During the past months I’ve tried really hard to work at being happy.  As I write this we’re in the middle of our Covid Lockdown #3 and it’s a grand effort to keep positive. Challenges are magnified and I miss my family and friends so much.  Some days I feel so drained and exhausted  and all I want to do is bury my head underneath the duvet and not come out.    

Happiness is definitely something we need to work at, especially in the face of adversity.  In our pursuit of happiness at LOOK, we discovered a positive Psychologist called Martin Seligman.  

Known as one of the founders of positive psychology, Seligman came up with a guide to happiness called the PERMA model.   PERMA can be used as a tool  to help everyone find more meaning and contentment in our lives.   And we love it here at LOOK.  We’ve built it into our peer support programmes, to  understand how we achieve greater  emotional well-being.

So what is it?  

P = Positive Emotion 

E = Engagement 

R = Relationships 

M = Meaning 

A = Accomplishment  

Each of these pillars  are inter-connected.   Let’s explore what it means to us at LOOK.   

Close-up photo of Charlotte's daughter's PERMA poster, focusing on the letters P, E, R, M, A and the two stick figures.

P = Positive Emotion:   

This is the most important pillar of PERMA. 

To BE HAPPY, we need to THINK HAPPY. The idea is to try to be optimistic, making a conscious effort to recognise the highs as well as the lows, taking a constructive and solution-focused approach to any challenges we face.      

It is so difficult to stay positive in the face of injustice and sometimes obvious discrimination.  At LOOK we know how hard this is. I experience this as a VIP.   The frustrations of not getting the help I need when I go in to my local shop; dealing with my feelings of exclusion when I can’t  take part in activities like  sighted peers; the memory of how difficult school and university was without the equipment and support I needed to learn and reach my full potential;  the  grief I feel when I know my sight is fading away everyday.   

VI people have rights and needs that need to be met. We all have a basic right to have our bodily needs met (food when we are hungry, warmth when we are cold), but we also all have a right to equal access to chances for education, creativity, social and physical stimulation. Accessibility and inclusion is what we’re all striving for. VI children should be included in schools and local communities, have friends and access to opportunities like anyone else. They should be able to get the support and assistive tech they need. Coming to terms with sight loss would be made much easier if we didn’t face barriers such as inaccessibility and exclusion.   

The P in PERMA is there to remind us that we are stronger and more able to fight these injustices if we do not let them beat us down. A smile is a deadly weapon against adversity. A deep breath and a shake out of the shoulders can sometimes give us the boost we need to find another solution to another challenge and fight another day. 

How do we build Positivity into our services at LOOK?

Photo of 3 young women wearing yellow waterproofs on board a boat, arms around each other and smiling at the camera.

There is so much beauty and joy in the world.  At LOOK we work hard to help our community to recognize the positives, and to celebrate the extraordinary talent, tenacity, resourcefulness, resilience, humour and courage we all have inside us.

At our fab weekly parents support group, parents share their intense  difficulties, and worries. They often feel so confused and exhausted having to fight for the right to an equal education for their child. I am constantly so impressed by the resilience of our community and the ability to cope. The power of peer sharing  can always turn negativity into  positivity.   

We build positive emotion and  the ability to view negative experiences constructively into everything we do. Mentors encourage their mentees to talk about challenges they may face coming to terms with sight loss, in education, mobility confidence and general access needs. Mentors then share their tips on how to overcome these challenges in a positive constructive way. 

We make sure to find the time to have fun at LOOK. Our youth forums, activities, support groups and events all give opportunities to laugh it off, sing it out, or shout about it, whatever we’re feeling. This sharing of experience – whether good or bad – is what it’s all about. Together we are stronger, more able to cope, HAPPIER people. Let the POSITIVTY flow.  

E =  Engaged  

Photo of members of the LOOK team, Mentors, Mentees and family members all stood in front of a climbing wall giving the thumbs up to the camera!

We all need to feel engaged with the world around us, to have access to activities we can become absorbed in and enjoy.

Seligman says that we need to take part in activities that fully immerse us:  interests that take us away from the stresses and strains of life. Listening to books and music, playing sports, getting creative, whatever your hobby, it’s important to enjoy fun things that make us feel good.    

As a VIP it can be challenging sometimes to find activities that are accessible or fully enjoyable without full sight. This can be especially difficult when newly diagnosed with sight loss, and there can be a feeling that life is over. Hopelessness can set in. 

Know-how about how to overcome barriers to activities, knowledge about the multitude of accessible pastimes, hobbies and sports there are out there does not just come naturally or fall out of the sky. This information and wisdom has to be learnt, passed on. 

LOOK’s approach to being ENGAGED.

At LOOK we know that a community is a hub of vital information and knowledge. We learn every day from our young people, mentors and parents / carers about the amazing accessible activities there are to get involved in, from jewellery making to blind ice hockey. Through our mentoring programme, peer support groups and information events we connect VI musicians, writers, runners, jockeys, thespians, cheerleaders – a world of talented VI people – with younger or less experienced VIPs for tips and information sharing. This connection, role modelling and inspiration helps us all to grow our horizons and feel ENGAGED. 

