From numerous directions, in and outside of my practice, I have received the call for some positive psychology – a weekly pick me up based on both anecdotal and scientific evidence. This is my answer to that call, to lighten our collective moods during these trying times.

It’s great to appreciate!

Last week we discussed living in the moment and how perspective taking could lift our spirits. This week we would like to add some strategies for the long term, as wel as some tips & tricks to make us feel good instantly. Starting with gratitude. Most people will admit that they have at least something to feel thankful for – even during these trying times. But the feeling of thankfulness and the joy that goes along with positive life events do not last as long as we would wish they did. Our minds and perceptions are flexible things, allowing us to adjust and survive under many different circumstances. In other words: we can get used to pretty much anything. The flip side of this is that  the thrill of even the nicest experiences inevitably fades over time.

To illustrate this effect, imagine walking into a bakery early in the morning and being welcomed by the smell of fresh warm bread. We quickly pick up the pleasant aroma and perhaps even stop to savour it, but after only a few minutes waiting for our turn the smell will appear to vanish. The only way for us to experience the pleasant aroma again is to walk out of the bakery and back in again. Exactly the same effect presents itself in many aspects of our lives, including our happiness and gratefulness. The effects of our most pleasant life experiences slowly but inevitably fade with time as we get used to them, and just as with the smell of freshly baked bread, the only way to experience them again is to bring these feeling back into our attention.

How do we do that?

One influential study by psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough (2003) illustrates how we can kindle our warm and pleasant experiences that are constantly present in our lives, and feel their effects over time. Participants we divided into three groups and asked to spend a few moment every week writing about either five things that they were grateful for – such as seeing a beautiful sunset, or the generosity of a friend, five things that annoyed them or simply five things that had happened last week. The results showed that after only a few minutes of reflecting and writing each week, compared to the other two groups participants in the grateful group scored 

significantly higher on all measures: they reported being much happier and optimistic about the future, and they even became physically healthier and started exercising more! Try it, I guarantee you’ll like it.

It is better to give than to receive.

Another quick and easy solution to raising your personal happiness can be found in the appreciation of others. Most people report that they think spending money on themselves whenever they feel a little down will make them feel better than spending that money on others – think retail therapy. Research proves however that the opposite effect is true: people become much happier after providing for others rather than spending on themselves. You’ll be glad to know too, that even the smallest amount spent on others may already be one of the best investments you can make. Small gifts already yield long-lasting effects, and if we really don’t have anything to spare, carrying out five non-financial acts of kindness a day, such as smiling to a stranger or giving directions provides a significant boost in our long -term happiness. 

let’s give something back! 

Assuming we all care for the wellbeing of others, it raises the question what is it that sometimes holds us back from reaching out and helping? The reason may be comforting but nevertheless limiting: research shows that too many options in people and charities to choose from stops us from taking action at all. Then how do we get started?

Select a charity that you feel particularly close to, or that you can easily identify with. Familiarise yourself with whom you want to help, and why specifically – higher proximity to our charitable target spurs us on to step up. Becoming more familiar with our charity of choice aids us in finding similarities and in building a relationship (even if it is only one-way). A great number of studies into charitable participation shows that people are significantly more likely to donate or volunteer their time when they can connect a single face to their charity. “Millions of starving children” spurs fewer people into action than “Little Mary is hungry”. Wether that is a good thing or not, if we do want to take action (for our own benefit as well as for others’) we tend to opt for a good cause that we can easily familiarise ourselves with.

We don’t have to look far.

One way to partake is to look towards our own community (again), the one that we have been separated from for all this time during the Covid pandemic. Many of us have become estranged and report feeling more distant, isolated, lonely and even mistrusting of others within our own community. These are the inevitable effects of forced isolation due to the common threat of Covid infection. 

With the prospect of schools and offices opening up once again, without significant numbers of vaccinations and prospected herd immunity still far away, people report being weary of gathering. And prefers to keep their children at home in order to keep them safe. This vicious circle of isolation and mistrust must be broken in order for us to rely on each other’s good judgment and support once more: providing us with positive learning experiences to counter all the negative images from the news and social media. How do we do that? 

Let’s catch up with one another, share our stories, remind ourselves how much we have in common and support one another where needed. All of the principles above will benefit us once we start to open up. Let us remind ourselves that we are indeed all in the same boat. Let’s remember that other people are not the enemy even if some of us may carry an infectious virus. It is the virus that is our common enemy and we, the people may stand stronger against this enemy of we stand together, all be it 1.5 meters apart. Let us invest in our community again, with our time and energy! Listen to and learn from other people’s stories and feel encouraged to share your own. I would encourage anyone to start the Covid-conversation, especially with those whom we may not understand or agree with. Let us share our stories of loss, our frustrations, worries and concerns, but also our solutions, our joys, appreciation and succes stories. We may find that we have much more in common than we expected after such a long time in isolation.

Do you need help?
Are you or someone you know in need of a sympathetic ear or even professional counseling?
Please do not hesitate to contact us directly.

Sasja Breit, Director, Clinical Psychologist.

Disclaimer: PIIC does not own the rights to any of the shared stories, images or quotations, for references please contact us.