Positive Psychology at the Movies: Character Strengths in “Love Actually”

Positive Psychology at the MoviesOne 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:

  • Mark displays creativity when having arranged the special version of the Beatles´ “All you need is love” for Juliet and Peter´s wedding.
  • Karen displays perspective and humor when cheering up Daniel as he mourns for departed wife.
  • Mark displays creativity when having arranged the special version of the Beatles´ “All you need is love” for Juliet and Peter´s wedding.
  • Harry the Boss displays social intelligence and leadership when confronting his employee Sarah about her being in love with co-worker Carl.
  • Little Sam displays honesty and bravery when telling his step father Daniel about being in love with Joanna.
  • Little Sam displays spirituality when he tells his father about how he believes in love and that there’s one true love out there for each and every one of us.
  • Prime Minister David displays humor when he tries to cheer up Natalie after she told him how bad she has been treated by her ex-boyfriend.
  • The Prime Minister displays prudence and judgment when, at first, he does not want to confront the U.S. delegation during the meeting with U.K. ministers.
  • The Prime Minister displays leadership, humor, and bravery when confronting the POTUS at the press conference.
  • Jamie displays love of learning and perseverance when trying to learn Portuguese in order to be able to talk to Aurelia.Love Actually - Billy Mack
  • Colin displays zest, curiosity, hope, and bravery when deciding to leave the UK for Wisconsin.
  • Mark displays kindness, great honesty, love, and bravery when meeting Juliet at her house on Christmas Eve to confess his love, but also his approval of her living with Peter. (By the way, this is probably my all-time favorite movie scene).
  • Karen displays self-regulation and judgment when pulling herself together on Christmas Day after having found out Harry has cheated on her – in order not to spoil Christmas for their kids.
  • Sarah displays fairness and (the capacity to) love (and be loved) when spending Christmas together with her mentally ill brother.
  • John displays gratitude after having been kissed by “Just Judy” for the first time.
  • The school orchestra/choir displays teamwork when performing at the Christmas concert.
  • The whole audience displays appreciation of beauty and excellence when witnessing young Joanna sing “All I want for Christmas” at the school’s Christmas celebration.
  • Little Sam displays perseverance, and bravery when running to say good-bye to his love Joanna at the airport.
  • Jamie displays hope, bravery, and love when he leaves his family’s Christmas party to spontaneously board a plane to ask Portuguese housemaid Aurelia to marry him.
  • Billy Mack displays humility and gratitude when deciding to return to Joe, his ugly manager, instead of spending Christmas Eve at Elton John´s party.
  • Karen displays forgiveness when she consolingly welcomes her husband Harry at the airport after he has betrayed her.

What´s your favorite movie – and are you maybe going to see it with different eyes in the future?

Nine requisites for contented living – according to Goethe

If Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lived today, I´m sure he would be a Positive Psychology evangelist.

“Nine requisites for contented living:
Health enough to make work a pleasure.
Wealth enough to support your needs.
Strength to battle with difficulties and overcome them.
Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them.
Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished.
Charity enough to see some good in your neighbor.
Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others.
Faith enough to make real the things of God.
Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.”

Goethe - Contentment

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

I stumbled upon this quote yesterday and it struck me as very powerful. It beautifully conveys one of the central tenets of Positive Psychology (strengths-orientation and looking at “what´s right”) – and at the same time it could be a sort of “battle cry” for the Positive Education movement.

Strong_Children

Sharing our gifts with the world is the most powerful source of connection with God

A friend advised me to read The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown – and I do right now. I’d like to share this quote with you that, in my mind alludes, among other things, to the concept of character strengths in Positive Psychology.

Gifts - God

Do you need an Aristotelian Friend in your Life?

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post highlighting a quote by Greek philosopher Epictetus:

The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.

This reminded me of a concept we discussed (and also used) in the MAPP classes at Penn. Aristotelian Friendship. While the concept of Platonic Friendship/Love (a non-sexual relationship that is pursued because the other person inspires the mind and the soul) has entered everyday speech, Aristotelian Friendship seems more uncommon.

Plato_AristotleThe ancient Greeks knew four kinds of love: Eros (sexual desire), Storge (parental/familial love), Agape (divine love, also: charity/compassion), and Philia. Now Philia is closest to our modern understanding of friendship. Aristotle described three kinds of Philia: friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure and friendships of the good.

Friendships of utility are of a shallow kind; today, I guess we would call that networking – it´s more about being acquainted (and potentially useful reciprocally) in the future. Friendships of pleasure take place on a deeper level. Nowadays, we would speak of drinking buddies, or people who share a passion with regard to the same hobby.

