Why University Students Need Positive Psychology

December 8, 2016

 

Last week we were delighted to run two introductory ‘Study Smarter Through Positive Psychology’ sessions at Homerton College of the University of Cambridge.

 

It was a fantastic afternoon with some of the best minds in the country, and we were delighted with how receptive and engaged they were with the sessions. 

 

A key and very promising takeaway for us at Young Happy Minds was that there is a need for what we’re doing even amongst those who society perceives as the most accomplished students. 

 

Regardless of ability, all students find student life stressful at times and going to university proves to be a difficult transitional phase for a generation who have perhaps been ill-prepared for it

 

Yet through gaining a fundamental understanding of Positive Psychology, we have allowed many young people begin to recognise how they can take active steps in their lives to both overcome their various challenges, and learn how to thrive academically and personally.

 

Here are three reasons we believe university students, in particular, need Positive Psychology in their lives, and how it could improve student life-

 

1. Technology has removed many necessary communication skills hurdles for students.

 

For all the pros of mobile phones, tablets, and other similar devices we can’t ignore the negative effects they are having on young people’s abilities to communicate.

 

Sherry Turkle, a social psychologist who has researched extensively at how people relate to technology, argues that a new phenomena of being ‘alone, together’ has caused many young people to fail to build a number of emotional, social, and interactional competencies. Her concept refers to our incessant desire to become fixated on our devices even when in physical proximity of friends and family, which causes us to "short-change out of conversation”. 

 

The problem for young people is that this is happening before they undergo many of life’s most awkward interactional settings.

 

Instead of listening to granddad’s stories, they can conceal themselves with an iPhone shield and give the impression they are listening. Instead of ‘having’ to speak to strangers at parties whilst waiting for friends to arrive, a young person can now (un)comfortably reside in the corner scrolling through feed after feed of pictures of other parties going on.

 

This is harmful as many employers now repeatedly find themselves frustrated at graduates not being able to communicate effectively. The problem is, in our work lives there are countless conversations we’d rather not have but they’re necessary. Yet technology has given us the power to choose which conversations we have and which ones we avoid. This could leave us to soon have an entire generation who can’t effectively deal with difficult conversations. 

 

Yet one of Positive Psychology’s pillars is that of ‘Relationships’ and we at Young Happy Minds teach young people the importance of relationships, how to cultivate them, and improve them through real conversation. Our programmes have helped increased both the self-esteem and resilience levels of young people, which are two of them most important ingredients in being able to communicate successfully. 

 

2. Students are bombarded by the bad and the bad alone

 

Students have always been given a hard time and their existence in the media is nearly wholly driven towards the negative. Couple that with students’ constant connection to social media and very quickly they become besieged by dire news about their existence. 

 

Media representations of students usually focus on topics such as: astronomical fees/debt, graduate unemployment, the student mental health crisis, exam stress, dissertation boredom, and cowboy student-house landlords, 

 

Such representations can very easily become internalised and influence self-concept, which can be harmful to students in a variety of ways. With such a gloomy image this can lead students to facing serious mental health issues, having a lack of motivation, and buying into a notion that their efforts are often futile.

 

However, another key aspect of Positive Psychology is the re-training of the brain to actively seek out the positive. A number of exercises around gratitude journaling and positive emotion recognition can offer young people an insight into how tuning into the positive more regularly, can dramatically improve one’s ability to cultivate more happiness in their life. 

 

3. Students now want meaningful careers but there’s little help offered to find them

 

Young people of today, often termed ‘millennials’, have expressed a greater desire than generations before to do something for a living that actually means something to them and gives them a sense of purpose

 

Yet a huge problem is that changes have not been made by both career services and employers to help this generation find careers that will be meaningful to them. Many students we have spoken to express concern at not being given good career advice and that they feel pressured to land places on grad schemes with prestigious firms. This may be why only 29% of this generation is currently engaged with their jobs (Gallup, 2016) and 66% currently want to change careers (London School of Business and Finance, 2015). 

 

What Positive Psychology offers is the opportunity for students to learn what their personal strengths are, what is meaningful to them, and how to start taking action in striving for professional purposeful goals.

 

Summary

 

It’s apparent that student life is not all fun and play, and that many student desire forms of support that can help them best get through their three or four years in higher education. What Positive Psychology offers is a non-invasive set of trainings and tools to help students improve their relationships and communication skills, retune their focus onto the positives, and enable them to develop lives of true meaning and purpose. 

 

And, surely these are all things we want the next generation to be equipped in when it’s their turn to take the reigns of society? 

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