On April 16 and 17, 2008, some of the leading authorities on Positive Psychology came together in Singapore to highlight research findings about happiness and well-being at the Simply-Happy conference. Speakers including Martin Seligman, George Vaillant, and Sonja Lyubomirsky spoke to an audience of 250 attendees. Global Leadership Academy (GLA) organized the conference, and below are some highlights of the events as told by GLA CEO Philip Merry.
Senia Maymin: How did the conference go?
Philip Merry: It all went pretty well – we had a full house of 250 people and it seemed to be real well received by everybody. We had a variety of govt psychologists from the police, health, prison and education departments as well as HR and training people from Multi Nationals. Most were from Singapore thought we had attendees from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand
Senia: Who were some of the speakers that people in the audience seemed to really resonate with?
Philip: All speakers were well received and of course Martin Seligman’s session went down well. Participants seemed though to resonate most with the Session by Proff David Chan from Singapore Management University, who really helped us understand the Singapore context of happiness and well-being.
Senia: What was the highlight of the conference for you?
Philip: Along with the conference, I had run a search for Singapore’s happiest person. This seems to have gone down real well with Singaporeans and we had real good press and over 200 applicants. The story reached over 20 countries with headlines like “Stressed Singapore searches for its happiest.” We awarded the prize at the conference and that was the [highlight] for me. The prizes were presented by Teresa Hsu who is 110 years old – and that was pretty special.
Senia: What surprised you the most about the conference?
Philip: The number of people who came up to me and said that the sessions had bowled them over and that they were evaluating their life goals and purpose based on what they had heard. I run a pretty successful global leadership consultancy and this was my first conference and my intention was to get Singapore talking about happiness. So to achieve these goals in the way we did was fantastic. In the week of the conference, we had five breakfast TV appearances, numerous press articles, and local radio came to broadcast from the show. I never expected such coverage and it was personally gratifying that what started as an idea in my head 6 months ago was able to manifest so well
Senia: Given this conference, what are the expectations for when and how the next Singapore or other positive psychology conference might be held?
Philip: I am already planning for the 2nd Asian Happiness Conference in 2009 and am in talks to increase the Asian content and speakers. If there is one criticism, it’s that we did not have enough Asian speakers. For example I work with the UN and govt of Bhutan and I plan to have the Speakers next year from Bhutan. There is much great research on happiness but it seems to be based on western cultural values – Positive Psychology needs to really look more at how happiness is seen in different cultures. I don’t mean just seeing how Asians respond to western notions of happiness – but would like to look at whether Asian cultural values change the very definition of happiness.
I agree with Philip – PP is very western focused. Eastern approaches such as mindfulness are often overlooked in the goal focused western world.
As an aside I did a seminar with Chris Peterson which was titled North of Neutral and my big question is what is wrong with neutral.
Interesting about your thought about neutral. I think Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener’s upcoming book will shed light on some of that.
Additionally, a couple of our authors, Jordan Silberman and Miriam Ufberg, especially write a lot on mindfulness.
Have you seen Ellen Langer’s research on mindfulness, and have you heard Barb Fredrickson speak about some of her new studies? I can link to some of the Ellen Langer things if you like.
I’m not familiar with Ellens work – some links would be good.
MRI research shows that people high on mindfulness have lower amygdala activity. As soon as people take the judgement out of what they do they are generally happier.
And this is the problem with PP – the word positive is a huge value judgement.
I have been playing with PP for about 6 years now – my partner was in one of his vanguard classes.
We have now removed the word positive from everything we do as many people will invariably think to themselves “I’m not positive” despite the fact that there is so much more to PP than being positive.
Here are some links to Ellen Langer’s research:
Wayne, as for “positive,” I used to wonder about that too. Then one day, many people in a class asked Martin Seligman about this, and as part of his answer, he noted that he had addressed this concern in his book Authentic Happiness. Wayne, I don’t know if you have the same version of it that I do. There are several points where it especially emphasizes that “positive” does not mean smiley, good, happy, etc. Here are a couple of examples:
* p.7 “This book will talk about why hedonism fails and what this might mean for you. So Positive Psychology is about the meaning of those happy and unhappy moments, the tapestry they weave, and the strengths and virtues they display that make up the quality of your life.” Tal Ben-Shahar says similarly that positive psychology is the permission to be human, which includes both good and bad things.
* The footnote in the “Positive Feeling…” chapter. In my book, the footnote references the sentence on page 6 that starts ‘So it may come.’ The footnote describes positive, negative, and neutral, and emphasizes that positive psychology is about the choice: what would people choose on the plus or preferred state (for events, emotions, reactions, etc.)? So sometimes, as in after death, people would choose sadness, and so sadness becomes a component of positive psychology. What would people freely choose – if zero is being indifferent to choosing or not and negative is people not choosing this event, this option, then ‘positive’ by this definition means those actions, events, emotions that people choose – which would absolutely include non-good events.
It’s interesting that you are looking at positive psych from the perspective of somebody who is an expert. What about the average punter? My experience is that they think it’s all about humour workshops, positive thinking etc.
And that’s the branding problem for positive psych!!!!!
I keep thinking of an early piece of research by Sonja L that suggested that happy people don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on what they do – they are engaged in their lives. So based on your definition these people are operating from neutral.
Right – for people who haven’t had a chance to take classes in or read some of the books of positive psychology, the field is presented generally as one big smiley face. Jordan Silberman wrote a great article describing exactly this conundrum in ositive Psychology in the Media: One Ninth of the Field.
That’s interesting about those people potentially operating from a neutral point – yes, potential – I’d need to look at that article more closely.
And furthermore, the above definition – while, yes, for an egghead like me who likes digging deep into the details – the above definition is about WHAT positive psychology studies… so because people choose to engage in their lives, perhaps we should study engagement and flow… so that description above about the neutral is more about what topics does pos psych study, and I’d say the answer is many – awe and elevation as well as sadness and fear.
I’m enjoying this discussion.
How can I get information about the next Asian Happiness conference in 2009?
The First Annual Asian Conference on Happiness & Its Causes will be held in Singapore on 20-21 November 2008. for more information, please visit http://www.happinessand itscauses.com.sg The Conference features 25+ speakers including Matthieu Ricard, Prof David Matsumoto (emotions), Dr Craig Hassed (wellbeing for medical students) etc, with one pre-conference workshop and 6 postconference workshops. Early bird specials end Aug 31.
2nd ASIAN NEW SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS AND WELL-BEING CONFERENCE – SINGAPORE, 2009
Hi Julie – Phil Merry here – CEO of Singapore’s Global Leadership Academy and organisor of Asia’s 1st New Science of Happiness and Well-Being Conference held in Singapore in April 2008 – see me interviewed in article that kicks off this discussion.
The 2nd Asian New Science of Happiness Conference is in planning stage – more details coming shortly – above Su Lynn is talking about a different conf. to ours which i am sure will be a great addition to what we began. Please email me at email@example.com and i will send you details of the 2009 conference
[…] With the breadth of research being done in Singapore, the country understands the relevance of positive psychology. Singapore has become something of a hub for positive psychology. For example, Singapore was the location of the 2008 positive psychology conference “Simply-Happy”. […]