Three Lessons for Creating Flourishing: Highlights of the 2nd Applied Positive Psychology Conference
Timothy So, Msc, is a PhD candidate in Psychology in the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry. He is a Research Associate of Cambridge University's Well-being Institute and a Chartered Occupational Psychologist. Timothy is also responsible for both the Traditional and the Simplified Chinese PPND sites. Full bio.
At the beginning of April, the three-day 2nd Applied Positive Psychology Conference was held at the University of Warwick organized by CAPP. Many of the greatest scholars, thinkers and practitioners in the field were brought together to exchange their views and offer ideas on how to apply the wisdom of positive psychology in our community at the biannual conference. In this review article, I highlight three lessons which inspired me the most from three different perspectives – individual, organizational, and community – to help create flourishing:
It was a real pleasure to attend Fredrickson’s keynote while I was waiting to get from my friend her new publication in 2009 – Positivity. As a real scholar and scientist, Fredrickson presented her latest evidence and research findings as featured in her book.If you still hold the myth that positive psychology is solely about joy and happiness, Fredrickson would have surprised you by starting her presentation with the bright side of negative emotions: “although negative emotions weight people down and make us feel lifeless and stuck, they’re still valuable” to make sure we understand that positive and negative emotions should work together in order for the boat to sail smoothly.
Andre Gide (French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature) once said:
“Know that joy is rarer, more difficult, and more beautiful than sadness. Once you make this all-important discovery, you must embrace joy as a moral obligation.”
No matter who you are, you must at least once have experienced joy and happiness. We all know how it feels. The problem we are facing however, is that we don’t know how to broaden, open up, and embrace our joy. Fredrickson’s Broaden-and-Build theory will help. “Positivity broadens our minds and expands our range of vision,” said Fredrickson. Under the broaden effect, negative emotions could be undone, while innovation and much-needed mental space can be created. Positivity also builds lasting resources for our life, according to Fredrickson. It lets us become stronger, wiser, more resilient and more socially integrated. The findings and arguments are not simply poetic, but from investigations on the experiences of thousands of people either by herself or other scientists around the world. (For example, you may refer to Fredrickson & Branigan, 2005 or Fredrickson, 2009). I sincerely recommend readers of PPND to purchase her new book, Positivity, for further reading (review forthcoming on PPND).
Organizational Perspective – Karen Stefanyszyn, Aviva
Karen Stefanyszyn, head of Organizational Development in Aviva (former Norwich Union, UK’s biggest insurer), probably demonstrated one of the best applications of positive psychology in workplace. Collaborating with CAPP, Aviva embarked a strength-based journey, which applies a strength-based approach to recruitment and development – enabling people to work to their strengths, be happier as a result and perform at a higher level. Starting from recruitment advertising, Aviva holds the principle of recognizing and valuing individuals’ distinguished strengths. Thus, Aviva is recruiting people who “are made for the job” rather than people who “are able to do the job.”
From Stefanyszyn’s keynote, it is not difficult to notice a paradigm shift from “competency” to “strengths” as a central tenet of Aviva’s new approach. “A key component in helping people be at their best at Aviva is strengths-based psychology and the importance of focusing on people’s strengths, which help develop a high-performance culture,” said Stefanyszyn. The secret is simple: moving from lamenting what employees didn’t do well to harnessing the uniqueness of people, valuing them for who they are and celebrating what they do best; from expecting people to change for their position, to matching people’s strengths with different roles.
Comparing to the traditional competency-based approach at workplace, adopting the strength-based approach in Aviva resulted in a reduction in pre-job training time by 50%, as well as 60% more case work when employee started working in the business. As what Stefanyszyn revealed, “people in Aviva are able to proudly say ‘I am somebody in Aviva; who I am and what I bring truly matters.'”
With the appealing title “The Power of Well-being: measuring what matters & transforming policy,” Marks didn’t disappoint the audiences with his great presentation. As a founder of the Centre for Well-being in New Economics Foundation, Marks first defined what he thinks about well-being: “The quality of people’s experience of their lives,” with an inspiring model of the well-being dynamic. This dynamic, according to Nic, can help us better develop our potential, work productively and creatively, build strong and positive relationships with others, and contribute to our community.
Apart from showing the interesting relationships between well-being and different sociodemographic variables including employment, martial status, income, social connectedness as well as GDP, Marks also showed us the computation of the Happy Planet Index (HPI) using consumption levels (resources used/economy footprint), life expectancy (long lives) and life satisfaction (happy), rather than national economic wealth measurements such as GDP. Costa Rica, with scores of 7.5 in life satisfaction, 78.2 in life expectation and 2.1 in consumption level, ranks third in the HPI. With similar scores in life satisfaction (7.4) and expectation (77.4), the U.S. ranks 150th in the HPI with a score of 9.5 in consumption level. Obviously, the key message delivered is that well-being does not have to be linked to high levels of consumption. In the current finical crisis, this may offer some insights to our society. For me, it is too apparent that we can live well within limitations in our environment and economy and increase our quality of life.
Following the key question being asked at the conference, “What’s the smallest thing you can do to make the biggest difference?” I intentionally structured this review article in the order from the individual to community. While the subject matter of psychology suggests that psychologists should be central to the human welfare agenda (The Psychologist), I am thinking if positive psychologist should start from individual and thus grasp a bigger vision – an organizational vision, a community vision, a national vision, a world vision – then we can dream of promoting the well-being of everyone. Lastly, I would like to send again a big gratitude to every one in CAPP who organized this fabulous conference.
Fredrickson, B., & Branigan, C. (2005). Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires. Cognition and Emotion, 19, 313-332.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
The Psychologist, vol 21, no 11.