A look at wellbeing to celebrate world mental heath day
Today is World Mental Health Day – a good a day as any to talk about my explorations in Positive Psychology, otherwise known as “the study of what makes life worth living”.
As most of us know from personal experience, “Good” mental health is not just the absence of mental health problems. Very positive mental health has been called “flourishing”; its opposite is that grey, blah state called “languishing”. Those who try to apply Positive Psychology to everyday situations have brought us many effective techniques to help people move from languishing to flourishing, with some of the best known being gratitude journals, three good things and random acts of kindness. Positive Psychology is also a big advocate of age-old practices that have a beneficial effect on wellbeing, including exercise, mindfulness, and altruism.
All the above activities have been shown to increase happiness and wellbeing, contributing to an impressive array of evidence that shows that lasting happiness is not just about short term pleasure, but also encompasses finding meaning and purpose in life. No doubt this is why so many people who work in “the caring professions” persevere despite low pay, poor conditions and increasingly high demands. But without proper attention to other aspects of wellbeing – such as a healthy diet, time for relationships and restful sleep - it is also why stress and poor health are on the rise in our sector.
Action for Happiness is a charity that aims to spread the word about all things happiness-related. They have a useful mnemonic for thinking about what contributes to our wellbeing – GREAT DREAM – which encapsulates their ten keys to happiness.
Not just for individuals, Positive Psychology has also influenced organisations such as the New Economics Foundation whose ground-breaking research led to the development of the Five Ways to Wellbeing model that is now widely used in the VCSE sector as well as the NHS. Other applications include Asset Based Community Development which seeks to build on existing strengths to bring greater happiness and fulfilment to communities. At a global level, the annual World Happiness Report ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels, with Denmark, Switzerland and Norway often in the top five. Perhaps the most forward thinking initiative is the measurement of Gross Domestic Happiness introduced in Bhutan as an alternative to the usual measure of national success - Gross Domestic Product.