Being fifty-something, I know how important “happiness” strategies are.
Even for cheerful folk, the doldrums sometimes catch you unawares and unless you have some glass-half-full strategies bedded in, a day of the “sads” can lead to a week hiding (from the world) under your doona.
For midlifers, change is in the air. Emptynesting. Downsizing. Retiring. There’s a lot going on and that change can mean danger time for happiness levels. Resilience is the key.
I “mostly” come off as a positive person. Being a professional copywriter gives one plenty of practice using positive language, putting a spin on stuff and it naturally overflows into day-to-day.
I was once instructed by a boss to tone down my cheerfulness because I was making the other staff (one in particular) look glum. (FFS, it was a community centre! Don’t get me started.)
Most people I know (including me) would agree that their moods go up and down, and sometimes control (and cheerfulness) comes easier than other times.
With all that in mind, Mr P and I took up another one of those freebie experiences that are out there happening in every community, if you just have a look for them.
We attended a free public presentation by Chris Mackey a well-regarded Geelong clinical psychologist who is passionate about the benefits of positive psychology in promoting wellbeing and building resilience.
An hour of free therapy (not personalised, but … meh) … how’s that? I think we’d all be much better off if we could have ten minutes with Dr Phil (or Dr Chris) every morning. Pretty certain I’d be thinner… and smarter … and more graceful.
Chris was no slouch at the lectern. He made our effort to head out on a cold night worthwhile. He talked a lot about balancing our positive and negative thoughts.
For example, ideally, you should aim to have three positive thoughts to every negative one.
How can you work toward achieving that sort of ratio?
Some days are easier than others, but it can be as simple as seeking to focus on what went well in your day, rather than what didn’t. You can do this through discussion with your partner, close friend or by writing down your thoughts.
Seek to answer the question: What went well today? You can always find one or two gems, even in an otherwise disastrous day.
He also talked about the value of being grateful and charitable, of letting go of grudges and of “following your bliss”.
“Follow your bliss” always makes me think of Oprah (a good thing). Thankfully, Chris followed that up with a real strategy and framework. I’m going to share it with you (that’s being charitable).
He recommended identifying your key character strengths and focusing on your top two to five strengths when you’re deciding on career moves, leisure interests, even how to spend your day. He explained the value in working to your strengths.
That begs the question: how do I identify my strengths? (I knew you were going to ask that.)
You go to the Authentic Happiness website, register and click on the VIA Survey of Character Strengths, complete the questionnaire and print out an ordered list of your 24 character strengths.
This questionnaire is used around the world; it caters to all ages and cultures and is actually a part of accepted clinical psychology practice (Chris uses this very questionnaire with some of his own patients).
Would I recommend this to you without testing it out myself first?
I’ve done it and my five top strengths are (apparently) love of learning; appreciation of beauty and excellence; gratitude; judgement, critical thinking, and open-mindedness; and … tadah … modesty and humility.
That’s a bit of a confidence booster right there.
My bottom five (which are still listed as strengths) are: industry, diligence, and perseverance; spirituality; self-control; bravery and valour; and … tadah … leadership.
Yeah, they’re the things I’m not so good at (but let’s not dwell on the negative).
Those of you who know me well will have worked out by now, that this is unexpectedly accurate. (I was shocked, too.)
What do I do now?
According to Chris, I find ways to use my top strengths more often. If I can’t do it in my work, then I should think about how I’m spending my spare time, what I’m reading, who I’m talking to and what I’m doing today, to see how it’s all aligned.
It’s a whole new level of mindfulness I can’t wait to try out. (Wonder how long I will persevere with it?)
I will report back and let you know how it works out. In the meantime, why not take the test yourself (it says it takes 45 minutes but I only gave it 15 minutes – I’m not patient) and report back to let us all know if you find out something new about yourself.
For further reading, Chris recommended Martin Seligman’s book Flourish. (I’ve added it to my to-read list).
If you’re in Geelong, this was the first of a series of five public talks Chris is giving here over the next few months. You can learn more about the series here. Maybe I’ll see you there?
And, because that was a long post with not many pictures, here’s something that went well in my day today: