BILL MERRINGTON offers more advice on keeping positive

WE continue with our short series looking at how positive psychology can help us make the most of our lives.

As previously mentioned this is based around the anagram PERMA, which stands for Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievements.

Last week we looked at P representing having small positive emotions on a daily basis.

Today we will look at E representing engagement.

When a client comes to a counsellor, we know that we can tackle a problem from three aspects. By focusing on their feelings, the way a person thinks about situations (cognitive) or by changing their behaviour. This is because all three are directly connected.

So this week we are looking at our behaviour.

It is recognised that having weekly rhythms in life can be helpful.

A little bit of structure daily can make a huge difference to a person’s wellbeing.

When working with students I found the lack of structure and routine to a weekly programme caused many students to get depressed.

This led to them staying in their rooms and not engaging with other students. This then led them to feeling inadequate and thinking that they could not cope with university life.

However, once they began to have a structure to their week, they quickly found that they could cope with the academic learning and soon found new friends by regular attendance in classes. This approach applies equally with the older generation.

For example, doing voluntary work for others provides opportunities for brain-stimulating social interactions, this naturally involves spirited discussion with a variety of people of different backgrounds and ages.

Our feelings depend very much upon what we do, what we think and pay attention to. It is found that people who engage with others during the week have better coping skills and tend to be more resilient. Engagement in the community reaps benefits. It can help to develop specific skills that can sustain and enhance levels of happiness.

Having encounters with others tends to improve a person’s listening skills. They also find it easier to praise and encourage others. Spending all week trapped in a house by yourself can make you self absorbed. Those who get out and about tend to think less about themselves and more about others. Another advantage of engaging with others is it increases one's daily enjoyment. This leads to better thinking (cognitive) skills and a general better physical health. The fruit of this is that it can lead to a longer life.

There is a range of things we can do to become more engaged with others. These might include:

• Signing up for a class at your local recreation centre, library, or college.

• Attending religious services at your church, synagogue, or temple.

• Joining a choir or playing music in a group.

• Volunteering at your favourite charity organisation.

• Visiting a museum with a friend and chat about what you see.

• Joining a knitting class.

• Playing a group sport regardless of your age. As you get older you might have to find new ways of helping yourself keep physically fit. Sports involving group activity can help such as lawn bowling, croquet, table tennis or chess.

• Having a friend or family member over for coffee or tea.

• Playing cards or board games with others.

• Joining a group to learn a new language.

• Exercising with a friend by walking, swimming, or going to the gym together.

This list is not about becoming a group butterfly, but recognising that some social engagement can be beneficial especially as we get older.

All of these things can seem like a big challenge especially for introverts.

But the evidence speaks for itself, those that actively engage with others during the week, tend to be healthier. So take small steps to build connections with activities that you are particularly interested in.

For the older generation, University of the Third Age (U3A) is a gentle way into linking up with others of like mind.

Computer-based engagement can also be an initial way of building your social network.

And if you just don’t know where to start, why not go to a local drop-in or library or speak to local religious leader who will be able to suggest the best way forward to engage more fully in the community.

Next week we will look at the importance of relationships.

Dr Bill Merrington is a private therapist and chartered psychologist working in the York district ( or contact