Now, the deepest kind of Philia is a friendship for the good. This means that two people enjoy each other´s company because of a mutual admiration for each other´s characters and personalities. And it can also mean not only admiring, but caring about and strengthening the other person´s character and well-being. Therefore, an Aristotelian friend (for the good) will:

  • listen actively when you have to share something good and advise you on how to get more of that into your life;
  • give you frequent feedback on your strengths and “what´s right with you”;
  • but is also honest with you pertaining to your weak spots. Today, we would say: that friend does not let you get away with your sh.t.

Do you have someone like that in your life? Good for you. And if you don´t? Go and find somebody. Now!

Mappsterview No. 5: Margaret Greenberg on how Companies can Profit from the Positive

I was in the ninth cohort of the Master of Applied Positive Program at Penn. Consequently, there are tons of brilliant MAPP Alumni out there that have very fascinating stories to tell: about their experience with the program, about Positive Psychology in general – and about themselves of course. I really want to hear those stories. That´s why I started to do Mappsterviews with my predecessors.

Today, you are going to meet Margaret Greenberg from MAPP 1, the very first group of Mappsters to be taught at Penn. She co-authored a very successful book that I also included in my Positive Psychology at Work Book List.  

Profit from the PositivePlease introduce yourself briefly:

Like all of us, I wear many hats. I’m a wife to my sweet husband Neal of 30 years. I’m a mother to our two bright and beautiful twenty-something daughters. I’m an entrepreneur, having started my consulting/coaching practice, The Greenberg Group, in 1997 after spending the first 15 years of my career in corporate HR/Learning & Development. I’m a certified executive coach, speaker, and co-author of Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business with fellow MAPPster Senia Maymin, and positive business columnist for Live Happy Magazine. I also do fundraising for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in honor of both my mother and mother-in-law. Finally, I enjoy being outside in nature, as well as inside baking, as you can probably tell from all the photos I post on Facebook!

What did you do before MAPP?

I’m doing after MAPP the same thing I did before MAPP – coaching business leaders and their teams to achieve more than they ever thought possible. The only difference is that I now have more research and resources to draw upon, and I’m writing a heck of a lot more. We all entered MAPP with our own set of experiences and education. To prevent positive psychology from becoming just another fad (I don’t even like to use the term “movement”) I believe it’s prudent for us practitioners to view positive psychology as just one more body of knowledge that we bring to our professions and lives.

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

I had been in practice for 8 years as an executive coach when I learned of MAPP. What was missing from my coaching certification was the science behind what we do as coaches. I’ll never forget the day an email popped up in my inbox about this new graduate program in positive psychology. I ran, yes ran, outside to share my excitement with my husband who was gardening. “Go for it,” he said. “Yeah, but what if I get in, then what?” The rest is history as they say.

I´ve noticed that you´ve written your MAPP thesis on optimistic managers. Shouldn´t managers be more the critical, discerning type of person?

Most certainly managers need to think critically to come up with innovative solutions to business challenges. The trouble arises when managers apply this same critical thinking to the people they lead. Case in point: If all I do is look for things you are not doing right, and skip over the things you’re doing well, that can be pretty discouraging. In our book  we offer several practical tools to combat this tendency. We call them “Capitalize on What’s Right”, “Find Solutions Not Faults”, and “Obsess Over Strengths, but Don’t Ignore Weaknesses”.

The title of your book is “Profit from the Positive”. Please tell us a bit more about that!

Writing PFTP with a fellow MAPPster has been one of the most rewarding experiences. Senia and I each brought different strengths to the virtual table (Senia is on the west coast of the US and I’m on the east). We really wanted to bring what we were learning from applying positive psychology with our coaching clients to a much broader audience. The book is written for business leaders, HR professionals, and coaches in particular, but we have had readers tell us they found one or more of our 31 tools helpful in their own personal life. I’m happy to report that it will be translated into Chinese next month, and Korean and Japanese early next year. People can see what we’re up to by visiting our website, Facebook page, or connect with us on our LinkedIn Pulse blogs or @profitbook on Twitter.

OK, in my day job, I´m a manager myself. Which three things should I (personally) start doing right away?

First, recognize what we call the “Achoo! Effect”. Our emotions are contagious. Be sure you are spreading cheer, not fear at work (or at home). Second, if you do performance reviews at your company, be sure to preview, don’t just review Performance. Finally, I’d also recommend that you give FRE, which stands for frequent recognition and encouragement, to your employees, peers, and even your Boss. This was one of the key research findings from my Capstone that I collaborated on with another MAPPster, Dana Arakawa. Chris Peterson was our advisor and I will be forever be grateful for his guidance on this study, which is available on the University of Pennsylvania’s Scholarly Commons, and has been downloaded over 7,000 times.

And what kind of initiatives would you recommend on the organizational level?

