To work on positive medicine, I had to decide where to start. The opportunities to make medicine a more positive discipline are vast. Finally I decided that the place to start was with the healers themselves. Principles of self-care and positive ...

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REVAMP: Taking Physicians from Burnout to Flourishing

By Jordyn Feingold

By Jordyn Feingold -

Fascinated by the path of the bagel

I vividly remember the moment when I was struck by my dream of becoming a doctor. It was my sophomore year of high school, and Miss Provost, an inspiring educator was eating her daily first-period bagel with cream cheese. While she ate, she taught us how the various organs in the human digestive tract would differentially digest the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in her bagel. One long tube with specialized functions and accessory organs working together to strip a delicious breakfast meal into fuel. Compelling!

Fast forward to my years as a Penn undergraduate where I immediately pursued the premed path, taking more biology, chemistry, calculus, physics, and organic chemistry…. A wise professor recently joked with my medical school class that the premed requirements are really just a ruse to pay chemists! I was steadfast on my premed path, when sometime during my freshman year, my mother, a preschool director always up on the latest literature in early childhood education, told me that I simply HAD to study with Dr. Martin Seligman. He had founded a field called positive psychology that she said sounded so aligned with the way I lived my life. I scoffed at her, “You think a big shot professor is really going to meet with me, a freshman? Okay mom….” Even though I ignored her urgency to set up that meeting, I purchased Learned Optimism at the Penn bookstore. I didn’t have much time to read as a college freshman, but I kept the book next to my bed to read a few pages before bed after long days of class and a cappella rehearsals.

My mom is [almost] always right. My a cappella group was hired to run a vocal workshop for the culminating session of the 2012 Master of Applied Positive Psychology cohort. I recall feeling a tangible energy simply being inside the room filled with MAPP students, their eyes filled with tears as my group stood in our formation and sang the words, “Let’s set the world on fire, we can burn brighter than the sun.” Never before had I been in a place so absolutely positive! I was deeply moved to find myself in the presence of 40 students of all ages from all parts of the world studying and living positive psychology.

Feeling Tied up in Paperwork
can lead to burnout.

Making a Decision

Simultaneously I was struggling with a question. If positive psychology is about helping people and institutions to be their best and flourish, what is medicine all about?

The more experience I accumulated working with physicians and taking my premedical courses, the more I realized that medicine was still in the same state that psychology was before the advent of positive psychology in 1998: largely focused on ridding people of disease and affliction, rather than promoting health and thriving. So rather than applying to medical school my senior year, I applied to MAPP. I felt called to immerse myself in positive psychology in order to reconcile this gap within the medical field and perhaps help foster in medicine the paradigm shift that occurred within psychology two decades ago.

Are doctors flourishing?

Where to Start?

I spent my year in MAPP and my two years since as a medical student working toward fostering positive medicine. I had to decide where to start because the opportunities to make medicine a more positive discipline are vast. After interviewing many physicians and medical students, it became obvious to me that the place to start was with the healers themselves. Principles of self-care and positive psychology could be embedded in medical training starting as early as Day 1 of medical school.

How can we possibly promote a more positive, health-focused healthcare system, if our physicians themselves are not thriving? Physician burnout has been a well-documented problem for decades, and sadly, burnout and suicide among physicians are on the rise. I believe, that tackling this pervasive problem requires our medical education institutions, from medical school through continuing medical education, to embrace and support positive medical training for practitioners as a new norm, treating it as a clinical skill for optimal patient care.

Inspired by Martin Seligman’s PERMA model and other conceptions of well-being by researchers such as Ryff, Huppert, and Prilleltensky, I developed REVAMP: an acronym that serves as a call to action for medical practitioners. The letters stand for familiar aspects of positive psychology adapted for medical professionals:

    Building strong relationships

  • Relationships include physicians’ sacred relationships with their patients, relationships with others on the healthcare team, and importantly, the relationship with the self. As mistakes are inevitable in medicine and can put lives on the line, self-compassion is an essential skill for physicians and those in training.
  • Engagement is about finding flow in the work environment, practicing mindfulness as a means of stress reduction, and employing the best of ourselves in our work through the use of character strengths.
  • Vitality, perhaps the element most obvious to physicians, is all about physical health: sleep, nutrition, exercise, moderating alcohol use, avoiding substance abuse, tobacco cessation, and energy management. It centers on the fact that physicians who employ healthy practices are more likely to counsel their patients effectively in these behaviors. It also positions physical activity as a means of combating psychological stress. Exercise promotes resilience.
  • Getting and giving help

