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Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06, is a former software engineer and executive coach. She is now a writing coach and editor with a focus on helping people write books, blogs, and articles that contribute to the greater good (Theano Coaching LLC). She has been facilitating writing workshops since 2013. Her own books include Sit Write Share on how to get writing done well, Smarts and Stamina on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits and Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life. Full bio. Kathryn's articles are here.

On April 11, 2014, MasonLeads and the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being presented their 5th annual Leading to Well-Being Conference. The theme this year was Thriving Together.


In order to give you a taste of the day, I asked several attendees to send me a paragraph answering the question, “What was the most interesting, most useful, or most significant thing you learned at the conference?”

Sara Oliveri, MAPP, is a feisty spokesperson for taking action to achieve greater well-being. Watch her TEDx talk about the Two Steps to Happiness. Her MAPP capstone was titled, Women who thrive: A comprehensive quality of life framework for women professionals (Abstract).

Sara Oliveri

   Sara Oliveri

I spent most of the conference getting psyched up for my own presentation on the specific skills behind the Two Steps to Happiness. But I certainly learned the most at Sonja Lyubomirsky’s keynote presentation. She shared a wealth of great, shareable research nuggets. My favorites included:

  • “The lowest happiness levels in people who are divorced is measured two years BEFORE the divorce.”
  • “Happier people are rated as superior in ALL DIMENSIONS by supervisors.”
  • “Happy people are less likely to die in car accidents and less likely to catch the common cold.”
  • “Older parents are happier than people who have kids while their peers are still childless.”

Jeff Salters is passionate about personal and professional development. He has over 20 years of workshop facilitation, consulting, and coaching experience. Jeff has delivered services for firms such as Booz Allen Hamilton and Accenture. He currently leads his own practice, Development Quest, LLC. Jeff has worked with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and non-profit organizations across the U.S. and internationally. Email Jeff for more information.

Jeff Salters

   Jeff Salters

I learned the most useful lesson in Shane Lopez’s session titled Career Guidance from People Who Turned Jobs into Happy Lives. Lopez, a Gallup Senior Scientist, shared statistics about how unhappy most people are with their jobs. His solution wasn’t “Find a better job.” Lopez’s take away was: “Happiness depends on the goodness of one’s job. Good jobs are made, not found.” He identified five life-design strategies that can be used to form a great job:

  1. Test drive the future.
  2. Trust Your gut. Whether it’s telling you that you’re in the right place or “Get out!” pay attention.
  3. Play to your strengths.
  4. Craft Your job.
  5. Shop for the right boss.

As a trainer and coach, people often ask me what to do when they hate their jobs. Lopez advises that we use the five strategies to make the jobs we have into good jobs. His advice incorporates a lot of research that he and others in the positive psychology movement have conducted,including recent interviews with 106 people that love their jobs. For instance Lopez borrowed Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski’s concept of job crafting, that encourages people to cultivate positive meaning in their jobs. I found Lopez’s insights a useful reminder that people don’t have to merely accept their jobs, but can take active steps to improve them.

Louis Alloro, MAPP 2008, is a change-agent whose background and training places him at the intersection of Education (teaching & learning) and Positive Psychology. He is a Fellow of George Mason University’s Center for Consciousness and Transformation and is working with them on a community change program in Cleveland, Ohio. Louis has written articles for PPND, many incorporating ideas about social-emotional leadership.

Kim Cameron gave a talk titled, Fostering Well-Being Through Positive Energy and Leadership. From him, I learned:

Cameron slide

Cameron slide

  • Leadership and energy are usually thought about as the same–leaders are not always positive energizers.
  • There are three type of leaders: Information leaders, Influence leaders, and Energizer leaders.
  • Positive energy is not merely motivation (an unmet need is a motivator).
  • Research question: When I interact with this person what happens to my energy? (Likert scale)

Cameron’s research correlates positive energy of the unit leader with job satisfaction, well-being, engagement, enrichment of families (!!) and performance.

Caroline Miller is offering a new round of her online course, Your Happiest Life, starting on May 5. From the course announcement: “In 4 weeks we will study the science of happiness, how to set and pursue good goals, how to create an environment that supports success, and what habits and attitudes exist among the happiest people.” Click here to enroll. Caroline has also just started offering a two-hour coaching package on strengths and goals. She has also authored PPND articles on goal pursuit, gratitude, and other important topics.

There were several terrific takeaways from the George Mason Conference, but the one that is still reverberating with me is the presentation by Dr. Rollin McCraty from the HearthMath Institute about the electromagnetic field generated by the heart. He demonstrated with an audience volunteer how heart-rate variability changes depending on the emotions generated by the heart. He did this by hooking her up to the EmWavesPro computer program and asking her questions that were stressful (“Do you have any secrets you don’t want to share?”) and questions that generated love (“Tell us about your dog.”).

For years I’ve been studying the research on meditation because of what it’s been shown to induce in brain changes, reduced anxiety and even improved relationships, but this particular demonstration spoke to me and I went home to order the EmWavesPro desktop program. I’m the kind of person who likes to see instant impact of changes in breathing and emotions on relaxation, and I know this is going to be a breakthrough for me, and another great tool to use with clients who are looking to get the benefits of meditation in a different way.

