Last month I participated in the Canadian Positive Psychology Association’s 4th conference at the University of Toronto with 400 researchers, counselors, facilitators, coaches, and psychologists (visit our Positive Psychology resources section or Flourish for background on this new field).
I was especially struck by three key themes at the conference:
- Building strengths is key to effectiveness – strengths have been defined as talents, skills, interests, values, and resources. Our own strengths-based leadership approaches focus on skill development. Positive Psychology’s Character Strengths are mostly about values and include talents and interests. One study showed 9 to 18 times more flourishing when we’re aware of and using our top strengths. Workers were most engaged and least stressed when using their strengths.
- Physical fitness is intertwined with positivity and well-being – taking good care of our bodies with nutrition, exercise, and sleep is proving to be vital to our happiness and mental health. Speaker and author, Tom Rath, gave us an inspiring example with his presentation — and his life. Diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder at age 16, he’s been battling cancer and tumors for almost 30 years now. Told he’d likely die before age forty, he’s outlived that gloomy forecast with hope, positivity, and “progressively having better days by making the little decisions on moving, eating, and sleep.” I downloaded and have been inspired by his book, Eat, Move, Sleep.
- Purpose is central to a meaningful life – Carin Rockind is a speaker and workshop leader who was an early graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Applied Positive Psychology. She spent years looking for happiness but found shattered dreams, divorce, and an unfulfilling — though successful — career. Through her research and personal application, she’s come to define purpose as “the active way in which you uniquely impact the world.” Meaning is a key element in the PERMA framework central to Positive Psychology. The framework and importance of meaning was discussed throughout the conference.
Tom Rath challenged us to answer the question how can we make the greatest contribution to others? “If you can’t be in an organization, community, work, etc., that isn’t improving well-being, what’s the point of staying there?” This brought to mind the important question of “what’s the meaning of your work?” Is it a job, career, or calling?
Tom gave us three questions for identifying where we can make the greatest contribution:
- What are the defining roles you play in work and life?
- What have been your most influential life experiences?
- What are the greatest contributions you can make before you’re gone?
Positive Psychology is a rapidly emerging and powerful new field. UPenn’s Positive Psychology Center defines it as “the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.”
Conferences like this add to our understanding of how to keep moving further along that path.