Spring into Spring with the Bristol Wellbeing College

Can seasonal change really put a spring in our mental health’s step? Our Bristol Wellbeing College blogger, Chrissy, talks about spring, the science of joy, and how we may have more influence over our happiness than we think.

You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming.

Pablo Neruda

Vaguely threatening and Game of Thrones-adjacent as it may be, this quote from Pablo Neruda is one of my favourite season-based quotes of all time.

It encapsulates a sense I’ve always had that Spring is the most important season for wellbeing. It’s a season that rolls around just as the days feel the longest and darkest, and wearing flip flops feels like a long-forgotten dream.

Spring is a season of change, the beginning of a new life cycle for everything on Earth.

Green buds are appearing on trees, the days are beginning to lengthen and warm up – lambs are a thing again.

On top of this, people just seem cheerier in the Spring.

A 2008 study from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health found that serotonin transporters (brain widgets that remove serotonin) are less abundant in the Spring and Summer.

Serotonin levels affect our confidence, happiness and self-esteem. More of it makes you feel energised and happy.

But our reasons for feeling optimistic in spring can be psychological, as well as physiological, according to clinical psychologist Linda Blair.

“As mammals, we are very sensitive to light and with more light comes… happy things that we see as positive,” she says.

“But as humans we know this is on the horizon with spring, so this in turn boosts our mood.”

Spring and positive psychology

Over the last couple of decades, scientists studying the science of happiness have discovered that we are more in control of our happiness than we might think.

This is outlined through the happiness pie chartsuggested by researchers Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon M. Sheldon, and David Schkade.

Although 50% of our happiness is determined by genetics (thanks Mom), 40% is completely within our control, while only 10% is affected by life circumstances.

We literally get to choose to be happy.

But ok, let’s take it back a few steps because obviously it’s not as simple as just deciding to be a happy person or we’d all be Barney the Dinosaur and no one wants that.

The key to choosing happiness is a concept first posited by Martin Seligman, (known as the founding father of positive psychology), called learned optimism.

Learned optimism teaches that happiness can be cultivated into long-term, endless joy, through education and training (training like the free courses offered by the Bristol Wellbeing College).

Finding joy

Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of the book Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness has also performed significant research on the science of joy.

Through her research, Fetell Lee identified 10 aesthetics of joy:

  1. Energy
  2. Abundance
  3. Freedom
  4. Harmony
  5. Play
  6. Surprise
  7. Transcendence
  8. Magic
  9. Celebration
  10. Renewal

She believes that all these things can be found in the world around us right now if we just know how to find them.

Joyful begins with five questions designed to help readers to identify the joy they already have access to in their day-to-day lives.

She asks:

  • How often do you laugh?
  • Who are the most joyful people in your life and how often do you see them?
  • How often do you find joy in your work?
  • What activities bring you the most joy?
  • What are your ’happy places’?

Fetell Lee emphasises the importance of living life authentically or, more importantly, removing the inauthentic parts of your life.

Living authentically

I know it sounds a bit wind chimes and patchouli, but removing the parts of your life that don’t feel like you is crucial to joy.

So many of us fill up hours, even days, of our week doing things that we think we should be doing, rather than the things that we want to do.

Perhaps you do things to avoid arguments, or just think that’s the way ‘someone like you’ should do things.

I have a little insight here.

Before the pandemic my entire social life revolved around drinking and going to the pub. I found myself having too many hangovers, struggling with other areas of my life, and surrounded by people that made me feel sad or stressed.

But as a Cool Young Thing™ living my best life in the city, that’s what I’m supposed to do, right?

Well, after the pandemic caused a force reset on my entire existence, I started to challenge my ideas of what I enjoyed and tried to start noticing the things I actually enjoyed.

Turns out I’m an artist. I want to spend my evenings running around all covered in paint or chalk or glue and having nice quiet conversations with people I really like.

For my entire adult life, I’ve needed alcohol in order to socialise, because otherwise my anxiety would prevent me from getting past the front door.

Today, I haven’t had a sip of alcohol in 5 months, have made lots of nice new friends and just spent a wonderful weekend with my bestie, during which we drank tea and looked at castles and almost got blown into the sea.

I don’t need alcohol to be me, I only need alcohol to pretend to be the person I thought I should be.

Back to joy

So how can you live life authentically in the pursuit of joy?

It all starts with one little tool – a gratitude journal.

The connection between gratitude and happiness cannot be overstated, and a gratitude journal trains you to start looking out for moments of gratitude that help you to feel more rooted in the small pleasures of your everyday life.

Heard it all before?

Sasha of Frank & Feel has a new perspective that you can hear more about on the Quiet Matters podcast, and which feels like a lot less pressure than a whole journal.

Sasha suggests making a list of ‘tiny delights’ that you add to as and when you notice them.

Tiny delights

Say you’re sat on a phone call, on hold to a company you’d rather not speak to, which is taking up a big portion of your day that you didn’t want to lose.

Instead of being frustrated and raging at the situation, use this time to recognise what is actually delightful about the situation.

Perhaps you’re sat in a warm bar of sunshine that is gently warming your feet, which are in fuzzy bunny socks that always make you smile. You could get up and light a warm, musk-scented candle and make a perfect cup of tea to enjoy in this moment where otherwise you would be busy getting on with your other tasks.

You aren’t stuck on hold and wasting your day, you’ve just won a brilliant moment of peace in the middle of a Monday afternoon AND you get to listen to a crackly version of Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself 12 times in a row.

Once you develop the habit of noticing and writing down these tiny delights, you may even find that you begin to create them – little acts of intentional self-care that make each day feel like springtime.

Y’all take care now,

Chrissy xx

Sign up to free mental health and wellbeing courses in Bristol

Put your mental health first this spring. The Bristol Wellbeing College offers free, fun and flexible workshops and courses, both in-person and online, to adults in Bristol to help improve mental health and wellbeing.

Our courses cover a wide range of topics, from sessions on managing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, to creative workshops on art and writing. We also offer a weekly online Wellbeing Café where you can learn more about us and talk about wellbeing.

We offer different kinds of sessions to suit all needs, from one-off workshops if you just want to dip your toe, to in-depth, multi-session courses for dedicated learners.

How to apply to the Bristol Wellbeing College

You can apply to sign up directly through our website – you don’t need to be referred. Visit our Bristol Wellbeing page to find out more about the courses and workshops we offer and how to sign up.

If you have any questions:

Email: bristol.wellbeing.college@second-step.co.uk Call: 0117 914 5498

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