At work, my title is “Well-being Specialist.” This year I have been researching “what is wellbeing and how is it promoted and recovered?” I have personally and professionally been all too familiar with unwell-being. We hardly know what we should target as health! I have been helped tremendously by the insights of UPenn psychologist Martin Seligman and have summarized some of his insights and “homework” towards well-being in an article on Gratitude that I wrote for our US Staff.
“Billy, tell Auntie Beth thank you for the pink sweater!” (Urged by Mom’s orders and an arched eyebrow, Billy grunts “Thank you!” and sulks off embarrassed)
“Your altitude is determined by your attitude of gratitude.” (Coming to a refrigerator magnet or embroidered couch pillow near you!)
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Paul to the Romans
Whether it’s your mom, Hallmark, or the Apostle Paul, gratitude is billed as a powerful thing. It fosters loving relationships, affects our outlook, and the lack thereof can spell a descent into a dark, destructive selfishness.
In this month of giving thanks, we can move our gratitude beyond a meal into a healthy habit that we can practice year-round that encourages others, honors God and builds a sense of satisfaction and blessing into our often discouraged mental space.
Psychologist Martin Seligman made it his life’s work to study human misery. Obviously, this proved quite depressing. Even with all the treatments/drugs for suffering and depression, he had to be honest with himself. These were treatments, not cures. In search of a cure, he founded a movement called Positive Psychology. In his book, Flourishing, Seligman highlights a clinical study he performed with sufferers of severe depression. Seligman and his colleagues offered the test subjects either Positive Psychotherapy, traditional therapy without drugs, and traditional therapy with drugs. 55% of patients in Positive Psychotherapy, 20% in “treatment as usual”, and 5% in traditional therapy plus drugs experienced a remission in their symptoms of severe depression.
What did Seligman “do” to get this 55% result? Among the homework assignments given were these:
1. Write a gratitude letter to someone you have not previously thanked and deliver it in person.
2. Practice being satisfied with the “good enough” vs. the “perfect/just as I wanted or planned”.
3. Keep a blessings journal and write down three blessings you experience each day. Similarly, (in another experiment) Write down 3 things that went well today.
Seligman has landed on a “true truth” (to borrow from Francis Schaeffer) as he’s studied human nature (which we know is made in the image of God.) When we become reflectors of God’s goodness and given to praise and gratitude, we are lifted out of our ever narrowing self-focus and out into a world of affirming relationships, healthy habits and positive emotions.
Try one or all of these 3 “therapies” and let me know how it went!!
Also, if you are an iPhone user, there is an app created by The Headington Institute (a key humanitarian well-being support think tank) called Examine, where you can journal your day and highlight the blessings you have seen and received.
Thankful to be discovering God’s blessings with you this season,