As my plane landed at the Toronto Pearson International Airport on Thursday, I looked out the window and saw large letters spelling “HAPPY” on the main terminal wall. The sign struck me as symbolic of my outlook and as foreshadowing the days ahead.
Day 1On July 20th, approximately 280 individuals from Canada, the US, the UK, and elsewhere gathered at the University of Toronto campus for the inaugural conference of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association (CPPA).
The two-day conference began with an audio message from Martin Seligman, who noted that the CPPA is in fact the first North American positive psychology organization. Seligman also spoke about his current vision for the field, which centers on his interest in people being drawn toward the future rather than being pushed by the past.
Robert Vallerand, who is the current president of the International Positive Psychology Association, delivered the opening keynote speech. He distinguished between harmonious and obsessive passions, showing that both lead to practicing an activity and subsequently to improved performance, but that harmonious passion leads to positive results whereas obsessive passion can produce detrimental outcomes. Furthermore, Vallerand introduced his intriguing upcoming research on goal-shielding, where certain goals are protected from distracting information and other goals.
The afternoon keynote speaker was Gary Latham. He discussed the effects and implications of activating subconscious goals. Notably, these can be triggered through supraliminal priming, in which individuals are aware of the cue but completely unaware of its effect on their behavior. Latham’s use of humor and animated story-telling perhaps left as strong an impression on me as his thought-provoking research.Later in the evening, CPPA hosted a screening of the Happy movie. Afterward, Robert Biswas-Diener gave a video-call commentary about the movie, its production, and his experiences with the director, Roko Belic, including how they personally changed as a result of the production.
For example, whereas people’s motive for moving is often a new job, Belic reprioritized after making the film and moved to a new city to be closer to his loved ones and hobbies. Biswas-Diener also answered questions from the audience and stated that he is shifting his research focus from courage to hospitality.
Day 2The next morning, Greg Wells presented a keynote address by video-call from the 2012 Summer Olympics venue in London, England. He used examples of excellent athletes to demonstrate qualities of optimal living that apply to everyone, such as exercise, nutrition, sleep, and the skill of equanimity under pressure. Several of his recommendations were particularly resonant:
- 1-3-2 rule: Dedicate one hour each day, three days each month, and two weeks each year to personal recovery, whether by participating in a rejuvenating activity (like yoga or reading), disconnecting from technology, or taking a trip with loved ones.
- 20/20 rule: For every 20 minutes of sitting, spend 20 seconds stretching or moving.
- 1% aggregate gains: Improve by 1% each day.
Too Much Of A Good Thing…
…is a great thing! With 44 concurrent sessions over two days, the rich array of presentations and workshops offered something for everyone. Topics included:
- The connection between well-being and mindfulness meditation, the self-discrepancy gap, nature, the creative economy, organizational culture, forgiveness, mothers with multiple sclerosis, intrinsic and extrinsic goals, and college students.
- Positive psychology as relating to sports organizations, humor, halcyonic well-being, high-performance teams, the body, environmentally significant behaviors, music, and leadership in outdoor education.
- Applications such as social-emotional leadership, building resilience, tools for couples, counselling, coaching, certification courses, clinical interventions, health care, appreciative inquiry, nursing mentorship, motivational interviewing, flourishing at work, and processing emotions.
The conference was marked with novel discussions and ideas, new partnerships and friendships, and an overall advancement in positive psychology discourse. One particular strength of this event was people’s openness and approachability; presenters, board members, delegates, and volunteers equally mingled to create an integrated atmosphere.
Another unique strength was the use of Appreciative Inquiry in the conference design. Maureen McKenna worked with the organizers to implement three interactive tools:
- A graffiti wall on which individuals contributed drawings or words, with the prompt: “Imagine Canada in the future when flourishing.”
- Special interest discussion groups at lunch tables, such as for psychologists, counselors, educators, organizations, and students.
- Questions on the back of nametags for attendees to start conversations with new people. For instance, “Take a moment to reflect on why you are at this conference. How does this connect with something that is meaningful and important in your life?” and, “What is one thing that has inspired you in your work or your life over the past month?”
Finally, two of the main conference organizers and CPPA board members, Louisa Jewell and Lisa Sansom, demonstrated many VIA strengths. The feat of organizing a top-notch conference in less than a year, with initially no money, while maintaining full-time careers, is indicative of perseverance, zest, teamwork, leadership, resilience, and hope.
- According to Shannon Polly, the U.S. Army is the highest consumer of positive psychology, due to the University of Pennsylvania’s resilience training program.
- “We’re wired for positivity but conditioned for negativity,” remarked Louis Alloro during his concurrent session.
- Greg Wells repeated the wisdom from a seven-year-old girl with cancer at the Hospital for Sick Children: “You can’t let cancer ruin your day.”
Back at the Toronto Airport on Sunday, minutes from departure, I again gazed out the plane window at the main terminal. This time, I could read the entire sign, which said: “Happy Landings.” In the spirit of optimism, a successful first CPPA conference, and the launch of a united positive psychology community in Canada, I think a more apt sign would be: “Happy Takeoff.”
Author’s Note: Interested in becoming a CPPA member or in learning more about the organization, positive psychology, and upcoming events (such as a call-in speaker series)? Click here.
References & Recommended Reading
Shantz, A., & Latham, G. (2011). The effect of primed goals on employee performance: Implications for human resource management. Human Resource Management, 50(2), 289-299. Abstract.
Vallerand, R. J., Blanchard, C., Mageau, G. A., Koestner, R., Ratelle, C., Léonard, M., Gagné, M., & Marsolais, J. (2003). Les passions de l’âme: On obsessive and harmonious passion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(4), 756-767.
Robert Vallerand’s research paper on goal-shielding is in press with the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Joannie Rochett courtesy of
Airplane courtesy of caribb
All other photos were taken by the author and are used with permission.