10 Keys to happier living – Direction:  Embracing goal setting for purpose, meaning and motivation

10 Keys to happier living – Direction: Embracing goal setting for purpose, meaning and motivation

It would be fair to say that in my formative years, into my 20’s and 30’s I didn’t consciously or intentionally set specific life, career, financial or wellbeing goals.  Looking back, I can see that I pretty much ‘went with the flow’.  Any successes or achievements I put down as being ‘in the right place at the right time’ or ‘being lucky’.  And I put failures down as ‘life lessons’ to learn from.  I consider myself fortunate in many ways as I:

  • Received a good education at a comprehensive school – some similarities with Grange Hill
  • Had a happy childhood – I spent a lot of time in Ireland in summer holidays, or weekends with extended family as both parents worked full time.  It gave me a sense of independence at an early age and probably contributed to my rebellious streak.
  • Have a strong network of family and friends – not without sadness, loss and upset yet I can reflect on the fact that there are ‘no family feuds’, big fallouts.  We all get along and support each other.
  • Enjoy my job role, proud that I trained to be a nurse as it has stood me in good stead for all the job roles that I have had during my working life.
  • Have an amazing life partner that has seen me in through highs and lows, put up with my quirks.

And yet up until my 40’s I didn’t get the whole ‘setting goals’ thing at a personal level.  At the time, in my line of work as a coach and facilitator, I could see the importance of them, but this ‘goal setting’ thing applied to everyone else, not to me personally as…. Let’s face it, they can be a bit boring.  Then there were a series of events in my mid 40’s that changed all that:

  • Mental Health and Wellbeing – My mum developed a serious mental ill-health condition, to the point where whenever the phone rang, I would fear what had happened, what I could do if anything and how I would respond to support my dad.
  • Physical Health – I fractured my ankle, which meant that I was non-weight bearing for 4 months, I couldn’t physically go into work (good rehearsal for COVID19 as it was a form of self-isolation).  I still managed to work from home and have many a funny anecdote to share about how I adapted.
  • Grief and Bereavement – Just as I stopped using crutches, had my pins removed and was looking forward to returning to work, my dad died unexpectedly.  I hadn’t seen him for 5 months because of my fracture.  He had main carer responsibility and couldn’t really travel the 500 mile round trip.  Initially, I was able to hold it together and then 4 weeks after his death everything just seemed to fall apart.  I didn’t feel able to cope or do anything.  Work was now out of the question as I struggled to even do the basics of getting up, getting dressed, having any form of emotional containment.
  • Financial Health – Suddenly there was a need to survive on statutory sick pay.  This had a significant impact on household finances – double income down to single income.  And then the financial crash of 2010 hit and my job role was in jeopardy.  Clients stopped commissioning work, so there was minimal income into the company I worked for, so I had to make some decisions quickly.
  • Carer responsibility – Understandably, my mum was in her grieving process and in the early days, like me, seemed to be coping well and then her mental health deteriorated even further to a point where she needed intensive care and support.  We live 250 miles apart, what were we to do?

This was my unique experience; this doesn’t make me unique.

Like others, who face a series of life events that come together at the same time, I was faced with a sense of ‘sink or swim’. 

Working with my life partner, we went through absolutely everything from our finances, options I had for work, carer support for my mum, you name it… we were forensic.   He was, and is, an amazing support.  One of his key strengths is that he can see things clearly when I’m stuck ‘in it’ and has a talent for calmness and objectivity.  It wasn’t easy, but with clear goals, difficult choices and tenacity we turned things around. 

Looking back now, I find some comfort in a quote from the texts in Twilight of the Idols (1888) written by the great 19th Century philosopher, Fredrick Nietzsche, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”  In my case it was true, and I’m grateful for that.

The art of setting goals and creating a habit

Carver et al (2009) highlight that we have a natural tendency to be either more optimistic or more pessimistic.  We also know from the evidence that feeling good about the future, having a sense of purpose brings meaning and optimism to our lives. This, in turn, contributes to our sense of wellbeing.  Even when things aren’t going to plan, having goals that can be altered gives us a sense of control.  It’s also helpful to know that there are things that we can do to develop a more optimistic outlook without losing touch with reality.  What I’ve learnt is:

  • Goal setting doesn’t have to be boring, there are many benefits and advantages to having a set of goals to work towards.
  • Setting goals helps to trigger new behaviours, guides our focus and helps to sustain momentum.
  • Goals also help to align our focus and promote a sense of self-mastery.  We can’t manage what we don’t measure, so having a set of goals helps us to do that and more. has great materials, tips and resources to help you, those close to you and those you work with to develop goals that are meaningful and motivating.  No goal is too small.

A demonstration of my habit in action – The ‘Tyranny’ of the Apple Watch

In 2017 I bought an Apple Watch; I like gadgets but wasn’t prepared for the impact that this little bit of kit would have on my health and wellbeing.  I was determined to improve my fitness levels.  By using the activity app has turned me from a ‘couch potato’ into someone with higher than average fitness levels (for my age), encouraged me to start running and to shift my generally healthy diet to one that is more plant-based.

