avtor 20. marca, 2023

Today we continue with the third part (the first part can be enjoyed here, the second here) of our interview with Sue Langley – founder of the Langley Group and Academic Director of the Langley Group Institute – leaders in the Positive Psychology field. (This interview is published on the International Day of Happiness, the spring equinox and the astronomical beginning of the spring season in the Northern/the autumn season in the Southern Hemisphere. What a great day for great insights!)

About Sue: Sue is the creator of the world’s first Australian Government-accredited Diploma of Positive Psychology. She regularly appears at speaking events around the world as well as in international media.  Sue is the emotional intelligence expert in the hit ABC TV series Redesign My Brain, broadcast on the Science Channel in the US as Hack My Brain. Sue has appeared as a leading expert in the documentary ‘Make Me a Leader’ (July 2018), which has won multiple film festival awards including the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards.

Tadej: You talk about how long-term happiness comes from putting little pieces of the puzzle together.

Sue: Yeah. I think this is interesting because there are myths about what will make us happy. I remember asking a group of 17 to 18-year-olds this question. I had about 150 of them at a big event. And I asked I’ll be happy when? And their answers were things  like when I get married, when I get a job, when I have a child, etc

We often have this myth that when I get promoted, get my own house, have children, and do xyz; I’ll be happy. We know from the research that’s not true. If you’re not happy now, getting married, having a child, or getting a new job will probably not make you happy.

And winning the lottery that’s a classic example. Oh, I’ll be happy when I win the lottery. And we know that’s not the case. What does make us happy are the little things we do every day. So just like we said about putting the tools in your toolkit.

When I get up in the morning when I’m at home, I will look around my bedroom, and savour my bedroom: the yellow walls and the little sparkly lights. I will look out my window at my frangipani tree, which is just starting to bloom, and I’ve got a tree in my garden. I savour the carpet beneath my feet when I get out of bed. When I go to bed, I write in my journal. Every night I write three things I’m grateful for. I try most nights to read fiction and clear my mind. I don’t take any technology to the bedroom. They’re the little things we implement every day, and I’m not saying people should do the same as me. I’m saying everybody will have their own little things.

It’s the exercise every day. I didn’t get out for a walk this morning because it was pouring down. I still did 25 star jumps in my hotel room. So I think sometimes people are waiting for a big thing, for a specific event to occur; I’ll be happy. And yet actually, It’s the little, tiny things you do every day that will make a difference.

I suppose it’s a bit like if you want a six-pack or big muscles, one trip to the gym won’t work. You have to keep doing things regularly, and it’s a bit like that with happiness. We can’t just want to be happy and run after things we think might make us happy.


Tadej: The next subject I would like us to explore also comes from one of your talks where you say that we should harness positive emotions to create change and develop an emotional vocabulary.

Sue: Yes, I think this is interesting. There’s probably 35 years’ worth of research into the impact of positive emotions and what they do for us. So if you think about positive emotions, Barbara Fredrickson has a beautiful theory called the Broaden and Build theory. (https://positivepsychology.com/broaden-build-theory/)

It means that experiencing more positive emotions broadens our ability to think and act and build our personal resources. So it builds our psychological resources and ability to be resilient and move towards goals. It builds our social resources to help people connect with people, collaborate, et cetera.

Positive emotions build our intellectual resources. So when we’re in a positive emotional state, we’re better at learning and taking in new information. We’re better at innovation, creativity, those sorts of things. We’re better at problem-solving. It also builds our physical resources. So most people don’t think about this, yet it builds our cardiovascular system when we’re in a positive emotional state. Your immune system gets boosted, your digestion improves, and your grip strength increases.

When we experience positive emotions, it builds up all of these resources, which enables us to think more clearly.

To regulate ourselves better, to think of new ideas, etc. The positive emotional space. We now have a lot of research that tells us the benefit of that. What we also need to consider is we are designed to experience emotions. I think of emotions as data. That’s all they are. Emotions are data; they are information. They are trying to tell us something. All emotions are valid. There’s no such thing as a good or bad emotion. Let’s imagine you wake up and realise you feel anxious. Anxiety is just data. This information is data, and it is trying to tell you something.

And anxiety is part of fear, so it’s probably trying to tell you that you’re feeling physically or psychologically threatened. Or you wake up, and you are feeling bored. Boredom is part of the disgust realm of emotions, which probably means that something or someone is offensive to you or your rules have been violated.

