The International Positive Education Network (IPEN) has just issued a series of very instructive on the role of Positive Psychology in Education. Share and enjoy!
One of the central concepts in Positive Psychology is the framework of 24 character strengths that have been outlined by Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman in their 2004 tome. It was the foundation for the VIA Institute on Character – where you can take a test (for free) to find out what your top strengths are.
Ryan Niemiec, VIA´s Education Director, has published the book Positive Psychology at the Movies. It examines nearly 1,500 movies with regard to their display of the 24 character strengths throughout their plots. Frankly, so far I did not have the time to watch all of those movies – but considering general life expectancy, I will be able to so until I´m grey and old (don´t know where Ryan finds the time, considering how many books he publishes).
Anyway, I had an idea: instead of trying to find all of the character strengths throughout a ton of movies – would it be possible to find them all in just one? Therefore, I picked one of my all-time favorites, romantic (Christmas) comedy Love Actually, watched it for the hundredth time (or so…) – but for once, looked through the eyes of the VIA taxonomy. And tadaaa: I was able to spot all of them, even though I have to admit that two or three of the attributions may seem somewhat debatable.
Here´s what I´ve found:
What´s your favorite movie – and are you maybe going to see it with different eyes in the future?
If you are lucky, Positive Psychology will be coming to a school near you soon. Positive Education as part of Positive Psychology seems to be really taking off at this point in time. There is an early article by Seligman et al. (Positive education: positive psychology and classroom interventions) – but just recently, the International Positive Education Network (IPEN) was launched. According to its website, the goal of IPEN is
to bring together teachers, parents, academics, students, schools, colleges, universities, charities, companies and governments to promote positive education. Our goals are to support collaboration, change education practice and reform government policy.
On the question “Why Positive Education?” the website states:
Positive education challenges the current paradigm of education, which values academic attainment above all other goals. Drawing on classical ideals, we believe that the DNA of education is a double helix with intertwined strands of equal importance:
For quite a long time, Geelong Grammar School in Australia has been the hallmark of applied Positive Education. But more schools shall follow soon. Even in Germany – which typically does not pick up Positive Psychology topics that fast – has seen some Positive Education initiatives as early as 2007. We have a movement called Schulfach Glück (“School Subject Happiness”) which is backed by the “Fritz-Schubert-Institute”. They bring a positive curriculum especially to primary schools, helping teachers to teach topics to their classes such as joy and motivation, curiosity and courage, and mindfulness and respect.
By now, Fritz Schubert has authored three books on this initiative. The effectiveness of the program was recently evaluated in a study comparing classes who completed the curriculum to control groups. The treatment groups displayed higher subjective well-being and self-esteem at the end of the school year. The research article is written in German, but there´s an English abstract:
Applying a quasi-experimental pre-posttest design, we examined the effectiveness of a new teaching unit called school subject happiness. The investigation took place at two vocational schools that had established this subject in the school year 2010/11. Effects of one school year of instruction in the school subject happiness on students´ well-being, self-esteem, and self-efficacy are reported. In addition, a moderation effect of the personality traits emotional stability and extraversion was investigated. A total of 106 vocational school students who belonged either to the treatment or the control group participated in the study. At the beginning and at the end of the school year 2010/11, all students completed questionnaires. Beneficial effects were found for affective components of subjective well-being and self-esteem. Furthermore, the effects on self-esteem and cognitive components of well-being were moderated by emotional stability. Students who reported higher emotional stability benefited more from the new teaching unit. For self-efficacy no effect was found. The results are interpreted as partial effectiveness of the program.
As we´ve entered the second semester of the MAPP program, the subjects have changed. To put it black & white: while the first semester was (mostly) focused on the theory of Positive Psychology, the second semester zooms in on the application in different domains (e.g. healthcare, coaching, consulting with organizations). One of the courses explicitly focuses on the value of the “humanities” (music, art, philosophy, history, etc.) for enhancing “the good life”. That´s why I´ve been writing so much about my love for heavy metal in recent posts.
Now, a lot of people may not like to go the theater, opera, or museums that much. But there are hardly any people that do not like to go the movies. As such, I am thrilled that some researchers explicitly focus on cultivating psychological well-being, meaning in life, and similar “positive constructs” via watching the “right kind” of movies. One of those people is Ryan Niemiec who also was a guest lecturer at our January onsite period. He´s the author of Positive Psychology at the Movies – and also happens to be the director of the VIA Institute on Character.
Drawing on the insights of this branch of Positive Psychology, from now on, we´re going to have a movie night once every onsite. Last night, lead by Marty Seligman, we watched Field of Dreams (1989) starring Kevin Costner. Now this film is not that well-known in my home country Germany because baseball is just not a big thing in our culture.* Even though, I tremendously enjoyed watching that film since – at the end of the day – baseball is just used an analogy for conveying ideas about callings, purpose, meaning in life, reconciliation, and finding peace of mind (and heart).
Actually, the whole plot very much reminded me of a psychotherapeutic method by the name of Family Constellations that has become a sort of “movement” in Germany, but is really not well-known anywhere else. I do not wish to expand on this here – but if you´re interested to know more about this: here you´ll find a concise scientific paper in English on the underpinnings and application of this method.
So, it´s Saturday. If you go to the movies tonight, why not put on those “positive psychology glasses” and e.g., look for the expression of character strengths in the protagonists?
* The only baseball player that I really knew about before watching the movie is Yogi Berra – who is quite famous for his brainy quotes (Yogiisms) such as: “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.”
