As I arrived to check in to my cottage in Cornwall this week, I was looking forward to fresh air, no stress, and, primarily, a healthy dose of peace and quiet. So, when I woke up on the first full day there to the dulcet tones of an electric drill at work just outside the front door, I was, to say the least, displeased. There really is something about the noise of an electric drill that cuts through years of mindfulness training and leaves you rather on edge! So as I delved into my toolkit of resources, I was thinking a little bit about positive psychology and the way we can use these lessons to improve situations like this.
I’ve been listening to a very interesting Radio 4 series recently about ‘the power of negative thinking.’ This might seem like a strange choice of show for someone as supportive of positive psychology as myself, but in fact, many of the ideas discussed in the show are very much in line with positive psychology teachings. I think there’s a common misconception that ‘positive psychology’ is synonymous with ‘positive thinking’, or that it encourages people to ignore the ‘negative’ and push themselves to always feel happy. But I really find that what positive psychology offers me is the opportunity to take a balanced perspective on the full range of human emotion – which includes acknowledgment of the classic mantra ‘it’s okay not to be okay.’
This was showcased well in an episode about death – a topic which I am personally very interested in. The host interviewed a death doula – someone who spends time with the terminally ill and supports them in their final days – and discussed the preconception that this job must be very depressing. The doula pointed out that in her experience, people who are on the verge of death usually have a great clarity and appreciation for the truly important things in life, such as love, kindness and family. So while many people may struggle to associate a topic such as death with the phrase ‘positive psychology’, I really don’t see the field as boxed off from any specific topics. Embracing positive psychology is about much more than seeing things in a different way; using positive focus to, over time, shift our perspectives to find joy even in unexpected places.
Have you also enjoyed this Radio 4 series, or have any thoughts about it? Do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have anything you’d like to share.
So, whether it’s learning to see the beauty in experiences of terminal illness or coping with the annoyance of an electric drill, positive psychology doesn’t demand that we ignore the negative. When I have been struggling with pain these past months, positive psychology allows me to acknowledge that I am in pain, and that’s okay – I shouldn’t expect myself to be 100% pain free, and can allow myself to surrender to and accept the pain, rather than fighting it. And in the case of my Cornwall holiday, I chose to pay attention to the wonderful aspects of my time away rather than getting bogged down in the unwanted noise.