Mappsterview No. 8: Please stand up for Dan Tomasulo

Dan TomasuloPlease introduce yourself briefly

I’m Dan Tomasulo, MAPP 7. Since graduation in 2012 I’ve worked as an assistant instructor for Marty Seligman and James Pawelski. I’m also core faculty for the “Spirituality Mind Body Institute” at Teachers College, Columbia University in NYC where I’ve designed and teach the Optimal Well-Being concentration. I also direct the Open Center’s New York Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (NYCAPP).

What did you do before joining the MAPP program at Penn?

Hmmm. Depends on how far back we are willing to look. 🙂 I’m a licensed psychologist and psychodrama trainer and work in private practice and consulting. I also have an MFA in writing and a few books under my belt. I have a daily blog called Ask the therapist at Psychcentral.com and write for Psychology Today as well.

What got you interested in Positive Psychology in the first place?

I went through a personal crisis and got depressed. There is nothing worse than a depressed psychologist. People would tell me what was bothering them – and I thought, Huh – you think THAT’S bad…wait until I tell you what happened to me. (I never actually said that out loud.) My best friend took me to the first International Positive Psychology Conference and I was hooked. I started doing things that made me feel better and despite all my years of training nothing seemed to be so directly helpful. That was when I decided to go to MAPP.

While googling you, I found a NYT article from 1983(!) stating you used to be a stand-up comedian. Can you tell us more about that?

Damn, I told you not to tell! 🙂 Yep, for a couple of years I was on the circuit. If you are a fan – this was back in the time of Andy Kaufman. I was mostly at the Improv in Hells Kitchen. But it was the same time I was finishing my Ph.D. I had to choose between comedy and psychology and that’s when psychodrama came along. I realized I could blend the two into a therapeutic form. Ultimately, I became a trauma expert using psychodrama to help people unlock the part of their soul that had shut down. Being able to use humor in the right amounts at the right time was part of the gift that stand-up gave me. It helps the healing when people have to touch some dark feelings.

(There is a wonderful story I will write about one day about the night Andy Kaufman told us of how “foreign man’s” “Thank you berry much.” Came about—but that’s a tale for another time.)

As stated above, among other many things, you facilitate and teach Psychodrama. What is that all about?

It is an action-oriented for of psychotherapy where we use role-playing to understand a situation, activate emotions, and correct them. In a group we will use auxiliaries to play the different roles the protagonist is talking about. If you are angry at your mother you would choose a person to play your mother and we would enact the scenes related to the issue. We use a variety of techniques to amplify and explore the emotions. We have people take on the role of someone’s feelings, their ambivalence, their compassion, or anger. It is more than simple role-playing however. The training is long (my post-doctoral training program was 13 years!) and you learn to manage dramas at an individual level, group level, and the community level. At one point I was hired by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to use a special type of psychodrama to heal unrest in a community. It was amazing to see large groups of people respond to large-scale group dynamics with a healing result.

And how does Psychodrama tie in with Positive Psychology? Are there any parallels?

Just as psychology focused on the negative aspects and developed tools to alleviate suffering, psychodrama followed suit. Most of the training and the work was targeted at relieving pain. But the tools are so powerful that it seems the methods of psychodrama could be used to activate positive emotions in a way that strengthens and integrates.

This past summer at the IPPA conference in Montreal I was given the Avant-Garde Clinical Intervention award for the development of the Virtual Gratitude Visit (VGV). This technique builds on the original gratitude letter Marty researched. He asked students to deliver a letter of gratitude to someone they felt they needed to thank. This was one of the first pieces of research to show that the use of a positive intervention could improve well-being while stablizing depression for a period of time. In the virtual gratitude visit we use an empty chair to have the protagonist deliver a feeling of gratitude. They then reverse roles, become the person and answer, then reverse back. This is typically a very powerful and moving experience. People can do this with those that have passed on – as well as those they are no longer in touch with. Technically, with negative emotions you get a catharsis that acts like a purging. But with positive emotions you get a catharsis of integration. The expression of the positive emotions pulls together a miriad of feelings and integrates them. This creates a feeling of wholness.