During COVID19 month of May 2020, my Apple goal was to walk or run 239KM, approximately 7.7KM per day.  Under normal circumstances, I would have struggled with this due to my work patterns.  As I had to postpone other work goals, this became very motivating.  As a result, I used my one hour exercise each day to walk/run as far as I could in the time.  Not only did I achieve the target (smashed it), I also contributed to my wellbeing through connecting with nature, practising active mindfulness and appreciating those things that I perhaps I had taken for granted.


Carver, C.S., Scheier, M.F., Miller, C.J., Fulford, D. (2009). Optimism.  In S.J.Lopez & C.R. Snyder (Eds.) Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. NY: Oxford University Press cited

10 keys to happier living – Trying Out

Trying Out

According to Action for Happiness one of the important ’10 keys to happier living’ is Trying Out “learning new things is stimulating and can help lift your mood…learning affects our well-being in lots of positive ways. It exposes us to new ideas and helps us stay curious and engaged. It also gives us a sense of accomplishment and helps boost our self-confidence and resilience”. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I have certainly learnt a lot.  I imagine a lot of us have had to try doing new things that we never expected we would have had to try.  So if learning is good for us, how can we continue to reap the benefits in the new normal? I want to consider two things that might help: how can we get into the mindset for learning and how can we maximise learning on the job.

Getting into the mindset

When I did my PhD, I focussed on exploring the role of emotions and cognitions in how we interpret and experience the world of work.  I found that progress toward and attainment of work goals was associated with happiness and positive affect such as enthusiasm (Harris, Daniels & Briner, 2010).  My interest in emotions has continued in my role as coach, facilitator and trainer and was rekindled when I began to design workshops on creativity. I was particularly interested in Barbara Fredrickson’s broaden and build theory. In her 1998 article, she talked about different positive emotions, their precursors and behavioural outcomes.  For example, she talks about play eliciting joy and joy eliciting approach behaviours. She concluded that positive emotions shared a pattern, and it was different from the one that was elicited by negative emotions – in other words positive emotions are not simply the absence of negative emotions and vice versa.

Negative emotions lead to specific action tendencies; thus, they narrow emotions to what Fredrickson calls the momentary thought-action repertoire. Negative emotions tend to occur in threatening situations and narrow our options due to our evolutionary fight or flight response.  Positive emotions have a broadening effect on the momentary thought-action repertoire: They allow us to discard automatic responses and instead look for creative, flexible, and unpredictable new ways of thinking and acting (Fredrickson 2004). So positive emotions broaden our options and allow for more creative cognitive processing.

So, learning new things can elicit positive emotions and if we are experiencing positive emotions, we are more open to learning.

When I work with teams or delegates on programmes, I do a few things to help people tap into positive emotions before learning:

  • Ask ‘take out a piece of paper and write down everything that’s distracting you right now, and put the paper in your bag, I will remind you at lunch and at the end of the day to review that piece of paper’
  • Ask for ‘one good thing that’s happened over the past month that you are proud about’ (Frederickson and Losada 2005, suggests that we need to experience 3:1 positive to negative emotions to flourish).

Learning on the job

Back when I did my BSc in Psychology, I did my dissertation on flow “optimal psychological state that people experience when engaged in an activity that is both appropriately challenging to one’s skill level, often resulting in immersion and concentrated focus on a task. This can result in deep learning and high levels of personal and work satisfaction” (Csíkszentmihályi, 1996). Flow is an optimal state for learning, as it is where skill level and challenge level of a task are at their highest. This creates an opportunity for learning and intense focus, where learners can even feel that they lose track of time because they are so immersed in the task.  If we think about work, urgency has tended to trump the luxury of learning, aligned to the important but not urgent pile. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article knowledge workers carve out just five minutes of formal learning each day.  Bersin and Zao Sanders (2019) go on to introduce a new idea called ‘Learning in the flow of work’.  This recognises that for ‘learning to really happen, it must fit around and align itself to working days and working lives’.  They recommend some ways to enhance flow at work:

  • Practice mindfulness – be aware and be present as you go about your daily job, inquire about what colleagues are doing, how and why
  • Maintain a too learn list – write down a list of concepts, thoughts, practices, and vocabulary you want to explore, book mark them in your browser, and add them to your list
  • Put dedicated learning time into your diary
  • Subscribe to a number of high quality newsletters, publications
  • Contribute to a learning channel where work actually happens – e.g. teams, slack, sharepoint – create one if your company doesn’t have one.

They cite Helen Smyth, Group Digital Learning and Design Manager at Sainsbury’s Too often, learning opportunities and technology deployments are developed based on what centralized groups think would be useful, or on what is possible, rather than on what would actually enable someone to do something better or differently at work. To overcome this, it’s important that we spend more of our time as learning professionals understanding the practical realities of daily work for people, and ensuring that our products and services are in tune with those realities.”

Today has never been more important to protect and maintain our wellbeing.  As one of the keys to happier living, our ability to keep learning in the new normal will be key to adapting and bringing about a better future.  


Bersin, J & Zao Sanders, M (2019).  Making learning a part of everyday work. Harvard Business Review, Sept 19.

Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1996). Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New Yprk: Harper Collins. Chicago

Fredrickson BL. (1998). What Good Are Positive Emotions?. Rev Gen Psychol. 2 (3): 300‐319.

Fredrickson BL. (2004). The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 359(1449): 1367‐1378.