  • Accomplishment in the REVAMP model is about recognizing that success in medicine is NOT a zero-sum game. Instead it is about finding and sustaining generative ways to help others. It is important to collaborate with others including peers, colleagues, and patients. It is about being comfortable asking for help. I’d like to think that physicians and medical students are driven to help others. However, competitive medical training can promote isolationism and individualism over collaboration.
  • Meaning is about connecting with the great privilege of healing others. This is an opportunity to call on the humanities including literature, music, and art to enhance our understanding of human nature, suffering, healing, and transcendence.
  • Positive emotions, the daily experience of the positive, involves carefully shifting our focus within medicine, which is notoriously negative, toward the beauty, gratitude, joy, serenity, and love we have in our work and lives. Focusing on the positive even in the midst of hardship, death, and pain, is the crux of resilience, a skill that is absolutely necessary for a sustainable career in medicine.

In my short white coat

Putting REVAMP into Action

My master’s capstone and subsequent work has focused on expanding these six elements as a path to enhanced well-being for healthcare providers, the healthcare environment, and ultimately, for patients.

Over the past two years, I have had the great privilege of teaching a positive medicine curriculum involving the REVAMP model at the Icahn School of Medicine to medical students, residents, and faculty. I’ve been able to study the effects of the training and continue to evolve the ideas as I move forward in my own medical education and practice. I am now a second year medical student. I find myself living by the principles I espouse every day, especially now that I am gearing up for my first medical boards in June! I am counting my blessings, exercising daily, cooking healthy meals with my roommates, and reveling in the sacred privilege of being a trusted confidant to my patients, even while I am still in the short white coat of a medical student.


Feingold, J. (2016). Toward a positive medicine: Healing our healers, from burnout to flourishing. MAPP Capstone, University of Pennsylvania.

Cornuz, J., Ghali, W., Di Calantionio, D., Pecoud, A., & Paccaud, F. (2001). Physicians’ attitudes towards prevention: Importance of intervention-specific barriers and physicians’ health habits. Family Practice, 17, 535-540.

Frank, E., Elon, L., Naimi, T., & Brewer, R. (2008). Alcohol consumption and alcohol counseling behavior among US medical students: Cohort study. British Medical Journal, 337, 1-10.

Huppert, F. A., & So, T. T. C. (2013). Flourishing across Europe: Application of a new conceptual framework for defining well-being. Social Indicators Research, 110(3), 837-861. Abstract, references, and figures.

Prilleltensky, I., Dietz, S., Prilleltensky, O., Myers, N. D., Rubenstein, C. L., Jin, Y., et al. (2015). Assessing multidimensional well-being: Development and validation of the I COPPE scale. Journal of Community Psychology, 43(2), 199-226. Abstract.

Ramirez, A. J., Graham, J., Richards, M.A., Cull, A., Gregory, W. M., Leaning, M. S., Snashall, D. C., & Timothy, A. R. (1995). Burnout and psychiatric disorder among cancer clinicians. British Journal of Cancer, 71, 1263-1269.

Rebele, R. W. (2015). Being “otherish”: Resolving the false choice between personal and prosocial goals. In R. J. Burke, K. M. Page, & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), Flourishing in Life, Work and Careers: Individual Wellbeing and Career Experiences (New Horizons in Management series), (pp. 26-44). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Exploring the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(6), 1069-1081.

Snyder, M. (2014). Positive Health: Flourishing Lives, Well-Being in Doctors (pp. 47-74). Bloomington, IN: Balboa Press.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. 2nd Edition. New York: Vintage.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.

Shanafelt, T. D., Hasan, O., Dyrbye, L. N., Sinsky, C., Satele, D., Sloan, J., & West, C. P. (2015). Changes in Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Balance in Physicians and the General US Working Population Between 2011 and 2014. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 90 (12): 1600 – 1613. Abstract.

Photo Credit: Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Digestive tract courtesy of Remko Tanis
Tied up in paperwork courtesy of wintersoul1
Doctor Smiling courtesy of CIFOR
White coat medical students courtesy of Jordyn Feingold
Getting and giving help courtesy of ReSurge International
Jordyn in her short white coat courtesy of Jordyn Feingold

This article first appeared on Positive Psychology News. To see the original article, click here. To comment on this article, click here.