The slide that “got” me was the one that showed that McCraty’s young son and the family dog joined into complementary calm heart rates when they came together in a room. Anyone who has a beloved pet knows that the presence of the pet is an instant love pill, but seeing the heart rate printouts was eye-opening!

Sandy Lewis, MAPP 2007, is an HR executive in the process of overseeing a company shut down after a successful acquisition. She is just beginning to look for her next job / adventure applying positive psychology to workplace well-being and productivity.

Dr. McCraty led a group through two simple techniques that can lead to greater well-being.

Sandy Lewis

Sandy Lewis

In a nutshell here is the simple self regulating skill of the “Freeze” technique for getting your heart into coherence from incoherence.

Step 1. Acknowledge the problem or issue and any feelings about it.

Step 2. Engage in heart centered breathing; a centered slow 5 count in and 5 count out breath while focusing on your heart. This is using the concept of perception through attention to the heart.

Step 3. Make a sincere attempt to experience a regenerative positive feeling. Visualizing a time, place, person, pet, etc. that puts you in appreciation, love or gratitude for instance.

Step 4. After getting yourself into this coherent state, ask yourself what would be the most appropriate attitude for handling the situation.

Here is the “Heart Lock In” process.

Step 1. Heart centered breathing, as described above.

Step 2. Activate and sustain a regenerative feeling.

Step 3. Radiate that feeling to yourself and others.

Kathryn Britton (see my bio above)

There were lots of ideas to choose from, but the one that gives me the greatest hope is the idea that we can affect those around us by achieving greater heart coherence ourselves using techniques such as those described by Sandy above.

Dr. McCraty described a study with 4 people all wired up so that their heart rate variability (HRV) could be viewed by an observer. Three of the four were trained in techniques for achieving heart coherence, the fourth was naive. At a signal not known by the naive participant, the other three conducted the technique, with an observable change in their HRV measures indicating greater coherence. What made the experiment interesting was that the fourth, naive participant’s HRV also showed greater coherence.

So what if we could help those around us achieve greater coherence — greater calm and positivity — by working on our own states of coherence?

I’ve noticed that I am more likely to help my family members calm down from major upsets if I just sit with them calmly, perhaps with my arms around them, than if I talk to them. Perhaps this is the reason. What a source of agency, that we can help others by changing ourselves!

Roberta Baskin tells her own story below. She is going to work with David Cooperrider, so we know she’ll be a contributor to the 51% Flourishing by 2051 challenge posed by Dr. Martin Seligman.

As an investigative reporter for more than 30 years, I focused on corporate misconduct with a passion. If companies did bad things, I wanted you to know about it. But the public is media weary of being left in despair by the nightly news. They’re eager to know what works. I’ve opened my mind and heart to the idea that telling stories that offer hope and resilience can have a positive impact.

The experience of the “Leading to Well Being Conference” energized me to think about how shedding light, instead of dark, can make a difference in the world. Positively. The speeches, breakout sessions, and books I bought, are contributing to a one-eighty “rethink” about how I want to spend my time. I’m devoting myself to an initiative at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management with Professor David Cooperrider on “business as an agent of world benefit.” With a grateful heart.

Elaine O’Brien, MAPP 2008, is completing the 3rd year of her doctoral program in Kinesiology: Psychology of Human Movement at Temple University. She is an assistant instructor for Social Psychology at Penn. Elaine brings together a sharp mind and a healthy body, along with the belief that each depends on the other. She has written numerous articles for PPND on psychology and human movement. She is a passionate speaker on the importance of movement, most recently on Senior Fitness and Active Aging (at Columbia University) and on Priming Communitas: Positive Emotion in Motion (at Temple University).

Describing “Thriving Together” as a goal and an outcome, Nance Lucas, Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being, and Associate Professor of New Century College, convened this year’s “Leading to Well Being conference at George Mason University. Recommending “a policy of flourishing,” broadening the lens, and a yearning for equanimity, Nance discussed how framing happiness includes “building a life of vitality, purpose and resilience.” She described the importance of looking at well-being with a cross culture perspective. She also reminded us that the science behind the pursuit of happiness informs the practice, and well-being practices inform the science.

With luminaries, icons, and rising stars, this annual event attracts students and professionals. It’s a place where scholarship and inspiration abound.


More Information

Cameron, K. (2008, 2012). Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance. Edition 2. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.

More about Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research on happiness:
Lyubomirsky, L. (2013). The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does.

More on Mariel Hemingway’s end-of-day keynote:
Mariel Hemingway Shares her Philosophy of Well-being

A new book out by one of the speakers, Todd Kashdan, and Robert Biswas-Diener:
Kashdan, T. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2014). The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your “Good” Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment. Hudson Street Press.

Lopez, S. (2013). Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others. Atria Books. Includes a story that Sandy Lewis told Shane.

Heart Math Research Library

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