I’ve developed several other experiential methods for use in exploring character strengths, forgiveness, resilience, best possible self, self compassion, etc. Each does a similar thing in using the psychodramatic methods to integrate emotions.

It seems like being a story-teller is an overarching theme in your life. Over the upcoming weeks, your memoir called American Snake Pit will be published. Here´s your space for some unbridled adulation.

American Snakepit - Dan TomasuloI am very excited that in April George Mason’s Stillhouse press will release my memoir, “American Snake Pit: Hope Grit, and Resilience in the Wake of Willowbrook.” This will be my second memoir and it tells the story of moving a group of very challenging people into the community. It gives a voice to those who could not advocate for themselves.

My memoir is in the spirit of “One Flew Over the CooKoo’s Nest”, “Awakenings”, and “Girl Interrupted”. It challenges the perception of mental illness and is the first memoir of its kind concerning the treatment of intellectually disabled and mentally ill patients coming from the infamous Willowbrook, a hell on earth Bobby Kennedy called a “snake pit.” But it is much more than a depiction of the horrors of the institution. It is the story of patients not just surviving, but flourishing for the first time in their lives, proving the resilience and hope of the human spirit. Their story is about what happens when intentional well-being replaces indifference.

American Snake Pit is the story of the disregarded souls who ended up in my care; of the eccentric, resilient staff who helped make such a momentous success possible; and about a blind spot in American history. Because of the success and the progress made by the inmates in group homes like these, mental health became a civil right in the United States. The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) of 1980, affects all Americans. It is particularly important now as the right to quality healthcare treatment, and access is so politically charged. This is the story of how it all began.

3 Questions for Angela Duckworth, Author of “Grit”

Angela_DuckworthA few weeks ago, Penn professor Angela Duckworth has published her first book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. And while she´s typically busy shipping exceptional research, giving TED presentations, or talking to the New York Times, it says a lot about her character that she also takes the time to answer some questions for my little blog thingy. So, thank you, Angela!

What are you up to these days? Just kidding… What does it feel like to have published a bestseller? And what part did grit play in the process of writing up “Grit”

I’m devoting myself to Character Lab, a nonprofit I founded with educators Dave Levin and Dominic Randolph three years ago. The mission of Character Lab is to advance the science and practice of character development. This includes helping children develop intrapersonal strengths like grit and self-control but also interpersonal strengths like gratitude and pro-social purpose and, finally, intellectual strengths like curiosity and open-minded thinking.

While I’m thrilled with the success of the book, I can also tell you that my attention is entirely on the future and new challenges. And, as for grit while writing Grit? Writing this book is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I almost quit many times. So, yes, I used my grit to do it, and I learned a lot about grit in the process!

You´re incredibly successful as a researcher, but also as an educator, first via your TED talk, and now with the book. Clearly, a lot people are intrigued by the concept of grit. Still, I’ve read a couple of articles that give pushback to the concept for allegedly ignoring the socio-economic factors that lead to success in school and life in general. What’s your take on this?

At a recent conference, I sat down next to a sociologist. She knew my work, and it didn’t take long for her to express extreme disdain—even anger—for what she called the grit message. “What’s that,” I asked? “Well, put it this way,” she said. “I happen to think that poverty and inequality matter a heck of a lot more than grit.” I thought for a moment. Then I said, “I see your point.”

If you pit grit against structural barriers to achievement, you may well decide that grit is less worthy of our attention. But I think that’s the right answer to the wrong question.

Caring about how to grow grit in our young people—no matter their socio-economic background—doesn’t preclude concern for things other than grit. For example, I’ve spent a lot of my life in urban classrooms, both as a teacher and as a researcher. I know how much the expertise and care of the adult at the front of the room matter. And I know that a child who comes to school hungry, or scared, or without glasses to see the chalkboard, is not ready to learn. Grit alone is not going to save anyone.

But the importance of the environment is two-fold. It’s not just that you need opportunity in order to benefit from grit. It’s also that the environments our children grow up in profoundly influence their grit and every other aspect of their character. This is the grit message in my words:

Grit may not be sufficient for success, but it sure is necessary.

