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The story I have to tell is one that profoundly touched me. It not only changed the course of my studies but also led me to pursue quite a different track in how I developed my career in Neuroscience. But that can come later, first let me share the story with you. It is about a boy, still in the early years of schooling, who came to our English language school in a predicament: would we accept him?
We hear a lot about brain chemicals: Neurotransmitters and hormones: Dopamine. Serotonin. Oxytocin. Endorphin. And they all impact our feelings and behavior. The problem, of course, is Psychology and Brain Science aren’t Biology or Chemistry. In Chemistry, two molecules of hydrogen coupled with one of oxygen are going to give you water every time. Social sciences, including Psychology don’t work like that.
For most of the past decade, Marc Helgesen taught a “Positive Psychology in ELT” course in the MA TESOL program at the Nagoya University of Foreign Studies. After the course, students are encouraged to use and develop activities in their own classes. What follows are a few examples of things they have done.
Just over 15 years ago, I first heard about Positive Psychology. It was the topic of a cover story in TIME Magazine. They called it, “The Science of Happiness.” In the issue, there was a short article by University of California-Riverside psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky. It was called, “Eight Steps Toward a More Satisfying Life.” Those steps are shown in the pictures above.
Engagement is the E in Martin Seligman’s PERMA model of human flourishing. And Seligman is explicit about what engagement is. It is Flow. Flow has been the focus of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s research for around 60 years now in various contexts. Csíkszentmihályi presents Flow as those moments of total engagement and “effortless action” we experience when “what we feel, what we wish, and what we think are in harmony” (1997, p. 28). When we are in a Flow state, our attention is focused and we feel in control of our actions. Self-consciousness, as well as sense of time, disappear.
As I write, the world is still in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis. Particularly in education, students and teachers have had to adjust to new working conditions, both displaying an incredible commitment to ensuring the best education possible in the circumstances. As with all critical periods and experiences, the crisis has caused many individuals to take stock and reflect on what matters most, what is important to prioritise, and what lessons they want to learn when moving into the “new normal” post-pandemic.
From the time, in the second half of the nineteenth century, when Sigmund Freud looked at his cigar and wondered what it meant, Psychology focused on problems: mental illness, depression, and the like. Then, just about 20 years ago, a group of people in the American Psychological Association (APA) asked, “What about mental health?”