This week I attended the International Positive Psychology Association World Congress, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As you might imagine, it has been almost overwhelming with a variety of talks regarding the state of positive psychology today and workshops covering specific research that has been done or application of the science to a variety of domains.
Here is an overview of what I took away as some of the highlights of the conference:
1. Positive Psychology is Working: A substantial amount of research was presented showing the impact of positive psychology in a variety of settings. For example Kim Cameron presented research showing how positive leadership and virtuous business practices were directly related to effectiveness and productivity in business organizations. As he said, “money follows virtuousness even on Wall Street.”
Marty Seligman talked about the preliminary results of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program being done applying positive psychology to the U.S. Army. They are already showing a significant effect on the likelihood of suicide among soldiers as well as gathering data that will allow them to identify the candidates for suicide and PTSD in advance.
A variety of other presentations and poster studies shared successful outcomes from positive psychology interventions in business, healthcare and education. The quantity and diversity of successful applications seem to be growing and give great hope for the promise of positive psychology.
2. Context Matters: Acacia Parks moderated a presentation on positive interventions in unique populations which included a talk by Todd Kashdan, editor of Designing Positive Psychology, on “naturalistic positive interventions.” As Kashdan said, “we need to be guided by our science but not governed by it.” It is important to consider the context and the uniqueness of the individual in which interventions are used and how they are administered. It reminded me of a comment from Mark Cohen at the recent Global Spa Summit event that I attended in Bali: “if you are going to have an evidence based practice, you also have to have practice based evidence.”
3. “First we create our structures and then our structures create us.” I thought this was a great quote from a presentation by Joan Hoxsey on creating organizational engagement using strengths and appreciative inquiry. A theme of the conference seemed to be the challenge of confronting structures and institutions that have deeply engrained habits and history (in education and healthcare for example) that are difficult to change although they may no longer be adequately serving the purpose for which they were originally conceived.
The need and challenge for positive psychology to go beyond the individual to impact institutions, organizations and even governments was a prominent part of the congress.
4. Love is Vital . . . and Fleeting: Perhaps my favorite presentation of the congress was Barbara Fredrickson (of Positivity fame) speaking on Love. She defines love as fleeting moments of positive resonance when two people are sharing and amplifying a positive emotional experience. By Fredrickson’s definition love is fleeting, not forever, but these little moments of love contribute to developing resources that are vital for long-term health and flourishing.
5. “If one person can do so much bad, imagine how much good all of us can do.” The congress was taking place in the backdrop of the horrible recent tragedies in Norway. One survivor of the massacre made the above comment to James Pawelski.
It makes me wonder, what is the opposite of terrorism? If terrorism is the acts of one or a handful of people to cause damage and disruption to a much greater number of people, could we create something that does the same thing on the positive side, i.e. create a positive disruption for a large number of people?
What if a small group of people conspired not to disrupt, damage and kill but rather to facilitate, enhance and nurture?
What would you call a renegade group of do-gooders like this? How and where would you strike to make the greatest impact? If anyone wants to form a clan dedicated to spreading peace, love and happiness, I’d love to hear your ideas.