Elyse Neubauer - MA Applied Psychology
It is easy to look back on the first semester of an academically rigorous program and only remember the stress: the stress of assignments, but also the stress of moving to a new place (for me, a new country) and getting settled in. The constant adjusting and readjusting each time something new is discovered can be exciting or draining depending on your circumstances. Very often, for me, it has been a mixture of the two.
So it is easy to focus on stress, but I believe one can choose not to. As I have learned through my courses in positive psychology, humans tend to focus on negative aspects: “One bad apple spoils the bushel…” and all that. One evolutionary explanation for this is that it was beneficial to think about what has and could go wrong at a time when most humans were living in the wild with survival being their main goal. You would want to remember the last saber-toothed tiger attack, for example, in order to guard against it in future. In dealing with the stress of school I have learned to ask myself, “Where is the tiger?”. When I feel my heart rate start rising in anticipation of a deadline: “Where is the tiger?”. When there is a tightening in my throat thinking about the next semester to come: “Where is the tiger?”. If I get overwhelmed when balancing life and school: “Where is the tiger?”.
The answer is…nowhere. None of these situations are life threatening. Sure, you could say the tiger is a metaphor, but in reality, there is no sharp toothed beast running after me. So, I will take another lesson from my course and intentionally switch my focus to the positive. Firstly, many modules this semester have taught me valuable lessons about how to manage, decrease and have a healthier relationship with stress (stress can be motivating). We would meditate in classes, allowing ourselves to slow down our breath and let go of judgement. I have also been taught that happiness involves an element of choice. One assignment asked me to design an intervention to increase my wellbeing. I, therefore, adopted a running/gardening routine that was extremely beneficial. I met amazing people in my course who are incredibly supportive and adept at co-creating a positive learning environment. I’ve found out how much can be accomplished in a short period of time, even if the subject matter is technical and seems hard to grasp at first. For every moment of stress existing in this first semester, there has also been a moment of inspiration. I choose inspiration.
Elyse Neubauer - MA Applied Psychology
Blog Post 2: Dissertation Inspiration
In my last post, I talked about the way my MA course in Positive Psychology fortuitously provided me with tools to help with Semester One stress. These tools included mindfulness, meditations and mood-boosting positive psychology interventions (for example: listing three good things that happened per day). Learning about research on the importance of happiness and connection also proved to be a valuable tool in understanding how to de-stress. I am happy to say that these tools worked just as well, if not better, during Semester Two and are continuing to serve me as I continue to work on the dissertation.
My dissertation is about gratitude. Specifically, I am interested in understanding more about why people do or do not choose to take part in a gratitude activity even when there is psychological evidence supporting its ability to produce greater feelings of wellbeing. That is, this activity has been shown to both increase feelings of happiness and decrease feelings of depression in many different research participants.
This gratitude activity is called the “gratitude visit”. The gratitude visit starts with writing a meaningful letter of gratitude to someone in your life. You are then asked to visit the person you’ve written to, but without telling them the purpose behind your visit. Finally, you must read the letter aloud to them as part of your visit. The completion of the “gratitude visit” is capable of creating large boosts in wellbeing. However, studies also have a large drop-out rate. People initially sign up to do this activity, but not all of them complete it. For my dissertation, I am interested in what type of emotional reactions are happening as people make their decisions about what to do with their gratitude letters and if this reaction differs based on age.
Working on this dissertation has been surprisingly inspiring. Although I knew the subject matter is inspiring to read about in many ways, I was surprised by the experience of collecting data for this project. The data collection required me to ask people of all ages if they would like to participate by writing a letter of gratitude and filling out questionnaires. Most of these interactions were pleasant, but ultimately forgettable. However, a few were memorable and inspiring.
Here are a couple of examples:
- I had been unsure of approaching a particular group of young men for my study because I didn’t want to interrupt their very focused conversation about hurling. I also had just read some research about how men are often less interested in these types of activities than women. I think reading this made me feel that I’d be bothering them by asking. They not only participated in the study but made a point of telling me that they found the experience of writing a gratitude letter very rewarding.
- I received a phone call from one of the older participants in the study. It initially began with her asking how she could get her completed study packet to me, but we ended up having a longer discussion about the importance of gratitude in life. She then shared this wonderful quote with me and asked me to share it with as many people as possible: “Gratitude is the attitude that gives life altitude”.
It is not every day that my college assignments create the perfect environment to become more inspired by and connected to the people around me. I have experience with data collection during my undergraduate studies as well as in a professional capacity, but it did not result in the same type of connections. It is as if I’ve been given an opportunity to share someone else’s moment of excitement about their letter. I find this very uplifting and motivating. It is a real-life illustration of what I have been reading about in the psychological literature: in its genuine form, gratitude is a type of social glue that can uplift an individual’s mood as well as gently nudge them towards greater connection with others.