Fredrickson BL, Losada MF (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. Am Psychol60 (7): 678–86.

Harris, C., Daniels, K & Briner, R. (2003). A daily diary study of goals and affective well‐being at work. Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology. 3 (76): 401-410.

Awareness – 10 Keys to Happier Living – Guest Blog from Lou Harris, HWBI Ninja

Awareness – 10 Keys to Happier Living – Guest Blog from Lou Harris, HWBI Ninja

“There’s more to life when you stop and notice”

Learning to be more aware and take notice can positively impact on our wellbeing. The key to taking notice is mindfulness “Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment – free from distraction or judgement, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them” (1).  

There are numerous benefits associated with mindfulness on physical health, managing stress, psychological wellbeing, relationships, performance and happiness and a recent study in March (2) found mindfulness buffered the impact of COVID 19.  

As this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, it is also worth noting that research (3) has shown that mindfulness helps reduce anxiety and depression. “It teaches us how to respond to stress with an awareness of what is happening in the present moment rather than simply acting instinctively, unaware of what emotions or motives may be driving that decision. By teaching awareness for one’s physical and mental state in the moment, mindfulness allows for more adaptative reactions to difficult situations” (4)

In our busy worlds, it may not be something we practice naturally, however, I wonder how many of us may have had greater opportunity to practise mindfulness over the past few months? You can take a 15 item questionnaire to measure mindfulness called the Mindful Attention Awareness Score (MAAS). The higher your score the greater your ability to be mindful. If you don’t score as high as you would like then don’t worry through practise, we can learn to cultivate the state of mind that lets us be mindful. 

Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness and spring is a great time of year to start. There is so much in nature to see, hear and smell for example noticing the colour of the  flowers, the birds singing and the smell of new blossom. On my daily dog walk since lockdown, I have noticed ducks and birds that I have never seen before including mandarins, herons and parakeets (yes we do have bright green parakeets in Sefton Park in Liverpool!), flowers including gorgeous miniature daffodils, the smell of the amazing rhododendrons which are vibrant and colourful, all things that I have never really noticed before, despite walking in this park most days for four years with my dog, Indy.  

The benefits speak for themselves, and you can start practising mindfulness right away in the comfort of your own home (handy in our current climate!) so why wouldn’t you try it? Positive Psychology has lots of great information which includes 10 tips for practising mindfulness which include:

  • Take a few moments to be aware of how your breath flows in and out, how your tummy rises and falls with each breath you take.  
  • If you are walking somewhere focus on the here and now. Rather than letting your brain drift into thought, bring them back to the physical act of walking. How do you feel? Pay less attention to where you’re going and more on what you’re doing as you step and how your feet feel. This is a nice one to try on sand or grass.  
  • If you notice yourself turning back towards thinking just focus once more on your breathing. You can return your focus to how your breath comes in and out of your body, and if you can feel your muscles relax as your doing so even better.
  • Understand that your mental processes are just thoughts, they aren’t necessarily true, nor do they require you to take action. Mindfulness is about simply being and about being relaxed in accepting things around you as they are. This implies internally too – it’s part of knowing your mind.   
  • Let yourself notice when your mind drifts back towards judgement. Remember this is only natural and doesn’t have to be part of yourself. Part of mindfulness practise means freeing your mind from practices like judgement. You may find that this becomes easier with time and practise.

As well as practising mindfulness in daily life it can be helpful to set aside time for a more formal mindfulness practice such as meditation. There is a lot of great support to help you and  Action for Happiness and NHS have some great guidance on Mindfulness and how to get started.


Exercise and the 10 keys to happier living

According to Action for Happiness one of the important ’10 keys to happier living’ is Exercising “regular activity will provide an endorphin boost and increase confidence”.  During the lock down we have seen the rise in popularity of The Body Coach, Joe Wicks ( encouraging us to work out at home. We are permitted to ‘take one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household’. 

The benefits 

There are, as we know, many benefits to exercise, according to the NHS website, it can reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart diseasestroketype 2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50% and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%.

Another benefit is to our mental health.  I was struck by a blog a colleague Wyn Jones wrote for us ( he talked about going for a ‘head run’ to clear his mind and help his mental health. Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression (Guszkowska, 2004). 

My route to exercise 

I used to be a couch potatoe, I never liked sport at school and this extended into adulthood. My business partner began running and I decided to join in, that was 13 years ago.  I enjoyed running and still do. About 5 years ago my husband got a road bike and I decided to join him.  About 2 years ago my business buddy started running and that got me back into running…You can see there is a pattern here…  

I have decided to cycle more during lock down, it was a conscious decision and I am enjoying it (the weather helps!). Here are some of the things that help me:

