happy teenagers talking together

Recently The Spark was delighted to attend NHS Health Scotland’s conference on improving the mental wellbeing of children and young people. The event covered a wide range of key topics on the subject of youth mental health.

Led by Shirley Windsor, the head of Public Mental Health at NHS Scotland, it was one in a series aimed at contributing to the Scottish Government’s ambitious 10-year Mental Health Strategy. Senior Health Improvement Officer Carly Grant provided an overview of the strategy.

Making better use of cross-sector mental health support services


Though still in development, a number of important themes emerged. In particular, the importance of involving young people in the design and delivery of mental health services for their own age group.

partnership working in action

An integral part of those discussions  can better work together. Representatives from each discussed how barriers between delivery organisations can be overcome at a community level. A critical issue as we seek to make better use of the wide range of support services in those sectors.

The value of ‘trusted adults’ in the lives of children and young people


Dr Ross Whitehead presented early findings from his review of the value of the presence of ‘trusted adults’ in the lives of adolescents. Indications are that such relationships can be very positive, particularly where the quality of the relationship is high.

Ross pointed to the UK Home Office’s ‘Trusted Relationships Fund’ which is exploring the protective effect of trusted relationships on vulnerable young people.

Josh Shipp has an interesting take on the power of one caring adult in an adult/young person relationship. Josh himself is an illustration of the early findings of Dr Whitehead’s research.

A life turned around by a ‘trusted adult’


Josh was abandoned by his parents and spent his early life in and out of different care settings. In trouble with the police, there was one particular foster parent who became the caring adult that made a difference to Josh’s life.

The turning point came when the foster parent said: “We don’t see you as the problem, we see you as an opportunity.” Prompted by this intervention to turn his life around, Josh now spends his time encouraging adults to be a positive influence on the teens in their lives.

Playing a leading role in working for children and young people


At The Spark we will continue to play a leading role in the development and delivery of mental health provision for children and young people. Both at a strategic level as contributors to policy and at a practical level as a provider of counselling for children and young people.

As the biggest supplier of school-based counselling nationally we look forward to making a continuing contribution to this vital agenda.

Counselling and support services for children & young people


The Spark is the largest provider of professional, school-based counselling services in Scotland. In addition, we provide mental health training for teachers, school support staff and further education institutions.

We also play a key role in offering counselling to students and young people.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for schools, individuals and couples.

Contact us via our enquiry form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

student counselling graduation ceremony

As universities and colleges prepare for the start of the new term, one major talking point continues to dominate the headlines: mental health support for students.

Prior to the summer break, research laid bare the extent of the challenges facing further education institutions in their attempts to provide adequate student counselling services.

A ‘perfect storm’ of issues drive high demand for student counselling


Universities and colleges face a perfect storm of factors which have contributed to an overwhelming demand for on-campus student counselling and support services.

In our experience, substance issues, addiction, depression and financial worries are the problems students typically have to deal with at university or college. Relationships are also a significant concern. University or college is often when individuals establish their first significant and emotionally important relationships.

student counselling

The complex challenges facing students


Now, however, additional pressures on students are creating overwhelming demand. Which in turn is putting the resources of education establishments under serious strain.

Difficult labour market conditions mean students are increasingly competing for a limited number of graduate placements. This is further compounded by budget squeezes across the board for universities, colleges and students themselves.

The net result: student counselling and support services are struggling to cope.

Short-term solutions needed for student counselling


A particularly troubling statistic has been the increase in student suicides. Between 2007 and 2016 student suicides increased by a staggering 56%. Students are now more likely to take their own lives than young people in the general population.

Combined with the challenges NHS trusts are facing in coping with rising demand across the board for mental health support, alternative short-term solutions for student counselling are needed.

Making better use of the third sector


A number of universities, however, are recognising the importance of providing students with secondary sources of support. Institutions including Strathclyde University and Aberdeen University are signposting students to external services such as The Spark for student counselling and mental health support.