I think there are lots of opportunities to be what Senia and I call a “positive deviant”. We’ve worked with companies large and small at the individual, team and organizational levels. Here are a few practical applications of positive psychology at the org level. To improve:

  • Strategy and Planning: Use the S.O.A.R. analysis (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results) rather than the traditional S.P.O.T. analysis (Strengths, Problems, Opportunities, and Threats).
  • Recruiting: Revamp hiring practices to include “Hiring for What’s Not on the Resume” to get at the more intangible social and emotional intelligence skills that are most predictive of success and higher Retention. In fact, there are many HR practices that need to be revamped to focus more on what’s going right, such as performance reviews that I mentioned earlier.
  • Meetings: Start and end meetings on a positive note.
  • Leadership and Talent Development Programs: That’s a topic for a whole other interview!

Margaret Greenberg and Senja Maymin

Thanks a lot, Margaret (on the left), for this Mappsterview!

Other People Matter: 2 Videos featuring the late Christopher Peterson

Unfortunately, I never had a chance to meet Prof. Christopher Peterson, who died before I really discovered the field of Positive Psychology and applied for the MAPP program at Penn. But all the people (I know) that had the privilege to be taught be by him speak most highly of “Chris”.

Therefore, I was glad to discover these two short video yesterday where he elaborates on his personal take on Positive Psychology. Enjoy!

If you like what you´ve seen, you might also enjoy The Good Life, a Positive Psychology blog that Chris used to write for Psychology Today.

On Talent Management: Above all, it´s the Love for People

The radio silence on Mappalicious is over. I´ve spent the last 10 days on Cyprus with my family and have committed to a “computer diet” as strictly as possible.

Here´s our #CyprusFamilyjustbeforeSundownonthePlaygroundbesidetheBeachSelfie:Family_Rose_Cyprus

Yesterday, I was a speaker a the iRecruit 2014 conference in Amsterdam. Beforehand, I was interviewed on my views about talent management for the fair´s magazine. You can read that by clicking on the picture below. I am very much convinced that before MAPP, the interview would sounded somewhat differently…

Nico_Rose_Interview_iRecruit

Mappsterview No. 4: Dan Bowling on Turning the Tide at Coca-Cola and Lawyer (Un-)Happiness

I was in the ninth cohort of the Master of Applied Positive Program at Penn. Consequently, there are tons of brilliant MAPP Alumni out there that have very fascinating stories to tell: about their experience with the program, about Positive Psychology in general – and about themselves of course. I really want to hear those stories. That´s why I started to do Mappsterviews* with my predecessors.

Today, you are going to meet Dan Bowling, very successful lawyer turned very successful manager turned very successful Law and Positive Psychology teacher and researcher. Actually, I´m supposed to be writing MAPP finals instead of blogging right in this moment. Such is life. Our final papers are a lot about going through our former papers and teaching notes, about integrating and “hunting the good stuff”. Yesterday, I wrote a passage about my “heureka moments” in MAPP. And since I like to link my insights to the people that are “responsible” for those insights, here´s what I wrote about Dan Bowling:

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing it with style.

Please introduce yourself briefly:

Dan BowlingMy name is Dan Bowling. I am Senior Lecturing Fellow at Duke Law School, where I teach courses on labor law, employment law, and positive psychology and the practice of law. These classes seem to be popular among the students, maybe because I bring pizza and wine for the class every now and then. I also run a small consultancy, Positive Workplace Solutions LLC, which provides executive coaching and legal consulting for C-Level executives and professionals (I am a licensed attorney). I work with Martin Seligman’s team at UPenn’s Positive Psychology Center doing empirical research on strengths and lawyers, and have helped teach in MAPP for the past 5 years. I speak regularly at legal and/or positive psychology conferences, and write a featured blog for Talent Management Magazine called Psychology at Work. I tweet silly and irrelevant stuff @BowlingDan if you would like to follow me.

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

I have always been fascinated by different personality traits. I started my career after graduating from Duke Law in 1980 as a labor and employment litigator and it struck me how important a role personality played in why one employee sues you and another doesn’t, even if their job circumstances are the same. I made partner in a large Atlanta law firm in 1986 but was shortly thereafter recruited by Coca-Cola to help form the new law department of its bottling operations, which it spun off as Coca-Cola Enterprises in the largest IPO in history. My interests in the psychological components of work continued during my career with Coca-Cola Enterprises, where I held a variety of jobs including President of a nine-state, 2 billion dollar operating region, as I developed a firm belief in the link between optimism and positive emotions in employee and corporate performance.

