Category Archives: SPIRIT

Put a little purpose in your step today.

Come on now, I wasn’t exactly dawdling this morning, in fact it felt as though I was walking rather briskly.

But the truth is, I was a mere tortoise in comparison to the hare who zoomed past me.

A tall gentleman, he was accompanied by no fewer than three dogs.

Although all were of different breeds, it was clear that none had exactly been blessed in the leg-length department, so somewhat comically they all raced along at the heel of their human, doing their level best to keep up with him.

Having just completed a month of dog-sitting for a Stanford friend myself, I empathised with this guy.

My guess was that he was exercising the animals before heading off to work – probably to do something important on the Stanford campus – so recognised that it was better for all concerned if he put some pep in his step.

Fail to do so, and you risk your dog(s) getting distracted by just about everything and anything.

Did someone say Squirrel?

It got me thinking about the way in which having a sense of life purpose makes a profound impact on our psychological well-being.

And as the researchers Ryff and Keyes showed in 1995, what they termed “eudaimonic living” (living a life that’s intentionally underpinned by six key aspects of psychological well-being) can actually boost physiological, as well as psychological, health.

Among other benefits it can strengthen your immune system, for example.

The thing is, though, I don’t think this sense of life purpose must necessarily be one huge, overarching mission.

It doesn’t mean you have to become a Buddhist monk or devote your whole life to mastering the ukelele.

I believe, instead, that we all benefit when we live our lives purposefully.

The man who raced past me this morning was almost certainly not a professional dog walker, nor, unless he’d left his robes at home, was he a Buddhist monk.

Frankly I saw no sign of a ukelele, either.

It was, however, clear that he was approaching his morning purposefully – maybe before getting down to his other, hopefully purpose-driven, work.

We all have days, sometimes months, when it may feel we’ve temporarily lost our sense of purpose, and when this happens it’s probably not sensible to hope that we’ll somehow find some giant sense of direction and meaning, when it’s taking every ounce of our energy to just get out of bed in the morning.

Better by far, perhaps, to aim to act more purposefully in daily activities, even little ones.

Taking a shower, for example, could be a humdrum routine.

Or you could approach it with a renewed sense of purpose.

Pop a towel in the tumble dryer so it’s warm and fluffy when you need it.

Take a radio into the bathroom to enjoy Handel’s Water Music, while you lather up with the scented shower gel that’s at the back of the cupboard.

Relish the sensation of drying your skin afterwards, taking a few seconds longer than might be strictly necessary.

Of course it’s fantastic if you do have some kind of mega-mission driving your life.

But I’m certain that adding a sense of purpose to normal, everyday tasks can be almost as good for us.

And of course it can be contagious, spreading ripple-like to those around us, and motivating us still further.

Just ask those low-slung doggies.

Don’t mention the war

“Don’t mention the war.”

In the sixth episode of the brilliant BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers, John Cleese (as Basil Fawlty) famously warned Polly to steer clear of war-talk when serving two German couples in the hotel’s dining room.

“I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it,” a concussed and head-bandaged Fawlty assured her.

Of course, in the years since the episode first aired in 1975, “Don’t mention the war” has become a popular phrase to use in the UK when we want to avoid discussing some awkward issue or other.

And, to some extent, that was the underlying thought behind the research I asked for help with last weekend.

I wanted to know how comfortable – or not – people would be telling others that they suffered from some kind of emotional well-being setback.

I was also interested in learning whether there’s a measurable difference between talking about such matters to friends, and to other people in general.

Maybe you’ll agree with me that it seems likely we’d tell people we trust about sensitive issues more readily, than individuals we don’t know so well.

But it’s always important to explore whether such “common-sense” suppositions actually hold water.

As ever, our readers blew me away with their generosity in completing the questionnaire.

Over 270 people kindly took part, so a huge thanks if you were one of these (the survey was anonymous, of course.)

The questions asked if people would be comfortable talking to (a) friends, and (b) people in general, about experiencing these possible conditions: anxiety, demoralisation, depression, losing one’s fighting spirit, morale being low, having a mental health problem, and experiencing low resilience.

