I’m inspired. As a Positive Psychologist, with VIA strengths of Curiosity and Love of Learning, attending the 2021 International Positive Psychology Association Conference was such a joy. It was a disruptive, thought-provoking and energizing three days for me, attending as many sessions as I could from early in the morning to late at night. Listening to many of the most brilliant people in the field of positive psychology talk about their vision of “Wellbeing for All” was like recharging my batteries with inspiration, motivation and engagement.
Positive psychology in a pandemic
Earlier this year, an eminent group of researchers published an article “Positive psychology in a pandemic: buffering, bolstering and building mental health” (Waters et al., 2021). It discusses ways in which positive psychology approaches and practices can help to:
- reduce mental illness (buffer)
- maintain mental health (bolster); and
- strengthen psychological resources and capacities (build)
A meta-analysis carried out by Helgeson et al (2006) shows that over 50% of people who endure trauma come out stronger from the experience. “Such findings provide hope for a prognosis of widespread psychological recovery and growth following the COVID-19 pandemic provided that people are equipped with the right knowledge, skills, supports and practices”, the article goes on to say.
We’re all in this together
Starting with the opening keynote by Carol Ryff at the conference, which concentrated on redressing the growing inequality in our societies as well as the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on poorer people and communities, to the closing talk by Angela Duckworth about the power of both individual and collective efficacy, the ideas were all challenging.
The collective call to action is loud and clear. We can create a brighter future, but we all have to be in this together.
Martin Seligman related to “Wellbeing for All” through his new work on agency. Agency can be described as a “feeling of being in the driving seat when it comes to our actions” (Moore, 2016). Seligman builds his five wellbeing pillars, known as PERMA (positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and achievement), on a foundation of agency. His research demonstrates that agency enables wellbeing. It is the means to the end.
To help us jump into Moore’s metaphorical driver’s seat, Dr. Seligman divides agency into three measurable elements:
And he considers these three elements of agency to be teachable. Efficacy and optimism are much researched (key names are Albert Bandura and Karen Reivich). Imagination much less so but that is about to change. Seligman is now the Executive Director of the Imagination Institute, dedicated to making progress on the measurement, growth and improvement of imagination across all sectors of society. So, there can be little doubt that soon we will hear more about how imagination can be taught. And coached.
Collective and interconnected wellbeing
The conference’s emphasis throughout the three days was very much on learning from the experience of the last 18 months of COVID-19, and consciously creating the shift from individual to collective wellbeing. As Antonella della Fave put it, we have to focus on “One Health” encompassing individuals, society, animals, plants and the environment. We are all interconnected. and we cannot survive nor thrive without all being in place.
In terms of how to develop individual and collective wellbeing, the conference’s panel discussion on the book,“Creating The World We Want To Live In: How Positive Psychology Can Build a Brighter Future” by Bridget Grenville-Cleave, Dóra Guðmundsdóttir, Felicia Huppert, Vanessa King, David Roffey, Sue Roffey and Marten de Vries, was truly inspirational.
One particular take-away for me was this diagram that sets out Principles for Psychological Wellbeing.
What more does anyone need to define their own role in creating change and generating wellbeing for all, to become a #positiveactivist?
Moore, J. W. (2016). What is the sense of agency and why does it matter? Frontiers in Psychology, 7 (AUG), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01272
Waters, L., Algoe, S. B., Dutton, J., Emmons, R., Barbara, L., Heaphy, E., Moskowitz, J. T., Neff, K., Pury, C., Steger, M., Waters, L., Algoe, S. B., Dutton, J., Emmons, R., Barbara, L., Heaphy, E., Moskowitz, J. T., Neff, K., Niemiec, R., & Pury, C. (2021). Positive psychology in a pandemic: buffering, bolstering and building mental health.The Journal of Positive Psychology, 00(00), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2021.1871945