Positive Psychology in Difficult Times

Coronavirus / Gratitude / Resilience / Strengths

This is a member post shared by Jane Jennison, a Positive Psychology Practitioner and Coach, Mentor, and Facilitator, and Fellow Member of the Positive Psychology Guild (PPG). Jane is also Co-Director of Autonomous Ideas, an Organisational Member of PPG that offers Positive Psychology support to individuals, teams, and organisations. This post was first shared on the Autonomous Ideas website here


Over the last few years, it has felt that bad news has been relentless. Just in the UK, we have had the banking crisis, austerity, repeated General Elections, a raft of new Prime Ministers, the Brexit vote, and Brexit. Now we are facing COVID 19, the corona virus, which the World Health Authority has declared a pandemic. In the UK, we are looking at months of increased cases, peaking in June, with a forecast of 80% of the population contracting this virus for which – currently – there is no cure, and no immunisation for.

It’s enough to make us, as Annie Lamott so eloquently put it in “Small Victories”, want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish. Although this may be tempting, there are other ways to cope when faced with the problems in the wider world. One strategy that can help is to use the tools that have been developed by Positive Psychologists over the last few years.

Many of us are familiar with ‘Gratitude’ as an intervention; looking for, noticing and recording things for which we are grateful helps us identify what is positive. This can help stem the flow of negative thoughts, and the downward spiral in our well-being. Gratitude is also a very effective way of bringing our focus to what is in our immediate environment, and this also helps us focus on things that are in our control. Feeling helpless is an understandable response to some of the global issues we are aware of. Looking at our immediate environment and finding things we are grateful for, can help us re-focus on what we can control or impact on. This journal is designed using Positive Psychology, and is a great place to start if you are new to joy journaling: The Six Minute Diary.

Bringing our focus to things which are in our immediate environment is also a feature of the model “Control, Influence and Accept”. I wrote about how I applied this model here. By looking at global problems like the Corona virus using this model, we can move from feeling powerless and overwhelmed. If we think about what we can control, it’s our behaviour and our immediate environment. We can ensure we wash our hands regularly and thoroughly by following the NHS guidelines, and have fun deciding what song we are going to sing for the 20 seconds this takes. The internet is awash (excuse the pun!) with suggestions. When we think about what we can influence, we can look at how we model our behaviour. I frequently say, ‘children do what you do, not what you say’, and here is another opportunity for us to put this into practice. We can model hand washing, of course, but we also have the opportunity to talk about how panic-buying could put vulnerable people at greater risk, and show how we can support our older neighbours, if they self-isolate. For accept, this is ALL the things that are outside of what we can control or influence – that’s a pretty big remit! This includes all the decisions made by our local authorities, the National Health Service, the World Health Organisation, and everyone outside our immediate social group. By ceding concern or worry back to the organisations who have the remit, we are liberated to focus on what we can control or influence, as the worry – that great thief of joy – is removed or reduced as we accept it serves no purpose.

We can follow Fred Rogers’ advice and ‘look for the helpers’; recognising that people are working together and actively looking for ‘good news’ stories. A lovely example of this is the store ‘Lush’ which has signs up saying ‘come in and wash your hands for free’.

Fred Rogers also said that if we cannot see the helpers, we should be the helpers. This is advice I frequently return to, and encourage you to do likewise. We are social creatures, as is so beautifully explained by Matthew D. Lieberman, and we gain more by helping another person than we do by helping ourselves. What can we do, in these difficult times, to support and help one another?

Finally, if we are feeling powerless and overwhelmed, we can return to one of the founders of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, and look to his advice on how to flourish. Seligman talks about how to build resilience; this will be key in how we respond to local and global problems. He uses the ABC model: Adversity, Beliefs, Consequences (of the beliefs). Here, we can see that it’s the belief that holds the power, not the adversity itself, but how we respond to it. So, with the Corona virus, let us remember that, as Shakespeare says:

“There is nothing good either good or bad but thinking makes it so”. Let us use these world events as a way for us to focus on how to be the helper, recognise things to be grateful for, and support those in our neighbourhood who are vulnerable.

If you need professional support for your organisation in this period of change, please email Andrew. If you need personal support, please email Jane. We’d love to hear from you.

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