If we want our children to have a shot at a productive and satisfying life, we adults should make it our concern to provide them with the two things all children deserve: challenges to exceed what they were able to do yesterday and the support that makes that growth possible.

So, the question is not whether we should concern ourselves with grit or structural barriers to achievement. In the most profound sense, both are important, and more than that, they are intertwined.

I’ve pursued and completed a Ph.D. but the truth is: I entirely lost interest in the topic after the first year. Still, I hung in there for another 3.5 years for reasons that the founders of Self-Determination Theory, Ryan and Deci, would probably call “externally regulated”. And while I suffered emotionally during that time, I now do enjoy the upsides that having a Ph.D. entails at times. Was that grit? Or “stupid grit”? Or just stupid?

Good question. I might have asked myself, “Why am I pursuing this Ph.D.?” And in response, what would you have said? The answer gives you a higher-order goal—the “why” that gives meaning to the Ph.D. Was there a way to pivot in terms of your topic or research to achieve that higher-order goal?

And, in terms of pure interest, is there an adjacent topic to the one your pursued that you would have enjoyed more?* Interest and purpose are the drivers of passion, and I think if there is really no interest and no sense of purpose, you need not feel the compulsion to finish what you started.

Thank you, Angela – and best of luck with your book and the Character Lab!


Grit_DuckworthDr. Angela Duckworth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies non-IQ competencies, including self-control and grit, which predict success both academically and professionally.

Prior to pursuing a career in academia, Angela was a McKinsey consultant and, for five years, a math teacher in several public schools. In 2013, she was selected as a MacArthur Fellow. Very recently, Angela has published her first book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance with Scribner. It was an instant New York Times best seller and remains on the best seller list today.


* The truth is: When you don´t want to work on your Ph.D., you start to put a lot of time and energy in other things, just to have your calendar really, really stuffed as an excuse. For me, this led to discovering Positive Psychology in the first place, which then led to studying at Penn, which led to meeting Angela.

This is one of my learnings: Whether something is truly good or bad for us should probably not be judged in the moment. It often takes a couple of years to connect the dots and see the real value of our life´s episodes.

I’m still Up-Lifted…

I’m still so much “in love” with Lift, a leadership book by Ryan & Robert Quinn that I’ve already written about a couple of days ago. It’s just brilliant. Actually, I want to take a marker and then just underline the whole book – but I guess that would be kind of stupid. So, for today, I’d just like to share with you passage on being other-focused:

“[M]ost people find that when they become other-focused they do not lose themselves; instead, they become their best selves. They like who they become when they care about others. This makes sense when we realize that our identities are inseparable from our relationships with others. We are social creatures, biologically wired to empathize with each other. Becoming other-focused does not eliminate our unique characteristics, it draws on our unique characteristics to help us make more or our relationships.”

Lift - Mappalicious 

Richard Branson: “I am successful, wealthy and connected BECAUSE I am happy.”

Book - Dear StrangerSir Richard Branson seems to be an endless source of formidable quotes (I´ve used one in my TEDx Talk). Today I stumbled upon another one that I find particularly striking – as it promotes one of the central tenets in Positive Psychology: Namely, that (financial) success in life may be a consequence of positive emotions, and not so much a prerequisite. This quote s art of a longer “letter to a stranger”, where Branson shares his core ideas on how to live a life that is worthwhile living.

I know I’m fortunate to live an extraordinary life, and that most people would assume my business success, and the wealth that comes with it, have brought me happiness. But they haven’t; in fact it’s the reverse. I am successful, wealthy and connected because I am happy.

This letter, in turn, is part of a new book that consists of more “letters to strangers” on the same subject, among them Lord Richard Layard and Arianna Huffington. I´m pretty sure this will be on my reading list soon.

Branson - Happiness

7 more essential Books on Positive Psychology for 2015/16

After publishing a list of 5 essential upcoming books on Positive Psychology a couple of days ago, several friendly people approached me (Thank you!) to point me towards further noteworthy books that have just been published or are already appearing on the publishing horizon (a.k.a. on Amazon for pre-order). So, if you´re looking for further entertainment, enlightenment, or just plain Positive Psychology science, here you go. There´s books on women´s careers, rising strong after setbacks, good work and great organizations, world-changing individuals, and much more (click to enlarge the image). Enjoy – and share the good news!