Third sector providers like The Spark are well-placed to support universities and colleges in the provision of mental health services. With extensive geographical reach – The Spark has locations in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeenshire, Ayrshire and Stirling – these organisations can complement existing on-campus student counselling services.

student counselling graduation ceremony

Collaboration between the third sector and further education is now essential


In many instances, the expertise of third sector providers is an ideal match for the challenges students face. Beyond the typical stress of exams and deadlines, students now need to handle a more diverse range of issues than ever before.

Longer term more must be done by universities and colleges to expand on-campus student counselling services. However in the short-term, external providers such as The Spark offer effective, complementary mental health services.

Counselling and support services for students


The Spark has counselling centres across Scotland and many are located close to the country’s leading universities and colleges. Offering counselling to individuals and couples, our counsellors are experienced in supporting students and young people.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals and couples.

Contact us via our enquiry form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

the pursuit of happiness - is it wealth and gold bars?

According to American pundit William Bennett, the pursuit of happiness can be thought of this way:

‘Happiness is like a cat, if you try to coax it or call it, it will avoid you; it will never come.  But if you pay no attention to it and go about your business, you’ll find it rubbing against your legs and jumping onto your lap.’

Many of us will be able to relate to this message about the challenges posed in the pursuit of happiness.  At times it can seem that the more you understand what makes you happy, the more elusive it becomes.

In pursuit of happiness


This is no more apparent than in our collective pursuit of wealth and possessions.

As a society, we have greater wealth and more material possessions than we know what to do with. Cars, gadgets, jewellery – if you can think of it, the developed world sells it and we can buy it.

So why aren’t we happier?

the pursuit of happiness - is it wealth and gold bars?

Psychologists came up with the ‘Hedonic Treadmill’ theory to explain why the pursuit of happiness via material things tends to be futile.

The more money and possessions we accumulate, the greater our expectations are of the happiness they will bring. Soon we find ourselves running faster and faster ‘on the treadmill’ only for our happiness to stay in the same place.

Money = happiness


Often the pursuit of happiness, by way of ‘things’ and ‘stuff’, is a never-ending marathon of unfulfilled expectations. That is not to say it is always that way. For example, purchasing a holiday is something that can create joy and happiness in our lives.

However, when we link our happiness with the ability to accumulate wealth, trinkets or gadgets we are likely to be disappointed.

Consider for a moment the many stories of individuals who after winning huge sums of money via lottery tickets, ended up wishing they never had. For them, the accumulation of wealth and possessions created the exact opposite of the desired effect.

It seems that the ability to manage expectations deserts us when it comes to money and material possessions.

Managing expectations in pursuit of happiness


Professor Dan Gilbert has an interesting slant on managing expectations that offers cause for optimism.  In his TED talk, The Surprising Science of Happiness, he relates a number of examples of seemingly unfortunate people who claim they are happier having suffered their misfortune than if it had never happened.

One example is from the most famous drummer you have never heard of: Pete Best.

Best was the drummer for The Beatles until 1962. He left the band, was replaced by Ringo Starr and the rest is pop-cultural shaping history.

I could have been Ringo Starr…


Far from being resentful of the situation, Best was quite content with his lot. Despite the global stardom, Best considered himself happier out of The Beatles than if he had been in.

The Beatles (not featuring Pete Best).

Gilbert’s interpretation of this surprising outcome is that we have a ‘psychological immune system’ that, if we allow it, can protect us from difficult events and help us to find a way of being happy with what we have.

Now that we have come to the end of our whistle-stop tour of psychology’s work in the field of happiness, what have learned?

Is this really going to make me happy?


In the pursuit of happiness, it is worthwhile focusing on what we have, as opposed to what we might get from wealth or possessions. Ask yourself: is this really going to make me happy or do I just think it will?

