It’s About Us
The more time I spend immersed in the world of positive psychology, the more convinced I become that its importance and relevance to the world today is less to do with ‘me’ or ‘you’ and more to do with ‘us’ whether that’s us as a couple, a community of neighbors, a work team, a school or company, a nation or society as a whole. Individual well-being is important of course, but how we connect with each other and build long-lasting, positive, and mutually-beneficial relationships is a theme which seems to be gaining ground and sparking a great deal of interest. Last year at the Positive Education Summit Martin Seligman was keen to point out that we need to put more emphasis on understanding well-being as a community endeavor.
The 7th ECPP in Amsterdam from 1st-4th July was a fabulous opportunity to get up-to-date with the latest positive psychology research and practice. As I was fortunate to attend all four days, I was struck by how often the conference returned to the theme of connection and, in the widest-possible sense, well-being from a community perspective. Initially I thought it might be a case of observational selection bias because my own conference workshop was on applying positive psychology for community development. However other delegates I met noticed similar themes.
Positive Emotions and Relationship Building
Not surprisingly considering her most recent book is called Love 2.0, Barbara Fredrickson’s opening keynote presentation built on her previous work on the broaden and build theory of positive emotions, focusing on the link between positive emotions and relationship building.Fredrickson emphasized that experiencing positive emotions enables you to break away from self-absorbed or selfish thinking to focus on others, seeing things from their point of view. She challenged us to change how we think about love. Far from being a special bond or a life-long, unconditional commitment to one special person, she describes love as positivity resonance when three specific things come together:
- Sharing positive emotions with another person
- Synchrony between people’s behaviors and actions
- A sense of mutual investment in each other’s well-being
According to Fredrickson, love isn’t an emotion which belongs to the person who feels it. Instead it unfolds between pairs or among members of groups, bringing them together even if only temporarily.
Said another way, love resides within connections. To quote the wonderful Chris Peterson again, “The three words that sum up positive psychology are, ‘Other people matter.'”
Trends in World Happiness
Being an economist, John Helliwell’s ECPP2014 Keynote on the World Happiness Report looked at the different trends across the globe and emphasized the importance of meeting the growing worldwide demand for public policy to be more closely aligned with well-being, both in the sense of feeling good and life satisfaction. He pointed out that measuring only one of these types of happiness, or confusing people’s responses, would be problematic as it could lead to unhelpful or unworkable policies.It was particularly interesting to see different country responses to the recent economic crisis. Happiness in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece was lower than predicted but in Ireland and Iceland it was higher. Why might that be? When researchers looked more closely it seems that the quality of social connections in those countries holds the key. Happiness was lower or higher than predicted depending on whether or not the crisis drew people together. In Iceland and Ireland, Helliwell explained, there are stronger social connections: people work together to solve a problem rather than letting the problem tear them apart.
Not surprisingly Iceland and Ireland come out on top when countries are ranked by responses to the question, “Do you have someone to call on in times of trouble?” A strong sense of community, a sense of trust, and having people you can rely on are what enable higher well-being in these countries even in the face of the worst recession in living memory. Again, other people matter.Changing Leaders from Within
During the four day conference I took part in many marvelous workshops, among them a workshop by Edite Amorim titled workshop, Positive Leadership – Changing Leaders from Within. There we discussed the importance of taking a strengths-based approach at work. Edite explained that, in her experience, getting the most out of leaders depends on them being self-aware, as well as them encouraging the best from their staff.
We kicked off the workshop with a simple warm-up exercise aimed at creating closer connections. We took a pen and a bunch of Post-It notes, and mingling around the room, introduced ourselves to others. After each encounter we could write a compliment or other positive comment about the person we’d just met, put it on a Post-It which we stuck to their back. In just a few minutes we’d connected with half a dozen or more people, reversed the in-built negativity bias, sharpened our strengths-spotting abilities and received a host of compliments from people we’d only just met. It still feels good looking back at those Post-It compliments now, 3 or so weeks later, even though I have no idea who wrote them. Other people matter! To see the Post-it exercise in action, watch the video on the front page of her THINKING-BIG Website.
One really inspiring new topic at the conference was positive design. The role of the Delft Institute of Positive Design (DIOPD) in Holland is to support both product and service designers in their attempts to design for human flourishing. At the positive design symposium we were treated to many inspirational examples of how design can influence well-being by creating meaningful experiences, by increasing positive emotions, or by creating connections between people that enhance a sense of belonging.
One innovative design application that all conference delegates were encouraged to participate in is ‘TinyTask’. In our conference packs we received 2 colorful TinyTask key fobs, each one inspiring us to do something new today that would contribute to our well-being. The TinyTask activities of connection include:
- Treat: Give a good friend or colleague a treat with some sweets or a cup of coffee
- Be a reporter for a day and write a short news report about something good that has happened to you. Send the report to a friend.
- Plan a date with someone you haven’t spoken with for a long time.
- Share a joke with at least one person today.
- Make a new friend by talking to someone you don’t know very well and find out something interesting about his/her life.
TinyTask activities are just that: small, intentional activities which boost your well-being. It’s a fabulous idea, evidence-based and well executed. Not only do the TinyTask key fobs spark your curiosity (an important contributor to wellbeing, as Todd Kashdan explains), I can see how collecting them could become compulsive. The activities are fun to do and interesting to talk about with other people.
On the flight home they inspired a fabulous conversation (and connection!) with a fellow passenger who asked about my TinyTask key fobs. It turned out he has a teenage daughter interested in a career as a designer. That’s a conversation we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Perhaps in a few years time we might be hearing from a new positive designer.
Tinytask from Hans Ruitenberg on Vimeo.
When I look back at the 7th ECPP in Amsterdam I can honestly say that it was the most enjoyable, inspiring, and stimulating four days, organized by warm and welcoming hosts in a perfect location, and attended by hundreds of fascinating and fun people from all four corners of the globe. My only complaint is that there wasn’t time and space to meet more people, so for me the 8th ECPP in 2016 cannot come soon enough.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Hudson Street Press.
Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. New York: William Morrow.
Images ECPP2014 Website http://www.ecpp2014.nl ECPP
Full House courtesy of Jaap den Dulk
Getting together after work courtesy of Motorito
TinyTasks: Tinytasks Website http://www.tinytaskfoundation.org/ecpp2014