Sunday, 26 July 2015

Inside Out - The reason we need all our emotions.

I took my two children to see Inside Out on Friday night, the latest Pixar movie. Pete Docter's film tells the story of 11 year old Riley who is an only child living with a mum and dad who love her more than anything else in the whole world.  Riley's 11 years on the planet has mainly happy, precious memories of fun times spent with family and friends.  Riley loves Ice Hockey and plays in a team and spends lots of time skating on the ice with her mum and dad.  The amazing thing about this film is that it shows us the inside workings of Riley's mind and shows how all the emotions work to help her make the right decisions.  I love Joy voiced by Amy Poehler -she is the happy emotion, the optimistic one who always, no matter what tries to look on the bright side of life.  She constantly battles with the other emotions to ensure happiness always wins through and most of the time, until Riley moved that is, she succeeds.  The other emotions, fear, anger, disgust and sadness were always in Joy's shadow, she worked hard daily to ensure all the memories Riley banked each day had a bright yellow glow. 

What I loved about this film is that it embraces our emotions and teaches children (not to mention adults) how important our emotions are in our lives.  It also helps us see how we can change the emotional content of our mind by being more mindful about how we feel, simply by paying more attention.  When Riley moved to San Francisco her world turned upside down.   Her home was no longer warm and welcoming, her father was stressed at work leaving less time to spend with her and school just wasn't the same.  She had no friends and even lost her temper when she tried out for the ice hockey team.  Riley was going through a bad stage in her life and like most children struggled (emotionally) to deal with it.  Inside her mind we witnessed her core memories starting to fall apart.  Riley had five core memories, goofy island (where she played and was silly with her mum and dad), family island, friendship island, hockey island and honesty island.  These were the 5 most important things in Riley's life and the things she held dear to her at all times.  However, when life didn't go the way she wanted it to go her core islands were destroyed one by one.

As a teacher this film is an exciting educational tool to help children understand how important it is to build core beliefs and find out what is important to them and encourage them to ensure they keep them safe and secure.  We all have core memories - the things in life that are more important to you than anything else.  We have to work hard to treasure and protect them.  What I loved most about the film is that Joy didn't save the day, sadness did.  It showed us, as well as Joy, that although happiness is a vital ingredient for a good life we also need our other emotions.  They need to work together as a team to help us get the balance right.  Sometimes the anger we feel reminds us what is really important to us and helps us make positive changes in our lives which will, over time, make us much happier.  Sometimes fear is needed to keep us safe.  Sometimes fear can motivate us and can give us a great sense of achievement because even though we were scared we carried on regardless.  Sometimes periods of sadness brings us closer to the people we love, as it did in Riley's case.  Sadness can help us and lead us down a much happier path if we can just learn to embrace it. 

I like to call it riding the wave.  At 11 I saw my dad take a stroke in front of me, something I will never forget.  My teenage years were the hardest years of my life so far nursing my dad through 10 years of illness so you see I understand the importance of riding the waves and accepting that life isn't always great and that is ok.  You have to take the highs with the lows but you can learn how to cope with the lows better.  You can remind yourself that it is not always going to be this way, that things will get better and the good times will always far outweigh the bad so you always have lots to look forward to.  I don't believe in helplessness.  We all have the responsibility to make our lives better every day and making sure your little ball of optimism in your head can be heard will make all the difference. 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Do you believe in luck?

I have just started the 'Go Luck Yourself' course at Buck's New University (online) and session 1 has got me thinking about luck.  I am a big believer in luck and completely believe if you think you are lucky then you are.  Just by thinking you are lucky you attract and notice things that you may have ignored before.  It's like the change in your mindset has attracted more luck in your life not from some strange external force but instead because you are opened to the opportunities placed in front of you and more willing to grab them with both hands.  I have read numerous self help books from Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich to Normal Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking and all these great thinkers say the same thing, providing us with the same message.  You have to believe you are lucky to actually be lucky.  Likewise, if you consider yourself unlucky you will be because your thinking makes it so.  

A large part of positive psychology is gratitude and I have learned more and more the deep connection between gratitude and luck.  People who are grateful consider themselves and experiences to be lucky - why? Simple, they are grateful even when things don't go their way.  For example, when my mum rang from Scotland to tell me my aunt was in hospital I went to bed that night and thought how grateful I was that she was safe and in the best possible place with doctors and nurses to look after her and make sure she got better.  I remember thinking how lucky we are to live in a country with a national health service yet other people may have considered this news as bad news or bad luck.  For me this is an exciting concept that simply by changing the way we think about things allows us to feel better not only about the situation but also about ourselves.  

I read a wonderful book a number of years ago by Bill Cullen called, 'Golden Apples'.  In it he wrote a lot about luck and told his readers that he was born in a caul.  This is when a baby is born inside the amniotic sack which remains intact after birth.  Children born in a 'caul' are considered worldwide to be lucky since this occurrence happens less than one in every one thousand births therefore these children are considered rare, special and forever protected.  Tails of children being born in a caul have appeared in literature throughout the years dating right back to the bible.  David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, has his caul auctioned off as a talisman to protect against drowning.  Bill Cullen's caul was sold to fisherman who believed if they carried the caul in their boat they would never drown.  However, another thing Bill Cullen said was that from the minute he was born he was told constantly by his parents and relatives that he was lucky.  It didn't take long for him to believe it and today he continues to consider himself lucky because of this.  Nevertheless we must consider is he really lucky because he was born in a caul or is Bill lucky because he was told he was lucky.  Is it a self fulfilling prophecy.

