Including psychological well-being in a company’s health promotion effort can take you from basic wellness to greater overall well-being. It helps us do more, and do it better.

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Psychological Well-being Can Shorten the Road to Wellness

By Marie-Josée Shaar

By Marie-Josée Shaar -

We are in the Age of Transcendence. Today’s workforce wants more than a better car, bigger house, or the newest iPhone. They want to feel that they make a difference, and experience meaning at work.

Competition for talent is fierce. Good workers have more ways than ever to learn about hiring opportunities and to make their interest known. More and more talented individuals are also opening their own businesses.

In this context, it is not surprising that 82% of business and HR leaders worldwide believe that culture is a potential competitive advantage, yet 79% also believe that they have a significant problem with engagement and retention.

Wellness Programs Need to Do More and Do It Better

As a result, having a wellness program or department that offers employees a few physical activity or nutrition campaigns is no longer sufficient to meet modern challenges. Wellness needs to do more and do it better.

What’s my solution for all wellness professionals, you might ask? Build more PERMA in employees. And what does PERMA have to do with health, exactly? As it turns out, it has a huge impact. Here’s what we know from research.

How Positive Emotions Relate to Health:

  • Positive emotions have been found in different studies to be related to an improved immune function and a reduced sensitivity to symptoms when they occur.
  • In the long term, research shows that happy individuals tend to outlive their less contented counterparts.

How Engagement and Optimism Relate to Health

  • People who experience flow while exercising are more likely to continue and thus get greater health benefits.
  • Optimists enjoy greater antibody production and better immune outcomes.
  • Optimists also benefit from lower average blood pressure, and lower instance of coronary heart disease.
  • Optimists have a lower hazard of cancer-related mortality.
  • Optimistic individuals have an approximately 50 percent reduced risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event compared to their pessimistic peers.
  • For every 10 point increase in a person’s score on their optimism scale, the risk of early death decreased by 19%. If we consider that, for an adult of average health, the difference between sudden death risk for smokers versus non-smokers is roughly 5-10%, the effect of optimism is massive.

How Relationships Relate to Health:

  • People who feel better socially integrated tend to have reduced risk of abdominal obesity, inflammation, and high blood pressure.
  • Those who have at least one person with whom to discuss and talk through their problems show fewer signs of aging in their cardiovascular systems.
  • Those who feel they have good support at home have lower blood pressure responses to stressful events.

How Meaning Relates to Health:

  • A high sense of purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk for cardiovascular events.
  • Every one-point increase on a 6-point purpose-in-life scale results in 27% reduced risk of heart attack and a 22% reduced risk of stroke.

How Accomplishment Relates to Health:

  • Having a sense of accomplishment with regards to our level of physical activity can improve weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and BMI – without changing the amount of exercise we actually do.

These are only some of the study-backed points rallying to show that not only does a sound mind live in a sound body, but also a sound body comes from a sound mind!

Including psychological well-being in wellness programming may at first seem like an additional component that would lengthen and complicate a health promoter’s to-do list, but it is actually the contrary. Consider that most participants have had a lifetime of failed attempts in their food and exercise intentions. Chronic insomnia is also very difficult to cure when addressed in isolation. But if a better mood can positively impact these three other key behaviors by rendering them easier to tackle, then psychological well-being can shorten the road to wellness.

Here’s another benefit: having concrete well-being interventions that don’t add extra time burden on anyone is a big bonus.

Including psychological well-being in a company’s health promotion effort can take you from basic wellness to greater overall well-being. It helps us do more, and do it better. It refines the tone the wellness offer and contributes to an organizational culture that is a potential competitive advantage.

Author’s Note: This is the shortened version of my recently published white paper. For the full text with additional points and all the in-text citations connecting information to source, please sign up for my newsletter on



Selected Sources:

Boehm, J. K., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2012). The heart’s content: The association between psychological well-being and cardiovascular health. Psychological Bulletin, 138(4), 655-691. doi:10.1037/a0027448

Boehm, J. K., Vie, L. L., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2012). The promise of well-being interventions for improving health risk behaviors. Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports, 6(6), 511-519. doi:10.1007/s12170-012-0273-x Abstract.

Cohen, R., Bavishi, C., & Rozanski, A. (2016). Purpose in life and its relationship to all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events: A meta-analysis. Psychosomatic Medicine, 78(2), 122-33. doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000274 Abstract.

Cohen, S., Doyle, W. J., Turner, R. B., Alper, C. M., & Skoner, D. P. (2003). Emotional style and susceptibility to the common cold. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 652-657.

Crum, A. J., & Langer, E. (2007). Mind-set matters: Exercise and the placebo effect. Psychological Bulletin, 18(2), 165-171. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01867.x

Danner, D. D., Snowdon, D. A., & Friesen, W. (2001). Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the nun study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80(5), 804-813.

Global Human Capital Trends 2016. The new organization (2016). Deloitte University Press. Retrieved from

Global Human Capital Trends 2014: Engaging the 21st-century workforce (2014). Deloitte University Press.

Kohut, M. L., Cooper, M. M., Nickolaus, M. S., Russell, D. R., & Cunnick, J. E. (2002). Exercise and psychosocial factors modulate immunity to influenza vaccine in elderly individuals. Journal of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences, 57(9), M557-562.