For example, many of us dream of being wealthy enough to stop working and enjoy our hobbies and passions full-time. But it can be a lonely existence when there is no one to travel with or play golf with because our friends are still tied to working 9 to 5.

Buy this to be happy


This is a big challenge for all of us as we live in a consumption-driven society. Being bombarded daily with hundreds of ‘buy this to be happy’ messages makes it tough to find the satisfaction in what we have.

In our experience, however – that’s 50 plus years of counselling – it is the relationships, friendships and shared experiences that tend to help us find the finishing line in the pursuit of happiness. Not the money or stuff that we accumulate along the way.

Counselling and support services


Catch up with part 1 and part 2 of our ‘How to Be Happy’ series.

Find out more information on The Spark and our counselling services for individual, couples, married couples and families.

Alternatively contact us directly via our enquiry form or on freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could benefit you.

Starting secondary school - back to school image

Starting secondary school can be daunting for children and their parents. To help smooth the transition our team of Children and Young People Counsellors have put together their top tips on helping your child prepare for starting secondary school.

Ask: how are you feeling about starting secondary school?


Every child is different when it comes to starting secondary school. Some will be champing at the bit, others will be anxious about the transition. This is why it is important to ask them – gently and non-judgementally – how they are feeling.

Where there are anxieties comfort them that such feelings are completely natural. Work with them to come up with coping techniques to deal with their specific concerns.

Starting secondary school - image of child with backpack

Remind them that they are not alone in feeling anxious about starting secondary school. Reassure them that many of their peers will be feeling exactly the same way.

Sharing your own experiences can be helpful, especially if you can demonstrate how you overcame your secondary school anxieties. Alternatively, enlist the help of an older cousin or family friend that has successfully managed the transition to high school.

Ask yourself: are these my fears or their fears?


Having a child is a bit like a long journey towards redundancy. In those early years, you are indispensable but as time progresses your child grows in their independence and detachment from you. This is, of course, a wonderful journey but starting secondary school can be a difficult milestone for some parents.

Starting secondary school - anxiety

Take time to consider how your emotions might be influencing their preparations. Often disagreements about clothing and how they travel to school are really a parental reaction to realising their child is accelerating towards adulthood.

Be sure that you are focused on the real concerns and fears of your child.

Buddy up


Many kids will start secondary school with a group of friends from primary school. The close bonds of friendship will help reduce anxieties about getting to and from school or the fear of not knowing anyone.

If your child is going to a different secondary school from their friends, find out which children nearby are starting in their school. Most secondary schools have social media pages where parents can communicate or do it the old-fashioned way and speak to your neighbours.

Having someone else to walk into secondary school with on day 1 can make a huge difference.

Don’t organise them, help them organise


Starting secondary school brings with it changes in how your child will need to approach their education. They will have to become more responsible as they attend their timetable of classes, manage homework and (hopefully) remember to bring the correct books.

Starting secondary school - image of school back and school pencils

It can be tempting to do this for them. However, the transition to secondary school is about increasing their independence and self-reliance. Therefore help them to get organised by planning a night before routine or make up a checklist of what they need each day based on their timetable.

Then step back and let them back their bag and prepare their kit for the school day.

Practice their route before starting secondary school


Starting secondary school often means travelling further from home. Now public transport or walking with friends to school will be their preference or a necessity.

Help calm any new term jitters by travelling the route with them in advance. Show them the route via car or take the public transport they will need to use to get to school.

After they are familiar with the route, encourage them to take responsibility for having the right money or travel card for a final couple of practice runs.

Expect a messy first few weeks


For even the most confident child, starting secondary school is a lot to handle. Managing a timetable of classes, completing more and varied homework, getting to know new people are just a few examples of the challenges they face.

Thus it is important to cut them some slack in the early days and weeks. Be prepared for tired, hungry and potentially grumpy children coming home each day. Expect some “I forgot my gym kit” incidents too.

starting secondary school - image of messy child's bedroom

At home help smooth their transition by giving them some leeway on the usual household chores. Try as best you can to be patient if you get a lot of moody-teenager replies.

