Editor’s Note: This is the fourth article inspired by the 2nd World Congress of the International Positive Psychology Association. The others include one on Edward Deci and Self-Determination Theory, one on Barbara Fredrickson and love, and one on awe and elevation at the movies.
James Pawelski welcomed 1,200 people from 62 countries to the opening ceremony of the IPPA World Congress on Saturday evening, July 23, 2011 in Philadelphia. Outgoing president Antonella Della Fave stressed the word International: there have been new educational programs started around the world, and new handbooks for positive psychology have been published in French and Arabic. She celebrated the availability of the new Journal of Psychological Well-Being and the high impact factor (2.1) of the Journal of Happiness Studies.Incoming president and conference chair, Robert Vallerand, described the upcoming conference: 22 invited speakers, 50 symposia and workshops, 400 posters.
Vallerand then announced the first IPPA Fellows, leaders who have contributed to the science of positive psychology and IPPA itself, since it was founded in 2007:
- Martin Seligman
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Ed Diener
- Chris Peterson
- George Vaillant
- Ray Fowler
Three of the new Fellows then gave opening addresses.
Ed Diener: Research Findings
Ed Diener started on a light note, “I’m in love with research. Also with my wife Carol, but research more. Being a practitioner is good, but I love research more.”After stating that things are coming up so quickly he can hardly keep up, he highlighted several research findings:
- Happier people have greater fertility, healthier babies, and more stable families. So according to evolution, unhappy people should be dying out. That seems to be the case — most people are at least slightly happy. Even among people with big problems, 57% say they enjoyed most of yesterday and 62% say they smiled and laughed a lot.
In a recent meta-review of over 150 studies, he and Micaela Chan concluded that we can show that high subjective well-being (SWB) causes good health and longevity. This led him to make 3 points:
- People are resilient. They usually bounce back from hardship.
- Chronic unhappiness is harmful and not normal.
- Slightly positive responses are the norm. Therefore, interventions must show more to demonstrate effectiveness.
- Some predictors of subjective well-being are universal, but others are culture specific. For example, religious people are happier … in religious countries. Extraverted people are happier … in extraverted countries; not so much difference in less extraverted countries.
- GDP and income are important to SWB, but factors other than money matter. In particular he listed four factors:
- Social support
- Social trust
- Control of one’s life
In fact, the #1 predictor of enjoyment in life is a positive answer to the question, “I learned new things and I used my abilities today.”
- The needs in Maslow’s hierarchy are important to SWB, but fulfilling needs out of order still fulfills them. He referenced work by Robert Biswas-Diener, who interviewed a man named Manoj, who is not always able to feed his family but still enjoys his work and loves his family and thinks of himself as happy.
- Meaning and purpose are important to subjective well-being. Diener showed a graph of satisfaction with life on one axis and daily affect balance on the other. The line for people with a high sense of life purpose is high and steady — life satisfaction is hardly affected by changes in daily affect. The line for people with low purpose is steep — satisfaction is highly tied to daily affect balance. It appeared to me that meaning and purpose thus become an important resilience resource.
Chris Peterson started his talk by addressing participants from Norway, telling them that we are all hurting tonight because of the tragedy there. The lesson of the 20th century is that there is no them, only us.
He chose to speak literally about the directions that positive psychology is moving. In particular it is going:
- Inward: to neuroscience. Contributions are coming from people who study the determinants of well-being in the brain.
- Outward: to culture. Culture is not a veneer on human nature; it IS human nature.
- Forward: to old age. With both this direction and the next, he mentioned the need for positive psychology equivalent to translational research, which includes T1: bench to bedside, T2: bedside to bench, and T3: extension to community.
- Backward: to childhood. He commented that we need to learn more about well-being at both ends of life.
- Between two people: He mentioned a question from a student: “How come all studies seem concerned with individual outcomes like health and wealth?” Good question!
- Among: groups of people.
Chris concluded with a wish that these directions be followed with boldness and selflessness — and the willingness to be proved wrong, since that is essential for science to make progress.Martin Seligman: Musings and Data Sources
Martin Seligman discussed progress within Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program of the US Army. The Global Assessment Tool, 105 questions that measure social, emotional, family, and spiritual fitness, has now been taken 1.3 million times, creating an enormous database that can be correlated with other health and career data. They are finding that some outcomes can be robustly predicted from GAT results. For example, half of the soldiers in the bottom 1 percentile for the questions, “My life has meaning,” and “My life in the army has meaning,” committed suicide. The Master Resilience Training (MRT) has now reached about half of the troops. In troops stationed in Korea, 80% of the suicides were from units that had not yet received training.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Army, and Penn are collaborating to open up a national database to scientists that can help answer questions about the relationship between aspects of well-being and health, such as “If you have a good marriage, how does that affect a course of antibiotics for an infection?”
