Over three hundred delegates convened on Friday April 8th for the Leading to Well-Being Conference held at George Mason University and co-sponsored by the Center for Consciousness and Transformation and the MasonLeads program. The conference brought together scholars, leaders and practitioners who are experts in the fields of well-being and leadership with a focus on the intersection of positive psychology and leadership. We spoke with Nance Lucas, Executive Director at the Center for Consciousness & Transformation and asked her why this conference theme was so important. She responded, “We are committed to raising people’s awareness around the science of well-being and positive psychology and helping people apply this in their lives personally, organizationally, and in their communities.”
Morning Keynote on Global Flourishing
Seligman highlighted his continued movement away from associating positive psychology with the smiley face. The PERMA model includes things that don’t necessarily bring a smile to your face, but are still significant factors for improving well-being. For example, when we are fully engaged in an activity that brings us flow, we are not necessarily experiencing any emotions at that time, and yet the experience of flow can bring significant improvements in well-being. Dr. Seligman spoke extensively of what he called a “moonshot goal,” that at least 51% of the population will be flourishing by the year 2051.Dr. Seligman discussed his association with initiatives of the US Army, including programs underway to teach the Penn Resilience Training skills to over 1 million soldiers. This program is designed to create an army that is as psychologically resilient as it is physically resilient, and it is turning into one of the largest psychological studies ever performed. He spoke about new findings that have yet to be released on suicide rates in the Army. To date, a significant number of soldiers have taken the Global Assessment Tool (GAT), an assessment designed by leading scholars under the leadership of Dr. Chris Peterson. The GAT provides a person with a baseline in four areas of fitness: emotional, social, spiritual, and family. Using the GAT, soldiers can track self-development in these areas over time. Sadly, there were 84 suicides in 2010. A preliminary look at GAT data reveals that those soldiers who committed suicide tended to have low scores on the spiritual questions, such as “My life has meaning and purpose.” While it is too soon to draw firm conclusions, Dr. Seligman was very encouraged about how much we can learn from this enormous sample about well-being and the prevention of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lunchtime Keynote on the Power of HopeThe lunchtime keynote was given by Dr. Shane Lopez, Senior Scientist in Residence with the Gallup Organization, who spoke about hope. A dynamic speaker, Dr. Lopez engendered hope in the audience by sharing video and audio clips of what he calls ‘Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals’ like Tererai Trent and Andy DeVries. He presented data showing a positive correlation between hope and increased academic performance and school attendance, as well as a positive relationship between hope and job performance. As the lunchtime speaker, he struck the perfect balance between analysis of data and entertainment.
Part of Dr. Lopez’s presentation is available online here at least temporarily.
A Selection of the Breakout Sessions
The breakout sessions included other prominent positive psychologists such as Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, whose new focus of research is shared emotions. We look forward to learning more about how this work progresses. Positive psychology (and psychology in general) suffers from over-emphasis on the individual. Her new research focus supports Dr. Seligman’s view that Dr. Fredrickson is the “genius of positive psychology.”
Felicia Huppert, professor of psychology and Director of the Well-being Institute at the University of Cambridge presented her definition of flourishing and her findings in a recent European study on flourishing. An excellent report on her presentation can be found here.
Bill Robertson, Founding Principal of Positive Enterprise Institute and Former CEO of Weston Solutions and Fran Nurthen, the Director of the Mason Institute for Leadership Excellence, conducted an interactive session based on the World Café Model, modeling positive emotion (giving people a voice) and positive engagement. Participants discussed the questions: “What are the challenges of Leading to Well Being?” and “What are the leadership dimensions and leadership outcomes for leaders of well being?” This led to a rare conference moment with participants being producers of the intellectual product rather than passive recipients of it. Robertson and Nurthen also presented a Generative Leadership Model for Well-being. Readers interested in this topic can help further the discussion by contacting Fran Nurthen at GMU.
One of the most compelling breakouts was titled Be Your Own Muse: Reimaging Time, Power and Choice. Dr. Neil Stroul is a leadership coach and founding faculty member of Georgetown University’s Leadership Coaching Program. This interactive workshop paired participants and took them through a series of exercises examining their relationships with the past, present, and future, as well as exploring how people construct their own personal narratives. He discussed work by Philip Zimbardo on time. We eagerly anticipate Dr. Stroul’s forthcoming book, UUN: Up Until Now, which explores these ideas in more depth.Of course, you know that any time Todd Kashdan speaks that there will be some thought-provoking ideas. After reading Kashdan’s criticisms of MAPP and positive psychology over the years, we were pleased to finally meet him in person. It is our opinion that positive psychology is served well when we are intellectually challenged, and we believe Kashdan continues to do just that. One interesting thing he discussed is that positive and negative emotions cannot be considered bad or good until you determine the context in which they are experienced. If we are in an abusive marriage, for example, and we begin to experience more and more anger about our situation and this compels us to leave the marriage, then our negative emotions have served us well. These negative emotions in fact improve our overall well-being. So it is not about focusing on being happy all the time, (which he claims can actually reduce our well-being). It is about knowing when to use our positive and negative emotions in pursuit of a life well lived.
The lineup of speakers was truly impressive, and we look forward to attending next year.
References used by Shane Lopez on Hope:
Gallagher, M. W. & Lopez, S. J. (2009). Positive expectancies and mental health: Identifying the unique contributions of hope and optimism. The Journal of Positive Psychology: Dedicated to furthering research and promoting good practice, 4(6), 548-556.
Gallagher, M. W., Lopez, S. J. and Preacher, K. J. (2009), The Hierarchical Structure of Well-Being. Journal of Personality, 77: 1025–1050.
Peterson, S. J. and Byron, K. (2008), Exploring the role of hope in job performance: results from four studies. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 29: 785–803. doi: 10.1002/job.492
Huppert, F. A. and So, T. T. C (2009). What percentage of people in Europe are flourishing and what characterises them? Well-Being Institute, University of Cambridge; Prepared for the OECD/ISQOLS meeting, Measuring subjective well-being: an opportunity for NSOs? Florence – July 23/24, 2009
Huppert, F. A., Marks, N., Clark, A., Siegrist, J., Stutzer, A., Vittersø, J. & Wahrendorf, M. (2009) Measuring well-being across Europe: Description of the ESS Well-being Module and preliminary findings. Social Indicators Research, 91(3), 301-315. Abstract
Huppert, F. A., Baylis, N. & Keverne, B. (Eds). (2006). The Science of Well-Being. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.
Zimbardo, P. & Boyd, J. (2009). The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life. Free Press.
Zimbardo, P. (2010). The Secret Powers of Time. RSA Animate talk.
Zimbardo, P. (2009). Philip Zimbardo Describes a Healthy Take on Time. TED Talk.
Images from the conference are used courtesy of the authors. Todd Kashdan’s picture is from his web site.