  • Set a goal and monitor progress – When I say cycle ‘more’, I didn’t set myself a goal in terms of the number of miles, but I did set myself a goal that I wanted to cycle 4-5 days a week for a month (which was April, now extended to May).  I post my cycling on the free Strava app (, so I can see my progress through the week and it holds me to account/motivates me by the fact that others can see my progress.
  • Plan when to go – I know I am more motivated to exercise in the morning, so I try to go before work if possible. Each week I plan what days I am going to cycle and stick to the plan (e.g. Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat or Sun)
  • Get your gear on – On the days I know I am going to cycle, I get up, showered and put my cycling gear on I don’t think about it, I just get dressed – this motivates me to get up and go.  I find it much harder and I am less motivated if I get dressed and then have to change into my cycling gear later in the day. 
  • Real or virtual buddy – I am lucky that I have a cycle buddy, my husband, so on the days when I am not feeling like going, my buddy motivates me.  I also have virtual buddies on Strava, I can see when they have been out and that also motivates me to cycle or run. Strava also segments your route and gives you virtual medals (bronze, silver and gold) which is motivating. 
  • Mix up my routes – I have spent time making up routes to cycle and uploaded them onto my sat nav.  I only really have four routes, but I also do my routes backwards so mix it up.  The routes vary in length and gradient. 
  • Track how I feel – I do actively notice how I feel before, during and after cycling.  Sometime I am really not up for it and I remind myself it could be one of those least expected days (I recently watch the Netflix series about the Movistar cycling team, which is well worth a watch Usually after cycling I feel a sense of achievement for going which is motivating in itself (I can also feel tired which is ok too). I actively try to ‘take notice’ as I cycle, this time of year I see baby lambs, llamas, wisteria, and we have a village which hosts a scarecrow competition in May, well worth a look (

The challenge going forward 

The key for me will be to continue to maintain a healthy level of exercise beyond the lockdown, whatever that might look like.  I know the benefits for me are immense, I will need to find a way to give myself permission to prioritise my wellbeing above work and that’s always been a bit of a struggle for me! Which got me thinking about how I can coach myself to maintain my behaviour.  

Model of behaviour change and maintenance 

Back in 2007 I got an opportunity to work with colleagues to design a health trainers programme.  Core to this was the Transtheoretical Model of Behaviour Change which was developed by Prochaska & DiClemente in the 70’s. The model provides a blueprint for changing health behaviours such as health, fitness, wellbeing.  It identifies five stages people move through : pre contemplation (‘I wont’, ‘I cant’), contemplation (‘I May’), preparation (‘I will’), action (‘I am’), maintenance (‘I still am’).  I found a really helpful article linking this to coaching (  So for me in the maintenance stage there are some things I can do:

  • Stay connected to the value of cycling/running in serving my vision and goals
  • Set new goals that are interesting and attainable 
  • Maintain my social networks of people who also enjoy cycling/running
  • Remind myself of the motivation to take up cycling/running and discover new motivators 
  • Share my commitments with others
  • Be aware of lapses and identify early recognition and rapid response to get back on track
  • Avoid judging myself 

Guszkowska M. (2004). Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood. Psychiatr Pol (38), 611–620.

Relating:  Why reaching out and fostering relationships with others at work is good for our wellbeing.

Relating: Why reaching out and fostering relationships with others at work is good for our wellbeing.

What comes to mind when you think about ‘best friends’?  For me, it’s thinking back to school days when I was in the ‘4th Year’ of junior school.  I was 11, not quite at senior school and my best friend at the time was Juliet.  We would go off in a pair (I wasn’t keen on 3’s) and have ‘our time’ together, playing various games, using our imaginations, sharing stories, talking about what we did the night before, acting out different make believe sceanarios and sharing what we were looking forward to next week.  As a child of the 70’s (Generation X), quite a lot of our conversations revolved around:

  • Who we liked best – The Osmond’s or Jackson 5?
  • What we had read in ‘Jackie’ or ‘My Guy’
  • What we were allowed to watch on TV – Sweeny, Star Trek, Starsky and Hutch
  • What shoes we wanted – platforms or heels
  • What lessons we liked – English, PE, history, science (I was never one for maths)
  • How were we going to get our homework in on time when it was such a boring task?
  • What it would be like in ‘senior school’?
  • All the things we would ‘put right’ when we were ‘in charge’

In my formative years, I wasn’t aware of how important it was to have a sense of belonging, to have a network of trusted friends, a set of strong family relationships and people that I could turn to for support when things weren’t going well.  If anything, I took it all for granted.  I now appreciate how fortunate I was growing up. 

As I’ve got older, with more life experience, I am more conscious and aware of how important relationships are to us as human beings in helping us to develop, grow and survive.  Don’t get me wrong, I had my fair share of ‘playground’ disagreements and that still continues now, although I managed them better (most of the time).  I do notice that during lock down my ‘dark side’ or overplayed strengths need more attention and have a trusted friend who will feedback on that.

Friendships in the World of Work

I enjoy the company of others, I like to connect as it helps me to think, build on ideas and I get a lot of personal satisfaction from spending time with others.  And I think I’m generally good at fostering positive relationships. 

I have often heard colleagues and peers say ‘I spend more time with my work colleagues than I do with my family and friends’.  Which poses an interesting dilemma for all of us.  I was ‘schooled’ to believe, like many, that the world of work and the world outside work needed to be kept separate.  This poses real dilemma’s as it can sometimes be difficult to maintain those boundaries and, in the past, I found myself crossing this ‘imaginary’ line.  An article by Gallup (2018) explores the issue of work friendships in more depth and discovered that the question, ‘Do you have a best friend at work?’ had the strongest reactions from their clients for number of reasons e.g. an expectation that you leave your non work self at the door, sharing ‘chit chat’ and lunch breaks was detrimental to productivity etc.  Interestingly, what they found was that having a ‘best friend at work’ leads to better performance.  The data from their database suggested that 2 out of 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that they have a best friend at work.  They hypothesis that if that ratio moved to 6 out of 10, organisations could see fewer safety incidents, more engaged customers, more engaged staff and higher profits.

