It is very late (1:30am here in Philadelphia) so today’s report will probably be fairly short, but I have SO many exciting things to share with you! Today was the first day of the 2nd Congress of the International Positive Psychology Association. I was SO excited as I entered the downtown Marriott for the first time. I saw a sign directing me up…. up…. (and away!) Once in the right place, registration was a snap. I was handed my IPPA bag and envelope (I felt like Charlie from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory).
One great surprise is that tomorrow (Sunday, July 24th) the IPPA is holding Special Interest Groups (SIGs) during the lunch hour. There were several to choose from but I must say that I was happily shocked to see that Barbara Fredrickson will be hosting one of these SIGs. She is the author of Positivity, which is my second highest recommended book (next to Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book, The How of Happiness). She will be talking on Monday and will be closing out the conference with Richard Davidson on Tuesday, but to get Barbara in small venue is quite a treat!
The conference was officially kicked off at 6pm. Participants were told that the IPPA plans to form divisions within the association focusing on education, culture and application. A special award was also given to Ed Diener (described as the “Obi Wan Kenobi of Positive Psychology), Christopher Peterson (who helped to formulate the 24 signature strengths valued across all cultures), Mihaly (“Mike”) Csikzentmihalyi (pronounced: cheek-sent-me-high) (who contribued the concept of “Flow” to positive psychology) and the founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman. As they accepted their plaques one-by-one I had a strange feeling come over me. I realized I was feeling the beginnings of tears – tears of joy! There,on one stage, were the rock stars of positive psychology. I realized that these moments may never come again and to drink deeply from the moment.
Each of these happiness giants had a half hour to address the 1,200 attendees.
Ed Diener went first. His lecture was the kind I eat up with a spoon – full of facinating statistics and studies that challenge our existing thoughts about happiness. He did a comparssion between two countries, South Korea and Costa Rica. South Korea, he explained, is, economically speaking, an “Asian tiger”, yet its inhabitants are some of the most unhappy in the world, while Costa Rica has a very poor GDP (Gross Domestic Product) but it’s people are happy. The difference? South Korea has a highly competitive nature. Her people claw and climb to be the best, with little meaning and value. Diener admitted that money is important to happiness but it does not necessarily mean that just because a country has a high GDP, does not necessarily mean its inhabitants are happy. Diener challenged us to go forth passionately and selflessly to help the world to be a happier place.
Chris Peterson was hilarious. He has a sly smile and a quick wit. He spoke of the direction of positive psychology. He believes that positive psychologists can do much more with the gift that we have been given. He challenged that Positive Psychology thus far has been too narrowly focused on American culture assuming that if things are important to us, they must be equally important to other cultures. For instance, he said he realized before he committed a faux pas in China to focus not only on the benefits of Positive psychology for the collective culture (as opposed to the individual) but also that the Chinese are focused much more on long-term gain rather than short-term benefits. Finally, Dr. Peterson pointed out that, thus far, positive psychology has assumed that spiritiuality brings people happiness – and he is right, it does. However, it does not bring nearly as much happiness in countries that do not place great value on religiosity (as do Americans). This is a perspective that the “I” (International) in IPPA will help positive psychology studied and practiced in the United States to see past it’s homogenous point of view.
Martin Seligman gave a glimpse of a happier future. There are many, many projects he is involved in that will have mass effect. He shared how the Army has implemented a program that will eventually train every soldier to be more optimistic, resilient and, yes, happier – not just on the battle field but in his family and his community. He reported that one year after issuing the first assessments to soldiers, they were able to ascertain why soldiers commit suicide: a lack of the sense of meaning and purpose. Dr. Seligman stated that 1% of the soldiers were devoid of these and HALF of them attempted suicide!! Seligman said that with these assessments they will be able to accurately predict which soldiers will attempt suicide. For soliders who have already had resilience training (to prepare them for the spoils of war), suicide went down 80%! Positive psychology is saving lives! If taking on such an undertaking was not enough, Martin Seligman put forth that by the year 2051 that at least 51% of the world’s population will be (by definition) flourishing. This is not nearly the stuff of fantasy. Seligman has specific tests that can determine whether a population is flourishing and plugging in to Facebook and Google can allow them to keep a real-time finger on the pulse of the world. Have you ever hoped for world peace? Well, Martin Seligman has put a plan in motion to make it happen, He charged everyone in the Grand Ballroom at the Downtown Philadelphia Marriott not to be merely a spectator of this feat but to be an agent of change. My heart soared.
The speeches were followed by a reception where food and beverages were served. Who should come upon me in the food line but the smiling face of Lynn Johnson (who taught Positive Psychology to me (and 99 other therapists) in February. He was positively (pun intended) buoyant. It was wonderful to connect. We committed to do more of that both at the rest of the conference and when we return home to Salt Lake City. After munching some vegetables, I went back to the main ballroom. The four superstars of positive psychology were still there, talking and taking pictures with attendees. I was amazed to find that they did not merely give the on-cue “Cheese!” but actually engaged in lengthy, deep conversation with people. I Ed Diener to be especially talkative. I could tell he loved talking about happiness as much (or more) than I do. I caught Chris Peterson as he was headed out, so I did not have as much time to talk to him but he was warm and gracious. The line to speak to Dr. Seligman had finally waned and I was literally the last attendee to talk to him. He was very genuine. I told him I really appreciated his high aspirations and committed to do my best to spread the good word about happiness to the best of my ability.
So much for the “short” report from Philadelphia. Maybe I just kept writing because I SO enjoy reliving such an amazing day.
You can follow the program of the 2nd Congress of the IPPA by clicking here. Tomorrow (I should say “today” – it is now 2:30pm) , Edward Deci will speak to the Self-Determination (or the self-fulfilling prophecy) and it’s relationship to positive psychology. Of the four break-out sessions, I have chosen to attend:
Positive Interventions by Acadia Parks
Applied Positive Psychology in Action by Stewart Donaldson
Forgiveness Solution Interventions by Phillip Friedman
Mindfulness and the Integration of the Bright and Dark Sides of Human Pcyhe by Kirk Brown