Jordyn Feingold, MAPP '16, is working toward her combined MD/ Master's in Clinical and Translational Research. Jordyn is the founder of the Student-Trainee division of the Collaborative for Healing and Renewal in Medicine (CHARM). She works on the National Academy of Medicine's Action Collaborative for Establishing Clinician Well-Being as a National Priority, and she works on evidence-based resilience trainings for physicians. She also teaches a Positive Medicine elective course open to students and employees at Mount Sinai. Her articles for Positive Psychology News are here.


Announcement: Webinar with Dr. Elaine O’Brien- Wednesday, April 25 at 2pm ET

By Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton

By Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton -

ANNOUNCEMENT:  In just two weeks we will have a Positive Psychology News webinar featuring Dr. Elaine O’Brien

Dr. Elaine O’Brien, Ph.D., MAPP, is CEO of Lifestyle Medicine Coaching, Training and Consulting. A health/fitness/medical educator, researcher, speaker, writer, strategist, program director, and consultant, Elaine’s aim is to elevate the art and science of Somatic Learning and Positive Movement (Positive Exercise Practices: PEP) to help promote vibrant energy, radiant health, healing, learning, love, peace, and flourishing in the world. Elaine designed and implemented an award-winning Dance/Fitness program for the State of New Jersey Community Alliance in 1992 to lower the risk of alcoholism and (prescription) drug abuse in senior adults that she continues to lead. Elaine is an Associate Editor for the IPPA Chronicle of Well-Being in press, and a writer for the Penn MAPP Magazine.An international applied positive psychology presenter, Elaine is also a certified Health Coach, and holds certificates in Group Fitness, Personal Training, and Lifestyle and Weight Management. Elaine can be reached at Watch for her website:, coming soon.

WHEN: April 25 at 2PM ET
WHERE: Zoom webinar
CONTENT: Dr. Elaine O’Brien discusses Mind and Body: Experience Optimal Performance, Vibrancy and More Joy

This is a LIVE webinar. You will not have a chance to capture this in any way other than live. This webinar may be recorded, but for internal purposes only. If you want to be there, sign up to get it live.


What questions do you have for Elaine?  Leave them for us in comments below so we can ask them on the webinar!

For questions, please email

Q: How much does this webinar cost?
A: It is completely free!

Q: What will the format be?
A: One hour:

  • 20 minutes of the host’s Q-and-A with Elaine
  • 20 minutes of Elaine discussing Mind and Body
  • 20 minutes of your Q-and-A for Elaine

This will be a highly interactive webinar. Be at your keyboard and ready to type in questions and comments and answers to Elaine’s questions!

Topic: “Mind and Body”
Guest: Dr. Elaine O’Brien

When:  25 April 2018 @ 2:00pm ET
Where: Online – view the webinar anywhere!
Price for the webinar – FREE

Register without donating

Click here for more information.

This article first appeared on Positive Psychology News. To see the original article, click here. To comment on this article, click here.

Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton are the senior editors of Together they have edited two books in the Positive Psychology News series: Resilience: How to Navigate Life's Curves and Gratitude: How to Appreciate Life's Gifts. Kathryn co-edited the third book in the series, Character Strengths Matter, with Shannon Polly. Their co-authored articles are here.

Senia Maymin, MAPP '06, is the coauthor of Profit from the Positive. Maymin is an executive coach to entrepreneurs and CEOs. Her PhD is in organizational behavior from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Full Bio. Her solo articles are here and her articles with Margaret Greenberg are here.

Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06 also co-authored Smarts and Stamina onusing positive psychology principles to build strong health habits. She is an executive coach, and she runs writers' workshops for aspiring authors.Full bio. Her solo articles are here.


How to be a Positive Psychology Practitioner (Free Webinar April 18, 2018 and SONG!)

By Miriam Akhtar

By Miriam Akhtar -

How to be a Positive Psychology Practitioner
Dr. Chris Johnstone and Miriam Akhtar MAPP

As we plan for the next cohort of our Positive Psychology Foundations online course (May 2 – June 20) we’ve been exploring the theme of what it means to be a positive psychology practitioner. We like using images in our teaching, and one that is relevant here we call ‘the spider diagram.’ Developed by Chris for his resilience training, it builds on the Penn Resilience Program perspective check of considering the best, the worst, and the most likely outcomes of a situation. (1) With the spider on its side, its body represents the present moment, with each leg as a different timeline of how the future might go. The upper legs represent better possibilities, the lower legs worse ones, and in-between are those that are probably more likely.