Parents also need to stay calm during this time. A seemingly unhappy child might be cause for concern. However be mindful of the fact it will take time for them to adjust to this new way of life.

Talk to them at the weekend about how they are settling in. Ask if they want to talk about anything or need a bit of help. Ultimately, be there for them.

Encourage them to join groups/clubs at secondary school


We all know how tricky it can be to make new friends. Striking up a conversation is challenging enough without the added pressure of trying to ‘fit in’.

Starting a conversation with a like-minded individual, however, can be much less challenging, and more successful.

For that reason suggest your child looks into any school clubs or groups that fit their own interests. It can be a great way to meet new people and is especially helpful if your child is not graduating to secondary school with a group of friends.


For more advice on parenting and managing the tricky teenage years, The Spark website is packed with a wide range of free resources.

If you or your child is struggling at the prospect of starting secondary school, counselling can be a helpful way of pinpointing the issues and learning how to deal with them.

Talk – in confidence – to one of our team about counselling on freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an online enquiry.

Follow The Spark on Twitter or Facebook for tips, resources and advice.

planet earth needs more people to look at the man in the mirror

Songs for Sound Minds #29 – ‘Man in the Mirror’ by Michael Jackson


The latest choice for the #SongsForSoundMinds playlist encourages us to have a good look at ourselves and our motivations.

Are we the nice, thoughtful person we imagine ourselves to be or do we spend most of our time looking after number one?  As we’ll see, this is not just a philosophical rumination for – quite paradoxically – being kind to others can have acknowledged benefits for our own mental health.

Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson


At the peak of his ‘King of Pop’ powers, Michael Jackson continued a very long string of hit records with his early 1988 release, Man in the Mirror. This was one of a remarkable nine singles on his multi-million selling album, ‘Bad.’

The track starts with Jackson in a philosophical mood: ‘wind is blowing my mind’ (as Bob Dylan might have said) and this is opening his eyes to ‘kids in the street, with nothing to eat’ and ‘some with no home, not a nickel to loan.’  He realises there is a need for things to change and, because he’s been selfish, he needs to start with himself.

In the chorus, Jackson encourages us to look into the mirror ourselves: ‘If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.’  This sentiment paraphrases Mahatma Gandhi’s well-known maxim: ‘be the change that you want to see in the world.’

We, too, are encouraged to start with ourselves and, indeed, the official video for the song includes clips of Gandhi as well as Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela. All of these people put their own needs to one side in order to support the advancement of others.

The benefits of altruism


So, what is the benefit of this altruistic attitude encouraged by Man in the Mirror?  According to an article in The Independent committing an act of kindness releases certain ‘feel good’ chemicals into the body. Dopamine, which is associated with positive thinking, and Oxytocin, the ‘cuddle hormone’ are released as a result of a selfless act.

As it turns out being good to others can have a positive impact on our blood pressure and general mental health.

For those of you old enough to be in the Friends generation, it means Joey was right: there are technically no selfless good deeds.

Start with the man in the mirror…


Next time you look in the mirror and realise it has been all about you recently, consider the words of Man in the Mirror.

Try looking instead for opportunities to help others less fortunate. Do some fundraising, support your local food bank or pop in to visit an elderly neighbour. Whatever it is, big or small, an act of kindness will make a difference to someone in need and you’ll also be contributing to your own wellbeing.

As Michael Jackson wrote; ‘It’s gonna feel real good, gonna make it right.’


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as anthems for overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

Taking the Long Way Around - the Grammy award-winning Dixie Chicks

Songs for Sound Minds #28 – ‘The Long Way Around’ by The Dixie Chicks


Our latest Songs for Sound Minds playlist pick could have been entitled ‘the hard way around’. The Long Way Around is a soulful, honest piece of country-pop that lays bare what it means to have the world crash down around you and still come out the other side.

