The Power of Positive Psychology and Healing

Wow– It’s been a while since I last blogged…and with good reason. In late December I had knee surgery– a Partial Arthroplasty– to be exact. I have a knee that has given me trouble for over 30 years…and it was time to do something about it (especially when it prevented me from doing something so simple as walking!). I’ve been active most of my life, and had an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) reconstruction 20+ years ago, and now it was time to address the arthritis, inconsistent instability and functioning.

My Orthopedic Doctor referred me to a few knee surgeons, where I meet with one that told me to come back when I was older (like in 15 years) for a full knee replacement and in the mean time learn to live with the pain. Thankfully, I followed up on another referral, Dr. V. Franklin Sechriest of the Orthopedic Medical Group of San Diego, who had a different perspective on knee health.  In meeting with Dr. Sechriest (who is one of the best doctor’s I’ve had), I learned the true reality of my knee; late stage OsteoArthritis disease. My tests were conclusive… I was a perfect candidate for a partial knee replacement as only one part of my knee was bone-on-bone. This surgery could buy me more time to enjoy a better quality of life before full-blown knee replacement surgery was necessary, hopefully 15-20 years from now. Dr. Sechriest offered me a workable solution (check out his blog on knee solutions [reader beware: medically graphic).


Before Surgery

Before Surgery

After Surgery

After Surgery


Making up my mind quickly, I went through knee replacement education, retrieved pain management medications, lined up my social support system (drivers and caregivers) and  underwent the 90-minute procedure with success.  It’s been one month since my surgery and my knee feels almost normal. I’ve gotten most of my extension back and am working on mobility and reduction of swelling. I see a physical therapist weekly and have an exercise program at home to continue the progress. I have followed the Dr’s and PT orders and am listening to my body when it needs to rest. I am so grateful for the place I am currently, and have many resources to thank… some of which include an AMAZING social network, along with key Positive Psychology principles and findings from The Science of Happiness.


Positive Psychology Healing Techniques

holdinghands Social Relationships: Other People Matter I attribute the biggest factor in my recovery to other people. Chris Peterson, one of the founding father’s of Positive Psychology, emphasizes that relationships with other people have the greatest impact on our health and well-being on many levels; psychological and physiological. I am blessed to have family and friends care and cook for me, visit, drive me and my kids places, and just “be there” for me in the case of need. As we find in “The Happiness Journey,” perceived support is as beneficial as actual support. But, in any case, both types of support were real and allowed me time to heal  and attend to my rehabilitation. My neighborhood friends even organized a meal drive, where my family was treated to wonderful warm meals. Realizing that others are concerned with my well-being, enough so to take action or send words and good wishes brings me an overflowing sense of Gratitude– which is another benefit to social relationships and is a character strength as well.

Using my Signature Strengths I’ve mentioned Signature strengths in previous posts, and put them to use during my recovery. By doing so, I turned days filled with obstacles and challenges into moments of positivity and hope. Don’t get me wrong, I did have my bad moments — asking myself “when will the swelling go way,” and longing to have my original knee in perfect condition. But in using my strengths, I took the situation in as it is, and became stronger in the moment. The strengths that I used (and still use) to help me recover were gratitude, appreciation of excellence and beauty, humor, and love of learning.

thanksgratitude

During the surgery and throughout the recovery process, I use gratitude daily. Gratitude can increase positive emotions and allows us to broaden and build our social, physical and psychological resources. Science shows when we are grateful, we are happier and healthier as we tend to take in more positive information and focus on other beings rather than ourselves. See my previous post, Get Your Gratitude On! for more info on benefits, etc. of this wonderful state and strength. The gratitude activities that I use include writing in my Gratitude Journal. I write about three unique things I am grateful for every night– from the abilities of the surgeon and advancement of technology, to the ability of my body to repair itself, to the ability of my child to care for me and bring me ice packs. Every night, I write about something different. I look for and acknowledge the good, I recognize that this goodness was the doing of someone else, and I return the kindness with the gift of gratitude.

I also mailed hand-written Thank You cards to those who helped me through this time. Those cards contained inspirational sayings like, “Begin Anywhere— just begin”, or “This is not how the story is going to end.” I purposefully picked out cards that conveyed hope and encouragement, and inside the cards reminded the recipient how much I appreciated his or her specific kindness.

Lastly, I did a shout out on Facebook to recognize those folks and others who checked on me, “liked’ my status update, or shared something up-lifting. The outpouring of support that I received from that shout out is astonishing. By reflecting on and acknowledging the good things in my life– and the fact that others were also responsible– I was able to focus on getting better and not dwell on pain or the time-table for recovery. I also noticed the ripple effect that positive emotions, such as gratitude, can really have on everyone involved. (I talk a lot about this in The Happiness Journey class that I teach).

Torrey Pines Beach, La Jolla, CAappreciation of beauty and excellence

Appreciation of beauty and excellence is another one of my signature strengths, where I feel a sense of awe and wonder at the world around me. Using this strength I observed physical beauty, skills and talents of other people, and the beauty inherent to virtue and morality in everyday experiences– thus taking my mind off my knee– and sometime putting it directly back on my knee. For example, knowing how easily the outdoors can evoke positive emotion (read “Positivity’ by Fredrickson), I ventured out to my backyard and neighborhood to just be with nature…looking around at the plants, trees and sky, hearing the birds sing and feeling the sun on my skin was a great reminder that I was alive, and very humbling. If it was too cold to go outside, I made sure to look out the windows as much as possible– just the image of nature can bring upward spirals in health. And realizing that this nature has existed for millions of year, puts everything into perspective, including a pain tugging away somewhere in my body. Also, seeing nature’s beauty allowed me to see myself as part of nature and look at my knee in a different way– appreciating its functioning in the moment.

I also had the pleasure of intently listening to beautiful music. My friend, and co-teacher of The Happiness Journey– Christine Magnussen, who plays the harp, sent me her new CD “On the Wings of a Dove. Music to Soothe the Soul.” I found the sound of the harp magical, serene and so very soothing. I would definitely recommend this CD to everyone to help start or end your day on a wonderful note.

Lastly, I watched a few inspirational movies that exemplified courage, the love of learning and perseverance. I had not seen “The Pursuit of Happyness” (with Will Smith) and found it was just what I needed. I even shared it with my kids– showing how when life throws you curve balls, you can get hit by them, catch them, or throw them back in a new direction.  “Silver-linings” was another movie I enjoyed which was definitely unique, and showed how people can change, hope and achieve their goals. I now have a side project looking at a database of movies referenced against character/signature strengths and supporting key positive psychology concepts.

humor

Humor, as a signature strength, not only involves enjoying laughter and bringing happiness to others, but also seeing the light side of life, and finding things to be cheerful about rather than letting adversity rule. Humor and laughter is also the best medicine for pain. It stretches muscles, releases endorphins and dopamine and a whole lot more.  Check out an article from Scientific American: Why Laughter May be the Best Pain Medicine for further reading. So, where did I find my laughter? From a few funny movies and TV shows:  Anchorman had me laughing endlessly, as did a few skits from the current Saturday Night Live season, “The best of season 2013”. The skit with Josh Hutcherson and “The boss with the body of a baby” is just too funny. Actually, the new crew of SNL are pretty darn talented. Which does not surprise me given many of the big comedians of our day got their start there.  Anytime I needed a dose of laughter, I either watched an episode from a recording or I YouTube the latest skits.

love of learning

love of learning

The last strength I’ve used during my recovery is the love of learning.  During this time, I learned that I needed to show self-compassion to myself. Sometimes we can have difficult experiences, and if we recognize that fact, and be with it, we can get through it. We can realize we are not alone in dealing with difficulties and that others have survived similar feats. We can then move through the difficulty and reframe it and let it go. Check out self-compassion.org for more information on that topic. I learned about guided meditations (both from self-compassion.org and positivityresonance.com) and how they can help you clear your mind and release your stress and focus on the here and now (i.e. being mindful). Lastly, I learned how intricate the human body is, and how it’s not just one bone connected to another, but all muscles and systems connected to each other. Which brings me back to gratitude and gives me a great appreciation of just how amazing the human body and mind are.

For those that are undergoing healing– either planned or not, I encourage you to use YOUR STRENGTHS to improve your healing process and find positive psychology principles that work for you. It’s not a one size fits all kind of situation… you need to figure out yourself what works for you, or identify healing activities with the help of a Well-being Coach. Drop me an email if you’d like… I’m available to help. Our road to recover is an individual matter, but you can have a smoother ride on the journey if you enlist the help of people and Positive Psychology.



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