Positively Blogging

Valentine’s Day: Romance or Rort?

Suzy Green - Saturday, February 14, 2015

"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself 

that you have built against it."

– Rumi

Hi everyone,

What does Valentine’s Day mean to you? It’s funny but I tend to find that people either love it and see it is an opportunity to really celebrate and express love (simultaneously with millions of others - which I think is something special in itself) or they feel coerced into sending red roses, a card or taking their loved ones out to a romantic dinner – but basically believe it’s a “money-making rort”!  Others simply become the “Valentine’s Day Grinch” and do nothing or try to spoil the fun for those who do celebrate Valentine’s Day!

Of course, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion and today’s blog is not sponsored by “Hallmark Cards” but I thought it might be interesting and helpful to take a look at the psychological benefits (to you) of celebrating Valentine’s Day, even in a small way and without spending money if you’d prefer not to.

Firstly, love has not historically been a big topic in psychology.  I only recall one lecture on love in my post-graduate studies (none in my undergraduate studies) and it was looking at types of love – to read more about Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love - https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201308/which-the-7-types-love-relationships-fits-yours.

More recently however, with the emergence of the field of Positive Psychology, love has become a hot topic.  So here are my top 3 tips based on the research that might spur you on to consider Valentine’s Day in a different light:

  1. Leverage Love as a Character Strength. “Capacity to love and be loved” is one of the 24 character strengths identified through scientific research (www.viacharacter.org).  It’s also known as one of the “golden 5”, which means it’s one of the 24 character strengths that is most highly correlated with well-being.  Now “Love” is not one of my “signature strengths” (ie top 5) but it’s one of my core life values and I am committed to living and using it more consciously.   And recent research has shown that you can cultivate more love and/or loving kindness towards others (read more here - http://www.unc.edu/peplab/publications/Fredrickson%20et%20al%202008.pdf). So try to consider Valentine’s Day as a wonderful reminder and opportunity to leverage love as a character strength and more consciously commit to using it by looking for opportunities to express your love eg a hand-written love letter which may mean more to your loved one/s than an expensive dinner!
  2. Let Love In. You may have noticed that the Character Strength of “Love” incorporates both the capacity “to love” and “be loved”.  In my professional work with clients over the years, this is one of the most challenging aspects of love and of creating loving relationships.  Like the quote at the beginning of this blog, it’s often “us” that are the biggest blockers to love.  Many of us have emotional baggage from childhood or failed relationships that can interfere (often unconsciously) with our capacity to receive love.  We might feel unworthy of love and find it hard to believe and accept that someone can love us or frightened that if we let love in, we’ll only be hurt – again!  Why not use Valentine’s Day to curiously explore these blockers (if you have them) and consider engaging in an act of “self-love” by seeking professional assistance to nail those “issues” once and for all (www.psychology.org.au).
  3. Rethink the Concept of Love. Professor Barbara Fredrickson (author of Love 2.0 - http://www.bookdepository.com/Love-2-0-Barbara-Fredrickson/9781594630996 ) provides scientific evidence to show that love is not what we think it is. It’s not a long-lasting, continually present emotion that sustains a marriage; it is not the yearning and passion that characterizes young love; and it is not the blood-tie of family.  Rather, it’s what she calls a "micro-moment of positivity resonance”.   Professor Fredrickson suggests that love is a connection, characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which you share with another person—any other person—whom you happen to connect with in the course of your day. You can experience these micro-moments with your romantic partner, child, or close friend. But you can also fall in love, however momentarily, with less likely candidates, like a stranger on the street, a colleague at work, or a salesperson in a store.   Consider using Valentine’s Day to create “micro-moments” of love with everyone you meet!


The Challenge

OK, so you’re thinking this is all well and good if you’re in a relationship and feeling the love but what if you’re single??  I spent many years as a “single” on Valentine’s Day and used to be the “Valentine’s Day Grinch”.  However I had an epiphany many years ago, when I was still single and looking for love, and that was that I had a choice.  I could choose to view Valentine’s Day as a day to celebrate love in the broader sense of the word and generally be more loving towards everyone I met (much like the micro-moments of love) – or I could continue to be grumpy and miserable. 

