Here it is: the last of my 50 Fabulous Feats! When I began this journey on my 50th birthday, I couldn’t have imagined the incredible people, places, and things I would encounter along the way. I began the blog as an applied positive psychology experiment and, while it involved less than sound research methodology, I feel quite confident that I am the better for having engaged in this array of awesome activities. As I complete my 50 Feats, I have been reflecting on the learning as a result of practicing these pillars of positivity:
Practicing Gratitude: According to Robert Emmons, gratitude is “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” For me, it involved giving back to my community, particularly in recognition of the privilege I enjoy. My passion in mental health was reflected in my contributions to the Women and Wellness fundraiser through Canadian Mental Health Association – Niagara Branch. My wish to support those living without the basic life necessities that we take for granted including food and shelter led me to volunteer with the great people at Start Me Up Niagara and the Coldest Night of the Year walk as well as the Niagara Region when it conducted its first point-in-time survey of homelessness. The wonderful 100 Women Who Care – Niagara further showed me both the needs within my community and the positive difference a small group of people can have when they come together for a common cause. Research more reliable than my own experiment has identified the benefits of practicing gratitude to be higher self-esteem, energy, and hopefulness; increased ability to cope with stress; decreased envy, loneliness, and anxiety; and a building of social bonds. I know that as I look back, these outcomes resonate with me.
Cultivating Optimism: Sonja Lyubormirsky describes optimism as “finding the silver lining in a cloud. Not only celebrating the present and past, but anticipating a bright future.” I feel a kindred spiritedness with Dr. Lyubormirsky as many of my feats focus on the silver lining and hope associated with the ability to live well with mental illness. I had the opportunity to share my story of ongoing recovery from the perspective of someone both living with mental illness and as the mother of a young adult son who also has mental health challenges. Rather than focusing on the struggles, and there are many of them, we have chosen to create our own silver linings. One of my favourite feats continues to be when Christian and I got matching semi-colon tattoos symbolizing the importance of recognizing mental illness as a pause in the story and not the end. Equally as memorable was my opportunity to meet Dr. Barbara Fredrickson (I call her my “rock star researcher”) whose Broaden and Build Theory was foundational to my 50 Feats; she posits that positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love help people to be open to new ideas (broaden) that, in turn, allows individuals to grow their physical, intellectual, and social resources (build) which can later be drawn upon for coping and resilience in the face of challenges. In addition, cultivating optimism has been found to support the achievement of goals, positive mood, and high energy. I feel strongly that my own positive focus has been the driving force for my psychological growth and ability to bounce back – Thanks Barbara!
Practicing Acts of Kindness: We all have the ability to practice acts of kindness – selfless acts in support of others. Interestingly, such activities have been found to produce greater benefits for the giver than the receiver – truly a win-win proposition. From blood donation (while I wasn’t able to do so for health reasons, others told me that my blog inspired them to donate in my stead) to building a playground with likeminded strangers to planting trees to reduce my carbon footprint, I accomplished these fabulous feats spending zero dollars in the process showing that such acts are accessible and possible for everyone. Reviewing the benefits of elevated happiness, increased compassion, social connection, confidence, and optimism, I wholeheartedly believe I was the benefactor in every case.
Nurturing Social Relationships: Researcher/storyteller Brene Brown writes: “we are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” This statement struck a cord for me not just because I have always been relationship-driven in my life, but also because those of us who live with mental illness share a common dichotomous challenge: when we are unwell, we tend to socially isolate at a time when we need to connect more than ever. Many of my feats revolved around activities with others – friends and strangers alike. Whether eating snails, horseback riding, learning to cook, or touring local sites and sounds of Niagara, the experience was enhanced because I was sharing it with others. According to research, those who cultivate connections have the benefit of strengthened immune systems, longer life, lower levels of anxiety and depression, and greater empathy. Excitingly, the positive results of nurturing social relationships are bi-directional which means that not only was I made happier by my connections, but, as a more positive person, I also enjoy a greater likelihood of acquiring new friends.
