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Denise Quinlan, MAPP '08, is a trainer with the Penn Resiliency Program and Strath Haven Positive Psychology Curriculum and is currently a PhD student focusing on strengths and subjective well being. She has over twenty years experience in management consulting. Helping people discover strengths and what makes life worth living is what Denise enjoys most, that and the joy of a good theory. Full bio. Denise's articles are here.

“If you could do only one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?” This question, posed by Greg McKeown in his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, stopped me in my tracks. Applying it specifically to work, I wondered what one thing I could happily do for the rest of my life. The answer, strangely enough, arrived in my head as a diagram.

Well-being fractals

Well-being fractals

My one thing is to work with gratitude, strengths, and appreciative inquiry. These well-being fractals share a similar structure but can operate at very different scales. All three practices help us to focus on what is good or right with moments, people, organizations, or situations. They can span the breadth and depth of our lives, from the precious moments of our days, to seeing the best in others, to how we work productively, collaboratively and creatively with groups of people. They encourage mindfulness and savoring, and they enhance connection and relationship. Mindfulness and connection make it easier to access the compassion that lies within us all and carry it with us as we live our lives.

Gratitude is a hands-free, infra-structure-free, copyright-free practice that anyone can adopt. You just decide to do it and keep coming back to it. Over time it will change your relationship with yourself and with the world. Gratitude helps us focus on what is around us, promoting mindfulness and savoring. Gratitude towards others lets us feel closer to them, and expressed, it allows others to feel closer to us.

Noticing strengths in yourself can boost engagement and morale. Noticing strengths in others builds positive connections and can initiate upward spirals of relationships and emotions. How much easier is it to feel connected and trusting with someone who is pointing out our strengths than our faults? Imagine if strengths spotting were a required skill for teachers and parents, and we trained them to do it well? Alex Linley’s Strengthspotting Scale describes five dimensions of strengths spotting if you want to test your skills.

Appreciative Inquiry can be conducted on a massive scale, bringing all members of the organization/system together. Alternatively, it can be a lens through which you approach any issue. “What’s best about this group/situation/my daily life? How would I like it to be? What’s the next small step that will take me closer?” Jacqueline Bascobert-Kelm describes a simple process of Appreciate, Imagine, Act. Like gratitude, it’s a hands-free process that you can keep practicing until it becomes second nature.

Like any good fractal, scale is part of the game. You could choose to work with these well-being fractals at an intimate scale helping an individual, or at a larger scale with an organization, a community, a region, a country… One lifetime will hardly be enough.


Bascobert-Kelm, J. (2005). Appreciative Living: The Principles of Appreciative Inquiry in Personal Life. Wake Forest, NC: Venet.

Emmons, R. (2013). Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Linley, P. A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising Strengths in Yourself and Others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press.

McKeown, G. (2014). Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Crown Business.

Orem, S., Binchert, J. & Clancy, A. (2007). Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change (Jossey-Bass Business & Management). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

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Judy Krings 18 December 2015 - 10:46 am

Hi, Denise, Your article light me up like a Christmas tree. Fractals always colorfully fire up my mind. I am going to take some peace time today and think about this. Might I join eloquent you, please, as I feel your list mindfully mirrors mine. Your mastered this fractal with artistry I wish I had. today I shall be aware and mindful in your honor!

I immediately thought of outside work, too. I think that is where my brain is at this holiday moment and also at this stage of my “old gray mare but still kickin’ high” life.
My immediate answer to myself was, “Art…and that can make people happy and joyful, too!” Helping others ignite their best self now…there are so many avenues to do that, and how grand is that?

With smiling gratitude and admiration of your talents, dear Denise,

Denise Quinlan 26 December 2015 - 11:14 am

Hi Judy,
what a gorgeous comment from you! Thank you so much. You have made my day. Have a great holiday and enjoy making art. It’s always a good way to go.

Judy Krings 29 December 2015 - 10:00 am

My pleasure, Denise. Hope your holidays were fun and that your new year is filled with brilliant colors that light up your world! Keep writing, please. Smiles headed your way from Puerto Vallarta. Judy

Marjorie 18 January 2016 - 3:40 am

I love to read positive and uplifting, and inspiration articles and I have found your and a few other worth keeping up to. Continued to be a good influence.

Denise Quinlan 19 January 2016 - 4:00 pm

Marjorie, thank you ver y much for your kind words. It means a lot – and puts a smile on my face as I sit at my computer 🙂
thank you!


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