Report from IPPA Conference, Day 4

Waking on the 4th and final day of the International Positive Psychology Association’s 2nd Congress was exciting.  More opportunities to learn but also I am going home today!  It’s been great to be here in Philadelphia, but as Dorothy said “There’s no place like home”.  When I offered to split a cab with fellow IPPA attendees, I got to experience reciprocity immediately when new found friend, David, told me that there was a shuttle that went from the hotel to the airport for a mere $10 AND I could reserve it for a specific time rather than potentially fighting the masses of not one but two conferences that let out at the same time.  This put any travel concerns to rest and let me relax and enjoy the rest of the conference.  Today was shorter than the rest with an opening by Richard Davidson, followed by two sets of break-out sessions, lunch then a joint finale with Richard Davidson and Barbara Fredrickson showcasing their best and brightest with cutting-edge research.

But first I started with my daily dose of Lynn Johnson.  It’s been wonderful to have someone I know and recognize from Salt Lake City.  His smile keeps me tethered to home while sowing the crops of positive psychology in Philly.  We swapped stories of our happy adventures.  I told him about Jane McGonigal’s amazing game (“Superbetter” and he told me of his favorite part of the conference so far (the opening comments). He especially praised Seligman for the ambitiousness of his dreams and goals.  We talked about which workshop to attend next.  I told him I was debating between two but when he told me that Jonathan Haidt was speaking, that slammed it: I was in!  Lynn and I went in together.  To my delight, Haidt was speaking first.   Just a little background: Jonathan Haidt has written some of the best 2.0 books on Happiness available.   He spoke of the vagus nerve that runs from the base of the brain to the heart.  This is literally the path from the head to the heart.  When we see something inspiring, there is more activity in the vagus nerve.  He said that when we view some things, we release chemicals into the body that make us feel a sense of connection to the world in general, but in other instances a different chemical is released that causes us to feel warm and fuzzy much more specifically – to the people closest to us.  For instance, this chemical is released while women are breast feeding, which helps them to bond to their infant child.  Fascinating stuff!  His talk was amazing.  I’m really glad Lynn told me about it.

For the final breakout session of the conference, I chose a workshop on doing a proper assessment and making a treatment plan using positive psychology.  This may have been the best workshop yet.  Michael Frisch offers a wonderful self-test that covers 16 different areas of a person’s life and weights them by how much value the person puts into that particular thing.  This is significant because people are different from one another and what works for one person, will not work for another.  He then tests the individual to see how they are doing in these 16 areas.  The report that spits out is a customized snapshot of the things that are important to that person and how they are doing in that area.  Not only that, Frisch offers a specific plan to improve eve all 16 areas – so no matter HOW you want to improve your life, he has an action plan for ya.  I was not able to get his book, but I am very, very interested and may be incorporating this into Happiness 101 rather quickly.

For lunch I went out.  I found a street vendor selling Philly steak sandwiches.  How appropriate.  My first meal and my last meal in Philadelphia would be a Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich.   It was good too!  (Bonus!)  Back inside, I was a little early so I took a seat right up front.  This puts me right in front of the movie screen where slides are shown and allows me to take pictures of presenter’s slides to look at later.  This also put me in close proximity of the giants of positive psychology.  Sure enough, Richard “Richie” Davidson was only across the aisle and one seat over!  I did not think I would get a photo op because I had to leave as SOON as it was over (if not before) to catch my flight.  I introduced myself and gushed my praise without restriction.  Dr. Davidson has unearthed findings in his laboratory that have forced positive psychologists to rethink the limitations of happiness – and here he was shaking my hand.  He had a real softness of spirit about him.  I could see how he was able to call His Holiness The Dalai Lama “friend”.  And here he was shaking my hand (part 2).  Amazing.  I acknowledged his busy schedule (they were due to go on stage in mere minutes) and asked to take a picture with him.  I felt truly humbled.

Minutes later, Barbara Fredrickson took the stage and quickly introduced the next generation of shining stars in the area of positive psychology.  The theme of nearly all of the students centered on the profound effect that meditation on loving kindness has –  not only on individuals but in relationships.  It was amazing to watch scientists use graphs and complicated flow charts to explain love.  Love was actually measured by the release of chemicals in the body.  There were able to scientifically prove what increases love of self and others.  Students echoed what I learned in Jonathan Hadit’s classroom only hours before – about the vagus nerve, speaking of “vagal tone”.  In one study, with scientific precision, scientists were able to show that meditation on loving kindness strengthens the vagal tone, which increases one’s capacity to love, which increases the statistical probability that that person will behave more lovingly to their fellow man (as  evidence by a “game” of reciprocity used in the laboratory).  Definitely cutting edge – as promised.    I left that lecture and that conference, filled to the brim with new ideas for my practice, for Happiness 101, for the webinar in October and Happiness 201.  That’s right, Happiness TWO-oh-one. Fasten your safety belt.

Frank Clayton, the Happy Therapist

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