Miriam Akhtar, MAPP from the University of East London, runs Positive Psychology Training, which provides courses, coaching, and communication in the science. Miriam is the author of Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression and the co-producer of The Happiness Training Plan. Twitter: @pospsychologist. Full bio.
Miriam's articles for PositivePsychologyNews.com are here.
The Bristol Happiness Lectures were an annual event at the University of Bristol set up by Dr Chris Johnstone, the co-author with Joanna Macy of Active Hope, a book that makes the connection between personal and planetary well-being.
When Chris relocated to the wilds of North-East Scotland, he asked me to help transform the Happiness Lectures from a local into a free global event by taking it online. The 2014 Happiness Lectures Online explored the concept of Sustainable Well-being. For the 2015 Happiness Lectures we have chosen the theme of Love & Purpose.
Why Love & Purpose?
So why love, why purpose and why put them together?!
I see love and purpose as ways of turbocharging the path to happiness. Love is the supreme positive emotion according to Barbara Fredrickson, and the capacity to love and be loved is a character strength. To love and be loved is like reaching the summit of well-being. Having a purpose gives us a depth of satisfaction and fulfillment. This is happiness with extra bandwidth, stretching from peak positive emotions to a deep sense of meaning. It brings together hedonic and eudaimonic well-being, the two dimensions of authentic happiness.Another goal of these Happiness Lectures is to democratize love and purpose, which are often viewed as something rather exclusive and extraordinary. In Love 2.0, Barbara Fredrickson shows that love is not just the preserve of happy couples and doting parents, but can even be experienced with a stranger. Positivity resonance, her term for love, is a micro-moment of connection with a shared experience of positive emotion, synchrony of biochemistry and actions, and a mutual impulse to care for one another.
For those who are single and treading a solo path through life, this is a source of active hope. We can still be experiencing the benefits of love for our psychological and physical health outside the bonds of close relationships. I first read the book when I was on a train and looked up and experienced a micro moment of positivity resonance with the ticket inspector: a mutual consideration, a kindness, and a laugh!
Having a purpose in life always seems like such a big deal. “What is your life purpose?” along with “What is the meaning of life?” are questions that crop up late at night when the wine is flowing and the conversation turns philosophical. But there is purpose to be found in the everyday. The purpose of a mundane task such as shopping for food might be to nourish our bodies and nurture our loved ones. The purpose of mowing the lawn might be to care for the environment. Purpose is fluid and can be as simple as “What is my purpose for the next hour?”
How Do We Get to a Sense of Purpose?
Having a sense of purpose gives us a direction in life, something to work towards and a tick in the box of achievement (the A in the PERMA model) as we progress towards our goal. The big question is, “How do we get to a sense of purpose?”
According to Laura King and Joshua Hicks, there are two major routes. We tend to detect purpose in life’s positive experiences, for example, becoming a parent and having a sense that things are exactly as they are meant to be. On the other hand we tend to construct purpose from life’s negative experiences, asking ourselves “Why did this happen to me?” and attempting to make meaning from the trauma and tough times.
This is how I constructed my own purpose in life. Making sense of episodes of depression led to my mission in life: to put people on the path to happiness. I wrote a book Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression that was conceived at the 2010 Bristol Happiness Lectures. This life purpose provides me with an abundance of intrinsic motivation and satisfaction with life. I get to live my life purpose every day in my work as a positive psychology practitioner. I’ve not had an episode of depression since embarking on the MAPP program at the University of East London in 2007!
The Happiness Lectures Online are on Thurs 26th March at 7:30pm UK time, 11:30am Pacific Time, and 2:30pm Eastern. Free tickets for the webinar are available through Eventbrite
The lectures also preview the Happiness Training Programme Online, an 8-week group coaching course, which starts on Wednesday April 8th.
Akhtar, M. (2012). Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression: Self-Help Strategies for Happiness, Inner Strength and Well-Being. London: Watkins.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Hudson Street Press.
King, L. A. & Hicks, J. A. (2009). The detection and construction of meaning in life events. Journal
of Positive Psychology, 4, 317-330. Abstract and preview.
King, L. A. & Hicks, J. A. (2012). Positive affect and aeaning in Life: The intersection of hedonism and eudaimonia. In P. T. Wong (Ed.), The Human Quest for Meaning: Theories, Research, and Applications, Second Edition (pp. 125-142. New York: Routledge.
Macy, J. & Johnstone, C. (2012). Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy. California: New World Library.