Home All Transcendent Strengths at IPPA World Congress

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 IPPA World Congress 2023 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, was a sumptuous feast of empirical research, theory, and applied delights. The conference program and people included attendees from across the globe. Together we reveled in the goodness of the science we are all seeking to advance. There were opportunities to meet, care, and share. Many events highlighted strengths, empowerment, determination, friendships, and positive connections to the science and each other.

Let’s look at this year’s stellar event from a Transcendent Strengths perspective. In the VIA Character Strengths, the transcendent strengths are those that help us connect to the larger universe. Expression of these strengths enhances the sense that life is meaningful. The strengths in the Transcendence virtue are appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality.

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence

Conference planning led by Andrew Soren and his team was excellent indeed. The selection of a wide range of topics, including from caring for underserved populations, and the environment, the agenda hit a sweet spot to propel thinking, conversations, and research as the science of positive psychology advances into the next wave. There was a balance of time for learning, discussion, and celebration all built into the time together.

Convention Center

The city of Vancouver provided an opportunity to savor exceptional beauty, including an outdoor recreation pre-conference session led by Dr. Holli-Anne Passmore and friends, trips to enjoy a gorgeous part of the world, and even between-session strolls on the waterfront promenade outside the stunning conference center. At one point, after 5 hours indoors, I noticed a window with a gorgeous view of the scenery outside. I was grateful.


Gratitude involves feeling a deep sense of thankfulness in life and taking time to express thankfulness to others. The study of gratitude is a beautiful part of the science of applied positive psychology. Gratitude has been found to be beneficially associated with psychological, emotional, and social well-being. Gratitude is a predictor of desirable life outcomes.

Gratitude in action

The conference itself was a rich experience that allowed us to experience gratitude in being together live, after several conferences held virtually in response to Covid.

As an outgoing board member of the IPPA Positive Health and Wellbeing Division, I experienced gratitude for the services of the two award winners, Dr. Karen Garman, MAPP, and Dr. Sarah Pressman. It was a pleasure to watch them present their work and then see them honored for their contributions to Positive Health, by outgoing division president, Dr. Joel Milam. 

Dr. Garman’s talk title was, “It made a difference for that one,” referring to the story of the boy on the beach tossing starfish back in the water. Dr. Pressman spoke about the healing power of smiling. Both contributed to my sense of hope for the future.



Hope is about expecting something positive. It involves being future minded. One of the high point moments around hope for me was the rich global research presented by Dr. Helena Agueda Marujo from Portugal and Dr. Andreas Krafft from Switzerland at the session, Hope Across Cultures: Lessons from the International Hope Barometer.

The two speakers are involved in close collaborations on hope across continents. Their work integrates perspectives from psychology, philosophy, and theology. They have developed a novel concept and model of hope supported by empirical data. They are both dedicated to advancing this important vision and sharing their provocative iterative research via an open-source journal (see references below). I think of this journal priming goodness, peace, and hope in the world.



Laughing together

There were many opportunities for fun, play, and lightness during the conference. Humor can deepen our learning while contributing to social interactions, positive relationships, and progress toward greater goals. In fact, humor was not hard to find at this culturally diverse event. During the evening party, there was fun, dancing, and laughter while talented presenters sang and played beautiful music, some of it spoofing popular songs. It reminded me of Sarah Pressman’s comments about the science of smiling.


Cultivation of spirituality advances meaning, purpose, life calling, positive beliefs about the universe, and the expression of virtue and goodness.


Dr. Ryan Niemiec led the division meeting for the IPPA Spirituality Division. This standing room only session featured leaders showing advancements in this growing field. Dr. Dan Tomasulo led activities that involved meaningful conversations, humor, and deep, profound insights for the audience.


There was an abundance of beauty, excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality at the IPPA World Congress 2023. For me, it was a high point of personal and professional transcendence. I am still vibrating from the goodness of learning, being with dear friends, meeting new friends, being inspired, being seen, and caring about each other and our shared humanity.


Marujol, H. A., Velez, M. J., Gonçalves, S. P., Neto, L. M., Krafft, A. M., & Cassais, M. (2021). The value of hope: Validation of the perceived hope scale in the Portuguese population. Current Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-02115-6

A. M. Krafft, T. Guse, & A Slezackova, editors. Hope Across Cultures: Lessons from the International Hope Barometer. Open access journal.

Niemiec, R. M. (2024). The Mindfulness and Character Strengths Workbook. Hogrefe.

Passmore, H.-A. & Holder, M. D. (2017). Noticing nature: Individual and social benefits of a two-week intervention. Journal of Positive Psychology, 12, 537-546. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2016.1221126.

Tomasulo, D. (2020). Learned Hopefulness: The Power of Positivity to Overcome Depression. New Harbinger Publications.

UCI Press Release (2015). When You’re Smiling. Story about Sarah Pressman’s research.

Image Credits

Vancouver Convention Center by Elaine O’Brien

Coffee Cup Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Laughing together by Siviwe Kapteyn on Unsplash

Sunset by Elaine O’Brien

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