In making that choice, I realised I was benefiting by supporting my own well-being – both psychologically and physically – now proven by science.  I also decided that I wasn’t going to miss out just because I was single so decided that on Valentine’s Day I would invest in a small gift for myself.  In fact one year, I decided that I deserved a BIG gift and took myself off to one of the most beautiful and expensive jewellery stores in the city and bought myself a ring – not a diamond ring – but a ring that would symbolise self-love and bring me joy each time I looked at it.  So I know it’s possible to enjoy Valentine’s Day even if you’re single – you just need to be creative!

I hope I’ve inspired you to consider or reconsider Valentine’s Day as a day to consider or reconsider love.  That doesn’t mean that every other day of the year we shouldn't be loving towards others or ourselves, but that Valentine’s Day can be a special day that is dedicated to the power of love!  Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Lots of love, PI & I (Suzy)

How to have better conversations...

Suzy Green - Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Hi again everyone,

“The quality of our conversations, determines the quality of our relationships”
Associate Professor Michael Cavanagh,
Deputy Director, Coaching Psychology Unit, University of Sydney


Last week I was invited and excited to attend an event hosted by the Sydney Theatre Company at Walsh Bay for the “School of Life” (www.theschooloflifecom).  Since I’ve been an avid follower of SOL since it first launched in 2008, including a visit to their shop in London back in 2012, you can imagine how delighted I was to hear about their newly opened shop in Melbourne (Bourke St), also recently in Perth and soon to be in Sydney.

SOL takes philosophy, psychology and other various studies of the humanities and creates “user-friendly” classes and Sunday Sermons!  They do exactly what we here at PI also attempt to do – assist people to live better lives.

At the STC event, a SOL “faculty member” led us through an abridged version of one of the SOL workshops entitled “How to have better conversations”.  He provided a history of conversation that included reference to Samuel Johnson and David Hume, famous essayists and apparently skilled conversationalists.  He also suggested that women traditionally were not invited or known for their conversational skills, which of course in today’s world, seems absurd.  Of course, there were the courtesans of the Italian renaissance who were renowned for their wit, charm and conversational skills.

We were then invited to consider some of the key elements of having a “better conversation” and to engage in conversation with our fellow participants.  Without giving away the content of the SOL class (which you may choose to attend if you’re lucky enough to live in or be visiting Melbourne – http://www.theschooloflife.com/melbourne/shop – I’ve decided to provide three of my own top tips for having better conversations…

  1. Start with Heart – this is the first rule in a classic text called “Crucial Conversations” (http://www.bookdepository.com/book/9780071771320?redirected=true&gclid=CK6m8JuaksECFZcmvQodkKMAeA) – a must-read for anyone interested in having better conversations, particularly the sort of conversations that are “high-stake” where emotions run high.  “Start with Heart” means being clear about your intention for the conversation and cultivating a sense of compassion and loving-kindness for the person you are engaging in conversation with.
  2. Watch your Words –As per our opening quote -  “the quality of our conversations, determines the quality of our relationships”.  If you’re mindless and unconscious of your words and deeds, then the quality of the conversation will indeed suffer.  Whereas a “conscious relationship” is one marked by thoughtfulness and care of the other in conversation rather that it purely being about conveying my opinion on the matter.
  3. Be Curious – this tip relates to the growing evidence base on mindfulness.   Curiosity is often included in the definition of mindfulness ie bringing a gentle curiosity and a non-judgemental stance to our thoughts and emotions.  Mindful curiosity is crucial to having better conversations as when we’re “mindless” we’re more likely to make assumptions or jump to conclusions about the other person’s message or intention.  Being curious allows us to be more aware of our biases and stereotypes and to decide whether we choose to buy into the stories we may be telling ourselves.  This sense of curiosity about ourselves and the other, allows us the opportunity to not only have better conversations but better relationships.