The Long Way Around (aka the hard way around)


The inspiration for this Dixie Chicks track might be familiar. In London, during the band’s 2003 world tour, military action by the USA and its allies against Iraq seemed inevitable. Unhappy at the path being taken, lead singer Natalie Maines made a comment on stage that drew praise and approval from the audience:

“Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.” 

A ferocious backlash


The comment, however, caused a ferocious backlash against the band at home. Their albums were destroyed in public, protests ensued, radio stations in their country-music heartlands pulled them from their playlists and death threats were made. The fallout brought what promised to be a very successful jump from country music to mainstream pop stardom to a grinding halt.

Shunned by their traditional audiences, the future of the band was in serious doubt. Maines had gone from hero to zero simply by standing up for what she believed. The band – together since 1995 – were, to a great extent, right back where they started.

The long way back to the top (aka The Long Way Around)


In spite of it all, the Dixie Chicks remained committed to each other and to Maines’ statement (a hastily released PR statement apologising to the President was later recanted). They dusted themselves off and started to rebuild by recording this song.

The Long Way Around focuses on what the band went through in the time after the ill-fated comment:

It’s been two long years now
Since the top of the world came crashing down
And I’m getting’ it back on the road now

But I’m taking the long way
Taking the long way around

Since the top of the world came crashing down is a clever dual reference to how their world fell in and the root cause: the infamous comment was made during their ‘Top of the World’ tour. Despite reflecting on the trials and tribulations they faced, the song still retains both positivity and a greater sense of wisdom and perspective.

Stand up for what you believe in


The Long Way Around is a brilliant track that offers great encouragement. First off, it asserts that it is still worth standing up for what you believe in.

I opened my mouth, and I heard myself
It can get pretty lonely when you show yourself
Guess I could have made it easier on myself

But I, I could never follow
No, I, I could never follow

Well, I never seem to do it like anybody else
Maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
If you ever want to find me, I can still be found

Taking the long way

As Winston Churchill said: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

Keep going


The second piece of inspiration is this: when it seems like the world is crashing down around you and the future seems bleak, keep going. As the Dixie Chicks discovered, despite the ‘haters’ life went on and the people that cared about them most stood by them. And they did so in droves.

Fans remained loyal to the band and the US leg of the tour was a huge success, despite initial fears fans would stay away in protest. The Long Way Around album went straight to number 1 in the USA upon its release and it won the Dixie Chicks five Grammys (every one they were nominated for).

Taking the Long Way Around - the Grammy award-winning Dixie Chicks

To quote Winston Churchill again: “If you are going through hell, keep going.” As the Chicks found out, a road back is possible, it might just take a little bit longer.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as anthems for overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

fomo fear of missing out

FOMO – fear of missing out – is a concept that could have been created for the social media age. Essentially, it captures that internal sense that other people are having a better time right now than you are. Partnered with its sibling FoBO – fear of a better option – their impact on our lives today is startling.

FOMO made me do it…


FoBO and FOMO drive us to check Instagram, Twitter and every other social media app every few minutes. Collectively they create a burning desire to buy the gadgets, clothes and trinkets we never knew we needed. In our spare time, they push us to read the book, listen to the album or binge on the boxset that everyone else is talking about. FoBO could be the official sponsor of every online dating website in existence.

fomo Social media and the fear of missing out

The principle of ‘fear of missing out’ was first considered in 1996 by Dr Dan Herman, a marketing strategist and later popularised by Patrick J. McGinnis in a 2004 article for the Harvard Business School. FOMO’s ‘birth’ within the field of marketing is no coincidence. It is a widely used tool to sell us stuff we may or may not need. From the countdown timer on that furniture sale to the celebrity endorsement, it’s all designed to trigger your fear of missing out.

There is a tragic irony associated with the fear of missing out of course: when we become slaves to FOMO, we miss out on living the lives we have been given.

