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Positive Perspectives from the CAPP Conference

written by Elaine O'Brien 6 May 2009

Elaine O'Brien, PhD, MAPP '08, is a positive psychology, fitness leadership, positive health promotion, movement science, aging, and well-being speaker, author, trainer, thought leader, people/project manager, educator, and consultant. Elaine creates programs promoting proactive positive health/fitness, and optimal performance. Elaine presents internationally and online. She advances health, fitness, and flourishing by inspiring people to move more and to find both enjoyment and meaning in motion via PEP: Positive Exercise Practices. Elaine's website.  Full bio. Elaine's articles are here.

Practicing positivity, building love, and increasing well-being are particularly beneficial in the contexts of sustainability, social responsibility, the body-mind-spirit connection, positive health promotion, educating the whole person, and celebrating strengths. This message was conveyed powerfully during the 2nd conference hosted by the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP).

I concur with Bridget Grenville-Cleave (3 Keynotes from CAPP) and Timothy So (Highlights) that the CAPP conference was an extraordinary experience. It was a thrill to join more than 230 delegates from 25 countries. The event was a ‘paradox of [positive] choice’ featuring 8 keynote speakers, 6 organizational case studies, panel discussions, symposiums, round table discussions, and over 60 workshops, papers, and posters.

Children in Africa

In lieu of a plaque, each keynote presenter was awarded a “living gift” in the form of sponsorship of a Ugandan child in need. At the conference dinner, Robert Biswas-Diener (Biswas means Peace) presided over a rollicking book auction that raised hundreds of pounds for the centre’s humanitarian Strength’s Project.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” -14th Century Dalai Lama

Adrian BelicBeyond the Call

Another conference highlight was the screening of the prize winning film, Beyond the Call, by gregarious, gracious and generous filmmaker, Adrian Belic. This moving documentary follows three Americans who travel to the world’s war zones “in service to humanity.” Intrinsically motivated and filled with self determination, these surprising heroes provide food, medicine, shelter, and compassion to the people who need it most.

Food Distribution


Charged with positive emotion, the film has been described as a “Mother-Teresa-meets-Indiana-Jones adventure.” The movie follows Sir Ed Artis, Sir Jim Laws and Sir Walt Ratterman to Afghanistan, Albania, Chechnya, Cambodia, Burma, Thailand, Rwanda and the Philippines, “into the heart of humanity in need when little, if any other, aid is around.” Their organization, Knightsbridge International, is committed to deliver aid—whether cash, food, medicine or renewable energy—directly to the clinic, school or hospital that needs it, without involving third parties. They have been inspired by the Knights of Malta, exemplars of humanitarianism and high adventure for more than 900 years.

Beyond the Call Banner
“The Knights of Malta” – Sir Ed Artis, Sir Jim Laws and Sir Walt Ratterman

“I solemnly swear…to aid those less fortunate than I, to relieve the distress of the world and to fulfill my knightly obligations.” — The Oath of a Knight of Malta (1560 A.D.)

Mindfulness Meditation

“Mindfulness is not so much about doing as about being.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

It was standing room only for a panel led by Felicia Huppert called Mind Power: The Science of Mindfulness Meditation.

MeditationDr. Huppert described a self-report study on well-being for schoolboys who meditated for 4 weeks, 8 minutes each day using an MP3 file. The findings showed significant increases in well-being with reduced incidence of depression. Further reviews and meta-analyses of meditation studies generally confirmed the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation across a wide range of conditions.

Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment—and accepting it without judgment. With roots in Buddhism, meditation techniques help us shift thoughts away from usual preoccupations toward greater
appreciation of the moment, and a greater perspective on life. There are different ways to practice mindfulness including mindful moving meditations and group meditation.

Embracing Eustress as a Perspective for Positive Change

Eustress is defined as stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfillment or other positive feelings. In 1975, Hans Selye coined Eustress, eu from the Greek, meaning either “well” or “good”. When attached to the word “stress”, it literally means “good stress.” Eustress is a process of exploring potential gains.

Selye’s 1975 model divided stress into two major components: eustress and distress. This model is based on his earlier work on the General Adaptation System (GAS). Persistent, unresolved distress may lead to anxiety, withdrawal or depression. In contrast, eustress enhances mind-body functions such as learning to dance or performing challenging work. Other sources of eustress might be an engaging relationship, running a race, riding a roller-coaster, going on vacation, enjoying holidays, going back to school, taking a yoga class or practicing mindfulness meditation. Eustress is usually related to positive changes in life.

It seems that Adrian Belic and his brave, kind-hearted knights thrive on eustress, facing their fears to contribute to the world. Attending the CAPP conference was a eustressful experience for me, and now, a month later, I am still bathed in a positive glow, optimistically inspired and aiming my trajectory for positive social change and the greater good.



Dr Felicia Huppert

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. Delta.

Selye, H. (1975). Stress without Distress. Signet.

Selye, H. (1978). The Stress of Life. McGraw-Hill.

Selye (1975). Confusion and controversy in the stress field. Journal of Human Stress, 1(2), 37-44.

Seyle, Hans (1936). A syndrome produced by diverse nocuous agents. Nature 138: 32. doi:10.1038/138032a0.

Schwartz, B. (2004). The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. New York: Ecco.


Children in Africa Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash
meditation courtesy of HaPe_Gera.
Stress curve from Michael Lank
Other images used with permission from the Beyond the Call Web site.

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Editor S.M. 6 May 2009 - 12:56 pm

Elaine, what a rich, rich article! Thank you! S.

Susan J. Hwang 6 May 2009 - 1:43 pm

Elaine, I love the piece on eustress!! Thanks for writing!

Pat Hutchinson 6 May 2009 - 1:54 pm

Excellent summary of the conference highlights. Your insights always give me something to ponder–or a good idea to “borrow.” What you’ve referred to as “eustress” sounds like a kind of energy intensity that I’ve been aware of, but for which I really had no name. I’ve though of it as being very much “alive”. I loved the idea of the awards in the form of sponsorships–the perfect way to recognize achievement among people at a stage in their lives when they really don’t need material things. Thanks for reporting these highlights of the conference.


Elaine O'Brien 6 May 2009 - 2:59 pm

I’m so happy to hear from you! Yes, Eustress is a powerful consideration. I’m thinking about how it may relate to flow states, where challenge and opportunity meet. Pat, I also love the idea of energy that’s “alive”; an intensity that we can mindfully channel into positive realms. Eustress focuses energy, feels exciting and is usually within our comfort zone of coping.
Similar to possibilities of post-traumatic growth, in lieu of post-traumatic stress, eustress offers us a way to enrich our lives.
The CAPP Conference was wonderful and the people were great. Coming up soon in June is the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) World Congress. Here’s a link: http://www.ippanetwork.org/wcpp/world-congress.html . This will be another landmark event!

Regarding the film, these men, especially Ed, were gritty, salty and all were exemplars of compassion and humanity. In one instance Ed talks about how much rice he can buy for $700.00 US to feed hungry people, instead of using the money for the dental surgery he needs.

Thank you Senia, Pat, and Susan!


Jeremy McCarthy 6 May 2009 - 6:14 pm

Thanks Elaine, an excellent write up for those of us who couldn’t be there in person. I’m studying stress right now for my MAPP capstone and one of my favorite models (from “Happy Performing Managers” by Hosie, Sevastos & Cooper, 2006) showed stress on a continuum from “hypostress” (not enough stress = listless, bored, unchallenged) to “eustress” (good stress and related to flow because it means you have sufficient challenge to be engaged and moving in a positive direction) to “distress” (now interfering with positive well-being rather than promoting it, may have long term health consequences) and finally to “hyperstress” (meltdown!–serious health consequences). I can’t wait to see the “Beyond the Call” movie, although judging by the trailer maybe it could also be called, “Beyond Eustress”? 🙂

Elaine O'Brien 6 May 2009 - 7:52 pm

Hey Jeremy,
Thanks for the great note and for sharing the terrific Happy Performing Managers Stress on a Continuum scale. The mindful awareness of distinctions between Eustress, Hypostress, Hyperstress, and Distress can be far-reaching in helping build understanding about our feelings. Excellent stuff. I like that title, “Beyond Eustress.” Here’s wishing good luck on your MAPP Capstone studies and let me know if there is anything you need. Congratulations, and I look forward to hearing about your work.

Terry Schmidt 7 May 2009 - 2:31 pm

Your article describing the conference was very concise and informative. Very well written.
Thought your discussion about Eustress was excellent. Never thought of stress in that fashion. They were good ideas.

Lianna Tarantin 7 May 2009 - 5:16 pm

BEAUTIFUL ARTICLE! and of course BEAUTIFUL PICTURE! Congrats!!! xoxo

Clover Smith 7 May 2009 - 5:18 pm

What an amazing article!! Very well done!

Frances Perrotta 7 May 2009 - 6:18 pm

You are a natural in this field. This was a truly wonderful article. You seemed to cover all (if not many, many) facets of the conference and I know you enjoyed every moment you were there. I give you and A+, but then I am your Mom and I’m entitled.

Elaine O'Brien 7 May 2009 - 8:32 pm

Dear Clover, Lianna, Terry and Mom,
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.
Best to you,

Editor S.M. 7 May 2009 - 11:44 pm

Elaine, that’s a cool eustress-distress curve. Jeremy, totally want to hear more about your capstone! Hi Frances, Elaine’s Mom. Elaine’s pretty incredible and talented, isn’t she?! And so warm and kind too! S.

Editor S.M. 7 May 2009 - 11:45 pm

p.s. Frances – as far as I know, you commenting is only the second instance ever that moms have commented on their kids’ articles! Cool.

Mary Ann O'Brien 8 May 2009 - 8:17 am

Elaine, Dad and I enjoyed your well-written and thought provoking article. We are proud of you and your many accomplishments. This from dreaded in-laws! Seriously, you continue to be such a welcome addition to our family and such a joy to our son.

TimothyT.C. So 8 May 2009 - 10:41 am

What a wonderful article Elaine! Thanks for your first article in PPND and I am very much looking forward to reading more and more brilliant pieces from you.

I’ve just forwarded your highlight on mindfulness to Felicia and thank you very much for writing that part, as you know I’ve missed the Friday session. So, Thank you!

And, I like all your beautiful pictures as well!!

Best wishes,

Elaine O'Brien 9 May 2009 - 10:01 am

Dear Senia, Mom Mary Ann, and Tim,
Thank you for your wonderful words; I feel blessed to have you in my life and thank you for your good wishes and encouragement. Senia, don’t my Moms’ rock?
Tim, please let Felicia know I thought her session was excellent. See you soon at IPPA World Congress and all my best to you!

Grace Brennan 9 May 2009 - 10:20 am

Elaine. You have taught me a new word –eustress,But after dancing with you for 13 years I already know its meaning. Great article! Grace

Barbara Bayer 11 May 2009 - 1:44 pm

You rock!!! The article was great and the new concept of eustress is an eye opener.

Elaine O'Brien 12 May 2009 - 12:10 pm

Dear Barbara,
Thanks so much for the great comment! You can also check out PPND for yesterday’s article on Eustress to learn more.

Maureen Schroeder 12 May 2009 - 1:57 pm

Enjoyed the article;makes one more hopeful about the future to know that such humanitarian efforts still continue. You are our destressor.


Rikke Ebel Nielsen 12 May 2009 - 3:31 pm

Hi Elaine, Great article, I loved the conference as well. Looking forward to seeing you in Pennsylvania.

Marie Curry 12 May 2009 - 9:29 pm

Hi, Elaine!
You couldn’t have selected a better endeavor in better times! I find your eagerness to share knowledge, positive “vibes,” and can-do attitude important elements in my life. Our little group has become a touchstone. Thank you for all your insights and encouragement. Marie

Lou Perrotta 13 May 2009 - 5:24 pm

Hi Elaine,
Wow! Talk about high powered energy! I had to refer to my Thesaurus to understand what you reported. I am most impressed with your ability to utilize exercise, dance and physical activity to maintain and accelerate positive mental attributes.

Lou Perrotta 13 May 2009 - 5:41 pm

Hi Elaine,
WOW! Talk about high powered energy!!! I had to get out my Thesaurus to understand what your dissertation is about. Not that I unaware of your devotion to the benefits of exercise, dance and physical activity. You are the best argument in favor of what you expouse. NOT ONLY DO YOU PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH, YOU PUT IT IN PRINT ON A SCIENTIFIC/INTELLECTUAL LEVEL..
I’m not surprised…you have always projected a “joy of life” to all.

Elaine O'Brien 13 May 2009 - 8:45 pm

Sorry friend and thank you for your lovely and warm comments! Cheers to you Rikke, Maureen and Marie. Uncle Lou Perrotta, you are the BEST. I am thinking of you, with a smile. Love you, Elaine

connie lejda 1 June 2009 - 5:03 pm

Dear Elaine

Your article was very interesting.Thanks for sharing it with me .I enjoyed reading it.
Also I enjoy all of your classes. You’re the BEST!!!!



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