The Challenge

Firstly, set a goal to increase your levels of mindfulness.  Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  Setting a goal or broad intention to “be more mindful” can help but signing up for a class to learn more about mindfulness and more importantly to engage in regular practice may be more helpful – check out http://www.openground.com.au/

Secondly, be a lover, not a fighter.  Try to bring more loving-kindness to every relationship you have – not just your close ones.  Professor Barbara Fredrickson, in her book Love 2.0 – http://www.bookdepository.com/Love-2-0-Barbara-Fredrickson/9781594630996  – refers to everyday “micro-moments of love” .

Thirdly, take some time out after say 30 days, to reflect on your experiences.  Do you believe by bringing more mindfulness, curiosity and love to your conversations and interactions, that you are creating better relationships and greater well-being in your life?  Positive relationships are known as the “trump card of well-being” so if there’s one thing you want to do to boost your mood, it would be to continue to have better conversations!

Best wishes, PI & I (Suzy)


My 1st Blog

Positive Institute - Monday, September 08, 2014

My 1st Blog – turns out to be therapeutic!


Hi everyone and welcome to PI and my first blog!  I guess that makes me an official “blogger”.  After completing my doctoral thesis back in 2013, I soon realised that I actually loved to write, when I chose to, rather than “having to”.  Since then I’ve been writing a “stress-less column” for Australian Women’s Health magazine for the past 7 years together with various other media articles and the more I write, the more I realise I love it!  I’ve also written 7 scientific journal articles and 10 book chapters!  This year I set a goal to write my very own first book and my book proposal is currently in the hands of an agent for review – fingers crossed!

So for our first blog I ‘m choosing to write about writing.  Yes there’s been some impressive research conducted on the therapeutic outcomes of expressive writing.  The major researcher in this space is James Pennebaker and if you’re interested in reading more email us at info@thepositivityinstitute.com.au.


The Research

In a nutshell, Pennebaker found that when individuals write about emotional experiences significant mental and physical benefits follow.   

The seminal expressive writing study instructed participants in the experimental group to write about a ‘past trauma’, expressing their very deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding it. In contrast, control participants were asked to write as objectively and factually as possible about neutral topics (e.g. a particular room or their plans for the day), without revealing their emotions or opinions. For both groups, the timescale was 15 minutes of continuous writing repeated over four consecutive days. It was also instructed that should a participant run out of things to write, they should go back to the beginning and repeat themselves, perhaps writing a little differently.

Several measurements were made before and after, but the most striking finding was that relative to the control group, the experimental group made significantly fewer visits to a physician in the following months. Although many report being upset by the writing experience, they also find it valuable and meaningful.

These results have hatched a whole host of further studies, numbering over 200.  One of these went on to strongly suggest that expressive writing has the potential to actually provide a ‘boost’ to the immune system, perhaps explaining the reduction in physician visits.

You can read more about Pennebaker’s research here - http://www.utexas.edu/features/archive/2005/writing.html.


The Challenge

Firstly invest in a journal.  There are so many beautiful journals available now from stationery stores.  Here at PI, we’ll also be launching our own journals early in 2015 so stay posted.  I’d also encourage you to consider investing in a good pen, perhaps even a fountain pen?  The act of journal writing, I believe, can be enhanced by using the character strengths of “Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence” (www.viacharacter.org) and by savouring (the deliberate attention to sensory pleasure) so try to do everything you an to create a positive experience.

Secondly, schedule some “journal writing time” which will need to slot simply into your life timetable.  If you don’t schedule it, it’s unlikely to happen so open your diary now and schedule in an appointment with yourself.  First thing in the morning is usually conducive to writing as you have a fresh mind and perspective on things. 

Thirdly, try it as a “behavioural experiment” – give it a shot for a month – if it’s helpful, keep doing it, if not perhaps try again at another point where you might benefit more from it.

And finally don’t forget to bring a “growth mindset” to writing.  So watch the ANTS (automatic negative thoughts) eg I can’t write, this is too hard etc.  Someone with a growth mindset knows that through practice and effort, a skill can be developed and competence can occur.  You never know, you might even decide to become a blogger too!

Happy writing everyone! 

Best wishes, PI & I (Suzy)


Back to top of page