This is what we are really missing out on


In the rush to see what everyone else is doing or to stay “connected” to their experience via social media, we end up doing very little ourselves. While we may or may not be missing out on some fabulous experience, one thing is certain: we are missing out on what we could be doing right now.

fomo fear of missing out

When you stop and think about it, this collective phenomenon has crept into every facet of our lives: fear of missing out on other jobs or professions, fear of missing out on social engagements, fear of missing out on the latest gadget/car/trend.

Combined with – dare I say it – more genuine concerns like paying the rent or caring for elderly relatives that is a lot of fear to carry with us every day.

No Wi-Fi and my FOMO is off the charts


Recently I went on holiday with friends, camping in an area that had limited mobile reception and zero Wi-Fi. We are talking one or two bars of good, old-fashioned 1G signal. End result: no data, no streaming, no Instagram.

At first, my FOMO was bristling: what was going on? what was happening in the world? who was doing what? It was almost unbearable.

But after a few days passed, it lessened. Soon I found myself more focused on what was right in front of me: beautiful landscapes, meaningful conversations with friends, crystal clear (but cold) Scottish waters. By the end of the week what I feared missing out on had completely changed.

fomo missing out on the beauty of the world

Now I was more concerned about missing the full splendour of the sunset late in the evening: eager to enjoy every minute of the (unexpectedly) fine weather and the opportunity to properly catch up with friends.

Escapism into the lives of the famous or the fictional is fun and healthy at times. There are periods in our own lives – the daily humdrum – that are not that exciting or interesting. The chance to escape via social media, for example, can offer a valuable release. But the scales have tipped heavily in the wrong direction – towards consuming every image and video of someone else’s life.

A final thought on FOMO


In the UK we spend on average two hours per day glued to our smartphone or tablet. A proportion of that will, of course, be productive. Yet even if 50% of it isn’t, that’s seven hours per week we could be using to live our own lives.

Seven hours to invest in your relationship with your partner or your kids. Seven hours to enjoy your favourite pastime. Seven hours to read the books you really want to read. Seven hours to craft your own Instagram story.

Isn’t it time you focused on enjoying your own life?

Counselling and relationship support services


Find out more information on The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples, married couples and families.

Alternatively contact us directly via our enquiry form or on freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could benefit you.

Follow The Spark on Twitter and Facebook.

special relationship Trump smug

The term ‘special relationship’ has been bandied about more often than usual recently. Whether it is in the context of UK – USA relations, UK – EU relations or to describe some of the insta-coupling occurring on ITV’s ‘Love Island’ we are all pretty familiar with it.

Traditionally it has been used to describe a deep bond of trust and mutual respect. Most famously in the context of the wartime relationship between the UK and the USA. But recently its practical application has been somewhat stretched.

special relationship UK USA

It seems that in the 21st century, maintaining a special relationship means ‘looking the other way’ when it comes to the indiscretions of the other half.

A special relationship that remains special


For example, the special relationship saw the British establishment roll out the red carpet for President Donald Trump. Despite the uproar caused by the comments and actions of the President. Similarly, we hear mention of a special relationship when celebrities take back their wandering exes.

All of which raises the question: is it acceptable to gloss over the unpalatable/unacceptable actions of a partner in order to maintain that ‘special relationship’?

Stand by your man


Supporting your partner is, of course, a critical foundation of any solid relationship. The knowledge that a partner is there for us in difficult times both emotionally and physically supports a healthy relationship. After all, Tammy Wynette did encourage us to ‘stand by your man’ despite their indiscretions and limitations.

Though commitment vows for couples are evolving, they still remain relatively true to the original marriage tenets. Principles of supporting and loving our better half no matter what. This, of course, implies that steadfast support – irrespective of the situation – is essential. Furthermore that we should perhaps bite our tongue when they do or say something we do not agree with.

special relationship Trump smug

What makes a special relationship, special?