R  = Relationships

Photo of LOOK Mentors, members of the LOOK team, friends of LOOK and family members sat and stood on a lawn with hands in the air, smiling and waving a yellow 'LOOK' banner.

Friendships and relationships give deep meaning to life.   

Feeling connected to others is crucial for happiness. We are social animals who depend on others. We need love and intimacy. 

Visual impairment can cause isolation and feelings of exclusion. Isolation happens in so many ways. It doesn’t always mean being alone. I feel very isolated when I feel I’m coping alone coming to terms with my VI. VI  is a low incidence disability and often a VI person or VI child might be the only one in their immediate community, school, family or friendship group. This can lead to feelings of difference, like you’re an alien sometimes, which can be very confusing and lonely.    

It’s so important to support VI people to deal with feelings of exclusion. It’s often not easy to make friends and feel part of a group when you can’t see and the world feels inaccessible. Many of us need support to move around and be independent. It can take a lot of courage to let others know what our needs are, as so often we don’t want to make a fuss, we just want to fit in. 

How LOOK Supports Young People in Developing Relationships

That’s why at LOOK we help our young VIPs to gain the confidence to communicate about their visual impairment – with teachers, classmates, potential employers, the guy behind the counter at the local shop. Mentors help their mentees come to terms with and practice doing this, so that it becomes a part of daily life and not something to feel stressed or embarrassed about. Our mentoring programme is led by the wishes of the mentee, so this is not forced, it is just something that comes up a lot, usually after the mentor and mentee have really got to know each other and built up a good level of trust.

It’s also really important that we have friends who share an understanding of what we are going through – people we can be relaxed with, and not have to explain things to. Our youth forums and peer support groups give us all a chance to meet other VI people who just get it.  

Relationships and role models have shaped my personality, given me confidence and helped me to be included in life. I feel so lucky to have a supportive family, to be married and have spent transformational years travelling round the world and studying. All these connections have shaped who I am today. Meeting people who believed in me – and having connections with other VI people who could show me what is possible, has helped me to learn to live with confidence as a VI person. 

We all need to deal with this and find connections. That’s why we do what we do here at LOOK.  We connect people for peer support and that connection can help us feel joy.

M = Meaning 

Photo of youngster Jack, playing his Saxophone, stood in front of his music stand.

Steligman explains that to be happy we must have a sense that our lives have meaning. Where and how we find meaning for our lives is very personal and will be different for every individual. This might be a spiritual sense of meaning or it might be more about pursuing a particular interest. For many it may be about feeling we are making a positive contribution to the world around us, by being active in our community or in fighting for changes we believe in.

At LOOK we believe it is vital that all VI people feel empowered to influence the world in which we all live; to be engaged in shaping the world around us. There can be a tendency for some people to view disabled people as passive recipients of care, or as needy rather than needed. At LOOK we believe passionately in giving people the tools to shape their communities and gain the confidence to take opportunities to grow, explore, improve and build our world. We hear so often from our mentors about how satisfying and empowering it is to be actively engaged in helping others through mentoring. 

“It’s amazing to have the chance to do something meaningful, that I know I would have benefitted from so much myself when I was younger. And it’s not just about helping others. It’s also a great laugh and I’ve made loads of new friends.”  (LOOK mentor)

A = Accomplishment 

LOOK Mentor Lacey making a willow structure at LOOKFest.

To be HAPPY, it’s so important that we recognize and feel proud of our achievements.  Seligman suggests that we set ourselves achievable goals and enjoy our success as we achieve them. 

Goal setting is a major part of the LOOK mentoring programme. Mentors and mentees set goals together to give structure to the relationship. We want all young people to feel achievement when they’ve finished the mentoring process and be able to reflect on how far they have come. 

The goals people set themselves are really varied and often what might seem like small things can have an absolutely transformational effect on our stress levels or our ability to access the world around us. A really small thing on paper, like plucking up the courage to ask to be moved to a different place in the classroom – away from a bright window, or closer to the board, can have a huge effect on our daily lives and our general wellbeing. 

What are your goals?

There is no end point to goal setting, it is something we can revise and keep working on forever. For many people visual impairment changes all the time. It is not often a completely static state. Also our moods and levels of tiredness can have a huge impact on our sight and how well we are able to cope with our impairments. 

As a person with deteriorating sight, my goals have changed over the years. When I was younger a huge goal was to bite the bullet and learn to use a white cane. This felt like a massive challenge at first. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. With work – and help from amazing VI role models, I built the confidence to do it. Once I had crossed over that hump, the world opened up to me. Now it seems crazy that I ever denied myself access to so many things. My new goal is to learn to be more skillful at using speech software on my computer. Again, I feel so lucky to have so many brilliant tech-savvy LOOK members around me to call on for help and advice. I couldn’t do it without them.  

Find your tribe with LOOK

Without the right tools and support, VI people find it hard to thrive. Being connected to support like ours means that you can explore ways to cope and feel confident and hopeful about the future.

It is so important to meet others who have lived experience just like your own – to find your tribe. At LOOK we want to be that tribe, for all VI young people. We want a world where nobody has to cope alone, where we are connected and strong, where we have the tools and the support we need to be HAPPY.