What does it mean to truly flourish in our lives? What roles do resilience, optimism, and gratitude play in helping us to genuinely thrive both personally and professionally?
These are some of the life questions that Positive Psychology seeks to better understand through the scientific exploration of human potential.
Dr. Martin Seligman is credited as being the father of the Positive Psychology movement and has put decades of research into helping the world better understand the factors that lead to greater happiness and fulfillment in life.
His best-selling books Authentic Happiness, Flourish, Learned Optimism, Character Strengths and Virtues, as well as many other books he has written, share the research that he and his team have done related to the science of happiness and how people can produce more positive emotions in their lives through the use of specific techniques and strategies that have been proven to be effective.
One of the strategies that my wife, Neila Steele, and myself came across a couple of years ago caught our attention and it’s something that we’ve tried to put into practice In our own lives. As well, we’ve tried to practice it with our two boys and with the students that we have taught. Although the strategy seems quite simple, it can be difficult to apply in our own lives with consistency. However, it requires consistency, on a daily basis, over a succession of weeks to begin to take root and actually lead to changes in the neurochemistry of our brains. It has been proven to produce more positive emotions with regularity in the lives of the people who have practiced it.
Dr. Martin Seligman has conducted hundreds of experiments using this strategy with many different types of people, many of whom suffer from severe depression. As well, he has replicated the study with people that have not been impacted by depression who live ‘normal' lives.
In almost all cases, the strategy proved to be effective in alleviating the debilitating effects of depression. It also led to a more positive mindset with the others who had participated in the study that didn’t suffer from depression and led relatively normal lives. Amazing how the simple act of gratitude can change the brain and lead to more positivity in our lives!
Researchers of Good
The strategy is called ‘Researchers of Good’ or ‘Scanning for the Good’ and requires people, over a 7-day period, to genuinely reflect on their life at the end of each day identifying 3 good things that happened to them. A noun must also be used to describe what each good thing represents and is placed in parenthesis beside the written statement describing the good thing that happened.
Even on our bad days, Seligman says it is critical to still complete this activity. When we actually scan for the good in our lives, we can always find a minimum of three things that happened on that day. Recognizing these good things promotes a greater sense of gratitude and positive emotion. However, we need to practice this strategy with consistency, on a daily basis, for it to have an impact of our overall level of happiness.
For example, a person might come up with the following list of three good things and accompany each good thing with a label that describes what the good thing represents:
My friend shared their lunch with me today (Generosity)
A stranger took the time to hold the door open for me in the store today (Kindness)
I stuck to my fitness and nutrition plan today (Commitment)
The good things identified do not have to be breathtakingly awesome or out of this world to be recognized as something worthy of being labelled as ‘good’. It can be the ordinary, often overlooked good things that happen in our lives that often go unnoticed that can easily be added to our list of three good things that happened to us on any particular day.
The point is that we can reprogram our brains to actively search for the good in our lives when we practice doing so. Rather than identifying all the things that we believe are going wrong or not working well, we tap into a plethora of positive emotions that can actually change the neurochemistry of our brains. This can often result in a greater sense of well-being, happiness and fulfillment. But we must have a genuine appreciation and deep sense of gratitude for these good things, not just pay superficial attention to them.
The ‘Researchers of Good’ strategy is a very mindful act that requires us to be present with our thoughts and reflections. It requires some quiet time to genuinely reflect on our day and to invest the time necessary to identify and give gratitude for the good things that have happened to us. As humans we can automatically default to what’s not working in our lives or all the things going wrong, but this strategy gets us to flip the paradigm on its head and celebrate the good in our life with more consistency.
Try it out at home, at the office, with your colleagues and other family members for at least 7 straight days. The most important thing is taking the time to actually write it down in a journal or on sticky notes. It’s the act of writing it down that completes the strategy as we are investing time to reflect and to write down the good things we experience. If you do well at it for 7 days, try it out for 14 days or even a month. The more you do it, the better you will get at it.
We devoted a chalkboard wall to it on our own house and had students try it out by writing their lists of good each day on the windows of the classroom using non-permanent markers.
Hope you try out the ‘Researcher of Good’ strategy in your own life! Thanks for reading.
According to a study done by Asurion, a global tech company, the typical American checks their phone on average once every 12 minutes. The study revealed that of the 2,000 people surveyed, one in 10 actually check their phones on average once every four minutes which is quite an alarming statistic. The New York Times published an article in 2017 that summarized the results of this study to illustrate the point that we are an addicted society when it comes to dependency on our devices. Although this study was done in the United States, I am sure the statistics would be similar in other developed nations such as Canada, the United Kingdom or other European countries.
Setting an intention to put aside our devices or resist the urge to habitually pull them out of our pockets, handbags, or backpacks can be a challenging task for all of us, but an interesting one to try out, especially when trying to improve on our ability to be more ‘present’ in our every day life. Being more present and observant of our surroundings and being more present when engaged in discussions with others is a very mindful act that requires us to focus our energy and pay attention with a specific purpose. Again, not an easy thing to do for anyone!
When trying to genuinely practice being present, a very mindful act indeed, our devices can often times get in the way of being able to do this. Being aware of this can help us to make a conscious effort to set intentions to be more present in our every day life. You just never know what you will notice and observe around you when you strive to be more present.
A few weeks ago, my wife, Neila Steele, set an intention to practice mindfulness throughout the day. As part of this intention, she also chose to keep her device in her handbag during her morning and afternoon breaks, as well as during her hour off at lunch.
