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Positive Psychology Comes to the Philippines

written by Sulynn 29 May 2013

Sulynn, MAPP '06, lives with her daughter in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She provides consulting and coaching services, leading her own company, Human Capital Perspectives. Sulynn is also the founder of the Asian Center for Applied Positive Psychology (ACAPP). Full bio.

Sulynn's articles are here.

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April 25-26, 2013 in Naga City, The Philippines

More than 300 educators, psychologists, counselors, students, and administrative heads of learning institutions across the Philippines gathered at the Villa Careres Hotel in Naga City to participate in the First National Convention on Positive Psychology (NCPP).

The event had been a year in planning and organizing by the Ateneo de Naga University (AdNU), led by Dr Ronald S P Elicay, Chair of the Psychology Department, in collaboration with the Asian Center for Applied Positive Psychology (ACAPP).

Conference Theme

The theme of the NCPP was Potentials: Grounding Positive Psychology in the Educational Practice. It received endorsements by the Psychological Association of the Philippines, The Commission on Higher Education of the Philippines, and the Department of Education of the Philippines; as well as sponsorship by City Government of Naga.

   The president and mayor with Sha-En and Sulynn

The AdNU president and the mayor
with Sha-En and Sulynn

The welcome messages by Fr. Primitivo Viray, S.J., President of Ateneo de Naga University, and in particular, Hon. John Bongat, Mayor of Naga City overflowed with enthusiasm and positivity and showed understanding and appreciation of the significance of development in research and application of positive psychology in the Philippines.

Representing MAPP and the larger positive psychology community, Sha-En Yeo (Positive Education) and Sulynn Choong (ACAPP) served as keynote speakers and workshop facilitators. There were seven Filipino psychologists, psychotherapists, and practitioners who led workshops on well-being, creativity, optimism, and other areas related to positive psychology. ACAPP also ran two pre-event workshops on Positive Psychology at the Workplace for representatives of the corporate sponsors.

Banners along Magsaysay Avenue

Banners along Magsaysay Avenue

For months before, the faculty, staff, and students of AdNU had been busy planning the program, organizing for corporate sponsorship, commissioning memorabilia ranging from beautiful plaques for the keynote speakers to screen-printed totebags with custom printed notebooks and lanyards, ballpoint pens, key chains, and color-coded NCPP T-shirts for helpers, participants, faculty and so on.

What was really spectacular was the sight of 17 huge NCPP banners, each with a different positive uplifting quotation, lining Magsaysay Avenue alongside election candidates’ banners.

On the transit flight from Manila to Naga City, a lady actually asked if I was the keynote speaker at the psychology convention in Naga. She was a non-participant visitor to Naga, but had still heard about it. The publicity was phenomenal with print press, radio, and national TV coverage. NCPP was a festive gathering of enthusiasts who were eager to exchange notes, stories, and contact details. From the moment that a participant inquired about registration through to registration, arrival, participation, and departure, NCPP was a happy experience.

Sha-En and Sulynn surround Julie Anne

Sha-En and Sulynn surround
Julie Anne

How did the NCPP come about?

A year ago, Julie Anne Borras, a young part-time faculty member of AdNU Psych Dept sent an email to ACAPP inquiring about how she could get involved in positive psychology and when it would reach her shores. I replied with a challenge, “Invite me and I will bring positive psychology to the Philippines.” Before I knew it, Julie had spoken to Dr Elicay and the faculty, a national PP convention was proposed, and I arrived in Naga City four months later on the first day of the Penafrancia Festival to work with the AdNU folks who already had the program drawn up, the university president’s approval and the city mayor’s support. Talk about enthusiasm and zest!

Naga City was founded in 1575 by the Spaniards, and lies 254 miles southeast of the capital city, Manila. The city is also known as An Maogmang Lugar or The Happy Place, as well as The City of Smiles, following an amazing decade-long transformation from a decrepit city to a progressive exemplar city.

3 priests, 3 positive psychology practitioners

3 priests, 3 PP practitioners

Hospitality must be the middle name of the local people. Sha-En and I were not only photographed a zillion times and overwhelmingly pampered and feted in every way, but were honored by an audience with the Archbishop of Caceres, Most Rev. Rolanda J. Tria Tirona, who was keen to include positive psychology in his next retreat for the clergy. To top that off, at his invitation, we enjoyed a Spanish-Filipino dinner where the Archbishop, the AdNU President, and Fr. Erwin Blasa, regaled us with jokes and tall tales. Our NCPP experience was off the charts in positive emotions!

So what now?

Cebu City has already volunteered to host the next NCPP. Beyond that, both Sha-En and I took away from Naga, wonderful memories wrapped in overflowing gratitude and awe, plus a yearning to do more to facilitate and support the development of indigenous research and application of positive psychology in the Philippines.

There is a real and earnest need for studying what makes life worth living in a nation with limited resources. It also makes sense to share international resources. In the words of Mayor Bongat, “There is sense for the government to make full and maximum use of positive psychology to make up for the limitation of resources.” They can leverage evidence-based positive psychology techniques, theories, and interventions to alleviate the economic and sociological deprivation faced by so many and to help make life even more worth living.

Even as the NCPP participants are busily planting the seeds of positive psychology in their schools, colleges, and universities, ACAPP will continue to work with Dr Elicay and the President of AdNU, with benevolent commitment and support of Mayor John Bongat, and the Archbishop of Caceres, on making positive psychology available to more communities and sectors in the Philippines. Top of mind now is setting up a positive psychology book collection to kick-start the AdNU Center of Positive Psychology. What are your suggested titles?

Photo credits
All of the pictures except the last one are used courtesy of Sulynn Choong
Book collection courtesy of Ozyman

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1 comment

Mac Mckenzie 24 June 2013 - 7:29 pm

I am confident that the Filipino love affair with positive psychology is not one-off. As the conference drew to a close, I received numerous requests for my slides, endless questions about how to apply the ideas. People took a mind-boggling number of photographs. A month on, I am still receiving thank-you notes from the attendees, as well as emails sharing how they proposed to their school management to include elements of positive education in their systems.


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