jenna sinclair | positive psychology coach
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.
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?
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).