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Aug. 17, 2018

By Dr. Jesse Wheeler, MD
2018 Positive Psychology certificate graduate

I’ll confess: I had essentially no idea what positive psychology was when I first read about Wilfrid Laurier University's Certificate in Positive Psychology. I certainly didn’t know how there could be an entire certificate dedicated to improving one’s well-being. I almost brushed it off. As a practical kind of guy, stuff about strengths, relationships, self-care and growth initially sounded ait fluffy (visions of gurus, rainbows and unicorns danced through my head at one point).

Wow, was I in for a surprise after enrolling in the program.

‘I was burning out.’

Despite a career in family medicine that should be full of energy and meaning, I often felt exhausted and cynical. I was burning out. Deep down, part of me knew that I needed to do something different but I just didn’t know what.

I was in the process of researching distance education for new career paths when I came across Laurier’s positive psychology certificate. Enrolling was a bit of a leap of faith but I never would have imagined the change that the following months would bring to my life and my well-being.

I considered options offered by other schools but Laurier’s certificate stood out to me for three reasons.

Firstly, the online format allowed me to integrate the certificate work into my existing schedule, which meant that I didn’t have to travel in order to experience extraordinary teaching, discussion and mentorship. Secondly, the fact that the certificate if offered by a fantastic Canadian university ensures credibility and academic depth.

The last reason the certificate still stands out is my fellow students. Because we were learning at a distance, I had the opportunity to join an diverse, online community of peers from across the province and coutnry, and around the world. My virtual classmates were a highlight of the experience. One was a nurse working at the hospital just up the street from my clinic. Another was Canadian-trained teacher, coach and private consultant working in the Middle East. Other career backgrounds ranged from social work, to the not-for-profit sector, to recreational therapy, the education sector and beyond.

Some were early in their careers while others had years of experience to share. Some had background knowledge in positive psychology while others, like myself, experienced many concepts for the first time. The variety of peer ideas, experiences and perspectives added incredible depth and colour to our learning and quickly became a key strength of the course.

Rainbows and Unicorns? Not Here.

In terms of course content, I didn’t find rainbows and unicorns. Instead, I found a multitude of real-world tips, tools, practices and habits that have helped build my own well-being and the well-being of my relationships and workplace. I was incredibly surprised by how much of the course content I could immediately use to help me find more joy and be more resilient. I was never one who liked to journal but I found that the weekly reflections helped bring the course content to life and further consolidate my learning. Finally, the breaks between modules provided space for additional reading, reflection, implementation and work on our capstone projects – transferring the tools and concepts from our course work to our workplaces and those we serve.

This course is more than I could have ever imagined. It has provided dozens of tips and frameworks that I continue to share with my patients and colleagues. I experience more moments of joy now than I can ever recall having because I'm more present in the moment and better attuned to seeing the amazing things I previously took for granted. I experience greater meaning in my work because I've come to see it through lenses of kindness, sharing, family, connection and community. I'm less reactive because I've learned through meditation (which I never really understood and certainly didn’t think I could do) to take a step back from the endless river of thoughts, emotions and stories that our minds generate, even if it is only for an instant before I need to begin again.

A Happy Ending

I'm more patient because I can lean on strengths of humour, open-mindedness or persistence in times of challenge. I’ve come to see stress in a breakthrough new light, looking at it as a marker for meaning, engagement and opportunity. I’ve learned that we get upset not by what happens to us but the way that we think about what happens to us. Changing where we focus our attention can have dramatic effects on our happiness!

I'm healthier now than ever before because I take better care of my whole self (physical, psychological, social and spiritual) than ever before.

Sound interesting?

I think my classmates would agree that no matter what you do for work or where you are in your education or career, the positive psychology certificate experience is transformative. I say that in the most genuine way possible as someone who had more than a hint of scepticism at the start.

A key theme that runs through the course is what we pay attention to will grow. As it turns out, well-being is not a light switch – we can’t just be happier. Instead, well-being is the product of many active and on-going processes of pausing, noticing, framing and directing our minds in new, more productive ways. These practices are what this course is about.

There is no incense or mysticism here unless you want there to be. Instead, this is a fantastic, real-world investment in your resilience and well-being.

So, if you’re thinking about studying positive psychology or are just searching for something more about how to make life better, I implore you to take a leap of faith into this certificate.

You will change. Your relationships will change. Your work will change. And through that, you’ll start to see the ways that the world actually changes too.

You won’t regret it. I promise.

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