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Don’t worry, be happy…
We all know the song. And we all like the idea but … it’s easier said than done, right?
In a world often marked by suffering, sickness, and sadness, the concept of ‘being happy’ can seem unachievable. Many of us are used to feeling dispirited – or rather, comfortably unhappy.
We get stuck there, telling ourselves that this is just the way life is.
Followers of Buddhism believe that happiness and sorrow are our own responsibility; that is, we control our own experience of both states. Everything comes from the mind. In other words – if we train our minds properly, happiness will follow.
Can it really be that simple? That by following some mental health training our lives can become more joyful and fulfilling, no matter what happens to us?
Kendra Davies believes so. As CEO and founder of Stellar Life Coaching, she believes it really is that straightforward. It just takes the right tools – and the right coach.
Davies holds a BA in Organizational Behavior from Rollins College and a Certificate of Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP). She is a positive psychology practitioner, life coach and accomplished speaker with more than 15 years’ experience in training and development with organizations like Deloitte, Siemens and Lockheed Martin.
Davies learned the hard way how to change her attitude to life and its challenges. In her early years she battled – and overcame – depression, drug abuse and despair. Today, she teaches other people how to live their best, most authentic lives – all through the principles of positive psychology.
So What Is Positive Psychology?
Positive psychology isn’t just ‘happiology’. It’s a very real branch of human behavioral science with strong evidence of real benefits.
Officially, it is the study of the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions. In other words, it is the scientific study of what makes life worth living, and individuals and organizations flourish.
It’s a movement that has grown substantially in recent years as more among us look for ways to lead more fulfilling, meaningful lives.
Positive psychologists established the PERMA Model, composed of five core pillars: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement. Each of these pillars is critical in supporting a meaningful life and your overall well-being. From emotional intelligence and a growth mindset to mindfulness and flow, positive psychology has established ways to measure, test, and validate practices that support human flourishing.
“Researchers are quick to point out that the aim of positive psychology is not to deny the stressful or negative aspects of life,” says Davies. “Nor should it mean trying to see those negative events through rose-colored glasses. In fact, a significant part of positive psychology is about fully acknowledging the broad spectrum of human emotion and experiences. It’s just that historically we, as a society, have had a significant preoccupation with stress and mental illness. So naturally, it makes sense to focus on what causes human suffering. However, I had a phenomenal teacher who used to say – knowing what causes depression does not tell us what causes joy. Knowing what causes divorce does not tell us what causes healthy and fulfilling love,” she adds.
The Difference Between ‘Happy’ and ‘Not Depressed’
“Many mental health care systems have traditionally focused more on the treatment of mental disorders,” says Davies, “rather than on prevention.” It’s only recently that happiness has been recognized as more than just the absence of suffering.
After all, there’s a big difference between not being depressed and actually being happy. “You might not have a cold,” says Davies, “but that doesn’t mean you’re 100% healthy. You might not be clinically depressed, but that doesn’t mean you love your life.”
Positive psychology offers action-orientated and evidence-based solutions that demonstrate things like optimism, hope, and resilience can be cultivated and grown over time. “The same way we workout our bodies to build muscle we can workout our minds and emotional intelligence to build the lives we want,” Davies explains.
Life Coaching and Positive Psychology
Davies sees a lot of people who are dissatisfied with their lives or stuck in a dark place. Having overcome her own challenges, she brings personal experience to her practice. Her work focuses on delivering comprehensive, personalized coaching tools that can transform the lives of her clients.
“If you were going to learn a new sport or a musical instrument, you would never question whether or not you would need the guidance and wisdom of someone else to provide some instruction on how you should go about learning. How is living your best life, and learning to be the best possible version of yourself, any different? The truth is if we knew how, or what actually prevented us from doing it, we would already be doing it,” says Davies, who uses the principles of positive psychology to help clients create purpose-driven lives. “It begins with the building of positive foundations of wellbeing,” she says.
“Here is the thing: the term ‘happy’ is subjective. What you would call happiness, I might not. So, the first transformational question to ask yourself is: how do you define happiness? Next, because the research tells us that our external circumstances only account for 10% of our happiness (with 50% genetics), a whopping 40% of our happiness relies solely on the intentional actions we take. So ask yourself, are you living – feeling, thinking, and behaving – in a way that aligns with that definition? For most of us, the answer is no. Coaching is a powerful way to have the accountability and support you need to find the answers and begin the work of bridging the gap between where you are and where you want to be.”
The Simple Joy In Writing
One of Davies’ methods for encouraging her clients’ use of positive psychology is through journaling. It’s also one of the simplest and most effective ways to start improving your own level of happiness.
The benefits of writing were tested in a 2004 study by psychologists Burton and King who wanted to examine how writing could affect mood and physical health. Participants were divided into two groups and asked to write for just 20 minutes a day on three consecutive days. The key was their subject matter: one group had to write about intensely positive experiences, while the other had to write about relatively neutral subjects – like, their shoes, or the state of their bedroom.
The results were impressive, though not surprising. Those who wrote about positive experiences felt a significant boost in mood. They also made fewer visits to the doctor over the following three months.
Davies firmly believes that daily journaling is crucial for taking responsibility for one’s happiness.
“That study really drives home the idea that positive emotions beget more positive emotions. One way you could test out this theory to list out three positive emotions you want to feel more of in your life. Next, define each of those emotions, and identify actions you could take to create those emotional experiences for yourself over the next week.
“For example, maybe you want to feel more peace, so you may list out ways to experience more peace such as doing yoga, meditating, or taking a hot bath. Really focus on simple actions you could take realistically in the immediate future. Finally, throughout the week, come back to your journal and document what you did (that intentional action you took) and the results – how did the practice affect you, how did it affect how you felt, and or how you interacted with others?
“This exercise will not change the circumstances of your life, but you will notice that positivity will perpetuate more positivity. This is an effective practice for a few reasons: 1) You will begin to shift your focus on cultivating positive emotions rather than avoiding the negative. 2) You will begin to see how powerful you are at creating your own emotional experiences. And 3) You will recognize that no matter what your life looks like right now, you can effectively change your emotional state for the better,” she says.
Establishing lasting change, however, is more complex. Defining and actively pursuing the meaningful, purpose-driven, and fulfilling life you want – every day – often has to begin under the guidance of a qualified practitioner. Someone who can help you through the groundwork and hold you accountable for your progress. This is where Stellar Life Coaching comes in. “I genuinely want to help people live better lives,” says Davies, “and through my own experience and training, I know I can.”