Monday, 21 May 2007

Bristol Happiness Lecture

Practical, research-based (and free) suggestions for improving your happiness and well-being.

On Saturday I went to the 2nd Bristol Happiness Lecture, presented by Dr Chris Johnstone and my UEL Positive Psychology course leader, Dr Ilona Boniwell .

Both presented lots of practical tips on how to apply Positive Psychology in the real world, supported by research on everything from Broaden and Build Theory of positive emotions to Self-Determination Theory.

Here's a small selection:

1) In any personal relationship the ratio of positives to negatives needs to be at least 5:1 (and not more than 11:1) for the relationship to really flourish. So, for example, make sure you say five positive things to your partner for every one criticism; if you do criticise, focus on the behaviour not the person.

2) A limited choice is better than no choice at all, or many choices. Choice enables autonomy, which is essential for motivation. This works very well in motivating small children to do things they don't otherwise want to do. So, for example, ask them if they want to do their maths homework first or their science homework - they'll be more motivated given a choice.

3) The things you focus on, good or bad, tend to increase in significance. Think of it in terms of rowing a boat across a lake; rather than focus on trying to avoid the rocks which get in the way, focus instead on what you can do to raise the water level.

4) Be aware of learned helplessness (Seligman); i.e. thinking 'Nothing I do matters' or 'I was helpless yesterday and regardless of new circumstances, I will be helpless again today'. This feeling can be very prevalent in organisations whose cultures do not allow staff to make a difference. It requires more management effort to re-engage people once you've lost them, than to manage them effectively from the start.

5) Negative feelings are not always bad, and not something to be avoided at all costs. They can enable you to respond to a situation in ways that lead to a turnaround. Boredom, for example, can prompt a child to seek out new and interesting experiences, and helps promote self-motivation. The key thing is to be aware of the negative emotion, and to ask yourself what it's there for.

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