by Kayleigh Pleas, Core Fusion teacher
The number of self-help books topping the New York Times Best Seller List every week is a testament to society’s desperation for wellbeing. Flourishing is the term psychologists use to describe individuals who function at extraordinarily high levels psychologically and socially. These individuals experience a strong sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, are deeply engaged with their families, work, and communities, and are remarkably resilient to life’s inevitable hardships. Sadly, only 1 in 5 Americans are flourishing. Most of us are skimming the surface of our lives, stuck in rigid routines, yearning for something more.
As a positive psychology coach, I employ strategies from the scientific study of happiness to guide individuals towards building lives ripe with meaning, satisfying relationships, positive emotion, and health. A distinguishing feature of flourishing individuals is that they experience three times as many positive emotional experiences (i.e., gratitude, serenity, love) as negative emotional experiences (i.e, anger, sadness, anxiety). My profession exists because wellbeing is not an easy task in modern society, where the frenetic pace of our technologically advanced lives leaves us feeling depleted, isolated, and dissatisfied.
I am here to tell you that happiness is not the natural human condition. Left to its own devices, the untrained human mind succumbs to worry and fear, looking for everything that is wrong with ourselves (“My thighs are way too big”), is wrong with our life circumstances (“I can’t believe I messed up the report”), and could go wrong in the future (“I am never going to find the right job”). Negativity bias is the technical term used to describe our natural tendency to overlook all the things that are going right in our lives and instead focus on doom and gloom. Happiness requires working against our evolved neurological imbalance and retraining our attention.
When I mention I am a positive psychology coach, I almost always get the question, “Positive psychology? As opposed to negative psychology?” Well, for the most part, yes. Traditional psychology comes from a disease-model orientation, focused on remedying disorder. The analogy of pulling weeds versus growing flowers is a useful image to distinguish the approach of mainstream psychology from positive psychology. We can’t just pull weeds and expect flowers to grow. We need to fertilize the soil, plant seeds, and nourish the seeds with water and sunlight. In order to be happy, we need to actively cultivate the habits of attention and behavior that give rise to heartfelt positive emotion. We need to learn how to construct lives with ample opportunity for joy, love, playfulness, and serenity. Happiness is a skill, and my hope as a positive psychology coach is to share those skills with you.
One of the most simple and effective ways to move towards flourishing is to start a gratitude journal. At the end of your day, take a few minutes to write down three nice things that happened over the past twenty-four hours. Moments of beauty, peace, kindness, and connection pass by unnoticed all the time. Approach your day looking for the good—the flowers sold outside your local bodega, the warm smile shared with a coworker, , the feeling of water against your skin in the shower, a moment of connection with a loved one. Seek out and pay attention to all the things that are going right in your life. The gratitude journal is a tool that trains your attention to rewire the neural networks in your brain. The practice may feel silly at first, but give it time and the effects may surprise you!
I will be writing regularly for the exhale mind body spa blog, so check back for more information and tools from positive psychology. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out. My e-mail is [email protected].