Mental Health Starts
with the Positive
“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” Joseph Campbell.
I love this quote. While I consider myself a happy person today, I wasn’t always one. A few years of therapy helped me eventually reach a place where I no longer felt like a victim and didn’t have any more problems to solve. My therapist basically told me I was done—no more therapy needed for me. But I didn’t feel done. “Is this the goal?” I thought. “Just being OK? Not feeling crappy?” These questions set me on the path toward positive psychology. Finishing therapy was just the beginning of my journey to increased happiness.
While he didn’t come up with the idea, Dr. Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association, is credited with bringing positive psychology to the public consciousness. As he describes in his 2004 TEDTalk, the first 60 years of psychology focused on the disease model—finding and fixing what’s wrong. Dr. Seligman doesn’t discount the progress made during that time, and neither do I. Studying mental illness led us to treatments for mental illness that didn’t exist before. But positive psychology can help us progress in a different way.
Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes us flourish as human beings. In his talk, Dr. Seligman defines three key elements to successful human lives: happiness (or pleasure), engagement (flow), and meaning (higher purpose). These are ways in which people can increase their life satisfaction. Here are four practices that I’ve found helpful in increasing these elements in my life.
Important disclaimer: Mental illness affects one in five people. Treatment plans for mental illness vary, and we can’t expect or assume that everyone can improve their mental outlook using only positive psychology. I’m sharing these methods because they work for me. You or someone you know may need additional help or resources, and that’s OK.
Meditation is a powerful antidote to depression. A 2014 Johns Hopkins University study showed meditation to have as strong an effect for treating depression and anxiety as antidepressant medication. If you are looking for a simple way to get started, there are many apps with free options available including Calm and Headspace.
I started meditating regularly about a year ago. (Or rather, I started trying to meditate a year ago.) Meditation is the simplest, and most difficult, thing I’ve ever tried to do. You sit in a chair, close your eyes, focus on your breath, and don’t think. But I found it is much easier said than done. (For at least the first two months, I fell asleep every time I tried to meditate.)
Now, a year later, I’m pretty dedicated to my morning meditation routine. I’ve seen a marked difference in my ability to focus, my stress level, and my general sense of well-being. (Sometimes I still fall asleep, but that’s OK.) Most importantly, I’m happier than I was a year ago—and I appreciate just how great my life is. Which leads me to…
Practicing gratitude is simple, yet powerful. Every day, write down five things you are grateful for. It may seem Pollyannaish, but just the practice of looking for the positive on a regular basis retrains your brain to think about positive things. At TiER1, gratitude is a huge part of our culture. We often begin meetings by sharing what we’re thankful for. This sets the stage for more productive collaboration. It also helps us build on our strengths.
When it comes to self-improvement for you or your team, do you typically focus on overcoming a weakness? Well, self-improvement through the lens of positive psychology looks a little different. If we learn about our strengths and leverage them more in our work and play, our happiness level (and productivity) can increase.
Here are some great resources for focusing on strengths:
- Gallup StrengthsFinder (purchase required)
- Brief Strengths Test from the Positive Psychology Center (registration required)
When it comes to developing a sense of meaning, helping others can have a lasting positive impact. When you do something for another person, the reward centers of your brain are activated. The impact is magnified if you match your giving with something you are passionate about, or if you volunteer using your strengths.
Finding your joy
In studying positive psychology, I have learned that life is more than not feeling bad—it is about igniting joy. I’ve found that I’m in control of my happiness. There are things I can choose to do on a regular basis that will raise my level of life satisfaction. I’ve also found that consistency is important.
I invite you to find your joy—for you and your teams. Mind work is like body work. You won’t become fit with one trip to the (mind) gym. But over time, you can rewire your brain to feel better.
What will you do today to improve your mental outlook?
Want to connect with Susan? Give us a call at (859) 415-1000 or drop us a line in the form at the bottom of this page.