Last fall, I submitted proposals for workshops on my latest work, so I was delighted to be invited to present at the Canadian Positive Psychology Association (CPPA) Conference, the European Conference on Positive Psychology, the first-ever International Positive Education Network Festival, and the Global Zumba Instructor Convention. Just like that, my Summer 2016 Positive Psychology World Tour was set in motion.
In this series, I will take you on tour with me, starting with the CPPA conference at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada.
First stop: Exhilarate! Learn it, Live it.
The Canadian Positive Psychology Association (CPPA) Conference had me at its title: I got to Exhilarate! for two days with hundreds of positive Canadians (a term that somehow seems redundant)! The Second CPPA Conference in Ottawa in 2014 had the warmest and most connected atmosphere I have ever experienced at a conference, until this year’s third CPPA conference raised the bar!What makes the gatherings of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association so uniquely endearing? I believe it begins with leadership. This year’s Conference Chair, Sajel Bellon and her team, consciously choreographed a true experience of flourishing. The elegant White Oaks Resort & Spa nestled in Niagara-on-the-Lake has beautiful gardens, walking paths, and the perfect fire pit for late night philosophical conversations with new and old positive psychology friends.
As someone who swims six days a week, I especially appreciated being able to start each morning with a swim. Funnily enough, it was in the swimming pool at the conclusion of last summer’s International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) World Congress that I first met Sajel Bellon. She had, along with 300 others, attended that conference’s Soaringwords Love Fest emceed by Barbara Fredrickson and Tal Ben-Shahar. During our power meeting in the pool, she invited me to bring the same meaningful and fun community-building experience to the CPPA conference.Kathryn Britton wrote about Lea Water’s opening address about strengths-based parenting and Barbara Fredrickson’s opening keynote, Prioritizing Positivity. As 300 people sat transfixed for both talks, I realized two things. First, with truly inspiring people, you always listen as if for the first time, no matter how often you hear them. Second, the rockstars of positive psychology are exemplars of continuous personal growth.
It was lovely to co-present a brand new talk, Shake Your Body:Positive Movement Across the Lifespan with Dr. Elaine O’Brien, a shining light in Positive Psychology. Details on our interactive workshop will be in the next article in this series about highlights of the European Conference on Positive Psychology.
Rock the World!
On Thursday evening, enthusiastic attendees harnessed their inner artists and dancers as part of the CPPA and Soaringwords Rock the World event. Lea Waters, the Gerry Higgins Chair in Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne, served as emcee, explaining how creating a SoaringSuperhero® puppet to donate to children at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto makes them part of Soaringwords’ pay-it-forward mission.Kim Cameron and his lovely wife Melinda lit up the dance floor participating in the 90-minute Zumba Master Class led by several of Canada’s top Zumba instructors. After this eventful, passionate dance experience, the dancers and crowd chose to keep at it for an additional 90 minutes
Speaking of Passion
Bob Vallerand’s keynote talk, New Developments on a Theory of Passion, was based on cutting-edge findings from his latest book, The Psychology of Passion: A Dualistic Model. He captivated positive psychology practitioners in the audience since most of us indeed have what he calls “a strong inclination toward a self-defining activity that we love, value, and invest time and energy in for eight to nine hours a week” (i.e. a passion).
Vallerand illustrated the difference between harmonious passions and obsessive passions with the study in which nurses with harmonious passions reported less self-neglect than nurses with obsessive passions.
Vallerand argued that optimal functioning is achieved through positivity across time, involving:
- Being fully anchored in a positive present
- Having a positive and resolved past
- Choosing to look at the future with hope and optimism.
Louisa Jewell, outgoing CPPA President, led a wonderful workshop on Self-Efficacy: the key to high performance in organizations. She began by presenting Albert Bandura’s self-efficacy theory on how one’s beliefs in his or her ability to succeed in a particular situation affects how he or she thinks, behaves, and feels.Throughout her talk, Jewell presented riveting stories about exemplars of self-efficacy, including Bethany Hamilton, the national surfing champion who persevered in the sport even after a shark bit off her arm when she was thirteen.
Jewell also connected self-efficacy to Ryan and Deci’s self-determination theory since efficacy beliefs impact performance by influencing:
- The level of goals we set
- The amount of effort we expend toward these goals
- Whether we persevere in the face of setbacks while striving for goals
Jewell also presented Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset, which argues that believing oneself capable of change and growth is integral to promoting self-efficacy. Jewell used the following examples to distinguish between having a growth mindset and having a fixed mindset:
|Growth Mindset||Fixed Mindset|
|Open to learning new things||Concerned with looking good|
|Embrace challenges||Avoid challenges|
|Persist in the face of setback||Give up more easily|
|See effort as necessary to success||See effort as sign of low intelligence|
|Learn from criticism and failure||Ignore useful feedback|
Teaching Toward a Transformation that Lasts
Maria Sirois, Psy. D., started this poignant workshop with a compelling story about being so intimidated during a six-week poetry workshop with David Whyte that she became completely speechless, too timid to participate and lend her voice. Sharing this vulnerability with the audience created a powerful and immediate intimacy, since it represented a meaningful step in her own journey towards wholeness.