Reflecting on the expense of the UK effort to measure well-being, which involves 200,000 phone calls every couple of months, Seligman raised the question, “Is it possible to measure well-being of the entire planet instantaneously?” He said there are about 80 words for positive emotions, about 2000 PERMA and anti-PERMA words, and 25,000 phrases, all of which can be counted in social networking artifacts online. He mentioned a collaboration with Google and Facebook to explore mapping out PERMA and anti-PERMA changes around the world as they occur by measuring changes in the occurrence of these words and phrases. (For a definition of PERMA, see Dr. Seligman’s book Flourish, or search PPND for PERMA.)
Positive Neuroscience awarded grants to 15 young neuroscientists one year ago. The first retreat to explore initial results will occur in about a week.
Seligman touched on positive education, positive humanities, even positive press and journalism. He mentioned an argument he’d had with Bill Moyers, who claimed that journalism is about uncovering what is hidden. Seligman responded that if that’s the view, the best we will ever do is reach zero. We also need journalism that praises what’s worthy.
Mentioning the planetary goal of 51% flourishing by 2051, Seligman concluded with a call to action, that all in the room be not just witnesses but also contributors.
Diener, E. & Chan, M. (2011). Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. 3(1), 1-43. Request a reprint here
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.
All pictures were taken at the IPPA conference by Kaori Uno. Thank you, Kaori, for permission to use them.
Thank you Kathryn for your article, it is really nice to learn what happened during the conference.
I appreciate Marty’s call to action for contributing to flourishing.
You are doing your part very well.
Best regards, Maria.
Katherine – the observation “the #1 predictor of enjoyment in life is a positive answer to the question, “I learned new things and I used my abilities today.”” is confusing – how does this fit with the VIA love of learning which seems to have minimal impact on life satisfaction. I’m speculate Ed’s biases (ie his love of research) might be colouring his views on the world – which is not unusual in research.
Interesting observation. A couple of points:
Relation to the Academic Success of College Students”, found “All 24 character strengths were positively and significantly related to General Life Satisfaction;” (abstract) though Love of Learning was 3rd from the bottom in his ranking (Creativity and Modesty coming after it).
Isaacowitz, Vaillant, and Seligman studying character strengths across the lifespan found only a small number of character strengths predicted life satisfaction, and the group changed in different periods of life. From the abstract: “Among the young adults, only hope significantly predicted life satisfaction, whereas among the middle-aged individuals, the capacity for loving relationships was the only predictor. Among community-dwelling older adults, hope, citizenship, and loving relationships all positively and uniquely predicted life satisfaction, compared with loving relationships and appreciation of beauty in the Grant sample.”
So as far as I want to go (so far) is to agree that Love of Learning seems to have relatively less impact on life satisfaction than most other character strengths.
Kathryn – this is the challenge with PP – the lack of clarity re the concepts being measured. One mans life satisfaction is another mans enjoyment in life
Conceptually, the question taps curiosity. There is no reason love of learning and curiosity should be considered separate strengths. If we go that route, we need a strength to be named for every domain where curiosity occurs. In the treatise by seligman and peterson, curiosity is the recognition and pursuit of new information and experiences. I know because I wrote the choosier chapter. What in this definition does not make it essentially love of learning?
Oz is right. Clear terms and just because we could separate something intellectually does not mean they are meaningfully different in the real world. Apropos for these 2 strengths.
Chris Peterson begged people to be able to admit when they are wrong. So perhaps there may someday be a withdrawal of the difference between curiosity and love of learning some day. I’ve never been able to see the difference, myself. It’s like having Kindness and then structured Kindness. But perhaps it depends a little on what they’re seeing in the data?
I do have to admit that it’s hard to make sure every term in an article like this is precisely defined, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t in the research. Ed Diener made a comment in passing (I don’t think he showed any graphs or study descriptions to support the statement) about learning something new and enjoyment. I thought it was interesting. Now we need a reference to the study to see what they really meant by the terms. Perhaps that reference will be in Diener’s slides when they are posted for iPPA members.