We can apply this spider diagram to ourselves – in considering the different ways our lives, personalities, work and relationships can develop. In the 20th century, the dominant focus of psychology was on the lower legs – on looking at what can go wrong with us. With the emergence of positive psychology, the last two decades has seen a shift in our direction of gaze. We look at the upper legs of ‘what’s the best that can happen?’ and then apply scientific rigor in exploring what we can do to make these better possibilities more likely.



The term ‘practitioner’ can be confusing because it is used in two different ways. Wikipedia views it in more professional terms, as ‘someone who is qualified to, or registered to, practice a particular occupation, profession or religion’.(2) The Concise Oxford Dictionary offers a broader definition, seeing it as ‘a person actively engaged in an art, discipline or profession especially medicine’.(3) If, as Martin Seligman suggests, the goal of positive psychology is to increase flourishing, these two meanings take us different ways.(4)

The Wikipedia route to practitioner-hood focuses on training to be qualified to practice positive psychology on or with others. As an alternative, The Oxford Dictionary perspective places greater emphasis on self-help. Just as a Yoga Practitioner is someone who practices Yoga, this second meaning sees a Positive Psychology practitioner as someone actively engaged in positive psychology practices to promote their own well-being. That is a more democratic model inviting wider participation. Rather than an ‘either/or’, both these meanings bring value. We have developed a three-level framework that combines them.

Three Levels of Positive Psychology Practitioner

Level One Practitioner

If a practitioner is someone who practices, then this first level involves being someone who uses positive psychology practices to support their own wellbeing. The role of being a Level One practitioner is for us all. In coaching sessions, we encourage our clients to see themselves this way. For ourselves as coaches and trainers, it’s important to ‘walk our talk’ so that we guide from a place of authenticity.

After a decade as a practitioner, Miriam is still surprised by the number of people who take positive psychology at the intellectual level, satisfying their curiosity about the field without doing the bit that will really make the difference in their lives – the practices. One of her lightbulb moments on the MAPP at the University of East London was learning about Prof Richard Davidson’s studies of people who’d done the daily practices of the 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course and how they experienced greater activation in the left pre-frontal cortex, the seat of positive emotions.(5) It is applying the science in our lives that rewires neural connections and grows our well-being. That’s why we think of this Level One engagement as the foundation of positive psychology and is what we focus on when training practitioners. We look at practices linked to each of the five PERMA dimensions of well-being (Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment) and also add practices for Resilience, Mindfulness and Physical wellbeing. We call the model PERMA + or PERMA RMP.

Level Two Practitioner
Many helping professionals are drawn to positive psychology by the prospect of dual benefits – where we gain by using the practices on ourselves, while also helping our clients, patients, students, customers or associates by passing on tools that help them draw out their best side too. We think of this as being a Level Two Practitioner, where positive psychology may not be your main focus or career, but you apply it to support wellbeing in others.

Being a Level 2 practitioner is about passing it on, and the focus expands from self-help to also include interventions and education. A good example of a level two practice is supporting others to recognize their strengths. When we’re training teachers, coaches or managers, we explore with them how they can encourage those they work with to identify and flex their strengths to reach goals and recover their well-being.

Level Three Practitioner
We think of a Level Three Practitioner as someone who has chosen to make positive psychology their main focus or a key area of their expertise. If we are to help each other, our families, clients, students, teams, communities and organisations find their upper legs of positive potential, there is a need for more people to inhabit this role. The mission of Level Three Practitioners is to go further on the path, developing our understanding and application of Positive Psychology so that we have more to offer. We might apply ourselves to particular niches or be generalists in this emerging field that not only hunts the good stuff, but actively cultivates it too.

Spider Diagram Revisited – Resilience as a Two-Part Story
What about the lower legs of the worst possibilities? Even here, when we find ourselves or those we work with on a downward slope, the spider diagram still holds. Wherever we are, whatever we face, there are always different ways it can go and choices of action.

Chris teaches resilience as a two-part story, where the first part involves facing adversity, and the second part is about finding our constructive response. What helps us do that are the practices. They strengthen our ability to find the upslope of the dip.


Author’s Note:  Please join us for How to be a Positive Psychology Practitioner. Free webinar April 18, 2018.


Dr. Chris Johnstone is a resilience specialist and director of, which offers online training in Positive Psychology and Resilience. He trained on Scotland’s first Positive Psychology course in 2005 led by Martin Seligman and other leading practitioners and has been teaching Positive Psychology since then.

Miriam Akhtar, MAPP from the University of East London, runs Positive Psychology Training, which provides courses, coaching, and communication in positive psychology. Miriam is the author of Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression and What is Post-traumatic Growth. She co-facilitates the online Positive Psychology Foundations and is co-producer of The Happiness Training Plan with Dr Chris Johnstone. Twitter: @pospsychologist. Facebook – Miriam Akhtar, Positive Psychology Training Full bio.


(1) Reivich, K. and Shatté, A. (2002) The Resilience Factor: 7 Essential Skills for Overcoming Life’s Inevitable Obstacles. Broadway Books
(2) Wikipedia at
(3) The Concise Oxford Dictionary (2011), Oxford University Publications
(4) Seligman, M.E.P. (2011) Flourish, Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
(5) Davidson, et al. (2003). Psychosom Med 65(4): 564-570.


This article first appeared on Positive Psychology News. To see the original article, click here. To comment on this article, click here.

Miriam Akhtar, MAPP from the University of East London, runs Positive Psychology Training, which provides courses, coaching, and communication in the science. Miriam is the author of Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression and the co-producer of The Happiness Training Plan. Twitter: @pospsychologist. Full bio.

Miriam's articles for are here.


Sir Anthony Seldon Interviews Martin Seligman

By Lisa Buksbaum

By Lisa Buksbaum -

On the occasion of Dr. Seligman receiving an honorary degree from the University of Buckingham on March 28 in New York City.

Seligman with MAPPsters

I was delighted to dash into the Lamb’s, a club on West 51 Street in New York City. It’s just a few steps away from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, and the bustle of Fifth Avenue. I was ushered into a plush third floor sitting room where the man of the hour, Dr. Martin Seligman, was nursing a scotch surrounded by several graduates of the MAPP program at Penn. He smiled broadly to see me, and I did the same.

Seligman was holding court, discussing pressing global trends in quick succession: the dearth of positive news coverage and the urgent necessity to overcome media bias by looking for news with a global perspective and from different media outlets. We discussed leadership from Brexit to Putin to the president of the United States. It was a typical, thrilling, probing, impromptu discourse with one of the great thinkers of our time.

I was thrilled to be invited to witness Seligman receiving an honorary degree from the University of Buckingham, the only university in the UK completely independent of government support.

Suddenly we were ushered into another room where Marty and the top brass from the University of Buckingham donned their brightly colored ceremonials robes.

Seligman holding honorary degree

After the ceremonial march and the bestowal of the honorary degree, waiters arrived with champagne flutes on silver platters. Sir Anthony Seldon invited everyone to raise their glasses to toast the occasion. He then invited the audience to listen to an intimate interview with Professor Seligman.

Seligman began his initial remarks by addressing the audience. “If well-being is going to be a moral compass, then we need to understand what’s missing.” He then posed a stark question, “In the past year, how many of you experienced a major tragedy directly?”

Hands shot up and Seligman calculated the response.

Seligman: About 5-10%. That’s the correct percentage of the general population. It’s typically what I see when I ask audiences this question. So here’s the missing piece. Given this relatively small percentage of people who experience profound tragedy, why do people think that the world is in terrible shape?

Today the Worldwide Well-being Index is 6.5 out of 10, while there is more flourishing globally more than at any time in recorded history. More people have been pulled out of poverty. Many life-threatening diseases have been eradicated. There’s a huge gap between actual negative events and the reporting of negative events.

This is because the media’s continual bombardment of tragedy and terror. Young people today perceive that the world is a terrible place. So the first thing that is needed to enhance well-being is balanced journalism that reports positive, hopeful events that are happening all the time, rather than just reporting the negative, catastrophic events.

Interview underway

Seldon: In your estimation, what are other trends that impact global well-being?

Seligman: We are in need of positive political leadership because a positive human future cannot happen accidentally. We need leaders who actively cultivate a positive future.

Seldon: You’ve written twenty books and co-authored hundreds of scholarly articles. You are considered the founder of the field of modern Positive Psychology. Can you share your career trajectory with us?

Seligman: There are five stages of my career. When you get to be my age you have perspective on what you’ve accomplished. When I was 21 years old, I worked on helplessness: what happens to people and animals who experience uncontrollable events. The conclusions were that helpless beings experience more depression, have more ailments, and actually die sooner. At the time I was doing this work the field of psychology was male-dominated with 80% of the practitioners being men, compared to 20% women.

For decades I had been sweeping important data under the rug. In time I noticed that some people did not become helpless. In fact, a third of the people and animals resisted helplessness. So I wondered, what is it about these humans and animals that makes them resilient? I started to study the way people thought about tragedy and noticed that some people tended to view things as permanent, pervasive, and their own fault whereas the more resilient respondents had a different tendency: “Things will not always be this way. I can do something to improve my situation. The current state of affair is not my fault.”

A relief to study optimism

That started the third phase of my career when I decided to study optimists. I must say this was a welcome change from studying helplessness and depression for so many decades!

There is so much data on why optimism is a good thing, including significant positive health outcomes. Among the findings we discovered were that optimists get depressed less than pessimists, have fewer colds than their more pessimistic counterparts and tend to live eight years longer. This work led me to question the way the psychology profession was oriented where everything was diagnostic and professionals were focused on what was wrong with people and how to cure them. It was 1998 and in my inaugural speech to the American Psychological Association convention I called for a science of positive psychology to study what makes us human and what makes us experience more well-being.

Seldon: Can everyone on Earth become happier including neurotic people and depressed people if they do the right things?

Seligman: When you are below the poverty line, the more money you have, the happier you become. Today 300,000 people will come out of poverty. Tomorrow an additional 300,000 people will come out of poverty. Once the majority of the world population rises above the safety net the challenge for the human future is building more well-being into our lives. Once someone earns more than $95,000 there’s a curvilinear impact as a person earns more. Around $120,000, happiness flattens out.

Seldon: What things can people do for themselves and their loved ones to be even happier?

Seligman: Look at how you celebrate in your marriage or key relationships. How do you celebrate together, what rituals do you do together? Another essential thing is how you respond to each other without tuning each other out or responding in habitual, numbing ways. Active Constructive Listening is a wonderful way to reinforce your partner’s strengths and to let them savor what they really are and what they are good at.

Mandy Seligman

Earlier today my wife Mandy got elected to PhotoSoho as a professional photographer, a clear distinction after years of being perceived as an amateur photographer.

Instead of saying something Passively Constructive such as, “Congratulations Mandy, you deserve it”

Or something Passively Destructive such as, “What’s for dinner?”

Or Actively Destructive, “Do you know what tax bracket this will put us into when the gallery starts to sell your photos?”

I decided to be Actively Constructive in my response which went something like this: “You know Mandy when I saw the portfolio you brought to the meeting with the gallery, that photo of the swan you took from our vacation in UK at Blenheim Palace, it was the most beautiful photo I’ve ever seen of a bird. Where were you in the gallery when they told you that you were elected? What specifically did they say to you? What strengths do you have that draws you to this profession? How can you use these strengths more? Let’s open a bottle of Dom Perignon and celebrate.”

Seldon: Thanks for sharing such a wonderful personal example from the master of positive psychology. To be happier is not selfish, it’s actually pro-social. There’s a difference between happiness and pleasure. If we make our relationships happier and our organizations happier than everything works for the greater good. Marty, I have one last question: Can you teach this to children?

Seligman: Yes students are malleable and readily embrace the Character Strengths based learning. Alejandro Adler at the UPenn Positive Psychology Center just concluded a study in Peru among 700,000 students. The findings clearly show that character strengths education has a positive impact. It can significantly enhance literacy, numeracy, and scientific reasoning. Read more about this study here “Teaching Well-Being increases Academic Performance: Evidence …

Seldon: So Marty what’s your current focus?

Seligman: The fifth phase I’ve been pondering for quite some time actually pertains to the concept of time. I realized that the traditional view of psychology is built on a conceptual foundation of “what’s wrong with our lives” and this framework is wrapped around analysis of the past. For example, ruminating or analyzing about all the things that went wrong in our childhoods, or all the things that have gone wrong in our lives up until today.

Seligman’s new book

This antiquated worldview is a default mode of thinking: the notion that our past would predict our future. When one recognizes the colossal failure of predicting the outcome of the UK election and the most recent US presidential election based on past behavior we can clearly see what a poor indicator past behavior is on future outcomes.

Furthermore, the default mode is the same circuit that lights up when we daydream but there’s another circuit that I call the Hope Circuit. I believe that this is the most significant distinction that makes us human. We are not homo-sapiens, we are homo-prospectus, creatures of the future.

Wishful thinking is passive. Hopeful thinking is active and has a great deal of agency behind it.

Seldon: Thanks to everyone for coming to this special celebration. Please join me in thanking Dr. Seligman for sharing his insights that prove that the highest form of intelligence is to know how to live well.



Adler, A. (2016). Teaching well-being increases academic performance: Evidence From Bhutan, Mexico, and Peru. Dissertation. University of Pennsylvania.

Dweck, C. (2014). The Power of Believing That You Can Improve. TEDx Norrkoping.

Lopez, S. (2013). Making hope happen: SoaringWord interview.

Seligman, M. E. P. (1998). APA President Address 1998.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2018). The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist’s Journey from Helplessness to Optimism. PublicAffairs.

Seligman, M. E. P., Railton, P., Baumeister, R. F., & Sripada, C. (2016). Homo Prospectus. Oxford University.

Photo credits:

Event photos courtesy of Ashley Jones, RogueWarrior studio.
Photo of Mandy Seligman courtesy of the Seligman family.

This article first appeared on Positive Psychology News. To see the original article, click here. To comment on this article, click here.

Lisa Buksbaum, MAPP '13 is CEO & Founder of Soaringwords, a global not-for-profit organization that inspires ill children and families to take active roles in self-healing. Since 2001,Soaringwords has inspired more than 500,000 people to pay-it-forward to inspire ill children and teens to "Never give up!" Lisa's articles for are here.


Leading with Meaning: Why Exceptional Managers Need CAARMA

By Nico Rose

By Nico Rose -

When people think about the meaningfulness of a job, they typically refer to the purpose of the organization. Accordingly, a job at an environmental organization is perceived to be more meaningful than exactly the same set of tasks at a weapon manufacturer. While there is some truth to this reasoning, it only tells part of the story.

Rosso and colleagues identified four predominant drivers of the presence of meaning in one´s work:

  • Contribution, which is related to the above-mentioned idea of positive impact of the organization on the world.
  • Unification, which denotes feelings of belongingness to one´s colleagues and the larger system.
  • Self-connection signifies the process of getting closer to oneself through the job, for example, via working on tasks that play to one´s strengths.
  • Individuation points to the feeling of autonomy and agency within one´s organization

Meaningful Work: The Role of Leadership

Another perspective on this subject is the role leaders play in fostering the experience of meaning in work for their subordinates. In 2017 Michael Steger integrated those determinants of meaning in work that can be influenced by interpersonal leadership. To make his summary memorable, he came up with the acronym CARMA, where leaders should:

  • Provide clarity about organizational goals
  • Be authentic in their roles
  • Be respectful
  • Show employees how their work matters to the overall system
  • Grant autonomy with regard to decision-making whenever possible.

I came upon a preprint of this review and was instantly intrigued by the framework, wondering if it were possible to create a concise survey instrument to assess CARMA in managers from the perspective of their subordinates. Remembering the work by Rosso and colleagues, I decided to extend CARMA by adding a dimension focusing on how well leaders foster self-actualization by shaping the areas of responsibility to reflect the values and strengths of their subordinates. I labeled this element (support for) actualization.

CAARMA: A Preliminary Study

I created a set of 24 questions, 4 to assess the presence of each CAARMA element, asking employees how regularly their supervisors engage in specific behaviors. Here are some sample questions along with their internal consistency measures. For all questions, the same 7-point scale was used: 1 = “hardly ever”, 2, 3, 4 = “some of the time”, 5, 6, 7 = “almost always”.

CAARMA sample items (translated from German)

QualitySample itemInternal consistency
Clarity My manager helps me to understand the goals and strategy of my company α = .93
AuthenticityMy manager is an “honest soul” and communicates openly with me and my colleaguesα = .91
ActualizationMy manager is aware of my strengths and arranges my area of responsibility accordingly.α = .92
RespectMy manager is attentive and perceptive when he/she interacts with me and our team members.α = .92
MatteringMy manager helps me to understand how my efforts contribute to the overall performance of our companyα = .94
AutonomyMy manager is the opposite of a micro-manager – he/she only intervenes when it´s absolutely necessaryα = .82

An online survey was accessible in Germany early in 2016 on websites such as LinkedIn. 586 people left usable responses (58% female, 42% male; ~age 39). 75% have at least a bachelor´s degree, 59% have experience being a supervisor themselves. Participants work across all kinds of functions and also several industries, for example, pharma, automotive, consumer goods, banking, and insurance.

Apart from the CAARMA items and demographics, participants provided data for several target variables: experience of meaning and flow at work, pride and satisfaction with regard to their jobs and employer, engagement, and turnover intentions. Each target variable consists of 4 items. Participants provided answers using the same scale as with the CAARMA items (with one exception for “turnover intentions”: 1 = “I´ll probably stay for a couple of years“, 2, 3, 4 = “Currently indecisive”, 5, 6, 7 = “I´ll probably be gone rather soon”). Cronbach´s α indicating internal consistency for these target dimensions ranges from .82 to .90.

A CAARMA index for participants´ supervisors was created by adding the raw scores of all CAARMA items. Then three sub-groups were calculated:

  • Managers with a CAARMA index of at least 1 standard deviation (SD) below sample average (n = 102)
  • Managers within the range of -/+ 1 SD (n = 352)
  • Managers with a score of at least 1 SD above sample average (n = 132)


The means for the target variables (for example, subordinates´ experience of meaning, flow, retention) were calculated by CAARMA level sub-group. These means are depicted in the charts below.

As can be seen, there is a strong connection between employee perceptions of supervisors´ CAARMA levels and their perceptions of their situation at work. Compared to employees reporting to supervisors with sub-average CAARMA levels, employees who are led by managers with above-average CAARMA levels report +58% more meaning at work, +61% more flow experiences, and +69% more pride at work. Levels for engagement, satisfaction with their overall work situation, and turnover intentions are at +32%, +112%, and -135% (where lower numbers depict higher willingness to stay). All differences between CAARMA levels for the means of the target variables are statistically significant at the .01 level.

While this data is cross-sectional and correlational by nature, the theoretical foundation of the CAARMA dimensions supports the likelihood that there is some causality at work, in such a way that good (vs. bad) leadership behaviors indeed directly effect favorable (vs. unfavorable) employee experiences at work.


Among HR professionals, there´s an old adage that people join an organization because of its image, stay because of their tasks, and leave because of their managers. Excellent leadership is still a scarce resource in many organizations, and the financial and non-financial consequences associated with insufficient leadership quality are enormous.

I contend that having a workforce that is low on feelings of meaning, pride, and satisfaction in work will directly affect an organization´s bottom line in the long-run through lower levels of commitment, citizenship behaviors, and thus, product/service quality, which ultimately affect customer satisfaction and retention. Additionally, a high level of employee turnover will increase costs for recruiting, onboarding, and training as well as the detrimental effects associated with having (too) many unfilled positions.

Furthermore, inadequate leadership quality will lower what Raj Sisodia, author of the highly acclaimed book Firms of Endearment, calls the “psychic income” of employees: their quality of life at work, and via spillover effects, at home.

Regularly measuring leadership quality within their organizations should be of vital interest to executive boards and human resources departments. I hope the easy-to-use CAARMA questionnaire will inspire corporate leaders to take on this challenge and use the information to help their employees experience highly effective leadership.

I would like to thank Michael Steger for his support of this work.



Rose, N., & Steger, M. F (2017): Führung, die Sinn macht: Manager brauchen gutes KAARMA. OrganisationsEntwicklung, 4, 41-45.

Rosso, B. D., Dekas, K. H. & Wrzesniewski, A. (2010). On the meaning of work: A theoretical integration and review. Research in Organizational Behavior, 30, 91-127.

Sisodia, R., Sheth, J., & Wolfe, D. B. (2014). Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose (2nd Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Steger, M. F. (2017). Creating meaning and purpose at work, in L. G. Oades, M. F. Steger, A. Delle Fave, & J. Passmore (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Positivity and Strengths-Based Approaches at Work , pp. 60-81. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

Rose, N. (2014). How to be the architect of your own fortune. TED-x Bergen.

This article first appeared on Positive Psychology News. To see the original article, click here. To comment on this article, click here.

Nico Rose, MAPP 2014, is a German organizational psychologist and holds a Ph.D. in business sciences. He was part of the 9th cohort of Penn's MAPP program. Nico currently serves as VP of Talent Acquisition at Bertelsmann, Europe's premier media corporation. He also works as a management coach and speaker. Nico blogs about positive psychology at Mappalicious. Please visit his talk at TEDx Bergen. Nico's articles are here.


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