This is a question explored by Positive Psychotherapist Marie McLeod in a new documentary, “How to Thrive” that I saw with my son (a student of psychology). The film follows seven people through a transformative journey to learn the secret formula to happiness, tapping into the principles of Positive Psychology where the focus is on “what’s right with you?”, rather than a traditional psychology approach of “what’s wrong with you?”
Everybody has innate strengths that we can draw upon to support positive shifts. However, it is also important for individuals to understand what drives them. What are their guiding values that lead the way for them? Human beings are wired for story and these stories can define us and keep us in this stuck place. Once we identify our stories on repeat, then we can then work on reframing them if they are not serving us in moving forward. These are some of the key aspects of positive psychology.
“How to Thrive” covered confronting subject matter and yet was heartfelt and thought-provoking, which left us feeling hopeful. These incredibly courageous individuals shared their deep struggles with the audience and leaned into the process of learning how to thrive. I felt uncomfortable at times as I listened to their struggles and yet was in awe of the reality that despite it all – they held onto hope. They were inspirational. I wonder if it was this glimmer of hope or optimism that drove them to be open to this alternate approach to all that they had tried before to address their situation? You see, the premise of the film was to explore what difference it would make to these people who were struggling, if they understood the science of happiness and were able to apply it to their lives.
Everybody struggles at times – myself included. I struggled with depression more than 20 years ago after the fracture of my extended family unit and a marriage separation only months after I said “I do”. But what exactly does this mean to struggle and how do we move through it? Difficult emotions are a given and yet for many, it can be challenging to process them leaving people feeling overwhelmed, stuck or in a place where they are languishing. Is happiness indeed a skill that we can learn which can support people to live a happy, healthy and meaningful life?
“How to Thrive” draws on the BEACON framework which brings together the latest science on wellbeing. It highlights the intersecting importance of belonging, engagement, accountability, compassion, optimism and nurture to the positive wellbeing or flourishing of individuals. Is this the secret formula to happiness? One of my first professors at the University of Melbourne, Peggy Kern collaborated on this project and quantified the research ensuring that the evidence is there that legitimises positive psychology as a conducive and viable field of psychology.
I was drawn to Positive Psychology about ten years ago through Kaiping Peng at Tsinghua University as I explored the application of it in China. I wanted to understand how it would fit with my coaching approach to therapy. The deficit model of traditional psychology that focused on the pathology was not supporting my clients to make the shifts they desired. I felt that I was treating at a surface level but not really getting that far – two steps forward and 1 step backwards, which I spoke about in my TED talk on “Better than OK“. I am passionate about the efficacy of positive psychology, so to see “How to Thrive” being released is a step in the right direction in my opinion as it will open the dialogue around cultivating happiness.
I’ve worked with people around the world and always ask them what happiness means to them. At the core of all the responses was the general theme of positive emotions, inner peace, contentment and satisfaction. I’m curious…what is happiness to you?
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