I had the opportunity to put my theories into practice in the latter stages of my career, when I was named head of human resources for the entire company. Frankly, the organization was down. We were under legal assault by small groups of hostile employees. Rather than aggressively defending the claims – which I found spurious – our programs and energies were focused on an agonized self-examination of what we did to prompt such claims. The halls were full of consultants and lawyers and days were consumed by meetings, all focused on what was “wrong” with us and how we could treat it. Not surprisingly, our “disease” was metastasizing, and corporate maladies previously unknown (or non-existent) were being discovered and stern remedies subscribed. Managers and employees forgot about selling Coke and spent their time instead in a variety of “workshops,” the corporate equivalent of Mao’s re-education camps.

Our new HR team decided to flip the paradigm, and look at what was right about the company – a focus on the life above zero, as Marty Seligman says. It didn’t take long to learn that the vast majority of the employee grievances were brought by a handful of perpetually complaining employees, often sponsored by outside interest groups, and were generally unfounded. We also found that most of our employees were quite happy with us as an employer. We starting asking a very basic question of ourselves: “Why is it 95% of our HR programs and initiatives are focused on the 5% of employees who hate us? Why spend our precious resources and energies on the perpetually dissatisfied few? Why not focus on efforts on those who want to build a better company and believe we can?” Eventually, we resolved our issues quite successfully, the grumblers moved on, and we spent the rest of our time in HR doing things to hire and engage people who were a positive contribution to our company. When I turned 50, it was time to move on, so I joined the Duke Law faculty teaching labor and employment law, while continuing my research into optimism and positive personality traits by receiving a masters in applied positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Your are a lawyer, you teach law, and via MAPP (at the lastest…) you know that lawyers are among the unhappiest professions. Why do you think that is the case?

That question is at the core of my current research and writing interests. First, I must challenge the premise – I think the data is not conclusive that lawyers are among the unhappiest professions, although the majority of the literature seems to suggest so. Regardless, law school and law practice seem to exacerbate depressive tendencies in persons with those tendencies, which isn’t surprising given the number of hours lawyers work in pressurized environments on things they are not intrinsically motivated to do. But as to whether lawyers as a population are significantly unhappier than other large groups of highly educated professionals, more research is needed.

Do you have plans to do anything about that?

To effect real change in the profession, it is of critical importance to establish a link between well-being and legal professionalism for the happiness of lawyers to be taken seriously, and my goal is to help provide that framework for the legal profession.

According to what you´ve learned about Positive Psychology, if I were the CEO of a company: what are three things that I should start doing right away?

1) Identify and develop leaders who are optimistic and enthusiastic about the success of others; 2) incorporate strengths-based employee assessment and development programs; and 3) use better psychometrics to support the hiring and talent acquisition process.

 

Thank you, Dan, for this Mappsterview! If you are a MAPP alumnus and would like to have your story featured here – please go ahead and shoot me an e-mail!

Are you short on Willpower and Self-Regulation? These Apps can help You…

Good Habit MakerIf you are like most people, willpower and self-regulation may not exactly be among your top strengths. E.g., for most of us, self-regulation is located pretty close to the bottom of the list when filling in the VIA questionnaire on 24 character strengths – which is based on Seligman´s and Peterson´s book Character Strengths and Virtues.

But then, breaking or making habits is one of the most important tasks when trying to succeed at a personal change project. So lo and behold! There´s help on the way. In earlier days, people would tie a knot in their handkerchiefs to help them remember things. These days, people don´t use handkerchiefs that much – but most of us do have a smartphone (or two…). And of course, there´s lots of apps around that strive on the fact that our spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

Balanced AppHere, I´d like to introduce you to three app that I´ve started using at the onset of the year:

On New Year´s Eve, I´ve decided I´d like to become a “nicer” person this year. It´s not that I´m an asshole right now – I just thought I could put a little extra effort in it. Probably a “side effect” of being in the MAPP program…

OK. The Good Habit Maker is a nice little (free) app that does only one thing: at pre-selected intervals over the day, it’ll push one sentence to your smartphone´s screen, e.g. your personal change mantra. Helps a lot to bring your mind back to what you want to achieve during busy schedules.

Grid Diary AppThe app Balanced is a little more refined, it´s a sort of task manager. You can enter specific tasks that you want to accomplish, and the quantities/intervals you intend to fulfill (e.g., “watch a TED talk once a week”). The app will then continuously remind you to complete those tasks until they are done. It also keeps track of you levels of completion and timeliness. There´s a demo version that is limited to a small number of tasks – the full version comes at $ 2.99.

And finally, the Grid Diary: as the name suggests, it´s a nice and clean diary app. The useful twist: you can pre-select (or enter your own…) specific questions. So instead of having to think about what to write each and every evening, the app will make you respond to the prompts that you specifically chose to be given. By way of example, I use it as a gratitude journal, which is one of the pre-eminent interventions in Positive Psychology. It´s free but offers some in-app purchases.

Enjoy! Keep it going! And for some extra energy, power up your Sisu!