What is helpful about understanding emotions is yes, we want to try and leverage more towards positive emotions if we want to flourish. For people to say they’re flourishing in life, generally speaking, people are experiencing roughly three times more positive emotions than negative emotions.

We also know from an emotional vocabulary perspective that improving your emotional vocabulary improves your ability to perceive, understand, and manage emotions. And I mentioned to you earlier that I had an emotional moment this morning. Something happened that generated some emotions for me. One of the strategies I used was reviewing a list of words and choosing the emotion words of how I was feeling because the research tells us that being able to accurately identify the emotion that you are feeling is one of the first things we should do to being able to manage that emotion. And I think that’s brilliant because all we’ve got to do is try and enrich our emotional vocabulary or teach people more about emotions. And it can help people then start to manage. One of our corporate clients purchased our emotion cards. So when everybody came in ready to attend a meeting, before the meeting, the team members choose a card and just quickly share it around the room. I’m feeling this; I’m feeling that I’m feeling xx. By selecting the card, when you are looking for the word, you are already starting to manage the emotion if it’s a negative one; also, it creates a psychologically safe environment where everybody shares ….’this is how I’m feeling right now.’ So again, it expands our emotional vocabulary enabling us to deal with it more. I love that, and I’m constantly trying to expand mine.

Natalie: I couldn’t agree more. When we do workshops, we always use these cards, and it’s a beautiful starter into the bonding of all because we all come from different, I don’t know, meetings, experiences, etc., in one room. And then, we have to get into the same equation. Yeah. So I think it’s a wonderful starter.

Sue: Yeah, and to your point, Natalie, the reason that we do this is that it is based on research by a gentleman called Matt Lieberman, a social neuroscientist. (https://lieberman.socialpsychology.org/)

He found that when your amygdala is firing, when you’re having a strong negative emotional response and your amygdala is firing, labelling your emotions triggers a part of the brain, your right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, just above your right ear. That’s part of your self-regulation mechanism.

So, when I label the emotion, what I’m doing is I’m triggering this part of my brain, which is allowing my amygdala to calm down. Matt found it creates a seesaw effect that the amygdala deactivates when I activate this part, so it’s all using the sciences. If I do this, then this is automatically happening. I like using science to help me.

Tadej: Yeah, that’s a great tool. Thank you for sharing all of your research.

Natalie, before we continue, I wanted to check….I remember when we had other meetings and interviews together… when one of your dogs came to relax in your lap, that means that there is good energy in the place …so we are definitely energized today…

Natalie: Yeah. She’s sleeping with me already and she is the most sensitive dog, which means that we are doing great today. . . I love it. 


Tadej: When we read or talk about stress is mostly about all negative things and how bad it does to us, while you also talk about the UPSIDE of Stress …please enlighten us…

Sue: There’s a wonderful book called The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal, and she quotes many different people’s research. We run a webinar often for our clients on the upside of stress. It is similar to the study I mentioned about ageing. It looks at some research, particularly by a wonderful lady called Alia Crum, who explored people’s views of stress.

When we use the word stress, we often mean negative; we mean distress. Yet there is a good form of stress. One of the things Alia Crum did was ask people a couple of very simple questions about how they view stress.

Do they view it as helpful and should be embraced? Or do they view it as harmful and should be avoided? And when she followed them over 12 months, it was fascinating that the people who viewed stress as helpful reported fewer stressful events. They had fewer accidents, fewer illnesses, and fewer deaths.

And yet, interestingly, they had the same number of stressful events as the people who viewed stress as harmful. They reported fewer. They felt it less. And she also found that when you view stress as helpful, there’s a chemical in your brain called DHEA that is linked to learning and memory.

So production of DHEA helps you learn, take in your information, lay down new memories, etc. And what she found is people who view stress as helpful produce more DHEA. And when you think about it, that makes complete sense because if I view stress as helpful, I’m going to produce this chemical which allows me to learn from the stressful event and lay down some new memories, which means when another stressful event occurs, I’ve got some tools in my toolkit.

Whereas if I view stress as harmful, I don’t produce as much as DHEA, so I’m not learning from it. I’m not necessarily laying down new memories. So every stressful event is more distressing. And I think this is lovely about really understanding how stress impacts us physically, what goes on in our brain, and how, by again, flipping our view, our perception.

And that was one of the tools I used during COVID. So, when it first hit, it was stressful, yet I needed to get curious. ‘What can I learn from this? What can I grow from this? How can I notice something new?’ And again, it changes then how you show up to handle that stressful event. I don’t know if that helps, yet I love that research.