The benefits of a business buddy

Whilst it is important to manage boundaries in the workplace, especially in relation to accountability and performance, how much better for all of us if we opened ourselves up to the legitimacy of friendship at work.  I can speak from personal experience.  The person I enjoy working with the most, has over the years become not only my best work friend, also one of my very few personal best friends.  That doesn’t mean it gets too cosy or that we don’t challenge each other.  If anything, it’s the opposite.  We can truly:

  • Be open and honest,
  • Challenge and respect each other’s perspectives,
  • Disagree without falling out,
  • Appreciate and play to our strengths,
  • Hold each other up when the other is struggling,
  • Let off steam and not feel judged.

It’s not a walk in the park, we work at it and I’m all the better for my ‘best friend’ at work relationship.  You know who you are and THANK YOU!!  I’m a better person (mostly).

What’s your experience?

Why We Need Best Friends at Work Mann. A, 2018

Why does giving make us happy?

Why does giving make us happy?

In this time of ‘lock down’ I’ve been reflecting on a number of things, not least my own health and wellbeing.  Talking to colleagues, family and friends we have started to share more about what is important to us, what we are grateful for and during these challenging times, what gives us joy.  Often, it’s the very simple things that surface:

  • Having the time to have family meals together, eating, talking and reflecting on the day
  • Being able to connect to family and friends more frequently than perhaps we would ordinarily
  • Taking part in collective activities with family, friends and work colleagues – who knew that ‘Virtual Pub Quiz’ would take off in the way that it has.  It’s become a highlight of the week for many.
  • Having more time to do the things that help us to have space to be ‘mindful’, gardening, walking, painting, other household tasks that we’ve put off
  • Letting our minds wonder

One of the things I notice in myself is that ‘giving’ brings me happiness.  Over the years, I notice that I get that warm fuzzy feeling when I give, more so than when I receive.  It’s no surprise once I began to look into why that it is….. ‘common sense’ in so many ways and as I remind myself frequently, it only becomes ‘common sense’ once you understand more.

What’s the science behind it?

There is much written about giving and generosity.  Researchers have had rich debates about the extent to which humans are innately generous, a great deal of research strongly suggests that generosity has deep evolutionary, biological and developmental roots.  Much of the research also suggest that human generosity might be deeply embedded in human behaviour and plays a vital role in our personal well-being and our survival.  A systematic review (Allen.S 2018) draws together some of the key research findings and highlights:

  • Positive effects on givers e.g. wellbeing
  • Individual factors linked to generosity e.g. feelings of empathy, compassion
  • Social and cultural drivers e.g. expectations of reciprocity, having strong social networks may influence generosity, parenting can cultivate generosity

The act of giving and charitable behaviour comes in many forms and during COVID19 there have been so many examples:

  • Tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of volunteers coming forward to help those that are being shielded – offering to phone those that are isolated, undertaking tasks such as shopping and picking up essentials
  • Colonel Tom Moore 100th Birthday sponsored walk to raise money for the NHS
  • Different businesses donating food and gifts to front line staff
  • Local communities coming together to support key workers
  • Free resources and learning being made available to individuals working from home

All of us ‘give’ in some way.  Often, it will be simple things, kind words, helping someone out when you notice they are struggling, random acts of kindness to friends, families and colleagues.  Doing something for complete strangers seems to be the ‘norm’ in our current COVID19 bubble and the world feels a better place for it.  It seems now more than ever we need to be generous in our thinking as well as in the way we behave.  A study into the benefits of charitable behaviour (Anik. L et al. 2009) highlights that people that give more are happier and happier people tend to give more.  Feels like a virtuous circle to me.

Looking for inspiration

Action for Happiness provides ideas, insights, training (e-mail based coaching programme) and resources.  Something for everyone if you are looking for some inspiration.  What will you give today?

S, May. The Science of Generosity, White Paper, Greater Good Science Centre 2018

Feeling Good about Giving: The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior Anik, L., Aknin, L B., Norton, M I., Dunn, E W. 2009

Impact of COVID19 on personal morals and ethics – what do we need to do to support key workers and decision makers to reduce the negative impact of moral injury?

What is moral injury?

The concept of the moral injury originated in the work of the psychiatrist Johnathan Shay (1994, 2002, 2014) who treated armed service personnel traumatised by experiences where either they, or their leaders, violated their values. Potentially morally injurious experiences (PMIE’s) include perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations, which can result in psychological distress or moral injury (Litz et al. 2009).  Moral injury is often associated with strong moral emotions related to the event, including guilt, anger and disgust, and can also lead to negative thoughts about oneself or others, for example, “I am a terrible person,” and can lead to distress and psychological difficulties (Farnsworth et al, 2014).  Moral injury can impact upon work and social life.  It has been linked to increased difficulties coping with occupational stressors and difficulties with authority figures. 

What can we learn from research into this area?

