How you can run a 15 minute happiness workshop

I haven’t blogged in a while, partly ‘cos I’m involved with Occupy Bristol, and changing the world takes up quite a bit of time.

Today when I woke up I decided that the most useful thing I could do would be to do something for morale. So I decided to run a mini happiness workshop.

It worked out pretty well. After the first one I left the participants deep in conversation about happiness and where it comes from. Then two people came up to me later and said they were sorry they’d missed it, could I do another. So I rounded up a couple more participants and ran a second one.

If you knew how hard work it sometimes is getting people on camp to come to things, you’d know what an achievement that was.

It was really easy to do, so here’s my recipe if you want to do one yourself.

It probably helps if you know a bit about the science of happiness, but it’s not essential. If you are interested, I recommend Lord Layard’s book, or similar. There are some links below too, but I’m on a library computer and haven’t got much time so it’s not exhaustive…

Intro (1 min): (Summarising horribly) psychologists traditionally looked at what went ‘wrong’ with people with depression, etc. Recently they started turning this on it’s head and looking at what goes ‘right’ with happy people. Are there habits of mind or things we can do that make people happier? Where does happiness come from?

Starter (2 mins): Explain that one of the things research has shown is that PAYING compliments makes people happy. Get people in pairs to pay each other a compliment.

Starter 2 (4 mins): Ask participants to suggest what makes them (or people) happy. This can be the very specific (playing with my dog) to the more general or abstract (a sense of belonging).

Summarise some findings from the research (if these aren’t things people suggest):-

Main – gratitude exercise (8 mins): Explain that GRATITUDE was found to be one of the most effective things for increasing people’s happiness. i.e. Focussing on, or paying attention to, the things you are grateful for. What your Granny might have called counting your blessings.

Things that researchers have found effective are getting people to make a list each day of three things they are grateful for that day. And, in one study, writing a letter to someone from your past you feel gratitude to, explaining why.

Get people to think of something they are grateful for in the last week. In their pairs, tell their partners about it. Any commonalities? Depending on size of group, get the pairs to feed back to the group, or get pairs into fours to discuss, then feedback.

End: I finished by saying how much I’d enjoyed running the session, cos I had.

I hope this is useful to anyone. Some brief thoughts on running this at an Occupy Camp below.

  • There were a lot of commonalities in what people were saying.
  • The BIGGEST source of gratitude was to the public for being so supportive – both emotionally (stopping by to say they agreed with us, thanks for being here, etc) and practically (donations of food, blankets, money).
  • Second most common feeling of gratitude was to their fellow campers, for being their, for supporting them, for giving a shit.
  • Lots of people had really had their faith in human nature restored by being at the camp, feeling that there were people who gave a shit, that they could be part of something, that they could work with others to try to make a difference.
  • Some felt accepted and like they had a useful role for the first time they could think of (and often not the people you’d expect).
  • It was REALLY useful to do this and I recommend anyone to give it a shot. (It only takes 15 minutes, after all). Some days everyone can get ratty with each other (it’s not easy living outdoors in December) and it was good to take a minute to remember the good stuff.

I meant to write this well and make it all lyrical and moving, but you’ll have to settle for serviceable…If any other occupations have got other morale boosting tips then let me know!

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  • Kate Whittle  On December 6, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    Brilliant! Just what the Dr ordered …!

  • Stuart  On December 6, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Thanks for this post, I’m going to reread it later to makes sure it sinks in.

    We’re currently tweeting/blogging posts about Optimism. The ideas are from a book, but Occupy was the last real world thing that gave us some. 🙂

  • Sara Dertamuse  On January 1, 2012 at 8:21 am

    I am perhaps a little jealous of the female mature students I have spoken to as they have found a new role in their respective classes.

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