Developing Coping Strategies: Sonja Lyubormirsky describes coping strategies as “what people do to alleviate the hurt, the stress or suffering caused by a negative event or situation.” Engaging in problem-focused and emotion-focused techniques and practices allow me to not just survive, but thrive while living with mental illness, supporting post-traumatic growth and transformation. In some instances, my “feats” were very specific to me: the makeover that invaded my peri-personal space; travelling alone to Ottawa; and successfully navigating the mental health system of “hospital-land” with my son. In each case, I emerged with a sense of meaning and purpose, one of the benefits supported by the research into coping strategies.
Savouring Life’s Joys: According to Dr. Fredrickson, savouring involves “considering good events in such a way that you willfully generate, intensify, and prolong your heartfelt enjoyment of them.” Savouring allows you to triple the pleasure through anticipation, experiencing, and remembering events. As I write this, I am smiling as I think about my first feat of riding a motorcycle, re-experiencing that enjoyment after all these months. My nose piercing still glints at me every morning when I look in the mirror and, if I close my eyes, I can feel the whoosh and hear the roar of the wind as I ziplined down the Niagara gorge. Savouring is the gift that keeps on giving.
Committing to Your Goals: Moving towards individual intentions, wishes, and desires has been shown to increase self-esteem, confidence, and provide meaning and purpose, especially when the goals are intrinsic and authentic to you. It is important to note that the benefits arise from approaching something you want rather than from moving away from something undesirable. I get a little emotional when reviewing this pillar. Neale Walsch said “life begins at the edge of your comfort zone;” 50 Fabulous Feats empowered me to push my limits and achieve beyond my wildest imagination. I obtained my Master of Education degree, started my own consulting business, became a certified Coach Practitioner, landed my dream job of Recovery Support Worker, and completed training as a SPARKie with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Sharing these accomplishments through my blog further served to enhance the thrill of each achievement.
Taking Care of Your Body, Mind, and Soul: The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The importance of taking care of yourself is not a new concept, especially related to the benefits of physical activity. In fact, some research has found that physical exercise can have as much, and sometimes more, of an effect in improving mental health issues, such as depression, as medication. My fab feats included not just walking around the neighbourhood (listening to the audio recording of Moby Dick), but also around the Isle of Wight (150 km in 6 days). From the mental health perspective, I pursued mindful activities including drumming, meditation, and, my favourite, kickin’ back in Kauai in support of reduced stress, stronger immunity, and just plain slowing down in a world that sometimes feels like it moves at warp speed. Finally, I explored what Sonja Lyubomirsky describes as the “search for meaning in life through something that is larger than the individual self.” In my case, it was not connected to organized religion (although I wholly support others who choose this path), but through considering various aspects of spirituality including a retreat at a spiritual centre on the one hand, and a psychic reader on the other. Of note is the prediction from Jewelee that my next position would involve “travelling from one place to another” rather than working at a single location; my time is now spent visiting clients in the community to support their health and wellbeing as an Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACTT) member which infuses my soul with meaning and purpose every day.
And so, I conclude my applied positive psychology experiment in this, my 50th blog. After spending over a year engaging in novel, engaging activities in support of increasing my own positive affect, however, I believe that the impact of these pillars of applied positive psychology is too important to simply end. I think everyone can benefit from a little “broaden and build” activity. And so, I am rolling out the next phase of my applied positive psychology experience: Fabulous Feats: The Movement. This “final” blog launches a call to action for others to take up the mantle, engaging in your own unique, novel, interesting feats, and sharing them with the world. I will be assisting the movement through introducing one of the positive psychology pillars and inviting your posts, pictures, tweets, and videos illustrating how you have embraced the ideas through your own activities. As I complete this post, I am simultaneously unveiling my own Facebook page: Fabulous Feats, that I would love for you to “like” and where we can all share our ongoing experiences. In addition, I would love for you to support the movement through the hashtag campaign: #FabFeats with a quick tweet about your own activities. SilverLiningFrog.com will continue with posts describing research and suggestions that you might try based upon each month’s positivity pillar.
For December, the focus will be on Practicing Gratitude. In keeping with the theme, I would like to thank everyone who has supported SilverLiningFrog and my Fabulous Feats throughout the journey so far. I appreciate you more than words can say.
#FabFeats Fabulous Feats