Research into moral injury is still in its infancy, however a recent systematic review and meta-analysis found that moral injury is not unique to any particular profession (Williamson et al, 2018). I had not heard the term before I began listening to webinars about how COVID-19 is placing significant demand on key workers. Victoria Williamson, Dominic Murphy and Neil Greenberg from King’s College London have recently written an editorial in the latest edition of Occupational Medicine Journal ‘Front-line key workers, such as healthcare providers and emergency first responders but also other non-healthcare-related staff (e.g. social workers, prison staff), may be especially vulnerable to experiencing moral injuries during this time’.  It’s a compelling read and helpful to those of us that work with key workers and decision makers in a coaching capacity.

When might people experience moral injury?

In the editorial, the authors highlight that key workers are at increased risk of moral injury if:

  • The life of a vulnerable person is lost.  
  • When workers don’t feel supported or that leaders haven’t taken responsibility.  
  • When staff are not prepared for the emotional consequences of the decisions they are making.
  • If other traumatic events occur at the same time such as a personal bereavement.
  • If they have a lack of social support.

The authors are equally keen to point out that exposure to PMIEs does not automatically result in moral injury. 

How can leaders, teams and individuals reduce the risk or impact of moral injury?

The authors highlight the following recommendations which may be beneficial for individuals and teams to consider:

  • Be aware of the possibility of potentially morally injurious events and each other to develop psychological preparedness.
  • Encourage team members to seek informal support from managers, colleagues, chaplains and other welfare providers.
  • Advise team members to seek professional help at an early point, especially if they are having trouble functioning. 
  • Leaders and managers need to check in with their teams at regular points to provide support and to signpost the team members and others to services if needed.
  • Employers should not use debriefing techniques or psychological screening, but they should facilitate team cohesion as well as make informal as well as professional support available.
  • Events need to be frankly discussed and efforts made to ensure that staff understand potential impact on their mental health, whilst ensuring the are also aware that psychological growth can also be expected as staff ‘do their best’ under challenging conditions.

It has been extremely helpful to understand a little more about how PMIE may impact key workers.  The practical recommendations outlined by Williamson et al are also particularly helpful and give some insight into the role of leaders and teams.  They also recognise that not all managers will feel comfortable in having ‘psychologically informed conversations’ with their staff, or possess such skills, and that it’s important that others are available to step into this role, to check in with staff on a regular basis. 


Farnsworth JK, Drescher KD, Nieuwsma JA, Walser RB, Currier JM. (2014).  The role of moral emotions in military trauma: implications for the study and treatment of moral injury. Rev Gen Psychol, 18(4). 

Litz, B.T., Stein, N., Delaney, E., Lebowitz, L., Nash, W.P., Silva, C. and Maguen, S. (2009) ‘Moral injury and moral repair in war veterans: A preliminary model and intervention strategy’, Clinical Psychology Review, 29(8), 695-706.

Shay, J. (1994) Achilles in Vietnam : combat trauma and the undoing of character, New York: Atheneum ; Oxford : Maxwell Macmillan International.
Shay, J. (2002) Odysseus in America : combat trauma and the trials of homecoming, New York: Scribner.
Shay, J. (2014) ‘Moral Injury’, Psychoanalytic Psychology, 31(2), 182-191.

Williamson, V., Stevelink, S., & Greenberg, N. (2018). Occupational moral injury and mental health: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 212(6), 339-346. 

Williamson,V., Murphy, D., Greenberg, N. (2020). COVID-19 and experiences of moral injury in front-line key workers, Occupational Medicine []

GREAT DREAM – 10 Keys to Happier Living                             Guest Blog from Lou Harris HWBI Ninja

GREAT DREAM – 10 Keys to Happier Living Guest Blog from Lou Harris HWBI Ninja

The 10 keys to happier living describe the areas in which scientific research suggests we can take practical action to boost our wellbeing. They are based on a review of research from psychology and related fields by Vanessa King and Action for Happiness. The first five keys GREAT are based on the Five Ways to Wellbeing and are about how we interact with the outside world in our daily activities, the second five keys DREAM come from inside us and are influenced by our attitude to life. 

I thought it would be interesting to explore the 10 Keys for Happier Living and see how we can apply them in our current climate after previously writing about the positive impact that the Five Ways to Wellbeing had upon my mental health recovery.  

Taking action to maintain and improve our well-being has never been more important. One of the classic positive psychology experiments asks people to write down “three good things” and why you think those three good things happen to you each night for a week. After six months they found people were happier but also noticed a decrease in depressive symptoms. Mental Health First Aid England suggests that the strategies contained within the 10 keys for happier living are:

  • Positive steps to suggest to anyone with a mental health issue, and
  • Positive steps for self-care for carers, and
  • Positive steps for all of us to improve our own mental health.