Another valuable resource is the film index at cinematherapy.com.
You probably know this thing: it´s the first day of a seminar or the beginning of some business meeting. The host suggests everybody introduce her- or himself to the other attendees (more or less succinct). Following the common social script, most of the times people will now take turns and give an account of their education, job histories, and – on a good day – their personal status. From my own experience I have to admit: I tend to forget most of the information instantaneously – except for the rare occasion when there´s some shared background with another person.
So why not do it a little differently? I have to admit this may not be the best of ideas on each and every occasion – but then I can imagine a lot of place where this feels really appropriate.
A serious introduction consists of telling a meaningful story about a specific moment in our lives. It could be a moment that is just very important to us, or a moment that shows us at our best, thereby displaying our unique blend of character strengths. To quote my lovely MAPP classmate Patricia De La Torre: It’s a fantastic way to learn about somebody else and to instantly connect with them in the non-cheasiest way possible. So here we go…
This is September 9, 2010. I have a glass of champagne in my hands and feel a one-of-a-kind combination of exaltation and relief. My dress shirt is soaked with sweat from the room temperature of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit – and from the 30-minute lecture I have given a couple of minutes ago. The first supervisor of my doctoral thesis at European Business School Oestrich-Winkel, has just pronounced I will be awarded the doctoral degree in business sciences with the best possible grade, “summa cum laude”. Now this evaluation consists of the grade for my thesis, which accounts for 70 percent of the total grade; and the grade for the disputation which has just taken place – which accounts for the remaining 30%. My thesis had been graded in-between the top marks – and in order to receive the overall “summa cum laude”, the disputation would have to be an absolute top-notch performance.
Let´s go back in time for a week…
During that final week before my disputation, I did something very unusual: I practiced. In fact, I practiced my ass off. I am used to lecturing regularly, either at conferences, or at the business school where I teach – which has given me a lot of confidence in that matter over the years. I typically will prepare my PowerPoint slides some days before due date alright – but I never ever really think about what to say in advance, let alone learn something by heart. That often results in entertaining but hopelessly overlong lectures. But for once, it had to be different. There are very strict regulations pertaining to the disputation process. You have exactly 30 minutes to convince the doctoral committee of your research, not one minute more, not one minute less.
So I practiced – and I learned my text by heart.
As usual, I prepared my slides. In the morning seven days before the disputation, I practiced for the first time – and went over 45 minutes. I practiced again in the afternoon, talking a little faster, and still went well over 40 minutes. So I cut out one of the slides, practiced again in the evening and finished at 38 minutes. I practiced again before going to bed and stopped at 37 minutes.
For the upcoming six days, I practiced four times a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon, once in the evening and once before going to bed. I cut out further slides but never made in less than 33 minutes – until the day of the disputation.
I had thrown out another slide spontaneously in the morning and was a little nervous, but clearly not too nervous. I was wearing a tailor-made suit – and my wife, my parents, my parents-in-law and some of my best friends joined the audience to witness the culmination point of a strenuous 5-year period of my life.
Due to practicing hard (I believe), I was at my best that day. Speaking quite clearly, convincingly, seemingly without much effort, and most of all: according to the rules of this extraordinary occasion. I hit the mark in 30 minutes sharp.
Now all this accounts for the exaltation. But what about the relief?
The truth is: joining that doctoral program was – at least from a certain point of view – one of the worst decisions of my life. I´d had lost interest in my research topic during the first year. I felt out of place and out of tune with myself for most of the time. I knew this doctoral thesis was leading neither me (nor someone else) anyhere. I wanted to quit at least once a year but my parents managed to convince me to go on over and over again.
Now it is over. I made it. And I made it worthwhile.
So this it. I´m in Philly, Pennsylvania, the City of Brotherly Love, and today was the first day of the MAPP program 2013/14. Obviously, I had planned to blog about this – but I´m still overwhelmed by all these new impressions, locations, and most of all, outstanding people. It actually is kind of weird (at least for me…) to all of sudden talk to or being taught by luminaries that you´ve previously known only from TED Talks and the like.
So instead, I´m going to share something with you that I read about yesterday on the plane in the German issue of the Harvard Business Review. They interviewed Robert Cialdini, the world´s foremost expert on persuasive communication. And he had something interesting to say on the issue portrayed in the headline of this article. In this case, someone qualifies for being an A-hole e.g. by lying and cheating on customers and/or colleagues.
There are some very obvious reasons why you don´t want to hire people that display these kinds of behavior. E.g., it may hurt your companies reputation, which then results in the decline of (repeat) business – which is harmful to the bottom line. That´s a no-brainer. But then, there are also some consequences that might not be that apparent:
A stitch in time saves nine
The problem with hiring an A-hole is that – in the long run – it might lead to having a company full of A-holes (which may not only cheat on customers and colleagues, but on the company as a whole, too). Here´s the deal: hiring an A-hole will lead to higher levels of stress and discomfort among the non-A-hole employees in your company. This is a consequence of the perceived mismatch between their own values and those values the company is obviously displaying by hiring the A-hole and letting him/her get away with whatever he or she is doing. It leads to higher levels of illness and absenteeism.
And: it will also lead to higher levels of turnover, meaning the non-A-holes will slowly but surely leave your company. This, as a consequence of person-organization-fit, will lead to the hiring of more A-holes as a replacement for the honest people that have left the company. You see where this is heading….
You can read more about this topic in one of Cialdini´s articles.