I have another question about Diener’s statement re love of learning/curiosity and enjoyment in life. I had been under the impression that having close, meaningful relationships was the #1 predictor of enjoyment in life. (Or was that, happiness, or well-being, or…?) I can’t cite any studies off-hand so I’m not sure where I had read that. Any insights? If that had been previously found to be true, any attempts to reconcile the two?
Thanks in advance. And thank you, Kathryn, for the nice overview. I enjoyed reading it and have passed it on to others.
Kathryn – Cursiosity and love of learning seem to be differnt constructs as they seem to correlate differently to life satisfaction. It’s interesting to look at the differences between the two – personally I believe curisoitry has more bergy associated with it – which fits in with my theory that the good life is about doing things (“just do it”) – perhaps curiosity is love of learning + zest. Just some thoughts.
Kathryn, no worries, you nailed the description at IPPA.
Oz, correlations with life satisfaction say nothing about the distinctiveness of the constructs. The wrong technique to test the question of whether they should be folded into each other. Also, why would an association with life satisfaction tell us anything about the nature of either construct? Its simply the wrong outcome measure to distinguish these constructs. Different item sets lead to different correlations. And neither strength has a straightforward direct link to cognitive appraisals that life is going well (i.e., life satisfaction). More complex models are needed then strength X -> life satisfaction. Factor analyses show that these two strengths load on the same uber-factor.
Sometimes curiosity brings zest along, and sometimes it doesn’t. Discussed at length in my Curious book and the chapters on my website.
Again, just because we can sit in our armchairs and intellectually distinguish them doesn’t mean this carries into real-world relevance for how people extract pleasure, meaning, and love in their everyday life.
Todd – thanx Todd. Yes life staisfaction is only one measure and a poor one at that. As you point out its a cognitive appraisal and doesn’t take ino account emotions.
Sort of illustrates the issues with psychology research – poorly defined constructs defined by poor measures. Psychology is where medicine was 100 years ago – relying on taking a patient history. Contrast that with today’s world of medicine – pathology tests, MRI etc.
Pyschology is just starting to embark on this journey – and I suspect as a consequence we’ll see some extraordinary advances.
Until that xday we’ll jyuts have to rely on error prone self reports.
Good points on the fuzzy distinction between curiosity and love of learning. My instict would be to differentiate whether you are pushing to grow and develop yourself (love of learning) versus open to being pulled into things (curiosity), but then again that may not be any clearer. For me these are #1 and #3 respectively so the question would be, are there people who have a high love of learning and low curiosity? Hard to imagine but I could see how some people may have more of a drive to develop themselves (pushed) and others could be more attuned to whatever is going on around them (pulled).
I do think, however, there is a clear distinction between having a strength of love of learning and learning new things, i.e. someone can have love of learning as their bottom strength and still learn new things so I see no contradiction between the ideas that learning new things is correlated strongly with life satisfaction and the love of learning is not (or less so.)
Todd – I was thinking further about your comment “Again, just because we can sit in our armchairs and intellectually distinguish them doesn’t mean this carries into real-world relevance for how people extract pleasure, meaning, and love in their everyday life.”
I have started to think this way of late – I actually don’t think that PP has many insights other than context matters – that seems to be th theme for IPPA. I think we probably have to go back to William James’s thinking where he talks about everyone being their own amateur psychologist – ie we have to work out what works for ourselves.
So perhaps the best coaches assist people to cut through the bullshit and workout what works for them
Jer, I don’t think there is a person who devotes themselves to thinking about curiosity who would say that curiosity is about anything less than being intrinsically motivated toward personal growth and development. Often its nothing but a moment but this is at the core of self-determination and its at the core of every synonym of curiosity in psychology: need for cognition, openness to experience, intrinsically motivating activity, etc. This is at the core of the new Discovery Channel show, Curious and their interactive website. There is too much in life to be disinterested. They are trying to jumpstart people’s growth process.
I have written about this in length. Curiosity is the engine of growth. Similar sentiments have been written well before me by Daniel Berlyne, Sylvan Tomkins, Carroll Izard, George Loewenstein, Robert McCrae, Carol Sansone, Joar Vitterso, and so on. This definitely does not distinguish love of learning from curiosity. In the applied world, what the best coaches do is try to find the realms of life where curiosity is most apparent, most desirable, and most craved, as well as domains such as close relationships which is too important to be incurious.
Wayne, I think this comment fits perfectly with your end statement.