Top Five Aha Moments from the World Positive Psychology Conference (WPPC2019)

March 4, 2023

I recently spent 4 days with Positive Psychology practitioners from around the world sharing new research and applications from our field. Almost 1600 from around the globe flocked to Melbourne to converse and connect. Each day was informative in new ways and there were many opportunities to cement and integrate current applications to our Positive Education model. My top 5 takeways include:

1. There is a happiness microbiome

Professor John Cryan taught us all a new word, psychobiotic. Cryan’s research looks at targeting gut health through individualized microbiomes. Cryan reminded us that the brain/gut connection is not new research, in fact  Hippocrates’ believed that ‘all disease begins in the gut’. His talk touched on  prebiotics and fecal transplants and I am excited to see what will come next from his labs. His reminder to us all "Mind your microbes".


2. There are multiple happiness genes

Meike Bartels delivered a jam packed talk that showed the progression of the search for the genetic components of happiness. The good news, although there is definately a genetic component to happiness, you control your genes. They do not determine your happiness. A large-scale international study of over 298,000 people,  isolated the parts of the human genome that could explain the differences in how humans experience happiness. First there were 3 specific genomes identified, then 300 and Meike shared her belief that we will eventually discover thousands. The big idea- heritability does not limit chance of happiness. There is most likely a genetic predisposition to be more or less happier. The environment impacts this. Ultimately our genes will influence what types of interventions and practices are most effective- a one-size-fits-all approach just won't work.

3. Positive technology shows that not all tech is bad.


Lyle Unger from UPenn gave a fabulous talk about technology that supports happiness. In this age of stress and anxiety there is a lot of commentary about the impact of technology on mental health. I have always been a believer that technology is just a magnifier of an individual- it can boost or deplete wellbeing depending on what app and how you use it. Unger's work supported my belief. The session also reminded us to be cautious in our interpretation of data. Perhaps the individual drawn to apps that deplete wellbeing are already languishing when they start using the app. We cannot blame technology. Personally, I use Insight Timer and listen to Podcasts daily. I loved this talk because it was based on what is right with technology (similar to our strengths-based way of working in  Positive Education)

4. The research won't help without business support.

Gabriella Rosen-Kellerman chaired a session on industry partnerships in the behavioral sciences. I wasn't sure what it would be about but when I saw the panel that included Martin Seligman, Roy Baumeister and Sonja Lyubomirsky, I knew I was in for a treat. Gabriella represents BetterUp, a fabulous tech group out of San Fran who combining the latest advances in scientific research with  digital technologies transforming people and workplaces. Gabriella reminded us that research means nothing without application. BetterUp is set to invest $15-20 million in its lab over the next five years because they know people are a company's biggest investment. And if the lab can provide the evidence-based practices that can help people flourish, the return might be mind-boggling. I am hopeful to see an app for educators in the near future!

5. The second wave is cresting.

Michael Steger, Tim Lomas, Ryan Niemiec, and, Itai Ivtzan shared their thoughts on the second wave of Positive Psychology.– whose focus is more holistic – encompassing both hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing. We were reminded that a fish is only as healthy as the water it swims in. The context and system both matter in wellbeing.  The panel hilighted the importance of increasing the level of nuance and perspective to further our understanding of human flourishing.


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