One of the many great things about positive psychology is that it some of its tools and techniques are more effective in difficult times. They deliver best when you need them most, and I’d say that right now we need them.
We are all being bombarded with information, images and advice about the current virus pandemic. It is be easy to become alarmed by what we see and hear, and the amount of misinformation in amongst the important stuff is certainly not helping. However, there are things we can do to help our own emotional and mental state – and this is especially important for children. Children do not have all of the available mental resources that we, as adults, can access. So it is up to us as teachers, pastoral staff or parents, to help them.
So here is one of my favourite positive psychology techniques. It needs no special equipment or psychological knowledge, and it can make a difference in as little as 30 seconds. It’s called savouring and while many positive psychologists recommend it, for me the leader in the field is US psychologist Fred Bryant.
Bryant has researched a number of different forms of savouring from anticipating a future event to sharing the joy of something by talking about our happy moments.
The simple exercise I want to feature today however is called reminiscent savouring. It is something you can do with children (as a parent or a teacher), as well as using it yourself. It works equally well for groups to experience together, or anytime you need to take a moment to give yourself a boost.
Write down a few things that make you happy. They might be hobbies, being with friends, playing with a pet – anything at all. You can also include memories of really happy moments. Just make a brief note of a few – up to three will be fine.
Now choose one of them (you can save the rest for another time). Sit and close your eyes for a few moments as you bring this to mind. Use your imagination to make it a vivid as possible. Involve all of your senses. If it is a past event remind yourself about what you could see at the time. Think about what you could hear. If other people were involved, picture them as clearly as you can.
If it is something you like doing in the present, imagine yourself doing that now – with the same attention to making it as vivid as possible. Immerse yourself in the experience for a few moments – as little as 30 seconds can do it – but if you want to spend a little longer then do.
When you are ready open your eyes, notice that you feel better than you did before, and go about your day, remembering to take savouring breaks regularly.
Savouring is associated feelings of happiness as well as higher levels of self-esteem, and, perhaps most importantly of all at the moment, optimism.
And while the exercise itself is short, the impact can be very long lasting. Researcher Rick Hanson sums it up this way: “what flows through your mind changes your brain.” In terms of our brain, what we practise grows stronger. The more time we spend worrying the better we are at feeling worried. If we train our brain to notice and savour the positives that happen around us, or remind ourselves of how many things make us happy, then that is what grows stronger. We become better at savouring the good, and rather than just lasting 30 seconds, it becomes a habit that impacts an entire lifetime.