Positive Psychology Books 2015 & 2016

Positive Psychology books that have already been published

Brené Brown: Rising Strong. Brené Brown is a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and author of the No. 1 New York Times bestseller “The Gifts of Imperfection”. About the book:

“It is the rise from falling that Brown takes as her subject in Rising Strong. As a grounded theory researcher, Brown has listened as a range of people — from leaders in Fortune 500 companies and the military to artists, couples in long-term relationships, teachers, and parents — shared their stories of being brave, falling, and getting back up. She asked herself, What do these people with strong and loving relationships, leaders nurturing creativity, artists pushing innovation, and clergy walking with people through faith and mystery have in common? The answer was clear: They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort.” 

Beth Cabrera: Beyond happy: Women, Work, and Well-Being. Beth Cabrera is a senior scholar at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University and works with companies to help them create positive work environments. About the book:

“Over the course of a decade, Beth Cabrera has surveyed and interviewed more than a thousand women to gather insight into how to effectively balance career and family responsibilities. Beyond Happy: Women, Work, and Well-Being gathers essential findings and offers women proven strategies for living more authentic, meaningful lives. Through the lens of shared experience, Cabrera thoughtfully examines the challenges women face and presents a simple yet powerful model for enhancing well-being that can both improve and transform lives.”

Tom Rath: Are you fully charged? Tom Rath is a Penn MAPP alum, now a regular guest lecturer in that program, and otherwise, regularly to be found at No. 1 spots on the New York Times bestseller lists with his heavily Positive Psychology-infused masterpieces. About the book:

The book “reveals the three keys that matter most for our daily well-being, as well as our engagement in our work. Drawing on the latest and most practical research from business, psychology, and economics, this book focuses on changes we can make to create better days for ourselves and others. Are You Fully Charged? will challenge you to stop pursuing happiness and start creating meaning instead, lead you to rethink your daily interactions with the people who matter most, and show you how to put your own health first in order to be your best every day.”

Barry Schwartz: Why we work. Barry Schwartz is a professor at Swarthmore College, author of the highly-acclaimed The Paradox of Choice and a regular New York Times contributor, and a regular guest lecturer in the Penn MAPP program. About the book:

“We’ve long been taught that the reason we work is primarily for a paycheck. In fact, we’ve shaped much of the infrastructure of our society to accommodate this belief. Then why are so many people dissatisfied with their work, despite healthy compensation? And why do so many people find immense fulfillment and satisfaction through “menial” jobs? Schwartz explores why so many believe that the goal for working should be to earn money, how we arrived to believe that paying workers more leads to better work, and why this has made our society confused, unhappy, and has established a dangerously misguided system.”

Robert E. Quinn: The Positive Organization: Breaking Free from Conventional Cultures, Constraints, and Beliefs. Robert E. Quinn is a professor at University of Michigan´s School of Business and author of “Deep Change”. About the book:

“Beholden to accepted assumptions about people and organizations, too many enterprises waste human potential. Robert Quinn shows how to defy convention and create organizations where people feel fully engaged and continually rewarded, where both individually and collectively they flourish and exceed expectations.”

Upcoming books on Positive Psychology

Amy CuddyPresence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. Amy Cuddy is a professor at Harvard and best known for her research on body language and “power-posing” (watch her TED Talk here). About the book:

The book “shows us we need to stop worrying about the impression we’re making on others, and instead change the impression we’re making on ourselves. Cutting-edge science reveals that if we adopt behaviors reflecting power and strength, we liberate ourselves from the fears and doubts that obstruct us. By redirecting our thoughts, actions, and even physiology, we free ourselves to be our best.”

Adam M. Grant: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. Adam Grant is a professor at Wharton Business School, author of the immensely successful book Give and Take, and regular guest lecturer in the Penn MAPP program. About the book:

“Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can fight groupthink to build cultures that welcome dissent.”

