Home All Interview: IPPA World Congress Highlights and Reflections

Interview: IPPA World Congress Highlights and Reflections

written by Denise Clegg 2 September 2009

Denise Clegg, MAPP 08, is Program Officer for the Positive Neuroscience project at the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center. She also serves as a facilitator for the Penn Resilience Program and is a daily editor for Positive Psychology News Daily.

Denise writes on the 20th of each month, and her articles are here.

Barbara Fredrickson, Jon Haidt, Debbie Swick

Barbara Fredrickson, Jon Haidt, Debbie Swick

The International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) World Congress this June was an inaugural success, attracting more than 1500 people from 52 countries, and widely covered in the press. In his opening remarks, IPPA President Ed Diener noted the interest and attendance as a remarkable achievement for Positive Psychology, especially considering the field was launched only ten years ago by Martin Seligman.


Any gathering of that size is also a remarkable amount of work to organize, and a whirlwind for those involved. I recently sat down for a few quiet moments with IPPA Executive Director, James Pawelski (JP), and IPPA Associate Executive Director, Debbie Swick (DS), to hear their reflections about the event.

DC: Looking back, what are some of the high points of the conference that pop into mind?

James Pawelski between Shannon Polly and Lee K. Bohlen

James Pawelski between Shannon Polly and Lee K. Bohlen

JP: Of course we knew that a very large number of people were coming from dozens of countries before the World Congress began. But it’s one thing to hear the numbers and another to be in the midst of such incredible, diverse energy. I remember seeing colleagues I had visited in their home countries, and suddenly here they were in Philadelphia, making connections with others from around the world. David Pollay organized the special topic lunches beautifully, where collaborations were formed across professional and academic disciplines. Many of the high points for me involved watching those connections being forged.

DS: Yes, the interconnection of people and programs was incredible. Of course, the MAPP reception was a huge highlight – so much energy and passion in the room! Another highpoint for me happened during the last panel on Sunday afternoon. The energy of the conference was sustained to the very end. Sometimes, you’ll see conferences that peter out near the end, especially on a Sunday that is a travel day for many people. But the closing session was packed and the participation enthusiastic. We can’t wait for the next Congress!

DC: Speaking of the next World Congress, what future initiatives emerged from this year’s event?

Martin Seligman at the Podium

Martin Seligman at the Podium

DS: We announced new online tools for collaboration and continuing education. That includes the IPPA website, where we are already posting presentations, posters and resources from the Congress for IPPA members. At the reception for post-graduate positive psychology programs, we introduced leaders and students from six programs. These programs are located in five countries on four continents, attesting to the global reach of positive psychology.

JP: Yes, we also had IPPA board elections leading up to the Congress. President-Elect Antonella Delle Fava will lead the organization with a strong focus on cross-cultural aspects of positive psychology. Our executive committee represents countries from all over the world, including Italy, Spain, Australia, and the United States; Antonella’s leadership will further strengthen IPPA’s international outreach and impact.

DC: When you think back and imagine the conference – what is a mental snapshot of a moment that was meaningful for you? What do you see in the picture?

JP: One meaningful moment for me was getting to meet six or seven attendees from China. What was remarkable about this group was that they had met for the first time at the Congress. They had not known each other before arriving, and of course did not know of each other’s interest in positive psychology. They were so excited to get to know each other, and they immediately began making plans for establishing a positive psychology network and for positive psychology conferences in China. I was elevated by their enthusiasm, and I realized that one of the most important outcomes of the Congress was helping people make connections like these.

Empty Auditorium

Empty Auditorium

DS: Well, this surprises me a little. But the image that pops to mind is the empty ballroom just before people arrived.

We had spent months planning, sometimes overwhelmed with decisions and details. But just before things began I walked into the quiet ballroom — the lighting was set and it highlighted rows and rows of golden chairs – each of them representing someone with the desire to have a positive impact on the lives of others. The room seemed to glow a bit. It was a moment of pure potential.

Books by People in Photographs

Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.

Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books.

Pawelski, J. O. (2007). The Dynamic Individualism of William James. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Seligman, Martin (2004), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.

All images courtesy of Debbie Swick.

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