This post deals is inspired by a blog post from a fellow MAPPster, Lucy Hone, 2010, who is coping with grief from the death of her 12-year-old daughter, pulling on what she learned from MAPP, and sharing the process with the world. She powerfully rebuts “The Fluffy Fallacy” (that positive psychology is “fluffy” – not something for the hard times -and that it means avoiding “negative” emotions, SMART Strengths, pp 167-168). If you don’t have time to read both, read hers! Before pulling a key paragraph from Lucy’s post, let me make two points about this post and my reaction to it that emphasize the roll SMART Strengths can play
John, Sherri, and I, as members of the first MAPP class, wondered if the closeness and camarderie we felt was just because we were the first. And we wondered what it would be like to meet class 2, and 3, and so on. Turns out, the “MAPP magic” as Marty called it in Flourish, seems to be arise from the experience of studying and practicing key positive psychology principles in the company of a committed cohort. (Those of you responsible for school culture, think about what a little “MAPP Magic” could mean for your school or system.) Moreover, many of us who have the opportunity to meet and work with members of other classes find there is a connection and camraderie that manifests quickly. Many of us feel part of something bigger than ourselves – again using Marty’s language. Thus arises the connection with a MAPPster who graduated four years after us.
So, why am I writing about this? Well, in the words of another member of our MAPP experience we miss, Chris Peterson, Lucy answers a key question: “So what?” That’s what Chris used to ask about research. He’d ask it of us about our ideas, and he asked it of his own work. What difference will it make? How will it help us live “the good life”? We’ve tried to make the point in this blog on occasion that learning what we call the “SMART Strengths skills” – our way of sharing Positive Psychology research – makes a difference in life. The skills help us reach our goals, sometimes in trivial ways (but even “trivial” changes mount up over time). Our goals are sometimes about achieving some task or reaching some milestone. But, sometimes we have to make it through, first. And that does not mean ignoring the bad.
Anyway, this lady I am most proud to identify as a fellow MAPPster is responding to her loss by sharing in her way, even as we are in ours, what she has learned. And she is doing it by being open and vulnerable about this time in her life. In the following passage, she talks about using the skill of separating thoughts from the emotions and reactions they drive to make choices about how she is responding to her grief:
“When I’m trying to decide whether I will do something (get up and go for a run, have another glass of wine, visit the scene of the crash, read the media coverage) or continue to think in a particular way (go over and over again the what ifs of Abi’s death) I ask myself “is this activity/way of thinking helping or harming my healing/grieving?” This is not to say I am going all out to avoid thinking about her death, just that we do have a degree of choice in what we focus our attention and energy on; if it’s not helping me, I’m not doing it. Sometimes, looking over photos, I sob my heart out knowing it’s what I need. At other times, when listening to the girls’ favorite music and the ache inside gets too much, I make myself put something else on, or pick up the phone and call a friend. Asking myself the helping or harming question enables me to act intentionally, it’s not about avoidance or denial, just taking some control over my experience.”
Please read Lucy’s post. It is so worth your time. Then, if you are in a leadership position in a school, ask yourself how important these skills are for you, for your fellow educators, for your students and their families. What might a little MAPP Magic do for faculty camaraderie and school culture? How could some SMART Strengths skills help your students not only set and achieve some challenging goals, but also persevere through their toughest times? Now, where do you have control? How can you help make sure someone is not only better able to reach their goals, but also more equipped to face the tragedies that life sometimes hands us? We encourage you to take some action now. We are here to help, and contacting us to talk about your school or system and the challenges you face is one possible step. But we are not the only ones. If you look, the resources you need are likely available. If we are not the right fit for you, we will be happy to put you into contact with other education-focused positive psychology practitioners. Your leadership may be, in fact likely will be, the difference for some students and faculty as they face some future challenge.
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