(Special thanks to Elaine O’Brien for her contribution to this article)
The city of Opatija, Croatia is a seaside gem with beautiful landscapes, architecture, and design. The breathtaking sceneries are enchanting, yet something more captivating happened in the city two weeks ago – The 4th European Conference of Positive Psychology (ECPP) on July 1-4.
Comparing the present meeting to the 2nd ECPP four years ago, the attendees could see the rapid expansion of the positive psychology community: the number of paper presentations has increased from 63 to 140; Symposia from 5 to 12; Workshops from 1 to 7; and Round tables from 2 to 5. More than 300 speakers came from over 30 countries, including Asia and Africa.
What are the main questions that matter to our community?
Our society matters: The first Keynote speaker, Ed Diener, enlarged positive psychology to a wider world view by examining the importance of the well-being of societies as well as individuals. Using the Gallup World Poll data, Ed Diener talked about how national accounts of well-being can simultaneously help policy makers create better societies and positive psychologist confirm their results. “What are the ways we can positively impact society?” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi addressed this question in his Keynote session about the role of flow in positive psychology through linking up flow – the major component that helps create an engaged life – to the society including the workplace, education, and the urban environment. Nic Marks, in his paper presentation “Hard to be hopeful about Planet Earth,” also stressed how positive psychology can contribute to the economy, as well as the challenges of globalization in the 21st century. When we are living on a planet in which 50% of the world lives on less than ₤1.00 per day, how can positive psychologists help policy to be implemented and help improve people’s quality of living?
Culture matters: On the first evening, I was honored to spent some time speaking with Antonella Delle Fave, Chair of the European Network for Positive Psychology, about the importance of culture on positive psychology. She gave an example about how different the interpretations of words such as “joy” and “happiness” are to Americans and to the Japanese. She also compared the Chinese traditions in healing the body to the Western way, which is “too much pharmacology.” This is not just about differences in wordings, but in concepts and perceptions of the way human beings, as cultural animals, achieve happiness, satisfaction, and meaning in life. Delle Fave presented empirical studies in various countries (mainly Europe and South Africa) at a round table, and offered great insights on cross-cultural-level eudemonic happiness based on data. Here, I would also like to urge more cross-cultural studies on positive psychology, especially from Asian scholars.
History and the Future BOTH Matter: Two round table discussions provided us wisdom about what we can learn from the past and do for our future. One of them focused on the lessons from Abraham Maslow for the positive psychology of our days. Dmitry Leontiev from Moscow State University, highlighted what we can learn from historian scholars, their philosophies, and their theoretical concepts in order to make better sense of the tasks and challenges in the 21st century.
Another round table – “The future of positive psychology” – was more a discussion of how positive psychology makes a better future, according to the speeches made by speakers like Todd Kashdan, Dmitry Leontiev, and Nic Marks. Nic queried, “What should human life be like in the 21st century?” We can tell from the speakers’ diverse viewpoints that there are indeed many challenges we will face, but more importantly there are also many opportunities ahead, flourishing both in academia and in practice for positive psychology.
In Carol Craig’s symposium session, she addressed the questions by using empirical research. In her studies, when we face a challenge like the fact that children in the UK spend more than 5.5 hours on screens per day, should we start considering the opportunity of promoting exercise and diet using Positive Interventions?
The entire conference is promoting one clear message: positive psychology is flourishing in Europe and the goal now is to help connect different people. These interdisciplinary connections with education, medicine, sociology, economics, anthropology, health and well-being direct us to a Better Future.
Part 2 Tomorrow.
Image 1., Night view of Opatija
Image 2., Ed elucidating the importance of societal characteristics for subjective well-being
Image 3., One of a series of studies about the role of culture in positive psychology
Image 4., Attendants are involved discussing how we can learn from history to do for now