The 10 keys to happier living are:

  • Giving – holding out a helping hand makes other people happy and will make you feel happier too
  • Relating – the people around you offer a valuable pool of support so it’s important to put time into strengthening those connections
  • Exercising – regular activity will provide endorphin boost and increased confidence
  • Awareness – taking time to switch off autopilot and be in the moment is a great tool to combat Stress
  • Trying out – learning new things is stimulating and can help to lift your mood
  • Direction – working towards positive realistic goals can provide motivation and structure
  • Resilience – although we can’t always choose what happens to us, we can often choose our own response to what happens
  • Emotions – positive emotions can build up a buffer against stress and even lead to lasting changes in the brain to help maintain well being
  • Acceptance – no one is perfect. Longing to be someone different gets in the way of making the most of our own happiness
  • Meaning – people who have meaning in their lives experience less stress, anxiety and depression

Over the next 10 weeks, the Health and Wellbeing Inspiration team will be reviewing each of the 10 keys to happiness and providing tips with how they can help and be applied in our current climate. So why not make a start today on “three good things”? Being grateful can help people to cope with stress but it’s something that we need to consciously learn to get into the habit of doing.  So why not give it a go:

  • Every night – before you go to bed think about your day and remember three good things that happened went well, you enjoyed or were grateful for – they may be small such as hearing the birds sing, making a new recipe and note them down
  • Think about why – for each thing you are grateful for, write down why it happened and why you feel good about it
  • Look Back – after a week look back at what you have written – think about how it makes you feel and consider any patterns
  • Keep it up – keep trying it can become a habit

At HWBInspiration we are quite a visual bunch and find that some of these tools are helpful to capture and track:

Gratitude Jar – Su Fowler-Johnson April 2020

The power of touch – Covid-19 reflections in lockdown

·      There has never been a more important time to look after our own and others wellbeing


·      Human touch plays an important role 

·      What can we do while we are social distancing?

This may sound familiar to workshop facilitators.  I often enter the room in which I am facilitating, depending on how well I know my co-facilitator, I will give them a hug and I often approach delegates, shake their hand to welcome them.  At the beginning of March this year, this all changed due to Covid-19.  At the time, we were not in lockdown however there was talk of social distancing, now referred to as physical distancing.  I noticed myself still wanting to connect with people I work with and so, engaged in toe or elbow tapping.  Two weeks later, non key workers we were asked by the government to work virtually from home (if possible).  This also meant not seeing family members, whom I always hug on seeing them.  Five weeks on, my colleagues and I were talking about the power of human touch, so we decided to review why we need it and how it benefits us.    

Authors such as Brené Brown[1] write about our fundamental need for belonging: “As members of a social species, we derive strength not from our rugged individualism, but from our collective ability to plan, communicate, and work together.” Whole academic journals have also been written on the importance of close relationships for living a longer life[2]. One important component of close social relationships is interpersonal touch.

Interpersonal touch behaviours such as hugging are used to communicate affection or indicate affection from others[3]. Converging evidence indicates that individuals who engage more frequently in interpersonal touch enjoy better physical, psychological, and relational health[4]. Back in 2006, a lab study examining activation of brain regions associated with threat, reported that individuals assigned to a ‘touch condition’ with a stranger showed less threat-related neural activation during exposure to a laboratory stressor. More recently, studies have showed that touch can be used as a tool for communicating empathy, resulting in a painkilling effect[5] and receiving a hug is associated with the reduction of negative mood on days when one has experienced interpersonal conflict[6].  Touch builds connectedness. And this is true whether it’s handshakes to build camaraderie in a workshop or hugs for our family, loved ones and friends.

How can we look after our wellbeing in a world where isolation and physical distancing has become the new temporary “norm”?

The sorts of things that we are practicing and HWBInspiration are:

  • Regular video calls – with work colleagues to check in personally as well as on work topics – always good to ‘eyeball’ family, friends and work colleagues.  You communicate so much more.
  • Setting up ‘What’s App’ groups – to remain connected to different groups for different purposes.
  • Sharing stories
  • Sharing images/photo’s
  • Keeping connected, Tik Tok has become a source of humour that we enjoy sharing when a little low on inspiration
  • Daily exercise routine with partner – our normal walk/run/ route’s have become busy, and we’re delighted to find new routes from our front door that we’ve not discovered.  Why not prepare for ‘On your Feet Britain’ 24/9/20?  For some more tips
  • Keeping in contact with clients – especially those who are in key worker roles to offer a space to ‘decompress’.
  • Keeping a gratitude diary to improve mental health and wellbeing – three things every day.  Today:
  • Blogging – We’ve co-created a blog, which is often a source or procrastination.  It was inspired by a coaching client who is currently in the ‘shielded group’, a loss of physical touch for them, when they describe themselves as a ‘huggy person’ has been profound
  • Being able to work – Working with a well-established collaboration of small businesses we’ve been able to submit a proposal for some innovative leadership development work
  • Sunshine – being able to look out into the garden (we are so very lucky) and noticing the differences every day.
  • Connecting with family – daily check in to see how everyone is doing and how they are coping.  Sharing ideas and keeping each other’s spirits up when it gets difficult.
  • Sleep – paying attention to our sleep patterns, routines and minimising unhelpful impact of ‘gadgets’ before going to bed.  Some more useful tips from World Sleep Day website
  • Nutrition – a well balanced diet is key, and we acknowledge that our usual patterns have been disrupted.  Some more useful tips from the National Nutrition and Hydration Week website
  • Practicing mindfulness – well here is the one thing that we both struggle with.  So, Su is using Headspace App to help, or alternatively she may default to knitting.
  • Give our loved ones a hug – for those of us lucky enough to live with our loved ones / families, give them a hug (unless of course, they have symptoms in which case they should self-isolate in a separate room)
  • Pet your pets
  • Take notice – notice what you feel when you touch different textures, this will keep your sensory and kinaesthetic muscles alive


