Positive Psychology for Communities (Jane Jennison)
This guest entry is from Jane Jennison MSc, a positive psychology coach and author, and co-founder of the Positive Psychology Summit:UK. Jane is a fellow member of the Positive Psychology Guild (PPG) and co-director of Autonomous Ideas, one of the PPG’s organisational members. Her grassroots-driven approach to practicing and sharing Positive Psychology is one that is much needed in communities today.
What are some of the challenges you see at a community level in your Positive Psychology Practice?
It’s probably stating the obvious to say, “Covid-19”! As well as the challenges of how to respond to the pandemic, follow guidelines to keep people safe, our work, social and family lives are all impacted by lockdown and the restrictions in place to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
To whom do these challenges apply?
I believe we are all impacted by this. In the immediate, our work patterns have changed, and our social interactions have been reduced. We can no longer hug our loved ones, and even casual physical contact like a hand on our friend’s arm is out of bounds. Many people have lost their jobs, or their work is radically different to pre-lockdown. There is a societal imbalance in how people are affected. For people with space for a desk, decent internet connections, and the right sort of job, this has been great. But, for those with care responsibilities, the sudden removal of child-care, schools going ‘online’, has caused huge stress instead of the liberation of being able to work in one’s pyjamas.
What may be the cause of these challenges?
One of the key challenges amongst all this, is increased loneliness, isolation, and the lack of ‘social’ touch. People who were shielding spent months on their own. Residents in care or nursing homes and hospitals have not had visitors for months. People living alone were unable to have guests outside their ‘bubble’ for months. For many, family members are not in the same geographical area, so either they were not in a ‘bubble’ at all, or their ‘bubble’ was so far away, they were not meeting regularly because of the travel involved.
How do these challenges affect you?
My children were sent home from school, so at short notice, I transitioned into being their facilitator for online learning, rather than focussing on my own work. My husband’s contracts were cancelled, and I was furloughed. All of my In Real Life work was cancelled. However, one thing continued; Strengthen. This was the vision of a MAPPCP graduate from UEL, Andrea Urquart, who I had connected with on social media in PP groups. Andrea’s idea pre-dated Covid-19, and we had been working on what it would ‘look like’ for months prior to lockdown. The original design, and timelines, were altered in response to the pandemic, and we ‘soft’ launched in early September. My first conversation with Andrea was in November last year. The world, and how we access support, has changed so much, it’s hard to comprehend. However, developing an online community, facilitated by a network of PP practitioners and coaches, enables us to continue to work, and to support people, in a new way.
How is Positive Psychology oriented to support different members of your community?
Our vision for Strengthen is that it is an inclusive and supportive community for everyone. We have groups that are open to everyone, such as The Gratitude Wall. As Positive Psychologists, we know that one of the most effective science-based interventions to boost mental health is gratitude, so this is a really important group for us to share and support our members as they build gratitude into their daily lives.
Another group is Strengthen Lifestyle, which helps members ‘weave wellbeing into your daily life’. As well as these general groups, we have tailored groups with particular focus; either a particular subject area, or lifestyle issue. For individuals, we have Strengthen Men, Strengthen Women, Strengthen Families, Adoption and Fostering, a group for Business Leaders and Wellbeing at Work, Thriving, Confidence, Times of Change. There are also groups to celebrate Mud Therapy, Creatives, Music, a Book Group, Animals and Inspiring Travel. These groups are all included in the standard membership package.
We also offer additional support in private groups, for a small additional subscription. Andrea’s idea was that good-quality, science-based coaching and support was available through Strengthen in a way that was affordable for all, not a premium price that was out of reach for most people. We are also developing Strengthen Professional, which will be a work-place wide platform for organisations to subscribe to for all their staff.
As a practitioner, how are you applying Positive Psychology in your community?
What motivated you to take action?
I wanted to work collaboratively with other Positive Psychology Practitioners, and I loved Andrea’s vision for an affordable online platform.
Which interventions or projects have you initiated or been involved in?
I ‘Host’ the Mud Therapy group and also the Adoption and Fostering group. I have also set up a Small Acts of Kindness challenge, which runs throughout October. Each month, I will also be hosting one ‘live’ event. In October, I will be running an Introduction to Journaling, and in November I will host a session on Attachment, Trauma and Resilience.
How does practicing Positive Psychology at a community level affect you?
Recent developments in Positive Psychology are about making it accessible and bringing it from academic institutions into the community, and applying it In Real Life. Strengthen fits in with these developments really well, and also gives me the opportunity to ‘practise what I preach’ on a daily basis!
Where does Positive Psychology need to evolve next for communities?
Does it need to collaborate with other community members and services?
I repeatedly say that ‘I found my tribe’ when I discovered Positive Psychology. Working together in an online community is a great example of how we can collaborate and bring more, as a team, to our community, than we can offer as individuals.
Does it need more research?
One of Positive Psychology’s strengths is that it is science-based. Another is that the practices evolve as a result of the research. We have moved from the huge studies of thousands of participants in the early days of Positive Psychology, to smaller-scale studies that can give us a more nuanced understanding of why Positive Psychology Interventions work.
How can community-focused practitioners share lessons learned?
The internet is a wonderful and terrible thing. We have the opportunity to share our work, and our research online, as well as in the more traditional routes such as peer-reviewed journals. We can also build connections via social media, and use these as platforms for what we have learned. However, the internet is unregulated, and we need to be selective in what we share and where, to ensure that we are championing robust science and practises.
What impact would you like to have on your community through the application of Positive Psychology?
I want people to understand that the key to their happiness is in their own pocket. The key is the science-based application of Positive Psychology; understanding how to build authentic happiness and having a life well-lived.
Do you wish to leave a legacy behind?
I’d love there to be a Jennison Institute of Mud Therapy: dedicated to the advancement of understanding how beneficial it is to play outside. Joking! If I can empower people to be pro-social, have a sense of purpose and meaning, and to contribute to their community, that would be a great legacy.
What role will Positive Psychology play here?
Positive Psychology has so much to offer, and we have so much to learn. Our ‘new normal’ under Covid-19 is showing us how much we need social contact, a sense of purpose, and physical touch. But, we are also missing our creative outlets: theatres, concerts, art galleries and so forth all contribute to our well-being in ways that we don’t fully understand yet. I think creativity is the lost soul of Positive Psychology, and I would love to see more research and exploration into how we are impacted. This is as ‘creators’ and also ‘consumers’ of other people’s creative ventures, and our experience of ‘awe’ as we engage with art, music, books etc.
Which challenges might you face?
All our challenges are subsumed under the challenge of living in a pandemic. Not only the restrictions we face daily, and the worry about ourselves or our loved ones, but also the underlying existential dread. Positive Psychology gives us the tools and techniques to help face these; we need platforms like Strengthen to enable a more egalitarian access.
What support might you need?
We’d love to get as many subscribers as possible, and be able to share how Positive Psychology can help everyone in these troubled times. We have a 5 day free trial, so why not pop onboard, build mental well-being and break the isolation so many of us are feeling at the moment.
Jane is a Positive Psychology Practitioner, based in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. She is a Director of Autonomous Ideas Limited an associate for Worth-It CIC, a member of Strengthen, and part of the collaborative team at Essex Family Law. She is also a trustee for Home for Good, Suffolk, and an Adopter Voice Champion for Adoption UK. Jane is also co-founder and co-organiser of the Positive Psychology Summit:UK. She is a Fellow of the Positive Psychology Guild, and Autonomous Ideas Ltd and the Positive Psychology Summit:UK are organisational members.