Natalie: Yeah, it does. Tadej you probably remember when COVID started, we hosted Inspire me talks/webinars to offer people moral support. Tadej was also one of our guest speakers. Approximately one-quarter of the inhabitants of Slovenia still don’t own a computer. You can imagine how this huge change influenced our lives. So firstly, we got them comfortable with using technology. And secondly, we gave them some tools about how to navigate through tough times and deal with anxiety, stress, etc, etc. And I think we helped people very much with that.

Sue: Thank you. Yeah, absolutely.


Tadej: Most people talk about a To-do list; you also mention the “TA-DA” list …

Sue: I’ll often say to people, Okay, what’s on your to-do list? And it is usually… ring this person back, complete this report, complete this proposal, buy groceries, get my passport renewed, whatever it happens to be. It is a list of things to do, chores if you like, or actions.

The “TA-DA” list comes from a research paper by Barbara Fredrickson that’s a meta-analysis. And what she did is she looked at 350 other studies on what contributes to wellbeing around positive emotions. And her dramatic summary sentence was, “people who prioritise positivity in their lives have higher levels of wellbeing.”  That was the conclusion that she came to after studying 350 other studies. And I’m like, that’s obvious, isn’t it? People who prioritise positivity have higher levels of wellbeing ‘well duh, of course.’  Then I ask people, “Okay, what’s on your to-do list?” None of those things on your to-do list are prioritising positivity in your life.

So the ta-da list is, have a list of things that prioritise positivity for you. So beside my bed, I have these tiny cards all printed out, and I have about 15 things on it that prioritise positivity for me.

They can’t be things I already do every day because that’s cheating. They have to be new things that I’m trying to embed, new habits, etc. And the idea is you set yourself a goal. Usually, I say to people, put between 12 and 15 on. And then, set yourself a goal of three to five per day.

When you want to up the stakes, the idea is ‘ten things for ten days.’ Mine has a variety of items on it. ‘Do 10 minutes of learning Italian, 10 minutes reading a fiction book.’ Because  I wanted to get away from always reading fact, I wanted to lighten things up. It could be an alcohol-free day, or it could be not sleeping with technology, or it could be going for a run if you don’t already do it.

It could be, in my case, I’ve got ten squats, ten push-ups. So they’re little things you can do every day that prioritise positivity that you’re not already. And with our Learn with Sue programme, we challenged all the members in January to come up with a Ta-Da list. Then we all committed to doing ten things for ten days to try and build a habit of prioritising positivity in our lives.

And so, I love that I still have mine. I print the words all out on card. I chop them up, and each day II put the date on the top and I tick how many I’ve done. And it’s a way of focusing your mind on what will build positivity for you.

That’s what I do when I go to bed. I’ve ticked them off, and I go, and I put it in my diary


Tadej: I noticed that you have your signature statement in your talks and because this is the closing question, I thought we would end the interview with your statement, and that is: “Positive psychology is wonderful on good days, but it is essential on bad days.

Sue: Yeah. I’ve been saying this for many years, and when Covid hit, it made me realise it’s even more relevant. So positive psychology is wonderful on the good days and essential on the bad because, as I said, when you are having a good day, you’re not even thinking about the tools and the strategies and the things you’ve got in your toolkit. You are just sailing through life.

But if you think about when you’re having a bad day, it’s your ability to get back up. You can lean on somebody to ask for help, give help, and connect to your sense of meaning and contribution. That’s when we need these things. And I always say from a work perspective; If you are having a bad day and you’re not particularly enjoying what you’re doing, yet you remind yourself, this is why I do what I do.

This is the difference I made with that person. They’re the things that see you through. And so that’s one of my sort of mottoes, of positive psychology is not for the good days, it’s for the bad days, it’s for the challenging days, and we’ve got the tools in our toolkit. But the other saying I have, and again, I firmly believe, is “treat yourself as a scientific experiment”. So I often say to people, test it. So when we do the Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing, everyone completes assignments. So each unit has assignments. And the assignments are you taking the science and applying it.

And what’s lovely is most people assume, if you’ve ever been to university, school, or whatever, that the assignments are painful. The emails I get most from diploma students are about how much they’ve loved the assignments because they have to do them. It’s not just learning it from a book and learning it theoretically; it’s applying it in my life.

And that leads me to my other saying that I always say to people, ‘you know it, do you do it?’ Life will not change if you don’t do it. You can’t just sit on the side-lines and go, That looks great, and your life improves. You must get on the pitch and play.

Sue on a beach

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Fotografije: osebni arhiv sogovornice/personal archive



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