Psychology has made a wonderful contribution in helping us understand human behaviour. But it has had a one-track approach. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders details over 400 mental health disorders. What many people do not know is that we only have successful interventions for 14 of them. Unfortunately, psychology has obsessed itself too much with deficits, disadvantages and disorders. As a consequence we know so much more about illness than wellness. The science has been lob-sided or as eminent positive psychologist Martin Seligman described as ‘half-baked’.
Psychology has successfully investigated unhappiness but possibly at the expense of understanding happiness. Within the psychology section of any library over 90% of the books are based on understanding what is wrong in human beings. Very little has been written about what is right. Psychology recommends interventions for when things go wrong but has done a lot less on preventing things from ever going wrong in the first place. We often hear about the stigma attached to mental illness. However, psychology has nearly stigmatised itself with its bias towards understanding the ‘negative’ aspects of human behaviour.
In recent years a growing number of psychologists are researching more positive topics like happiness, wellness, optimism, resilience etc. This is a welcome shift in emphasis. If health and happiness are what we all want then science has to seriously examine such key areas. Psychology can offer us pointers towards becoming healthier and happier through the findings of this new research. As well as understanding why people become unwell and defining the different types of unwellness psychology needs to understand (from a scientific perspective) what we can do to harness wellness and enhance happiness. Thankfully, we already know of some things that make a big difference.
So what can we do to help us become more fulfilled in life? What helps us be happier more often than unhappy? Are there things we can do to help us become more fulfilled and content in ourselves? How do we increase our average score for happiness while we live on this planet? Health and happiness is not the stuff of a magic spell or potion. Some of the simple things in life make a big difference. Here are some tips!
Exercise is proven to be a mood enhancer. Have you incorporated some form of exercise into your everyday experience? It’s a habit easily formed. Even a 30 minute brisk walk everyday will make a big difference. Make sure that it is a happywalk. Leave your worries behind. Bring a friend if it would help distract you more from thinking about your problems!
Increase flow: Have you given up the things you loved doing? Have you tried some new activities? Flow comes from doing the things we love most and trying new challenges. Sadly, when we became adults we leave behind the things that made us tick – the things that had us at our happiest e.g. musicians no longer playing music or artists with paintings in their attics ever since they got married or became a parent!! But we need flow even more during the challenges and the crises that life poses. When we are in flow our worries and anxieties are not in the room with us! We all need to switch the channel sometimes.
Meditation: Enroll for a meditation course as soon as you can! In particular look out for a ‘Mindfulness’ course. Mindfulness has been comprehensively researched and its positive effects are confirmed for so many conditions. Practice these relaxation techniques. It will take time to adjust but keep at it. Mindfulness has been researched and the health benefits both mentally and physically are most impressive. We need to bask in the glory of NOW and become aware of the gift of life.
Become more rational: Practice being rational – i.e. delaying decisions, seeking second and third opinions, double-checking. How long do you want to be angry for? Does it matter that much? We often become ‘know-alls’ and join the dots without the evidence – making conclusions without knowing all the facts. Sometimes we annoy ourselves needlessly due to how we make sense of the things that happen to us. Work at becoming more rational in our approach to life. We often engage in unhelpful, illogical and distorted thinking.
Become more compassionate: Life is imperfect. People are imperfect. So are you! And those you love. You do not have total and exclusive rights to stress. Plan deliberate acts of kindness into each day. It’s nice to be nice but also good for you. Acts of kindness connect us to other people. Through kindness we start to see our own problems within the context of other people who may have even greater problems. We feel better after being kind because our inner-chemistry changes. We develop a ‘helper’s high’! Practice kindness as it will make you feel more fulfilled.
Gratitude: Gratitude is the practice of deliberately noticing and appreciating the positives in the world (particularly in your own personal world). Shifting the focus from what you don’t have to what you do have can have a profound influence on your moment-to-moment mood and emotional state. It can have also have a huge impact on your physical health. It’s too easy to list out the things we could do with. Make of a list of the things you are blessed with instead.
Connect with others People need people. The greatest friend of depression is solitude. And you don’t have to live on your own to experience it. All you have to do is cut away from other people. Of course we will need a little solitude now and again – time to think. However, the reality is that us humans need to reach out to others. We need to re-ignite friendships that have fizzled out over time. We need to make new friendships too. We need to be open-minded and less judgmental when it comes to others. All of us need to get involved with community through volunteering, clubs, activities etc. If the greatest friend of depression is solitude ( where you just listen to your own self-damning theories without interruption or without the voice of reason being in the room with you) then the greatest enemy of self-inflicted negativity is distraction. We get lots of distraction in being social!
Prayer: New research indicates that prayer has physiological and psychological benefits. No particular prayer. No particular religion. Indeed prayer is an expression of something much deeper – spirituality. Spirituality is about a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose, a sense of journey and fundamentally a belief that this life is not all about ME! I read an article from the British Medical Journal recently on this topic. Research from the school of Positive Psychology has shown that people who pray, who have this spiritual dimension and invest in it are more content and fulfilled.
(c) Shane Martin
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