She was attending a 2-day workshop that we being held for teachers and administrators at the school that we work at. During her lunch break, she went to the very busy cafeteria at the university where the training was being held. As she waited in a long line up to order her sandwich, she found herself getting a wee bit impatient. However, in holding true to the intention that she set for herself at the start of the day, she was aware that she did not want to mindlessly pull out her phone to check it.
It was one of those moments when habit can kick in and it can be so easy to grab our device to help ease the boredom, frustration, or to help pass the time. As she waited in line she began to become more aware of her breath and reminded herself to be present, to observe her surroundings and take in all of the sounds and sights of the lunch time rush.
It was right at about this moment when she noticed that she was now second in line to be served. It was also about the same time when she tuned into the harsh words that the customer ahead of her was slinging at the sandwich maker behind the counter. Apparently, the man in front of her had ordered a sandwich that was supposed to have beef in it. As the man checked his sandwich, there was no beef in it and had clearly agitated him.
He aggressively asked the sandwich maker, ‘Where’s the beef in my sandwich?”. The sandwich maker obviously didn’t speak English very well and didn’t understand what the man was asking. This angered the man even more and he then barked out, “The beef! The Beef! Where’s the fucking beef?”.
It was at this point that Neila stepped in and calmly tried to diffuse the situation by saying, ‘Hey, hey, no need to speak to the man behind the counter this way. It’s clear that he doesn’t understand you. It’s OK to be angry, but not OK to take it out on the sandwich maker who clearly doesn’t speak English well.”
Neila then noticed how stressed the customer looked. She could instantly tell that this perhaps wasn’t about the sandwich at all and that something else was going on. She calmly asked him if everything was OK. He admitted to her that he was very stressed and had received news that his student visa might not be renewed which meant he would have to leave the country the next day.
Neila acknowledged how stressful this situation must be and again asked if he was OK. She also asked what he needed to resolve the sandwich issue. In that moment, he clearly calmed down, thanked her, and said that he didn’t need anything. He then grabbed his beef-less sandwich and quietly left. Neila did not see him again.
When she got home, she told me about what had happened at lunch and how setting the intention at the start of the day to not mindlessly grab her phone allowed her to be fully present with her surroundings in the lunch time line up and to ultimately be able to calmly diffuse the very stressful situation that took place between the customer and the sandwich maker.
Practicing mindfulness while in line helped her to be able to do this. Not mindlessly checking her device allowed her to be able to this. Setting the specific intention to not touch her phone allowed her to do this.
Who knows what we will notice or observe around us when we stay in the present moment. Who knows what sounds and sights we will take in? Who knows who we might be able to connect with or to help when we stay off our devices and strive to be more present in ordinary or mundane settings in our daily lives.
How many times a day might you mindlessly or unnecessarily grab your device? Do you do this more in social situations or when you are in line ups? The next time you are in a social situation or a long line up, try leaving your device in your pocket or handbag? Are you able to do this?
Want to hear the latest episode of our '4 X Mindfulness' podcast? In this episode Neila shares the lunch time line up story and what it taught her. You can access the link to the podcast below. Hope you check it out:
All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
I dropped my son, Eli, off at a weeklong, residential golf program yesterday afternoon in Musselburgh, Scotland. It is the first time for him to experience a summer camp and the first time for him to be away from the family during summer vacation. He was obviously very excited about the opportunity to meet other kids his age from around the world and to be able to play golf all week in such a beautiful country.
However, as we were getting ready to drop him off, he admitted to me that he was feeling nervous and afraid. I commended him for being so open with me about it and, in that moment, decided to try out a mindfulness technique that allows us to flip our anxiety or nervousness into wonderings.
So, I asked Eli to flip his anxiety into statements that begin with 'I wonder.........'.
Eli immediately came up with a number of 'I wonder' statements and this allowed him to reframe the anxiety and nervousness into a normal part of the process of moving into a new experience that is unknown to us. The 'I wonder' statements that Eli came up with were:
I wonder how many other kids there will be at camp.
I wonder if they are going to be nice.
I wonder what my golf coaches will be like.
I wonder who I will become friends with.
I wonder how much free time I will have.
I wonder what it will be like playing new golf courses.
Eli and I were able to have a genuine conversation about the fact that many people experience anxiety and nervousness heading into new situations and new environments and that it is very normal to experience these emotions. In reframing his anxiety and nervousness, I felt that it put him into a much more open and accepting state that ultimately allowed him to better embrace the unknown environment he was about to head into. It is a very mindful act of internal self-awareness to be able to flip our anxiety and nervousness into 'I wonder' statements and it requires curiosity and openness.
It allows us to have honest conversations with ourselves and to give ourselves a break when feelings of anxiety and nervousness pop up in our lives as we head into situations unknown. I'm glad Eli and I could experience this moment together yesterday before we dropped him off.
Think about an upcoming event or situation that you will face in your life that may be causing you anxiety or stress. How might you reframe this experience by creating your own 'I wonder' statements to better prepare you mentally for the experience itself? As Ralph Waldo Emerson states in the quote above, "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better". Experimenting with different mindfulness techniques to help us better understand ourselves not only leads to deeper learning, but also allows us to find methods and strategies that help to provide us with a greater sense of well-being, so experiment away as much as possible as you continue on your own paths of self-learning.
Thanks for reading.
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily