Home All Redefining True Health Care: Inaugural Summit on Happiness Science in Health

Redefining True Health Care: Inaugural Summit on Happiness Science in Health

written by Elaine O'Brien 10 May 2018

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.

“The most influential and growing trend in medicine today is the emerging field of what is known as Lifestyle Medicine; Lifestyle Medicine is not just prevention, but can be a lasting source of peace, health, and joy.” –Dean Ornish, MD, founder of the University of California San Francisco’s Preventative Medicine Research Institute.

International Positive Psychology Health and Well-being Division Leadership team represented by president Gail Ironson with Michael Steger, Kathi Norman, Elaine O’Brien, Ed Diener, Noemie Le Pertel, and Eric Kim.

On May 6-7, 2018, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) hosted a ground-breaking Summit on Happiness Science in Health Care: Infusing Positive Psychology into Medicine and Health Care, in partnership with Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. Participants in the invitation-only event represented the spectrum of the key stakeholders who recognize the need to connect positive psychology and health care.

The ACLM is a professional medical association dedicated to the advancement and clinical/community practice of Lifestyle Medicine as the foundation of a sustainable healthcare system. Lifestyle Medicine involves the prescription of evidence-based therapeutic lifestyle approaches, such as a predominantly whole-food plant-based diet, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substance use, and other non-drug modalities. These approaches can prevent, treat, and sometimes reverse the lifestyle-related, chronic disease that are all too prevalent.

Dr. Liana Lianov

The inaugural Summit on Happiness Science in Health Care, is the first of its kind. Liana Lianov, MD, MPH, and Chair, Happiness Science and Positive Health Committee at ACLM discussed, “Until now, emotional well-being has not been addressed consistently as a crucial factor in health promotion and disease treatment.” Dr. Lianov, first ACLM president, is a passionate supporter. She described this landmark event as “Huddling together to make a dream come true!”

The Summit was a think tank, a jump off point, launching an emotional well-being movement that includes innovative medical and health provider training, tools, support, and collaborative care models. Thought leaders and experts in the emerging science of Lifestyle Medicine joined forces to advance new models of health care and well-being. The Summit participants shared knowledge, opinions, and best practices, emphasizing well-being and value-based care in medical and health systems. The results of these recommendations will be the publication of a white paper.

Dr. Carrie Barron

Dr. Carrie Barron, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Creativity for Resilience Program at Dell Med, and Summit Co-Chair, stated “By learning to manage emotional states well, there’s a great deal we can do for prevention, recovery and overall health.”

Dr. Lianov and fellow participants identified the increasing burnout rate among physicians, which speaks to the need to address this factor for both patients and providers.” See Jordyn Feingold’s innovative REVAMP model for ways to handle this concern. Personal applications of evidence-based positive psychology tools and empathetic clinical/community encounters were identified as crucial to support the health care workforce.

Another key aim of the Summit was in recognizing new models of health and medical care, like social connectedness, positivity, resilience, and love. These models are critical to improving health outcomes. They were taken very seriously in this effort to promote positive change.

Summit keynote speakers included luminaries like Ed Diener, Barbara Fredrickson, and Lifestyle Medicine forerunner Dean Ornish. After describing the current science, Ornish and Fredrickson inspired the participants to envision harnessing positive psychology to total health care. Early in my career, I had the pleasure of attending a course with Dean Ornish at Albert Einstein University. It was a thrill to reconnect with him and realize how profoundly he affected my career trajectory. I have a calling to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease through my practice and teaching.

Dr. Gail Ironson with Rachel Millstein, and Jessica Matthews, Community Resources and Support Panel

At the Summit, fellow health care innovators, lifestyle medicine and positive psychology experts, clinicians and other stakeholders worked together to determine how to engender lasting habit change. Emotional well-being was again identified a key factor. Emotional well-being has a direct physiological impact.

There was a uniform appreciation for the science and practice of positive psychology in developing lifestyle prescriptions. The belief is that by integrating evidenced-based applications, which focus on emotional, mental, and physical health across the lifespan, we can co-create and build new values, systems, and applications in health and medicine. ACLM can be a galvanizing force for positive change by addressing the need for quality education and best practices in support of the practices and patients of its members.

“There is too much pharmacology. We need to teach movement to people.” – Dr. Antonella Delle Fave, M.D., Ph.D., 2010

Patty Purpur de Vries, Stanford Health Promotion Network, discussing Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build model applied to health (Click to enlarge image.)

Susan Benigas, Executive Director, ALCM, spoke about “A passion for identifying and eradicating the cause of disease, rather than simply diagnosing and treating-too often medicating. Our members are at the forefront of the movement to redefine true “health” care.” As opposed to a first option of treating symptoms and consequences with expensive, ever increasing quantities of pills and procedures, the ACLM, and its members, are united in their desire and mission to identify and eradicate the cause of disease. These steps are the beginning of a positive transformation in the culture of health and medicine.

The Lifestyle Medicine 2018 conference is set for October 21-24 in Indianapolis, IN. The theme will be Real Health Care Reform, and the conference will offer Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits.
Author’s Note: At this summer’s European Positive Psychology Conference, an international panel will address the question, Is Medicine Ready for Positive Psychology? Innovative Research from the Front Lines of Positive Health. Merenthe Dronnen (Norway), Marlena Kossakowshka (Poland), Svala Sigurdardottir (Iceland), and Lisa Buksbaum, Kathi Norman, and I (USA) will be presenting leading edge research and applications that support the Lifestyle Medicine movement.


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

Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Hudson Street Press.

Grant and Glueck Study

Lianov, L and Johnson, M. (2010). Physician competencies for prescribing Lifestyle Medicine. Journal of the American Medical Association, 304(2), 202-203.

Masten, A. (2007). Resilience in developing systems: Progress and promise as the fourth wave rises. Development and Psychopathology, 19(3), 921-930. doi: 10.1017/S0954579407000442

O’Brien, E. (2016). Move2Love and Vibrancy: Community Dance/Fitness. Journal of Women & Therapy, 39(1-2), 171-185. DOI: 10.1080/02703149.2016.1116329

O’Brien, E. (2011). Medical Wellness in Action, Positive Psychology News.

Ornish, D. (1999). Love and Survival: 8 Pathways to Intimacy and Health. Harper Collins.

Photo credits: Photos used courtesy of author, Elaine O’Brien. Photo of Dr. Carrie Barron from her website.

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