This week I spoke with Megan McDonough CEO and co-founder along with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar of the Wholebeing Institute. Megan is here in Australia working with Justin Robinson the director of the Institute of Positive Education at Geelong Grammar School. They’re promoting the Australian version of the Certificate in Whole-Person Positive Psychology (CiPP). Which by the way looks fabulous … and if I wasn’t so busy building my own program I’d sign up on the spot!!!
Megan approaches well-being from a broader perspective than the traditional ‘what’s wrong’ focus of looking solely at pathology, disease and illness. This ‘what’s right’ focus is the basis of Positive Psychology the science that studies individual and societal flourishing, and on cultivating happiness, strengths, self-esteem and optimism.
SPIRE – a framework for wellbeing
Much of Megan’s work is based around the framework SPIRE.
“SPIRE focuses on the whole person which encompasses spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational, and emotional well-being. It is only by taking into account the whole person that the greatest wellbeing can be realized.”
To reach the highest point a person is capable of, and the deepest connection to self, one requires a focus on five measures:
- Spiritual Well-being: Leading a meaningful and moral life and living mindfully, while contributing to the greater good.
- Physical Well-being: Cultivating a healthy body through exercise, nutrition, and adequate rest and recovery.
- Intellectual Well-being: Acquiring knowledge, engaging in rigorous scholarship, cultivating creativity, and fostering the love of learning.
- Relational Well-being: Contributing to, and in turn, benefiting from other people by focusing on the role that the person plays in his or her social environment.
- Emotional Well-being: Increasing one’s ability to experience pleasurable emotions while acquiring the resilience necessary to effectively deal with painful emotions.
Megan’s three daily habits to achieve wellbeing
I asked Megan for her top three evidence-based daily habits for achieving optimal wellbeing:
1. Keep a gratitude journal.
“As you know Rick Hanson says our brain is ‘Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good’ [yes, I am aware this idea is following me around! SM], so every night in your gratitude journal write down what went well, what you’re grateful for. I know it sounds like very simple advice, something your grandmother would give, but its good solid advice.”
2. Know and play to your strengths
“Another thing I like to do is to do some ‘strength spotting’. A very powerful way to look at yourself and others is through the lens of character strengths. An organisation called Via offers a free character strengths assessment online. One daily practices is to actively engage these strengths. When people engage their strengths they report they feel authentic, they feel themselves, they say ‘It feels easy to be me’. Knowing and identifying your strengths is easy and powerful tool.”
3. Cultivate awareness by being mindful of the moment
“Awareness and being mindful and opening up the lens of our perception to take in more information allows us to see choices that we couldn’t see before. You can direct your focus to become more actively engaged, interested, and curious with each moment.”
Sage advice from a wise lady!
I took Megan’s second piece of advice and did the strengths assessment. Here are my top 5 character strengths as assessed by Via (I’d say they’re fairly accurate!!):
- Love Of Learning You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.
- Judgment Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.
- Hope You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.
- Bravery You are a courageous person who does not shrink from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain. You speak up for what is right even if there is opposition. You act on your convictions.
- Love You value close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people to whom you feel most close are the same people who feel most close to you.
If like me you’re very brave (who knew?) then feel free to share your strengths!
About Dr Sarah
I’m an Oxford University-educated neuroscientist, presenter of ABC Catalyst, director of The Neuroscience Academy, and author of The Women's Brain Book. The neuroscience of health, hormones and happiness.
download my free checklist
9 Daily Habits of Highly Healthy Brains
Learn how to use neuroscience in your everyday life.