I also included having sleeping problems as a kind of yardstick, suspecting there would probably be less perceived stigma around insomnia than there would be around depression.

The full results are shown here:

Allow me to walk us through some of the main highlights.

At the extreme “Don’t mention the war” end of the spectrum, people are clearly wary about talking about being depressed or having a mental health problem.

In fact, only around half of the respondents said they’d even tell their friends about this, and over two-thirds wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to *anyone* about such conditions.

To place these statistics in context, almost 90% of people would be happy to let friends know if they were experiencing sleep problems, and nearly as many would also be comfortable sharing such information with just about anyone.

When you think about it, this is fascinating, since sleep disorders often accompany mental health problems. Indeed, one of the items in an often-used clinical depression test (the PHQ-9) asks how often you’ve been bothered either by trouble falling asleep or sleeping too much over the previous two weeks.

It’s clearly easier for most to talk about sleep problems than it is to open up about feeling depressed.

While I don’t think it was too surprising to learn that talking about sleeplessness is fairly easy, it was more unexpected to witness the relative comfort that people seem to have in talking about anxiety.

62% would tell friends if they were anxious, compared to 55% who would admit to feeling depressed.

It seems there’s less perceived stigma about anxiety than there is about depression, and I guess this does make a degree of sense.

Perhaps it’s because we may believe our anxiety is caused by something outside ourselves (over which we have no control) whereas it could be more common to think that depression seems to come more from within ourselves?

(By the way, although I always felt my own depression generally started within me, as time has gone by, I now believe it was more often than not “situational.” I generally felt low during times in which I was living in relatively difficult and challenging circumstances.)

Be that as it may, one of my motives for running this research was to better understand some of the stigma around psychological well-being.

As some Moodnudgers know, I’m working on a tool (an app, specifically) that could be used by individuals in the workplace who’d like to maintain their well-being.

When you do something like this, I think it helps if you can explain what your “product” is designed to beat.

If you’re selling an aspirin, you say it beats headaches.

If you’re selling a mower, you say it beats having long grass.

Right?

Because of the stigma around mental health, however, I really do think people might be wary of engaging with something that appears to be designed to prevent depression.

Maybe it makes more sense to talk about using it to avoid tiredness, fatigue, and burnout in the workplace, therefore?

Something designed, instead, to boost energy?

Thank you. You’ve really given me a lot of food for thought. In return, the very least I can do is leave you with a link to two minutes of pure comedy gold from Fawlty Towers:

Incidentally, just in case this feels a bit culturally insensitive of me, when Fawlty Towers was shown in Germany, not only was the whole series widely enjoyed, this episode – “The Germans” – was one of the most popular.

In other words… self-acceptance

S, the first letter of S.P.I.R.I.T. stands for self-acceptance, which is all about… well, here’s how a constellation of bright people have explained it.

If one of them chimes with you, why not make a note of it and keep it somewhere close to hand?

+ + + + + + +

“You’re always with yourself, so you might as well enjoy the company.”

Diane von Fürstenberg, the Belgian-American fashion designer best known for her wrap dress

+ + + + + + +

“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.”

Amy Bloom, the American writer and psychotherapist

+ + + + + + +

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.”

Marilyn Monroe, famous for being, well, Marilyn Monroe

+ + + + + + +

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

Sharon Salzberg, best-selling author and Buddhist meditation teacher

+ + + + + + +

“You have peace,” the old woman said, “when you make it with yourself.”

Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven

+ + + + + + +

“Accept yourself, love yourself, and keep moving forward.”

Roy T. Bennett, American politician

+ + + + + + +

“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”

Lucille Ball, American actress and comedian

+ + + + + + +

“How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.”

Rupi Kaur, Indian born Canadian poet, writer, illustrator, and performer

+ + + + + + +

“Friendship with oneself is all important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.”

Eleanor Roosevelt, longest serving First Lady of the United States, from 1933 to 1945

+ + + + + + +

“It’s your race, and yours alone. Others may run it with you, but no one can run it for you.”

Snoopy, Beagle, Peanuts

Menagerie management

You know that feeling of having your routines disrupted?