5 essential brand-new & upcoming Books on Positive Psychology

Are you eager to get some fresh perspectives on Positive Psychology? Here you go…

Recently published books on Positive Psychology

Michelle Gielan: Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change. Michelle is a former CBS News anchor and is a Penn MAPP alum. About the book:

“In Broadcasting Happiness, Gielan shows us how our words can move people from fearbased mindsets, where they see obstacles as insurmountable, to positive mindsets, where they see that change is possible and take action. Using scientifically proven communication strategies, we have the ability to increase others’ happiness and success at work, as well as our own, instantly making us more effective leaders.”

Shannon Polly & Kathryn Britton (Eds.): Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life. Shannon and Kathryn are also Penn MAPP graduates working at the intersection of research and consulting. About the book:

The book brings Peterson´s and Seligman´s character strengths “to life with stories involving children, teenagers, adults, and elders and occurring in family life and business settings, in the present and in the distant past, in locations from China to the United States to the Middle East. Research shows that using character strengths in new ways for a week makes people happier up to six months later. This book includes many ideas for using your character strengths in new ways.”

J. Harold Ellens, Theo D. McCall & David Bryce Yaden (Eds.): Being Called: Scientific, Secular, and Sacred Perspectives. David was an assistant instructor in during my stay in the Penn MAPP program and has his own Mappsterview. About the book:

“This unique book is an essential resource for interdisciplinary research and scholarship on the phenomenon of feeling called to a life path or vocation at the interface of science and religion.”

Positive Psychology Books coming up in 2016

Emma Seppälä: The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success. Emma is the Science Director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and founder of Fulfillment Daily. About the book:

“Drawing on the latest findings from the fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience—research on happiness, resilience, willpower, compassion, positive stress, creativity, mindfulness—Seppälä shows that finding happiness and fulfillment may, in fact, be the most productive thing we can do to thrive professionally.”

Angela Duckworth: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. If you are remotely interested in Positive Psychology, it is not necessary to introduce Angela, but for the sake of consistency in this article, she´s a professor at Penn´s Positive Psychology Center and a close colleague of Martin Seligman. About the book:

“Why do some people succeed and others fail? Sharing new insights from her landmark research on grit, MacArthur “genius” Angela Duckworth explains why talent is hardly a guarantor of success. Rather, other factors can be even more crucial such as identifying our passions and following through on our commitments.”

New Positive Psychology Books

5 recent Positive Psychology Books taking a very special Angle on the Subject

By now, there are hundreds (or probably thousands…) of books on Positive Psychology. Most of them are general introductions to the subject or books focusing on the use of Positive Psychology in organizations (please see the general and organizational book lists on Mappalicious).

So today, I compiled a list of recent publications that looks a little different. All the books look at Positive Psychology from a very distinct and special angle. Enjoy!

 

Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener look at the positive value of our negative emotions, thereby challenging the assumption that Positive Psychology is all about seeing the world through rose-colored glasses.

http://www.amazon.com/Upside-Your-Dark-Side-Self–Drives/dp/1594631735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1422713137&sr=1-1

 

Kate Hefferon sheds light on the role of the body in Positive Psychology, thereby filling a gap in the extant literature that mostly focuses on the psychological side of things.

http://www.amazon.com/Positive-Psychology-Body-Somatopsychic-Flourishing/dp/0335247717/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

Rafael Calvo and Dorian Peters show us the (near) future of technology, where smartphones and wearables, together with the appropriate applications, will help to foster and sustain human well-being.

http://www.amazon.com/Positive-Computing-Technology-Wellbeing-Potential/dp/0262028158/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

Michael Bishop aims at integrating philosophical and psychological theories of well-being and proposes a new theory for understanding flourishing.

http://www.amazon.com/Good-Life-Philosophy-Psychology-Well-Being/dp/0199923116/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1422714230&sr=1-1

 

Finally, Stephen Joseph takes on one of my most favorite subjects: post-traumatic growth. He explains how we can navigate (traumatic) change and adversity to find new meaning and direction in life.

http://www.amazon.com/What-Doesnt-Kill-Psychology-Posttraumatic/dp/0465032338/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1422714146&sr=1-3