Life is full of surprises! Some are great experiences, like moving to a new country or accepting a job offer. Still, others might be unexpected setbacks, like being diagnosed with an illness or losing a loved one. Over the past few months, life has changed a lot from what we considered a “normal” existence, and this might have shaken your confidence, self-worth and wellbeing.
Do not worry! It is common to feel helplessness in the face of a change that you have limited or no control over. However, focusing on the negative aspects of the situation is likely to reduce your wellbeing and increase your risk to develop a mental or physical illness.
Psychology can alleviate suffering by treating mental health issues, but it can also promote wellbeing so you can flourish. However, it is essential to know that the skills needed to build a path to flourishing are different from those skills needed to relieve suffering. Specialists developed positive psychology as a scientific field of research focused on factors that support individuals to thrive, and not merely survive.
Dr Martin Seligman championed positive psychology since 1998 when he was elected the president of the American Psychological Association (APA), and after that many other specialists have worked to advance the field. Dr. Seligman’s research has helped people to overcome depression, anxiety and helplessness, and his most prominent method to promote wellbeing is called the PERMA model.
PERMA is an acronym that stands for: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments.
We talked to Dr Jewel Perlin, a psychologist at Concordia’s Counselling and Psychological Services, to learn how the PERMA model can help graduate students to achieve wellbeing.
Positive emotions happen when an individual can see a situation from a constructive perspective. Cultivating positive feelings (joy, hope, serenity, etc.) is one of the routes to wellbeing and enhances our mental health. We can promote positive emotions, within limits, by consciously doing things that trigger positive affectivity.
Dr Perlin suggests activities like keeping a happiness jar with your accomplishments that made you proud. As you recall the feelings of those happy moments bring them back to your present. Keeping a gratitude journal - in a physical journal or on apps - is incredibly powerful to foster positive emotions as individuals acknowledge the good things in life, which enhances life satisfaction.
Have you been fully absorbed in a pleasant activity that has the right amount of challenge, but it is still doable? Did it make you forget about everything else? If yes, then you already experienced “flow” which is one of life’s most enjoyable states of being.
Flow supports wellbeing as we temporarily lose self-consciousness that eliminates self-criticism and negative thoughts. This route might be incredibly helpful to silence the internal voice that keeps telling you that you are not good enough to write your thesis! Freeing your mind of concerns creates new neurologic connections that boost creativity, and you are likely to perform better at work and school.
Achieve flow by developing an activity that you love doing. As you get better at doing it, you slowly increase the level of difficulty to stretch your abilities and achieve it again. It is a virtuous cycle! There are different ways to create flow, and Dr Perlin suggested among others playing music, a good conversation, sports, painting, gardening, home improvement (DIY), learning a new language, and dancing.
Healthy relationships support wellbeing and are associated with better mental health. Our sense of belonging and self-worth increases when we have people in our lives who we care for and who care for us. From an evolutionary perspective, human beings have belonged to groups to guarantee adaptation. Being social has helped us develop our capacity for love, cooperation, and teamwork for centuries.
We flourish with real connections filled with love, intimacy, and strong emotional interactions that help us feel safe, be resilient and have a sense of belonging. Dr Perlin advises to keep a good communication flow with your relationships, by being a good listener, give and receive support, adopt empathy, and be compassionate.
Why not join our Grad Chat weekly sessions to share experiences and concerns with peers and remain connected while working from home?
What is your intention in life? When do you feel fulfilled?
Meaning is unique for each individual, and very often meaning might shift throughout your life as priorities evolve, or you go through a challenging experience. You might find meaning by belonging or working on something bigger than you as an individual. People often think that finding meaning has to be something grand. Still, it is more realistic to find meaning in ordinary moments.
Meaning is present in acts of kindness when you are using your talents to help others. For instance, when you assist friends to solve problems, cook a meal for loved ones, or merely cheer up those around you. Individuals search for meaning in places and social institutions like religion, volunteering, social causes, and scientific research, to name a few.
You can find your meaning regardless if it is a small or grand cause.
Achieving things in life help us to push ourselves to thrive. It helps if you incorporate a few factors to accomplish your goals like ambition, pride, realistic goals, and significant achievements.
In graduate school, especially in long term programs like the PhD, students tend to underplay how much they learned and achieved during those years of research and writing a thesis. Maybe some help from a coach, or a career planning tool (like VersatilePHD) might be helpful to focus and set realistic goals in the current academic situation and job market.
We have plenty of opportunities to pursue achievement, success and mastery in different places including home, sports, health, studies, workplace, hobbies, etc. Regardless of the activity, find things that make you feel proud of yourself.
Do you want to learn more strategies to be positive and flourish with the PERMA model? Join us in the upcoming workshop Thriving during challenging times (GPWL975) led by Dr Jewel Perlin, on October 15, 2020.