A relationship is an organic thing: it changes and develops. Part of that process is the opportunity to help each other become better versions of our selves. Mutually beneficial personal growth comes from the differences of opinion, experiences and background inherent to most relationships. As they say, opposites attract and for good reason.

Therefore the ability to help each other grow and develop is just as critical to the happiness and longevity of our relationships as steadfastly supporting each other. In order to maintain what is special about a relationship we need to, at times, offer an honest but loving suggestion that what they are doing/saying might not be appropriate or acceptable.

special relationship couple happy

I love you but this is not OK


This is not to be confused with petty nit-picking or deliberately hurtful comments. We are not offering carte blanche to present your partner with a “20 things you do that annoy me that need to change” list.

We do our relationships a disservice, however, if we are not willing to step up and say “I love you and support you but this is not OK”.

Otherwise, a special relationship becomes one of two things: either shallow and meaningless, or worse still, based on bullying and intimidation. Neither of which are acceptable, no matter who you are or what position you hold.


Relationship counselling services in Scotland

The Spark is one of the leading providers of relationship counselling and support for couples in Scotland. Through our network of 14 counselling centres, we have been providing relationship counselling services for over 50 years.

Find out more about our work with couples, individuals and marriage counselling. Alternatively freephone our team on 0808 802 0050 for more information or complete an enquiry form.

Follow The Spark on Twitter and Facebook.

how to be happy find your flow - child blowing bubbles

Picture the scene.  A teenager opens their exam results: an A in Art, two Cs in English and French and an F in Maths. The response from their parent is likely to focus on either the good bits or the not so good bits.

For example, their response might be:

‘An F in Maths. What went wrong?  I know you struggle with numbers but that’s why I paid for Maths tutors to help you.’

Or alternatively: ‘An A in Art. That’s fantastic! I wonder if we can help you use all that creativity and imagination to improve in your other subjects…’

How to be happy: don’t focus on your weaknesses


Being honest, which option would have been your default response?

Most of us would probably have focused on the not so good bits. Humans are problem-solvers by nature and society has conditioned us to focus on the areas that need work. Anyone that has experienced an appraisal at work will know how obsessed we have become with weaknesses.

If you were more likely to focus on the success in Art, then you are in agreement with one of the newer branches of psychology: the field of positive psychology.

Positive psychology


Positive psychology suggests that you can improve yourself, become more satisfied with your life and increase your happiness by working on your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

When Professor Martin Seligman became president of the American Psychological Association in 1998 he noted that much of the focus of psychology had been on mental ill health and diseases of the mind.  In fact, professionals in the field relied on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a comprehensive and regularly reviewed ‘bible’ for the diagnosis of mental illnesses, personality defects and behavioural difficulties.

Seligman’s view was that too little time had been spent looking at the positive side of human nature; its potential, talents and possibilities.  With colleagues, he resolved to fill this gap and in 2004 they published the seminal book, ‘Character Strengths and Virtues.’

You can find your own Character Strengths and Virtues by completing the questionnaires at authentichappiness.org).

How to be happy: develop your character


Commonly, we tend to think of character as something that is fixed and unchanging. For example, ‘he’s a shady character,’ or ‘she is always honest and straightforward’.  Positive psychologists view character in a different way.

Their perspective is that character and character virtues are something that can be worked on and improved.  Well-being can be promoted by working on 4 or 5 key strengths at any one time according to this nascent branch of psychology.

The following video by filmmaker, Tiffany Schlain, gives a little more detail on the science of character.

“The Science of Character” – new 8 min film from Let it Ripple on Vimeo.

How do we develop our character strengths and virtues?


Character is like a muscle; the more you use it the abler you become. Therefore by focusing on and enhancing your positive character traits, it is possible to further develop them.