Therefore,  the moral of the story is it seems we have two choices, either we consider ourselves to be lucky or unlucky.  I know which one I choose and as a parent I tell my children every day they are lucky so that they too will develop the luck mindset and be open to the opportunities placed in front of them every day.  Derran Brown aired a programme a few years ago about luck and he conducted an experiment in a little village.  He placed a statue of a dog in the local park and made up a story informing locals that if you pat the dog it will bring you luck. Surprisingly, after patting the dog nearly everyone in the village reported something they would consider to be lucky happening to them as a result. Derron Brown also focused on a butcher in the village who had always considered himself to be unlucky.  He placed a £50 on the floor outside his shop one morning which the butcher completely missed. He had a survey take place outside his shop where all you had to do was answer one question and you would win £50 if you answered it correctly - he choose not to participate, what was the question?  Name three cuts of beef, a guaranteed £50 for the butcher but he didn't take the opportunity.  

Grasp the opportunities you have before you and always consider yourself to be lucky.  The positive effect this will have on your life will be amazing and before long you will feel luckier and good things will come your way.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The benefits on MAPP

Having just completed my Masters in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) I wanted to take time to reflect on my MAPP experience.  Studying MAPP was one of my ambitions for a long time and now that I have completed the course I feel relieved and proud of my achievements.  Many students believe to be part of a MAPP group is very very special.  I'm not sure if that is because there are so few institutions currently offering this qualification or whether the content of the course and the people it attracts is special in itself?  I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to study MAPP at the University of East London and if you are reading this and considering this as an option I'd highly recommend it.  For the past two years I have certainly been on a journey and it is very true what they say, once you push yourself outside your comfort zone there is no going back.  You are forever changed and hopefully for the better, that's certainly been the case for me.

I have been an optimist all my life and at the age of 14 my mum bought me a positive thinking poster for my bedroom wall.  Since then I developed a passion for this way of life and could see the benefits it would bring to my life and wanted to tell other people about it so much.  Maybe that is why I became a teacher.  Unlike many other MAPPsters I love self help books and have read everything from Napolean Hill's 'Think and Grow Rich' to Rhonda Byrne's 'The Secret'.  This passion for the self help movement pushed me closer towards my MAPP journey and and although many will disagree with me, I see positive psychology in so many of the books I have read over the years, minus the empirical evidence.  Nevertheless, what self help books do for me is that the messages motivate me, inspire me and fill me with hope for the future - how could that possibly be a bad thing?  The MAPP, however, enabled me to understand the world of research so much more and respect the positive psychology researchers out there desperately trying to show the world that people should flourish in life and strive daily towards a life worth living.

The MAPP has developed me both personally and professionally and has added greatly to my life and work.  I practice gratitude on a daily basis and it is true what they say, it does make you happier, it does make you notice the good more than the bad.  Some simple ways to incorporate it into your life today is by keeping a gratitude journal and writing down your three best things once a week.  I ask my children every night before they go to sleep their three best things about the day and it is a lovely way to end a busy day - actually this is my favourite time of the day.  I have also tried mindfulness meditation using headspace and really enjoyed this new experience in my life, although I still struggle to find a spare ten minutes in my day but at least I'm trying.  I teach children the importance of finding their strengths and using them every day and the reciprocal joy random acts of kindness can bring to life.  Positive psychology enables people to take control of their life, to choose happiness rather than allowing life to just happen to them.  There are no victims with positive psychology and that is what I like about it.  It teaches you how to be resilient, and cope with adversity to make it better not only for you but also for those around you.

MAPP has given me so much but most importantly I have met some amazing people. The conversations over coffee breaks, in the Indian restaurant on a Friday night and best of all in the pub is where most of my learning took place.  So now that one journey is over I look forward to the next - life after MAPP and hope that I can add to world of positive psychology in education and enable our children to learn the power of their minds in achieving success in their lives and improving their wellbeing.  

Monday, 18 August 2014

Why is happiness so important anyway?

I have just completed my MSc in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) at the University of East London and have been left asking this question.  People nowadays seem obsessed with finding happiness and constantly feeling happy yet this isn't realistic or very productive.  Happiness surely is an emotion that comes and goes and the low times make us appreciate the high times better.  My passion for positive psychology wasn't about finding out how we can make people happier as the ultimate goal, but that I understood that many of the techniques and interventions in positive psychology could enable people to achieve more, to flourish, and the by-product of that is that they become happier.  My research looked at positive psychology interventions that enabled adolescents to develop a mindset that would promote academic achievement. 

My study focused on children from Knowsley and research conducted by Ofsted and the Department for Education in 2009 surprisingly found that teenagers from Knowsley were in fact the happiest teenagers in England.  This being the case it makes me wonder why Knowsley remains bottom of the league table sitting nearly 20% below the national average for children achieveing 5 A*-C grades.  Happiness research suggests the happier you are the more you succeed and that happiness leads to success but this isn't the case here so what is going wrong in Knowsley?  Research conducted by Oshi, S. et al.(2009) found that high levels of happiness correlated to successful close relationships but it was in fact people who were less happy who achieve and succeed in key areas of their life including education, political involvement and earnings. 

Therefore if we look at happiness on a 5 point scale sitting around 3.5 is the optimal level of happiness for achievement.  It seems individuals who are too happy may be overly content with their life, even if their circumstances are less than perfect and the lack of negative emotion stops them from acting and making changes to improve the quality of their life overall.  Therefore pushing people to constantly feel happier is not necessarily a good thing.  Feeling low often enables us to re-evaluate out lives and motivates us to make the necessary changes to make our lives better.  Maybe the key for Knowsley is to make their children less happy?