Sirois explained that the word “whole” derives from the Old English “hal,” meaning “sound, healthy, entire and complete.” She cherishes the Japanese concept of Kintsugi, in which repairs of ancient pottery are made with gold in order to celebrate their brokenness and their beauty simultaneously. Sirois closed her talk with the following template for sustaining change:
- Willpower and waypower (Vision and plan)
- Rituals: Daily practice, small change
- Must begin change immediately
- One practice at a time. Time goal: 30 days to 6 months
- One day at a time
- Support: Accountability partner, trusted others
- Permission to be human and permission to be magnificent
The Discovery and Design of Positive Institutions
David Cooperrider showcased his groundbreaking Appreciative Inquiry work that is shaping policy around the world. He invited the audience to think beyond the possible, stretch their minds forward a decade or two, and ask, “What are the next great research and applied opportunities of positive psychology?”
“Positive psychology is tectonic,” Cooperrider said. “We are at an inflection point where there’s a huge shift. It’s no longer about the answers, it’s shifted to the world’s questions.”
Cooperrider shared stories from several global initiatives in which he helped international governments, global institutions, and companies become positive change agents working on the most pressing problems of our time. Most global conflicts stem from religious clashes and wars. Cooperrider was invited to bring together religious leaders to get to know each other as fellow humans. Out of meetings like this emerged the United Religions Initiative, whose purpose is “to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.”
What’s New with Character Strengths?Educational Director of the Mayerson Institute on Character, Ryan Niemiec gave us an update on what’s happening with VIA strengths. Speaking with his usual humility and curiosity, Niemiec shared a strengths snapshot from around the world. The top strengths are honesty, fairness, kindness, judgment, and curiosity.
While personality can change, Niemiec explained that character strengths remain stable over time. Niemiec invited the audience to choose the signature strength “that makes you feel most like you being you.” He invited us to feel this strength and to imagine employing it. Then he asked us to imagine that this strength was taken away for just one month. I learned that it’s easy to take my strengths for granted when they are so integral to the ways I move through life.
One easy and effective way to flex your strengths muscles is to write down your signature strengths, make a column next to each strength, and list a couple of tasks that you perform at home and at work that link to each of your signature strengths. If you don’t know your signature strengths, take the (free) VIA Character Strengths survey.
Flourishing Life Stories: Positive Psychology and Narrative Practices
Margarita Tarragona has devoted the past 19 years to building bridges between the humanities, with a focus on narrative, and the social sciences to help people create stories of well-being experiences. She believes that language has transformative power, as David Epston says, “Every time we ask a question we’re generating a possible version of a life.”Over the past fifteen years, I have seen healthcare professionals increasingly employ the narrative techniques Tarragona illustrated to get to know the stories of their patients and families in order to be able to treat the whole patient, not just address the presenting symptoms.
Tarragona thinks of people as homo narratives instead of homo sapiens, a term that conjures the image of people sitting around the campfire sharing stories as a way to construct a narrative identity.
The most important aspect of stories, according to Tarragona, is the creation of meaning. Tarragona gave the audience a sweeping overview of narrative luminaries and important research. She highlighted the work of narrative psychologist and meaning maker Jerome Bruner, who said: “Identity is the exchange of our life story with other people… we become the narratives that we construct to tell our lives.” Bruner said that every good story has a landscape of action and a landscape of meaning.
Other giants in the science of narrative include Dan McAdams, who argued that “narrative metaphor is useful because it conveys the coherence we see in ourselves,” and James Pennebaker, whose seminal work, Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma & Emotional Upheaval, demonstrates the ways that writing about trauma results in significant improvements in well-being, health, and immune system function. Similarly, I find that that Laura King’s Best Possible Selves intervention is popular among hospitalized children and their families. Using this technique, those who are suffering can imagine a time in the future when things are going extraordinarily well, raising hope and optimism and decreasing depressive symptoms.
In the conference’s closing keynote, Caroline Miller discussed “the passionate pursuit of hard goals, that awe and inspire others to become better people, to flourish emotionally, and take positive risks to live their best lives.” Miller pushes back against a culture that over-protects young people to keep them from feeling scared, sad, or not special. When Miller’s “gritty people” hit a wall, they persevere because “walls are made to be breached.”
Authentic Grit, according to Miller, is the way we find out who we are meant to be; it is what enabled Hyvon Ngetich to crawl to the end of the finish line in an Austin Marathon and J.K. Rowling to face dozens of rejection letters to publish Harry Potter.
Caroline’s talk was a great closing salvo to re-enter the “real world” with renewed resolve and grit. Keep your eyes open for Caroline’s forthcoming book on this subject.
Britton, K. H. (2016). Strengths-based parenting. Positive Psychology News.
Britton, K. H. (2016). Are there items on today’s to-do list that bring you joy? Positive Psychology News.
Britton, K. H. (2011). What is passion? Positive Psychology News.
Buksbaum, L. (2015). Positive Psychology Road Trip: 2015. Positive Psychology News. Contains more about the Soaringwords Love Fest.
Miller, C. A. (2015)> Authentic Grit. TED-X talk.
Pennebaker, J. (2004). Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma & Emotional Upheaval. Center for Journal Therapy.
Vallerand, R. (2015). The Psychology of Passion: A Dualistic Model (Series in Positive Psychology). Oxford University Press.
VIA Institute. What the research says about character strengths.