Here are some examples taken from our own guide, ‘Relationship Tips for New Parents’ to illustrate positive character traits and ways to build upon them:

  • Take time to introduce children to their new sibling or step-sibling. (Fairness)
  • In the early days when you are both tired, take turns to look after your new baby. Give each other a break to sleep, shower, etc. (Kindness)
  • Be patient with each other and listen to each other’s perspective. (Perspective)
  • Talk about what you need to buy and what can be borrowed from friends and family. Talk about your finances and how you can realistically manage your budget. (Prudence)
  • There can be a change in the balance of your relationship if one person is staying at home to look after the baby. Be sensitive, talk about how this feels, and find ways to share responsibilities. (Teamwork)

 

How to be happy: find your flow


Jonathan Haidt, author of ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’ gives his explanation of the link between exercising our strengths and happiness.  He suggests that using our strengths encourages us to immerse ourselves in the moment, in what we are doing right there and then. Eventually losing self-consciousness and achieving a feel-good factor that psychologists call ‘flow.’

Being in the ‘flow’ – whether that be in your work, in your hobbies or time with friends – can create feelings of happiness and joy that we struggle to find in our normal, everyday life. Ultimately by doing more of the things we are good at and enjoy doing, the more we will develop our positive character virtures and therefore experience feelings of happiness and joy more frequently.

Check out this excellent talk by leading positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on ‘flow’ and how to be happy.

 


The How to be Happy series

Catch up with part 1 of our How to be Happy series and find out how post-traumatic growth can be the key to a healthier, happier life.

Stand by Me Ben E. King

Songs for Sound Minds #27 – ‘Stand by Me’ by Ben E. King


Today’s #SongsforSoundMinds entry – ‘Stand by Me’ – is a companion piece to one of our earlier picks.

In contrast to Chrissie Hynde’s assurance that, ‘I’ll Stand by You’, Ben E. King’s plea is ‘Stand by Me’.  Where The Pretenders are providing encouragement, Ben E. King is seeking the support of someone close, something we all need when times are tough.

Stand by Me: a song fit for a Royal wedding


‘Stand by Me’ was in the news recently as it received a soulful performance by Karen Gibson and the Gospel Choir during the Royal wedding.  Whatever your perspective on the Royals, the love between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was obvious for all to see and the Ben E King track provided a moving backdrop to the proceedings at Windsor Castle.

Stand by Me Ben E. King

Written in 1961 Ben E. King collaborated with the famous songwriting duo of Leiber and Stoller who have been responsible for over 70 chart hits including many for Elvis Presley (‘Hound Dog,’ ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and others).  ‘Stand by Me’ was the 4th most recorded song of the 20th century (according to BMI) and has appeared in films, TV commercials (Levi’s) and computer games (Final Fantasy XV sang by Florence and the Machine).

Remarkably it has been recorded by over 400 artists.

A rallying cry for the US black civil rights movement


It is a song that echoes through black culture and owes its routes to an early 20th-century gospel hymn which contained the words ‘will not we fear, though the Earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.’  It was a rallying cry of the black civil rights movement in America during the 1960s and the US Library of Congress acknowledged it as ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’ in 2015.

The New York Times in its write up of the Royal wedding acknowledged the value of the song as a herald of a more inclusive Royal family with the biracial Meghan becoming Duchess of Sussex.

Will you stand by me forever?


For Harry and Meghan, is it too much of a stretch to see ‘Stand By Me’ as a musical equivalent of their wedding vows to ‘love, comfort, honour and protect, and, forsaking all others, be faithful as long as you both shall live’?  The song certainly worked its magic for Ben E. King who was married for over 50 years to his wife, Betty Nelson.

For us, the simple verses can symbolise the loyal and steadfast companionship that enables us to be strong even when times are troubled and turbulent.  See Verse 2 for a revision of the words of that early hymn.

‘If the sky we look upon

Should tumble and fall

And the mountains should crumble to the sea.

I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear

Just as long, as long as you stand by me.’


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem for overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds