I wish these were my words. They came from Mark Turner, the new head of my sons’ school. They are the words that convinced me he is awesome.
He was talking to parents at our school and explaining that after students have forgotten the history of Canadian pioneers and the Pythagorean theorem, the lessons we sometimes call soft skills will be what remains. These are the parts of education that are truly important to a student’s success and happiness.
This lesson was reinforced when we held a research event on campus at Geelong Grammar School that included 2 current grade 12 students and 2 students in their 3rd year of university. When asked about their experience of Positive Education classes at the school all four agreed that despite moments of resistance (that included eye-rolls and groans about gratitude letters and mindfulness) they all use what they learned in “Pos Ed class” every single day.
One of the great challenges in the field of Positive Education is telling people what it is in a simple sentence. I often find myself saying “it’s difficult to define and easy to do”. This video from my colleagues at Flourish Dx is a really good beginning! It talks about empowering people to be mentally healthy. “Beacuse mentally healthy workplaces work better” Take a peek…
Want to learn more about increasing wellbeing at home, at school or at work? Contact me.
The world has become data driven. If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t matter. But for those working in fields like mental health, education, human resources and psychology, there hasn’t been a clear way to measure both the strengths and weaknesses of either an individual or an organization. Of course there are clinical resources like the DSM-5, PANAS, DASS, and Kessler-10, but these were all designed for clinical or research settings. And none of these measured wellbeing in a way that allowed proactive intervention.
But now, there is an evidence-based measurement (and intervention!) tool that works.
For Schools- FAS (Flourishing at School)
The FAS software platform includes the Flourishing Profile survey. This 62 item measure is a leading indicator of mental health, useful for proactive wellbeing interventions at both an individual and collective level. The approach is consistent with the other partnership we have at Positive Minds International the Geelong Grammar School Model for Positive Education (2013).
Instead of seeking to identify those who are “at risk” or already distressed, the Flourishing Profile survey uses a positive psychology approach to assess the degree to which individuals have developed the “pillars” of wellbeing. These pillars are commonly referred to by the acronym “PERMA”, which stands for Positive Emotions, Engagement (or flow), Positive Relationships, Meaningfulness, and Accomplishment. Consistent with Geelong Grammar model, the survey also measures Positive Health (nutrition, exercise, and sleep).
The online survey can be taken in about 15 minutes and enables objective assessment of the success of wellbeing interventions. It can also be used to benchmark wellbeing against whole school, cohort, sex and cohort AND sex specific normative samples. It is suitable for secondary students (ages 11-18+) and staff of all ages. Individual results for students are available to the school administrator in order to inform proactive and insightful pastoral care interactions.
Flourishing at School is more than just a measurement tool. It is a complete solution for wellbeing improvement for students and staff. It includes comprehensive administration instructions, tips on whole-of-school implementation, student specific feedback and wellbeing goal setting features, self-development resources (different resources suitable for student and staff users), and full lesson plans for classroom interventions.
For University Students- Flourish Dx (University)
The current approach to mental health in a collegiate setting is largely reactive, targeting the estimated one in six students who have a diagnosable mental illness (Eisenber et al, 2013). Student counselling services are commonly reported to be struggling to keep up with the demand on their time by distressed students.
FlourishDx allows for data-driven proactive mental health intervention at both an individual and collective level. The smartphone first application (it also is compatible with web/tablet), contains two measures: the Flourish Survey (a short version of the school-based Flourishing Profile survey which includes measures of PERMA+Sleep), and a psycho-social risk factors survey (including common student stressors such as study load, relationships, knowledge of and access to services etc.).
The solution also contains a strong educational component with more than 30 video modules covering a range of topics related to both mental health and sleep health. Students can use their results to identify priorities to maintain or optimize wellbeing, with almost two dozen evidence based activities contained within the app. There is also audio based guided meditations such as mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation to quickly address elevated stress levels.
To keep students engaged in the app, there is a “Mental Fitness” coach bot, that will regularly prompt students to check in and feed them relevant information and resources suitable for their wellbeing needs, and interests.
FlourishDx is a preventative approach to mental health for university students. The goal is to keep individuals well, assist to optimize wellbeing, reduce the load on student counselling services, inform campus-based wellbeing interventions, and increase the likelihood that individuals will seek professional assistance if there is a need.
For Corporations- Flourish Dx (Corporate)
Mental health is a growing concern globally. The World Health Organisation believes that unipolar depression will become the number one cause of the global disease burden by 2030. Positive Minds International is bringing Jason van Schie, People Diagnostix Managing Director, to North America in January 2019 to help spread the word that wellbeing is measurable and impacted by your actions.
“Traditionally mental health has been focused on the identification and treatment of illness. However, this is akin to only dealing with heart disease once someone has had a stroke. Like physical health, more needs to be done on prevention if we expect to see reductions on mental illness prevalence, and its burden on individuals, families and the broader community”.
FlourishDx allows for data-driven proactive mental health intervention at both an individual and corporation/department level. The smartphone first application (it also is compatible with web/tablet), contains two measures: the Flourish Survey (a short version of the school-based Flourishing Profile survey which includes measures of PERMA+Sleep), and a Work Design survey (including common workplaces stressors such as workload, role clarity, autonomy, support, justice etc.).
The solution also contains three eLearning programs covering important topics including mental health, sleep health, and fatigue risk management. These can be pushed and monitored by the FlourishDx workplace administrator as well as being explored by employees on an as needs basis”,
Employees can use their Flourish Profile survey results to identify priorities to maintain or optimize wellbeing, with almost two dozen evidence based activities contained within the app. There is also audio based guided meditations such as mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation to quickly address elevated stress levels.
To keep individuals engaged in the app, there is a “Mental Fitness” coach bot, that will regularly prompt workers to check in and feed them relevant information and resources suitable for their wellbeing needs, and interests.
FlourishDx is a preventative approach to mental health for workers The goal is to keep individuals well, assist to optimize wellbeing, inform workplace-wide and departmental mental health interventions, and increase the likelihood that individuals will seek professional assistance if there is a need.
Eisenberg, D., Hunt, J. & Speer, N. 2013. Mental health in American colleges and universities: variation across student subgroups and across campuses. J Nerv Ment Dis, 201, 60-7.
It’s hard to define and even more difficult to measure. Until recently psychologists and researchers wouldn’t even use the word. Instead, terms like subjective well-being or positive emotion were substituted.
You would think that humans could agree that a basic goal of life is to experience more happiness and yet on podcasts, in the media, and in everyday conversation I regularly hear people making statements like “it’s not healthy to be happy all the time” or “creativity is born from discomfort, if I was happy I would lose my edge”.
While it may be true that some people use anger to ignite action I think many people would be surprised by how much more creative, successful, and flourishing their lives might be if they allowed themselves to prioritize positive emotions.
The science of positive psychology explores optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive according to Dr. Martin Seligman. When I think of thriving I include an entire spectrum of positive emotions appropriate to different situations as listed by Barbara Fredrickson in her book Positivity
Her list includes:
We know from research that approximately 50% of our potential for happiness lies in our genetics. If your parents were depressed, anxious, or tended to ruminate on the negative, you might inherit this potential. The reverse is also true; if your parents were happy-go-lucky types who see the glass as half-full, you may have a greater natural inclination toward happiness. The chemicals released by our brain when we encounter any stimulus (a large dog jumps out at you barking when you run or you smell freshly baked chocolate chip cookies) are not standardized across all people. Some brains are primed to pump out more of the happiness chemicals where others distribute these more sparingly. Some brains have an overly active fight or flight system compared to others. This is the first 50%.
A tenth of your happiness involves life circumstances like having shelter, food, and safety. This does not mean that people born into extreme poverty or living in dangerous situations cannot experience happiness. If you have ever seen children playing in the slums of India or two terminal cancer patients falling in love you know that happiness is possible even in extreme situations however there is an impact on the ease of experiencing happiness that accounts for about 10%.
What’s exciting about the research is the 40%. This bit of happiness potential is entirely up to YOU. It is impacted by the thoughts you think, the people you surround yourself with, the food you eat, and the beliefs you choose. Taking regular time to reflect, to incorporate happiness-boosting activities like gratitude, mindfulness, and even smiling more into your day can change this number.
Image from The Happiness Reset by Tamara Lechner (forthcoming)
I think of happiness as being in constant motion. It’s like a spiral. At any time yours is either spiraling upward or downward. The trick to using your 40% to it’s greatest potential is this:
Learn to recognize when you start a downward spiral.
Have a toolkit of simple things you can do at that moment to turn your spiral around.
Spend more time trending up than spiraling down.
It’s quite simple really. It takes effort that is conscious and consistent at first, but eventually, it becomes second nature like driving a car or riding a bike.
What do you do to turn your downward spiral around? Happiness increases when your share so please comment with any useful habits or tips you might offer.
We’re hearing more about the positive traits of empathy and compassion. Emotional intelligence is becoming more important than other intelligences (like IQ) at school at work and in life. In past generations these two words might both have fallen into the category of sympathy but empathy, sympathy, and compassion are not words that can be used interchangeably and one of these three is more powerful than the other two.
Empathy refers to feeling what another person is feeling. Sympathy means you understand what the other person is feeling even without feeling it yourself. Compassion means your feelings have prompted you to take action to relieve the suffering of another person.
Scientists have shown that mirror neurons, a part of the brain whose specific job is to have us mirror what’s happening with someone else, play a big role in both empathy and compassion. When you see someone smile these neurons prompt you to smile back. When you witness someone in pain it can cause you the same type of pain too. Having empathy is your ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes. Sympathy happens when you may not on a visceral level experience the sadness or pain that someone else is feeling but on the cognitive level you understand the feelings of another. I’m not sad when my friend’s old dog passes away but I can understand that my friend feels sadness. Both empathy and sympathy are more about the person experiencing them than they are about the person who sparked the empathy or sympathy.
Compassion on the other hand comes from a Latin word that means “to suffer with”. When you are compassionate you are able to be aware of another’s suffering you have sympathetic concern to the level that you have been emotionally moved by their suffering then you wish to relieve that suffering and you act somehow in a way that is helpful.
Mathieu Richard, a french Buddhist monk says “compassion is unconditional love applied to the suffering of others”. His belief is that compassion has a powerful ability to heal; both to the one giving and to the receiver.
An important distinction between empathy and compassion is the effect on your personal well-being. Empathy and sympathy are both self-oriented. They say “I’m hurt too” and have you join the suffering or acknowledge that you see the suffering. Interestingly, research is showing that narcissists may have deficit in their mirror neuron receptors. Not only are they unable to mirror the emotional experience of another but they exhibit frustration when someone doesn’t mirror their emotional state. This is been referred to as a narcissistic rage. Of course very few people are diagnosably narcissistic but it seems empathy and sympathy are more about the individual wanting to be seen as a kind and understanding person than they are about actually being kind and understanding. Empathy and sympathy alone are not enough. Empathy pulls you down where compassion lifts you.
Experiencing empathetic burnout or empathy fatigue is common among people who spend their lives caring for others such as nurses or first responders. In the United States, a study has shown that 60% of the medical profession suffers or has suffered from burnout, and that a third has been affected to the point of having to suspend their activities temporarily.By the prolonged experience of feeling what others feel they actually burn out and become more anxious, depressed and stressed out. Compassion on the other hand doesn’t burn you out it, lifts you up.
Research shows that compassion and empathy take place in different parts of the brain and that by turning your empathy into compassion you can fight empathetic distress. The key difference lies in what you do after feeling the feelings evoked by mirror neurons. If you act, you lift yourself and others. If you get stuck in the emotion without positive action, you pull yourself down. The Greater Good Science Center has a quiz to measure how empathetic you are. I suggest you take it to see how much you are recognizing the emotions of others. The second and more important part is turning that empathy into compassion through useful action. See the bottom of the article for tips on how to do this.
Set up a free account to save your quiz scores and track your progress over time.
Change Your Empathy and Sympathy into Compassion
1. Notice the feelings
2. Ask yourself how you can help. This doesn’t mean changing everything. What small step could you take to make the situation better?
3. Take action while staying in touch with your emotional barometer. If you are too emotionally overwhelmed start with a loving kindness meditation. This type of meditation is proven to increase well-being while decreasing empathetic fatigue.
If you’ve moved from empathy to compassion, I’d love to hear how you did it and what the results were. By sharing your story you inspire others to make positive change.
Imagine what can happen when you bring together 1200 stakeholders in the positive education field including academics, educators, students, parents, lawyers, policy-makers, and psychologists all with the common purpose of making a quantum leap in the ways positive education impacts academics and well-being globally.
The World Positive Education Accelerator is an IPEN event that just might change the world! With so many mike-drops it was difficult to choose but here are my top 10 aha moments from this four day appreciative inquiry summit.
1. “We are expecting our children to change the world and we aren’t giving them the skills to do it.” Champlain University President Don Laackman discussed how a radically pragmatic approach is needed in rethinking how we educate. To make our world a place, where children and learners of all ages can thrive, he suggested that connecting professional success with life’s purpose was one of the keys.
2. “We need to change our deficit oriented way of looking at the mental health of students.” In her keynote Lea Waters suggested parents and educators need help to see and build strengths in children. When this happens it protects children against depression and anxiety, it increases self-confidence and life satisfaction, it buffers stress and anxiety, and it enhances self-efficacy. She included a reminder that it is our responsibility to educate not just children but also their parents about the strength-based approach.
3. “!t’s happiness stupid!” was Sir Anthony Seldon‘s reminder to us to distinguish happiness from pleasure. Selden discussed the fourth education revolution pointing out that under the factory model of school we are not interested in who children are. that we are stronger together when we embrace the unknown, when we say goodbye to our binary ways of thinking, and when we get out of our own ways,
4. “Well-being is skill-based and learnable” according to Alejandro Adler. Investing in teacher well-being creates classrooms with a system of well-being which translates to advanced academic well-being, more pro-social behavior, and better health. His reminder that this begins with the educator was a key point.
5. “Optimism is the belief that our actions matter” according to Amy Blankson who spoke on the intersection of education and technology. Blankson implored us to become balanced technology users learning to love technology and live with it not to escape from it. Recognizing that the average smartphone user checks 150 times a day is the first step, the is second putting the phone away. She shared that the mere presence of a phone is a happiness zapper. The power of a potential dopamine hit keeps us addicted and distracted while our brain is partially focused on the task at hand and partially waiting for additional content that is released every time we see notifications on our phone. This reward system is highly addictive we need to delete the temptations minimize notifications .
She reminded us with a great visual but our concerns are not new they are just different her for rules embrace a growth mindset about technology minimize distracting technology teach self-awareness set healthy boundaries to gather invisible boundaries until kids can self regulate
6. ” I believe wealth is not meant to create more wealth. Wealth is meant to create well-being.” Martin Seligman asked us to think about what are we going to do with human prosperity? Together Seligman and David Cooperrider envisioned new opportunities and possibilities for accelerating positive education.
7. “The best person in the class to up the connection of curiosity is the student” according to Angela Duckworth who has launched a character lab at UPenn designed to help use psychological sciences to help people thrive. She uses the heart, mind, will. method of seeing strengths.
heart to give to and receive from others
mind to think imagining create
will to achieve your goals through optimism growth mindset and grit
Her lab hopes to answer the question is character born or earned? Using the science of goal-setting to help increase your results, Duckworth suggests her WOOP model in creating a path to a goal:
wish for something
identify and imagine outcomes
identify and imagine obstacles
form a plan
8. “Progress not perfection” says David Cooperrider who compared planning to a jazz improvisation. Cooperrider said the world of leadership design is about legacy; it’s not just crazy creative it’s also detailed execution. To avoid constraints or see opportunities and to get more creative using the core question “how might we…?” to begin a conversation designed to creatively solve the problems of the world. He also sees a need to remove the barriers that keep students from moving forward and staying curious and joyful.
9. “The heliotropic principle reminds us that we move towards things that give us life” we need to activate the motivation of our children said Jacklyn Wong. Speaking from her personal experience of using positive education to transform Singapore as a city. “It’s the essence not the architecture that’s the difference between a house and a home. ” Wong is one of the keys to changing the way an organization uses positive psychology to give leaders, teams and individuals the tools-the house, but they need to make it a home themselves.
10. “To prepare young people for a changing world, we need to support them in their self-discovery and awareness and increase their empathy.” President of Universidad Tecmilenio, Hector Escamilla spoke passionately about 29 campuses across Mexico who redesigned their process to start from purpose. When education is connected to what matters to a student they go farther faster.
According to Psychology Today, we are wired to binge-watch television. Humans are social beings and we connect emotionally with the stories and the plights of others on the screen. There’s even a new field called neurocinematics which is the study of how television and film interact with the brain. Neurocinematics research is finding that people binge to take a break from their regular lives by zoning out and being engrossed in a world that isn’t their own and that watching helps to a avoid fatigue in hectic, digitally-driven lives.
Ryan Niemiec is the founder of VIA Character Strengths, a positive psychology framework using the work first described by Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson that identifies 24 universal strengths or virtues that impact well-being. Niemiec published a book positive psychology at the movies where he provides a deeply science-backed explanation of how the language of films allow us to experience the strengths and virtues that are universal across the population so we can have a meaningful experience while thinking about the virtues that we value most. Ultimately this can lift us or put us in an upward spiral towards more positive emotion. He calls this “cinematic elevation- the experience of positive emotion when watching a character displaying a character strength coupled with an intention to act for the good”.
In your life as a movie-goer or Netflix binger, this means there are actual physical and emotional benefits to screen time. In order to help you get the most out of your couch potato time, I encourage you to take the VIA survey and start watching through the lens of your strengths. My long-time favourite movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, aligns well with some of my top strengths including ZEST, CURIOSITY & CREATIVITY. Which movies or movie characters do you love and how do they relate to your strengths? Here’s a list of the strengths, grouped by category, along with some of the top movie suggestions for each one.
Category- Wisdom and Knowlege
The category wisdom and knowledge includes the strengths of perspective, love of learning, open-mindedness, curiosity, and creativity. Many consider this virtue category to be the core, the one that makes other virtues and strengths possible. Films that engender the wisdom and knowledge virtues often have the lead character directly or indirectly sharing insight and lifting others to higher levels of wisdom and knowledge, Archetypical characters that would fall into this category are Yoda, Gandolf, and Dumbledore.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)
Meet the Robinsons (2007) G
Big Hero 6 (2014) G
The Secret Garden (1993)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) G
10 Items or Less (2006)
Jurassic Park (1994)
The Machinist (2004)
Mongolian Ping Pong (2005)
James and the Giant Peach (1996)
My Dinner with Andre (1981)
Beatriz at Dinner (2017)
Life as a House (2001)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Big Fish (2003)
Gone Girl (2014)
Inside Out (2015)
Love of Learning
Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
Billy Elliott (2000)
Dead Poets Society (1989)
The Karate Kid (1984)
Finding Forrester (2001)
The category of courage includes virtues that are emotional strengths. This includes bravery, persistence, integrity, and vitality. There have been attempts by psychologists to develop scales to measure courage and others believe courage to be a way to define meaning in an otherwise meaningless world. Scientifically very little is known about genetics and neuroscience of courage. There is also a distinction, sometimes made, between personal courage and general courage. General courage involves actions that impact everyone and personal courage is individualized.
Apollo 13 (1995)
The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)
Moana (2016) G
The Kite Runner (2007)
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
WALL-E (2008) G
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Finding Nemo (2003) G
Babe (1995) G
Homeward Bound (1993)
127 Hours (2010)
Forrest Gump (1994)
Shark Tale (2004) G
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) G
Shattered Glass (2003)
Before I Go to Sleep (2014)
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Mary Poppins (1964) G
Peter Pan (2003) G
Legally Blonde (2001)
Singing in the Rain (1952)
Big Fish (2003)
Virtues that fall under humanity includes love, kindness, and social intelligence. The humanity strengths are all involved in relationship building and reaching out to befriend others. Niemiec noted a trend in today’s world toward movies that emphasize the character strengths and virtues under the heading of humanity.
The Notebook (2004)
On Golden Pond (1981)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
The Princess Bride (1987)
Friends With Benefits (2011)
As Good as it Gets (1997)
Schindler’s List (1993)
The Blind Side (2009)
Victoria and Abdul (2017)
The next category is the virtue of justice which contains citizenship, leadership, and fairness. This domain is the about interaction between an individual and the society around them. Of the six domains of virtues, justice and humanity, according to Peterson and Seligman, are the most universal. In cinema Justice films are often produced by indie film companies and seen at international film festivals- they aren’t the big box office winners and yet there are some fabulous gems in this category.
The Bad News Bears (1976)
Cool Runnings (1993)
A League of Their Own (1992)
Remember the Titans (2003)
Coach Carter (2005)
Pitch Perfect (2012)
Dead Man Walking (1995)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
The Lion King (1994) G
Black Panther (2018)
Saving Private Ryan (1992)
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
The temperance domain is made up of four character strengths; modesty, prudence, mercy, and self-regulation. According to Niemiec, temperance is the category least portrayed in cinema and it’s one of the hardest to identify. It’s interesting to note that our movie heroes rarely show restraint in drinking, drug use, eating, behaving aggressively and having sex.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The Green Mile (1999)
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Man on Fire (2004)
Mary and Max (2009)
The Music Man (1962)
Brian and the Boz (2014)
Prudence & Self-Regulation
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
A Man For All Seasons (1966)
12 Years a Slave (2013)
The final domain is the virtue of transcendence. Transcendence is described as an individual moving beyond the ordinary range of human experience and understanding. I think of transcendence as living for the greater good. The strengths that fall under this virtue include appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality. Transcendence can elicit a number of positive emotions that are related to our happiness including joy, awe, and admiration. Films in this category may contain a spiritual message or a feeling of deeper connection with something bigger than oneself.
Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
Pocahontas (1995) G
WALL-E (2008) G
Chariots of Fire (1981)
March of the Penguins (2005) G
Into The Wild (2007)
Freaky Friday (2003)
Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)
It Could Happen to You (1994)
Trading Places (1983)
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Pay It Forward (2000)
The Blindside (2009)
Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Miracles From Heaven (2016)
Freedom Writers (2007)
Erin Brockovich (2000)
The Help (2011)
Austin Powers (1997)
Something About Mary (1998)
Meet the Parents (2000)
Ace Venture Pet Detective (1994)
Eat, Pray, Love (2010)
Little Buddha (1993)
If you think of one not on this list, please send it our way and we’ll add it. Get your popcorn ready and happy binge-watching!