levels are down to the circumstances in our life (for example how much money we earn) and a further 40% is down to the choices we make on a daily basis. That’s a great positive message. With this knowledge we can remind ourselves each day that although we have a tendency to have a certain level of happiness which is influenced by our ancestry, it is not fixed. We have the power to re-write a new future for ourselves and our children.
The key to this may be to raise awareness about the tools and tendencies that we are born with that can either propel us towards success or destruction. When we are able to observe these tendencies in ourselves, our parents and our grandparents it makes it easier to create new positive habits and rituals. This is similar to the karmic tendencies that Hindus believe we inherit from past lives. They also note importantly each day we are given the opportunity to start again, begin afresh and rewrite the present and the future. They call this Aagami karma – the karma that you are creating at this moment with your thoughts, emotions and actions.
“When you arise in the morning think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think to enjoy, to love”
This was written by him nearly 2,000 years ago. There is nothing new in the world but we have to keep reminding ourselves of what is important