Where did June go? I can’t believe we only have a few days left in Colorado. In addition to taking naps and my usual writing and creative endeavors, I’ve been working on a Foundations in Positive Psychology specialization through the University of Pennsylvania. It’s a five-course sequence that provides knowledge of key theories and research in the field of positive psychology and application opportunities. Had I been aware of positive psychology in college, I’m pretty confident I would have gone into that field of study and been much, much happier in graduate school.
For anyone not familiar with positive psychology, it’s the scientific study of human flourishing. The coin was termed in 1998 (one year prior to my college graduation) by Dr. Martin Seligman who looked at the field of mental health and thought something along the lines of perhaps we should also look at ways humans can thrive with mental health, as opposed to the emphasis on mental illness, negative emotions, and maladaptive behaviors. His thinking is similar to the idea that prevention is worth so much more to our individual and collective health than treating a disease once we have it.
I’ve been informally studying positive psychology for years now so when I came across this opportunity I thought I might as well make myself legit.
My previous experience and knowledge mean I’m acing the courses, which feels good and feeds into my need for achievement.
The problem with having this knowledge formalized is that I really have no excuses for putting it into practice when I find myself languishing (the opposite of flourishing).
I’ve enjoyed being in Colorado for the most part. But I find myself feeling lonely. Earlier this year, I led a podcast discussion for the Norfolk Library of Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast interview with former surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy. Brené and Vivek discussed the different dimensions of loneliness:
- Intimate or emotional loneliness: the longing for a close confidant or intimate partner.
- Relational or social loneliness: the yearning for quality friendships and social companionship and support.
- Collective loneliness: the hunger for a network or a community of people who share your sense of purpose and interests.
I would argue that there’s a fourth dimension, spiritual loneliness (the desire to feel connected to something larger than yourself), but I’ll save that discussion for a different day.
One of the things I miss most about Norfolk is that I belonged to multiple communities within the town. I had my collective community of professional work at the library and the volunteer work I did for the congregational church, the Land Trust, Norfolk NET, and Botelle Elementary. Not to mention all the dog lovers I formed an informal collective community with whenever we would run into each other out and about in town.
I’ve often compared Norfolk in my mind to a college campus because no matter where you walk you often run into someone or a dog that you know. It’s those collective social interactions I miss being here in Colorado.
So what’s a lonely psychologist studying positive psychology to do?
That’s right — I found a sunrise photography hike at Roxborough State Park to attend in an effort to get out and meet people.
Heath initially said he would go with me. But when we received an email the night before the hike saying the amount of mud on a particular trail would refocus the hike on wildflowers instead of landscapes, Heath decided to stay home. I had to leave at 4:30 am to get there on time so I understood.
I’m delighted to report that science wins again because the hike was exactly what I needed! For those 2 hours hiking among the red rocks, I had a small community. I met new people with a similar interest and I learned new skills, all the while being immersed in nature.
We even got to see some spectacular landscapes despite the mud:
The next time I write a blog post I’ll be coming from the Portland metro area. My goal for the 10 days that we’re there is to find a community event, this time with dogs. If you see any of my canine buddies, especially Annie or Fergus, please give them some extra pats for me. I miss them all so much!