Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06, former software engineer, is a coach working with professionals to increase well-being, energy, and meaning in their work lives (Theano Coaching LLC). She is also a writing coach, facilitator of writing workshops, and teacher of positive workplace concepts at the University of Maryland. Her own books include Smarts and Stamina on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits and Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life. Full bio. Kathryn's articles are here.
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth article inspired by the 2nd World Congress of the International Positive Psychology Association. The others include one on Edward Deci and Self-Determination Theory, one on Barbara Fredrickson and love, and one on awe and elevation at the movies.
James Pawelski welcomed 1,200 people from 62 countries to the opening ceremony of the IPPA World Congress on Saturday evening, July 23, 2011 in Philadelphia. Outgoing president Antonella Della Fave stressed the word International: there have been new educational programs started around the world, and new handbooks for positive psychology have been published in French and Arabic. She celebrated the availability of the new Journal of Psychological Well-Being and the high impact factor (2.1) of the Journal of Happiness Studies.Incoming president and conference chair, Robert Vallerand, described the upcoming conference: 22 invited speakers, 50 symposia and workshops, 400 posters.
Vallerand then announced the first IPPA Fellows, leaders who have contributed to the science of positive psychology and IPPA itself, since it was founded in 2007:
- Martin Seligman
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Ed Diener
- Chris Peterson
- George Vaillant
- Ray Fowler
Three of the new Fellows then gave opening addresses.
Ed Diener: Research Findings
Ed Diener started on a light note, “I’m in love with research. Also with my wife Carol, but research more. Being a practitioner is good, but I love research more.”After stating that things are coming up so quickly he can hardly keep up, he highlighted several research findings:
- Happier people have greater fertility, healthier babies, and more stable families. So according to evolution, unhappy people should be dying out. That seems to be the case — most people are at least slightly happy. Even among people with big problems, 57% say they enjoyed most of yesterday and 62% say they smiled and laughed a lot.
In a recent meta-review of over 150 studies, he and Micaela Chan concluded that we can show that high subjective well-being (SWB) causes good health and longevity. This led him to make 3 points:
- People are resilient. They usually bounce back from hardship.
- Chronic unhappiness is harmful and not normal.
- Slightly positive responses are the norm. Therefore, interventions must show more to demonstrate effectiveness.
- Some predictors of subjective well-being are universal, but others are culture specific. For example, religious people are happier … in religious countries. Extraverted people are happier … in extraverted countries; not so much difference in less extraverted countries.
- GDP and income are important to SWB, but factors other than money matter. In particular he listed four factors:
- Social support
- Social trust
- Control of one’s life
In fact, the #1 predictor of enjoyment in life is a positive answer to the question, “I learned new things and I used my abilities today.”
- The needs in Maslow’s hierarchy are important to SWB, but fulfilling needs out of order still fulfills them. He referenced work by Robert Biswas-Diener, who interviewed a man named Manoj, who is not always able to feed his family but still enjoys his work and loves his family and thinks of himself as happy.
- Meaning and purpose are important to subjective well-being. Diener showed a graph of satisfaction with life on one axis and daily affect balance on the other. The line for people with a high sense of life purpose is high and steady — life satisfaction is hardly affected by changes in daily affect. The line for people with low purpose is steep — satisfaction is highly tied to daily affect balance. It appeared to me that meaning and purpose thus become an important resilience resource.
Chris Peterson started his talk by addressing participants from Norway, telling them that we are all hurting tonight because of the tragedy there. The lesson of the 20th century is that there is no them, only us.
He chose to speak literally about the directions that positive psychology is moving. In particular it is going:
- Inward: to neuroscience. Contributions are coming from people who study the determinants of well-being in the brain.
- Outward: to culture. Culture is not a veneer on human nature; it IS human nature.
- Forward: to old age. With both this direction and the next, he mentioned the need for positive psychology equivalent to translational research, which includes T1: bench to bedside, T2: bedside to bench, and T3: extension to community.
- Backward: to childhood. He commented that we need to learn more about well-being at both ends of life.
- Between two people: He mentioned a question from a student: “How come all studies seem concerned with individual outcomes like health and wealth?” Good question!
- Among: groups of people.
Chris concluded with a wish that these directions be followed with boldness and selflessness — and the willingness to be proved wrong, since that is essential for science to make progress.Martin Seligman: Musings and Data Sources
Martin Seligman discussed progress within Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program of the US Army. The Global Assessment Tool, 105 questions that measure social, emotional, family, and spiritual fitness, has now been taken 1.3 million times, creating an enormous database that can be correlated with other health and career data. They are finding that some outcomes can be robustly predicted from GAT results. For example, half of the soldiers in the bottom 1 percentile for the questions, “My life has meaning,” and “My life in the army has meaning,” committed suicide. The Master Resilience Training (MRT) has now reached about half of the troops. In troops stationed in Korea, 80% of the suicides were from units that had not yet received training.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Army, and Penn are collaborating to open up a national database to scientists that can help answer questions about the relationship between aspects of well-being and health, such as “If you have a good marriage, how does that affect a course of antibiotics for an infection?”
Reflecting on the expense of the UK effort to measure well-being, which involves 200,000 phone calls every couple of months, Seligman raised the question, “Is it possible to measure well-being of the entire planet instantaneously?” He said there are about 80 words for positive emotions, about 2000 PERMA and anti-PERMA words, and 25,000 phrases, all of which can be counted in social networking artifacts online. He mentioned a collaboration with Google and Facebook to explore mapping out PERMA and anti-PERMA changes around the world as they occur by measuring changes in the occurrence of these words and phrases. (For a definition of PERMA, see Dr. Seligman’s book Flourish, or search PPND for PERMA.)
Positive Neuroscience awarded grants to 15 young neuroscientists one year ago. The first retreat to explore initial results will occur in about a week.
Seligman touched on positive education, positive humanities, even positive press and journalism. He mentioned an argument he’d had with Bill Moyers, who claimed that journalism is about uncovering what is hidden. Seligman responded that if that’s the view, the best we will ever do is reach zero. We also need journalism that praises what’s worthy.
Mentioning the planetary goal of 51% flourishing by 2051, Seligman concluded with a call to action, that all in the room be not just witnesses but also contributors.
Diener, E. & Chan, M. (2011). Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. 3(1), 1-43. Request a reprint here
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.
All pictures were taken at the IPPA conference by Kaori Uno. Thank you, Kaori, for permission to use them.