jenna sinclair | positive psychology coach

Ahead of her talk at The Big Session, we had a chat with positive psychology coach and blue health researcher Jenna Sinclair (who spoke at our Steve film screening) to find out more about how this form of psychology can help us and what practical steps we can take to bring more happiness into our lives. From sea swimming to mindfulness, here’s what we discovered…

You practise positive psychology or the science of happiness – aside from the emphasis on the positive, how does this differ from other types of psychology?

The traditional psychological model focuses on what’s wrong with an individual (anxiety, depression, behavioural issues), but positive psychology, which emerged from humanistic psychology around the year 2000, takes the individual as a whole and says OK, what’s right about this person? The humanistic approach very much believes people will grow into their full potential providing they are given the optimal conditions – warmth and love, etc, a bit like a plant. So positive psychology looks at people’s character strengths, through measured psychometric tests as well as their values and focuses on taking their lives from where they are now (good) to thriving, flourishing.

Studies have shown that despite their wealth many Western countries are not very happy these days. Do you have any top tips we can easily implement to become happier and feel more connected?

  • Spending time in nature
    My research has focused on the importance of spending time in nature, primarily the sea, and how it positively affects wellbeing by increasing our sense of connectedness to our environment and ourselves (our feelings) by giving us a sense of achievement from getting into cold water. This in turn increases our self-esteem and self-belief and nature is also a key elicitor of mindfulness. It’s been proven multiple times in positive psychological studies that nature increases pro-social behaviour, greater identification with the rest of humanity, positive emotions and, in turn, creates more compassionate behaviour towards other people and nature in general. So I would definitely recommend spending as much time in nature as possible.
  • Giving more
    Within positive psychology there’s an intervention called random acts of kindness, which is quite well known but has been scientifically studied to prove that kindness really does make people feel better. As an intervention, it’s applied over the course of five days, doing one kind thing per day and is measured before and after by means of a questionnaire. But anyone can adopt this and just add more kindness into their lives, whether that’s choosing to boycott eating meat one day a week, sending someone a card for no reason other than to tell them they’re doing really well or treating yourself to a massage or a nice lunch.
  • Borrow a dog
    I work remotely and often feel like I miss having colleagues, so one step I’ve taken and can recommend for any freelancers or solopreneurs is to borrow a doggy! I borrow one from someone in my area, a super-cute lurcher-whippet called Wilfred who’s almost two. Walking Wilf gets me out in nature, makes me feel good because I’m giving a dog an extra walk and giving something for nothing and also helping the owner. I also think animals can offer a real sense of connection and love, so it’s a win-win for all!
  • Practise gratitude
    If you practise gratitude daily, you’re always in an ‘I am so lucky’ or abundant mindset. Your cup is always half full. Plus, it’s positively correlated with higher levels of resilience and increased levels of subjective wellbeing. One tip is to keep a gratitude journal – one easy and free app for this is just called Gratitude, it’s pink.
  • Cultivate awareness
    If you have awareness of what you’re thinking (mindfulness), feeling, a sense of who you are, your strengths, values, what you love, what you want and your intentions, then you’re best placed to go towards your best possible self and live intentionally. Happiness is different to everyone and we need to realise that and release comparison to others. Awareness enables us to realise when we are lost in thought and bring our attention back to the present moment.


You’ve recently completed some research on some of the positive effects of cold water swimming – can you tell us a bit about what you found? Is it something we should all be trying to do more of?

Yes, I did my research on how sea immersion in hostile winter conditions positively affects wellbeing because I wanted to explore the positive emotion of awe and its role in increasing positive affect. Unlike cold water studies which involve taking a cold shower or swimming in a lake, I wanted to focus on the sea due to its vast nature and the dual aspect of emotions it evokes: it can be scary, right?!

There were four themes that came out of my research: growth, time, awareness and connectedness with an overarching theme of paradox. So, for example, where people felt disconnected from their daily stress, technology, wifi, notifications, work, even their clothes, they simultaneously felt a sense of connection with their bodies, themselves, nature and the universe. Equally, the sea was seen as powerful but then the participants also saw themselves as powerful for getting in. So overall, the sea reflects ourselves back to us.

I’m certainly not advocating that people put themselves in unsafe conditions especially without a lifeguard or if they are not strong or competent swimmers, however, sea immersion can form part of an integrated approach to self-care, much like healthy eating, meditation or working out. It makes us happier by offering positive emotions, a sense of achievement, a sense of connectedness to what matters and disconnection from what doesn’t, as well as a deeper sense of meaning, we feel we are part of something bigger even as society becomes increasingly fragmented.

The cold water also causes the blood to flow back into all of your body once you’ve warmed up again which gives you that really tingly, energised feeling as well as the sense of increased self-belief for pushing yourself to get out of your comfort zone and brave it. When you can do that, you can do anything the day brings you!

You’re part of Brighton sea-swimming group Salty Seabirds; was it your love of cold-water swimming that prompted you to focus your research on this area?
Actually my love of surfing. I’m from Cornwall and learnt to surf when I was 12. I was always aware of that magical feeling that lasted ages after a session and I wanted to study it to see if others felt the same. The Seabirds were actually suggested to me by wild and sea swimmer Joe Minihane who wrote a book called Floating: A life regained [Ed: It’s beautiful!]. The Seabirds are a wonderful, ever-growing community of conscious souls who have united through their shared love of the ocean and they often share pictures of themselves quite simply, playing, in the sea on their Facebook group. I think that’s another thing the sea offers, and this came up in my research, a sense of play. The sea reminds us of childhood, of family holidays and of freedom.
What books would you recommend for people who want to read more about positive psychology and mindfulness?
Authentic by Stephen Joseph
The Surrender Experiment by Michael J Singer
Blue Mind by Wallace J Nichols
Flourishing by Martin Seligman
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Let’s talk home now, where do you live in Brighton/Hove and what do you like about the area?
I live in Shoreham now but I have lived in Kemptown, Hanover, Hove, Ovingdean, Hollingdean and Lewes Road! I just love how liberal and diverse Brighton is, how colourful, compassionate and open it is. You can walk down the street in your PJs and no-one bats an eyelid. I think that’s great. I love Shoreham, too, because it’s quieter and there are fewer people on the beach! I love how I have got to know the coastal area and when I coach people on the beach and in the sea, I can use the environment to help form symbolic modelling, a linguistic technique in coaching.
Finally, can you talk us through your favourite way to spend 24 hours in the city?
For me, it would be all about spending time in the natural parts of the city. I love the beach of course and the parks, such as Hove Park and Queens Park. I love the assortment of amazing food places, too, especially Foodilic! They don’t get enough press – all-you-can-eat amazing natural food for £7.50! And Eat Naked is a cheeky find in the arcade near Cath Kidston. I love the whole East Street area actually and the popping up of new cafes such as the Pusheen cafe, which reminds me of Japan. I also love the seafront and the vibes down there in the summer with colourful beach toys, the pumping house music and the glittering sea – just remember to bin your rubbish, guys!

Jenna will be speaking about how our connection to our environment improves our self-esteem, self-acceptance and self-belief at The Big Session on Saturday 12th October if you want to hear more in person! Get your tickets here (use ‘BOTI’ to get your £5 discount).

You can find out more about Jenna’s work, book a free initial consultation and download helpful resources such as intention-setting worksheets here.