Of finding out that some of the structures that were around you are no longer (temporarily) in place?

That’s a bit what it’s been like for me since the beginning of this month.

For the whole of July, I’m looking after a friend’s pets while she’s away, and this means house-sitting.

While it certainly has its merits, and there are certainly attractions (and distractions) in having a dog and cat around, it’s playing havoc with some of my day-to-day work and responsibilities.

That’s partly why there was no emailed post from me last week, and in fact I’m only producing this one a couple of hours before it’ll be making its way to you.

To make up for it a little, I’ve used some of my old advertising skills to produce half a dozen shareable “graphics” – fun illustrations of the six psychological wellbeing dimensions that make up the S.P.I.R.I.T. framework.

I hope you’ll enjoy them, and if so, please feel very free to share them with friends/colleagues etc on social media, or by emailing them.

You’ll find them below.

I know many Moodnudges readers have been experiencing pretty hot weather recently, so if that’s been your experience, please try to stay as cool as you can.

Normal blog service ought to be resumed next week.

Pets willing.

Psychological well-being? It’s all about SPIRIT.

What is psychological well-being, and what’s involved in being “psychologically well”?

First, what it’s not is – necessarily – happiness, because leading a happy life is about emotional, rather than psychological, well-being.

Psychological well-being, on the other hand, has more to do with having the mental attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours that will help you make the most of your life.

Years before the establishment of the positive psychology movement, American psychologist Carol Ryff proposed a six-factor model of psychological well-being in a 1989 paper that has since been cited over 10,000 times.

That’s an indication of its enormous impact on the world of psychology.

I really love Professor Ryff’s work, while also believing that almost thirty years on it could be useful to translate her model into a form that you and I can ourselves easily use, without needing specialist psychological expertise.

My goal, therefore, was to simplify and distil, by constructing a new system around the six-letter acronym S.P.I.R.I.T.

Each letter corresponds to one of the original (mainly renamed) psychological well-being factors, and it feels not inappropriate that they should spell out a word that can mean courage, energy, and determination.

In a series of six posts (see below) I’ve explored simple, practical ways that all of us can nurture these qualities.

I’ve also created a simple summarising chart that can be printed out and stuck on your fridge or bathroom wall as a reminder of what psychological well-being is all about.

The truth is, these strengths will come from within you, and I sincerely believe that you already have the inner resource to unlock and develop them. It will just take a little practice.

One simple idea? Experiment with working on one strength a day.

And since there are six of them, once a week you could even take a day off.

Which is, in itself, a happy thought.

Download a PDF you can print out for your wall.

If you prefer, here’s a JPG file.

Finally, the six strengths in text form (the subtitles link to posts looking at each strength in turn).

Self-acceptance

+ I aim to keep a positive attitude towards myself, being happy with who I am

+ I recognise and accept that there are multiple sides to me, and that these inevitably include both good and bad qualities

+ It’s my choice to feel mainly positive about my past life

Purpose

+ There’s a sense of direction to my life, and I have clear goals

+ My life, both present and past, has meaning

+ I hold personal beliefs that help to give my life purpose

+ My daily life is structured around aims and objectives

Independence

+ Whenever appropriate, I determine my own direction in life, independently

+ Social pressures don’t sway my thoughts and actions

+ Self-control enables me to regulate my behaviours

+ I don’t make judgements by comparing myself to others

Resourcefulness

+ I try to enjoy managing everyday life, feeling a sense of achievement

+ If things go wrong, I’m generally able to adapt and adjust

+ I like spotting opportunities and making the most of them

+ I feel a certain sense of control over the world immediately around me

Interconnection

+ I work hard at maintaining warm, satisfying relationships with others, and am concerned about their welfare

+ I enjoy feeling close to people, and empathetic

+ I appeciate that all human relationships involve a degree of give and take, and compromises

Transformation

+ My life is always developing, and I’m continually growing and expanding

+ I’m always open to new experiences

+ I believe I’m realising my potential, and understanding more about myself every day

The original research:
Happiness Is Everything, or Is It? Explorations on the Meaning of Psychological Well-Being
Carol D. Ryff – University of Wisconsin-Madison (1989)