The MAPP program is a fulltime program – but combines onsite classes with long-distance learning periods. Part of the distance learning comprises a lot of reading (Who would have thought of that…) and writing essays about a wide array of positive psychology topics. I´ve decided to post some of those essays here on Mappalicious. Surely, they´re not the be-all and end-all of academic writing. But then again, it would also be a pity to bury them in the depths of my laptop…
Positive psychology stresses the importance of close relationships, be it friendship, romantic love, family, or the support of a larger social entity (Reis & Gable, 2003). When asked to give a definition of positive psychology, the late Christopher Peterson used to say: “Other people matter.” (2006, p. 249). Fredrickson (2013) complements this remark by asserting that love (and its benefits) cannot be a matter of one person, but can only exist in pairs or groups of people. For authors like Vaillant (2008) and Seligman (2011), relationships are of uttermost importance as well. They are embodied by the letter “R” in the acronym PERMA, which represents Seligman´s framework of human flourishing. Additionally, it is hypothesized that close relationships can serve as a major source of meaning in life (Steger, 2009). This should hold true especially if one of the person´s top character strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) is the “capacity to love and to be loved” – which for me is the case. Therefore, this story focuses on love between father and son as an “active ingredient” in the creation of meaning.
Micro-Moments of Love: A short Story on Meaning in Life
On 30th October 2013, my son Mika turned one year old. This year as a young father has been the most transformative experience of my life. It is said that having a child turns the “M” in “Me” upside down, converting it into “We”. By now I know this is absolutely true.
Having a child turns the M in Me upside down.
It is transformed into a We.
When I had to leave Germany for the U.S.A. on 3rd September 2013 to attend the so-called immersion week of the 2013/14 Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at University of Pennsylvania, I was deeply worried. My job as a manager at Bertelsmann, Europe´s largest media company, requires me to travel a lot. But until that day, I had never been away from my boy for more than two nights in a row – and even that could be heartbreaking. Yet, back then I had to leave for a whole week. For whatever reason, one of my greatest fears was that Mika would forget me and “turn cold” in the meantime. Happily, I can say this notion was utter foolishness on my part.
Mika is a wild boy. We have this little ritual: When I return home from work on weekdays, my wife will wait at the door, holding him in her arms. When he spots me, you can see in his eyes that it takes him a little while to realize that his daddy is home. He will look at me with a blank expression. In my head, I start counting the seconds: twenty-one … twenty-two … twenty- … and then his whole face will transmute into the acme of joy. He will squeak with glee and hold up his arms, meaning: Daddy, grab and hug me! He will be really wild in his excitement, hit me on the cheek, kick my belly, and bite my nose. After seven seconds or so, he will beckon me to let him down on the floor again – and he will turn his attention to whatever toy is in reach at that moment.
But when I came home from Philadelphia in the early afternoon of 9th September, it was different. Really different. Mika had just woken up from his afternoon nap. He was standing upright, holding on to the guardrail of his crib, the lights still turned down low. I slowly entered his room and walked to the window, opening up the roller blind just a little bit so the afternoon sun could sneak into the room. Then, I stepped to the side of his bed and looked at him. And Mika looked back with that blank expression on his face. And in my head, I started to count the seconds again: twenty-one … twenty-two … twenty-three … twenty-four … twenty-five – and then I felt he really had forgotten about me.
But at last, he lifted up his arms. Calm. Not smiling. And I picked him up and he hugged me. And he laid down his head on my chest and for the eternity of about thirty seconds it stayed there. He then looked up, gazing at my face. Calm. Not smiling. After about five seconds, he rested his head again for another fleeting eon. Finally, he looked up again. And his whole face transformed into the acme of joy. And he squeaked with glee, and he hit me on the cheek, and he kicked my belly, and bit my nose. And after seven seconds or so, he made me let him down on the floor and went to play. And I cried.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become. New York: Hudson Street Press.
Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Reis, H. T., & Gable, S. L. (2003). Toward a positive psychology of relationships. In C. L. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: The positive person and the good life (pp. 129-159). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Seligman, M. E. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.
Steger, M. F. (2009). Meaning in life. In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology (pp. 679-687). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Vaillant, G. (2008). Spiritual evolution: How we are wired for faith, hope, and love. New York: Broadway Books.