In the interest of bringing you, our readers, a perspective from another part of the world, I interviewed Sha-en.
Amanda: Since you completed MAPP what have you been working on?
Sha-en: I have started my own educational consultancy business. My focus is on how to make positive psychology tools and research accessible to the general public. I do this by giving talks, workshops and seminars for teachers and parents. After a workshop, they are not only armed with key research from the field, they are also empowered with many research-based interventions and strategies to work with their students and children. Currently, I am looking towards designing a curriculum for schools to equip more children with the skills for psychological well-being.
This work has inspired me to think of innovative ways of delivering the research in digestible pieces to help people experience positive psychology, rather than just know the textbook definition. I challenge myself to present the research in the form of a puzzle, game, or hands-on activity so that participants not only cognitively understand the rationale, but they also feel it in the heart and in the body. Inspired by that, they find it much easier to share what they’ve learned with others, and they are more likely to practice it afterwards.
Amanda: Can you share an example of one of your creative exercises?
Sha-en: One of the fun exercises I do with schools is called the Positive Collage, a variation on Barbara Fredrickson’s Positive Portfolio. I bring out a stack of old magazines and then ask teachers to identify a positive emotion that they wish to cultivate. Students look through the magazines to find pictures that capture that emotion. For each picture, they write descriptive one-liners. Then they share their collages with a partner, and in the process savor them further. With children, this can be very engaging because they get to choose their own pictures. It also gives us insight into the way they see certain emotions. Being visual and kinesthetic in nature, most children enjoy this activity.
Amanda: Do you use some of these activities with your daughter and how has positive psychology affected your parenting style?
Sha-en: With my 3-year old, I have started a Happy Board and a Strengths Board, which we do almost every night before going to bed. The Happy Board captures the things that make her happy. An item we put on it can be anything, for example, an activity or an object. It gives me a sense of what brings her joy, and in the process, she also learns how to spell the word and we spiral into a very joyful mood before bed.
The Strengths Board is more for us as parents to share with her what we think are her strengths and collect examples of when she displayed a strength. We don’t limit it to the 24 character strengths but include all kinds of things we observe. For instance, one of her strengths is generosity. I noticed that she willingly shared her chocolate with her aunt and father without prompting. After I name her strength, though she might not immediately grasp the concept, it is still a moment of praise and affirmation for her.Positive psychology has helped me immensely as a parent. The most important thing I’ve learned is that as parents, we need to be observant and good listeners, observant to see our children’s strengths in action and good listeners so we can really listen without our own agenda and allow the child to feel heard. I find that honing these two skills has allowed me to be more composed and also enjoy being a parent a lot more. Every time we leverage a strength and listen to our child, it is an opportunity for growth for both the child and the parents. Conversely, each time we scold, identify faults, and fail to listen, we send a signal that they should not tell us anything. In the end, we have limited information on what is truly going on. It becomes a lose-lose situation.
Amanda: What was your assessment of the positive education theme at the Australian Positive Psychology and Wellbeing Conference?
Sha-en: The conference provided a comprehensive overview about the way forward in positive education. The schools that shared were passionate about using the research and concrete tools of positive education in the classroom as well as throughout the organization in order to create a culture-wide shift toward flourishing. Researchers and practitioners came together to provide insight about how research can influence application and how it is necessary to have a good conversation between both groups so that educational practices can continually be reformed.
Sha-en: I was most inspired by how the researchers and practitioners truly believed in the work they were doing and how they knew their work would move individuals and organizations towards a more flourishing state.
Amanda: What inspired you, and what did you learn at the conference?
The research presented was robust. It made a very convincing case for building on what works, and it provided concrete information on HOW to do it.
I learned a lot from Paul Wong’s work on acceptance because it is a topic often skirted over, and his honest, humorous delivery allowed people to be comfortable with the topic. Acceptance, to some people, represents giving up, and its extreme form, resignation, is not altogether helpful. However, acceptance of certain uncontrollable events can mean that a person can move from a state of helplessness towards a state of action, and that action can bring about meaningful change and growth. Personally, being able to practice Wong’s 5 pathways to acceptance was the most important thing I learned at the conference.
Amanda: And how might acceptance ideas influence your work?
Sha-en: I have not yet begun to use acceptance explicitly, but I do convey the message that there are some things we have to acknowledge we cannot change, while there are other areas where we can take action. Then I encourage participants to focus on the actionable parts and devise a rough plan to move forwards. I think in the future, I will share the 5 pathways to acceptance and begin a discussion with participants about where they are and what they hope to do to work towards a deeper level of acceptance. This will greatly enhance the section on meaning that I include in my workshops.
Amanda: How did the conference help you with your work in Singapore?
Sha-en: Throughout the conference, I was reminded of the need to provide a balanced view to people new to Positive Psychology. Also, it allowed me to re-examine some of the approaches I take towards Positive Education in Singapore and ask myself if I am presenting the most current and comprehensive approach to help teachers and parents raise flourishing children.
Amanda: Finally, what are your views about the future of positive education?
Sha-en: The future of positive education is bright. I think it is still a young field with much potential to grow. Particularly, working in an Asian country, I think there is much space to explore whether the concepts of positive psychology apply well in various cultural contexts. For instance, are strengths in Asian culture viewed with the same perspective as in a Western culture?
When we can address the idea of cultural relevance, I think positive education can evolve and have a wider reach. Also, there is a need to design more interventions that are specific not only to culture, but also for children so that we can help them build a foundation from early years. This is an exciting place to be working!
Sha-en Yeo’s website, Positive Education
Positive 2012: Spotlight on the Future, 3rd Australian Positive Psychology and Wellbeing Conference
Wong, P. (2012). Meaning-centered approach to positive management. Keynote address at the 3rd Australian Positive Psychology and Wellbeing Conference. We have included the abstract below from the conference brochure because it lists the 5 levels of acceptance mentioned by Sha-en Yeo.
“After differentiating between adaptive and maladaptive acceptance, the paper identifies five pathways of adaptive acceptance: (a) Accepting one’s self, (b) Accepting others, (c) Accepting death and other existential givens, (d) Accepting situations beyond one’s control, and (e) Accepting the here and now. These pathways represent five major domains of human life—personal growth, building relationships, living with existential anxiety, coping with stress, and enjoying the present moment. The paper then examines how these pathways can be applied to healing and flourishing. It concludes that a meaning-management perspective, which incorporates the growth and mindfulness mindsets, offers a coherent framework for the adaptive functions of acceptance and well-being.”
Wong, P. T. (2012). The Human Quest for Meaning: Theories, Research, and Applications (Personality and Clinical Psychology). (2nd edition). Routledge.
Photos: Contributed by Sha-en