  1. Brown, B. (2017). Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Random House.
  2. Dunkel, S et al (2017). How to closer relationships lead to longer life. American Psychologist, 72(6), 511-516.
  3. Jakubiak BK, Feeney BC (2017). Affectionate touch to promote relational, psychological, and physical well-being in adulthood: A theoretical model and review of the research. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 21, 228–52
  4. Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Turner RB, Doyle WJ. (2015). Does hugging provide a stress-buffering social support? A study of susceptibility to upper respiratory infection and illness. Psychological Science, 26, 135–47
  5. Goldstein, P., Weissman-Fogel, I. & Shamay-Tsoory, S.G. (2017). The role of touch in regulating inter-partner physiological coupling during empathy for pain. Scientific Reports 73252
  6. Murphy MLM, Janicki-Deverts D, Cohen S. (2018). Receiving a hug is associated with the attenuation of negative mood that occurs on days with interpersonal conflict. PLoS ONE 13(10)
Dancing in the Rain; International Women’s Day & Mental Wellbeing – guest blog by Lou Harris #HWBAssociateNinja

Dancing in the Rain; International Women’s Day & Mental Wellbeing – guest blog by Lou Harris #HWBAssociateNinja

This year’s International Women’s day focused on “An equal
world is an enabled world”. 

I was delighted to be invited to speak about Anxiety and
Recovery at Manchester’s Cross Government International Women’s day event on 6th
March which focussed on health and wellbeing. 
It was a privilege and an honour to hear from so many inspirational
women. These included Daisy Smith, Head of Performance Analysis and Modelling
at Highways England, Alison McKenzie-Folan CEO of Wigan Council, Tessa Lewis,
GP and NICE fellow and Rachel Copley, Health Transformation Team Leader at

Thank you to all the amazing women who attended the event
and to everyone including Daisy for your feedback, it has given me the courage
to write my next blog… so here goes

#IWD2020 #eachforequal

Learning to dance in the rain

13.9% of the population will experience an anxiety disorder at any given
time, Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders than men
(Mental Health First Aid England).

However, recovery from mental illness is possible and very likely.
Recovery means different things to different people. Nigel Henderson, President
of Mental Health Europe’s notion of recovery personally resonated with me
“It isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s learning to dance in
the rain”. Recovery is much more than the absence of symptoms.

The mental health continuum can help us to understand this notion. Initially, people described the state of mental health as being on a continuum from mentally healthy to mental illness (medical language).  The favoured approach is to now think of two continua on a different axis.  The second axis (social language) can be described as minimum mental wellbeing/fitness to maximum mental wellbeing/fitness.

Image courtesy of

This model allows for people who have a diagnosable mental illness and
who are coping well with the illness (for example they may have good coping
strategies, a good medication regime, supportive friends etc) to have positive
mental health. They have “learned to dance in the rain”.

There are many factors that can influence the recovery journey

  • Availability and
    access to treatments such as medication or psychological interventions
  • Having supportive
    social networks (colleagues, family, friends)
  • Playing a
    meaningful role in society (for example through education or employment
  • Lifestyle
    (including eating well, exercise and sleep)
  • Stability
    (including home and financial)
  • Acceptance and
    control (focussing on what you can do)

Some other important features of the recovery journey can be described
by the acronym CHIME (connectedness, hope and optimism, identity, meaning and
purpose and empowerment). 

I like to think of my own recovery as a journey because it isn’t for me
a linear process, I have had setbacks and I honestly don’t know when and if I
will reach a destination. However, through increasing my knowledge of mental
health and wellbeing and understanding of myself I  too have 
“learned to dance in the rain”.  This has involved many of the factors listed
above including:

  • Professional
    support – my GP has been amazing; she has given me choice and control over my
    treatments acting as a professional partner in my recovery journey.
  • A caring network of
    family and friends – who have increased their own awareness and understanding
    of mental health and walked beside me on my journey. They have helped me to set
    new goals and aspirations and pursue them.
  • Redefining my goals
    and aspirations which includes writing and talking about mental health and
    wellbeing which has given me a purpose and a new drive and passion 
  • Lifestyle changes –
    including exercise and eating healthier and growing new skills to support my
  • Control – which has
    been fundamental to my recovery. Control over my treatment, control over
    finding ways to help myself and my wellbeing (CBT has been instrumental) and
    control over how and when I choose to work which enables me to cope with the
    symptoms of anxiety. 

However other factors can impact on a person’s recovery journey.  Nearly 9 out of 10 people with mental health
problems say that stigma and discrimination have a negative effect on their
lives. People don’t recover in isolation, social inclusion (i.e. being involved
with society)  is key and through
increased understanding and discussion of mental health, we can help to reduce
the inequalities experienced by those who have a mental illness. 

So, let’s make mental health everyone’s business and take personal responsibility
to look after our own as well as the mental health of others #eachforequal

Want to find out more about anxiety, ideas around how to look after your
own mental wellbeing, or how to raise awareness of mental health within your
organisation here are some suggested links below to help you get started or to
share with others:

Information about anxiety:

Your Mental wellbeing:

Workplace Mental Health and useful Resources to raise awareness:

Image courtesy of