Maruta, T., Colligan, R. C., Malinchoc, M. & Offord, K. P. (2000). Optimists versus pessimists: Survival rate among medical patients over a 30-year period. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 75(2), 140-143. Abstract.

Moore, M. (2008, September 30). It’s simple: Flow to health and happiness. IDEA Health and Fitness Association.

Räikkönen, K., & Matthews, K. A. (2008). Do dispositional pessimism and optimism predict ambulatory blood pressure during schooldays and nights in adolescents? Journal of Personality, 76, 605-630. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00498.x

Shaar, M.-J. & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Positive Psychology Press.

Sisodia, R., Sheth, J., & Wolfe, D. B. (2014, p. 80). Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose (2nd Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education. Quotation from p. 80.

Strecher, V. J. (2016). Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything. New York: HarperCollins.

Sturt, D., & Nordstrom, T. (2016, February 5). The talent crisis is global and so is its solution. Forbes.

Taylor, S. E. (2002). The tending instinct: How nurturing is essential to who we are and how we live. New York: Times Books.

Tindle, H. A., Chang, Y. F., Kuller, L. H., Manson, J. E., Robinson, J. G., Rosal, M. C., . . . Matthews, K. A. (2009). Optimism, cynical hostility, and incident coronary heart disease and mortality in the Women’s Health Initiative. Circulation, 120(8), 656-662. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.827642

Uchino, B. N., Cacioppo, J. T. & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (1996). The relationship between social support and physiological processes: A review with emphasis on underlying mechanisms and implications for health. Psychological Bulletin. 119(3). 488-531. Abstract.

Yang, C. Y., Boen, C., Gerken, K., Lin, T., Schorpp, K., & Harris, K. M. (2016). Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(3), 578–583. doi:10.1073/pnas.1511085112

Photo Credit: from Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Millenials at work courtesy of tedeytan
Joy at work courtesy of SupportPDX
Friends at work courtesy of anythiene
Road to wellness courtesy of Rusty Russ

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

Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.


Awakening Compassion (Book Review)

By Lisa Sansom

By Lisa Sansom -

It is just about impossible to read Awakening Compassion at Work and not think about recent disasters that have happened, such as the sad events that led to a passenger being involuntarily dragged off a United Express flight. Subsequent emails from the CEO of United were not reassuring, blaming the passenger for being belligerent. Later emails were more conciliatory, and some policies at United changed as a result.

The initial response was not news to musician Dave Carroll.

When Carroll flew United over 10 years ago, he had to check his beloved guitar. It was mishandled by the airline and broken. His claim for damages was refused, and after many months of futile negotiations with the airline, he penned and recorded a song which went viral. It was called United Breaks Guitars. As a result, Carroll became a desired speaker about customer service, but his focus has changed recently. He now speaks about compassion in organizations.

Enter the New Book About Compassion

It is in these times, and with these thoughts in mind, that I read Worline and Dutton’s wonderful new book. I also think about the many co-workers and bosses I have had, some of whom were compassionate, some of whom professed to be and then weren’t, and some of whom probably had no familiarity with the word compassion at all. What is compassion, and where does it belong in organizational life?

The authors define compassion as a very specific four-part process. It involves:

  1. Noticing that suffering is present in an organization
  2. Making meaning of suffering in a way that contributes to a desire to alleviate it
  3. Feeling empathic concern for the people suffering
  4. Taking action to alleviate suffering in some manner

Let’s Look at the Title

Compassion, unlike many other positive interpersonal concepts, arises solely in response to suffering, and we don’t talk about suffering in organizations all that much, especially not when it comes to one’s personal life (divorce, death of loved ones, suffering of those we care about, and so on). Maybe we should?

Worline and Dutton have also made an excellent word choice in their title: this is about awakening compassion. Compassion is something that comes naturally to people, but often we feel that we have to suppress it, or worse, we are told that we need to suppress it in order to be seen as professional, productive, and efficient. However, doing this emotional labor is extremely difficult and mentally taxing, and can lead to worse performance as well as potential burn-out. It removes our ability to form meaningful relationships with others in the workplace, and we know that it’s important to have a “best friend at work” thanks to the work of Tom Rath and others at Gallup.

Now Let’s Look at the Book Structure

In part one, An Introduction to Suffering, Compassion, and Work, the authors explain what they mean by compassion at work and why it matters (hint: it really does). As I read the introduction, I was entirely convinced about the rationale for compassion, but also saddened that we need a corporate rationale to express and encourage compassion. We are all compassionate by nature (at least, the vast majority of us are) and it makes me worried for corporations that we need to calculate the return on investment of compassion for it to be seen as acceptable and desirable in the workplace. I would have thought that we already realized that we bring our whole selves to work. Tragedies and difficulties, such as those shared throughout this book, will affect us. We need compassionate workplaces so that we can continue to be human and make a meaningful contribution through our work. That goes both for the person needing compassion and the colleague who provides the compassion. But perhaps I digress. There is a business case to be made for compassion at work. I just wish it weren’t necessary.

In part two, Awakening Compassion in Our Work Lives, the authors provide some excellent verbiage to help bring compassion to our work lives: we must notice, then interpret, then feel, and then ultimately act in order to alleviate suffering through compassion at work. It is meaningful that the authors choose active gerund verbs as the headings of their chapters. Awakening compassion in our work lives is active, and not passive. We must notice, and we must act. It is not enough to wait and hope for others to make the first move.

In part three, Awakening Compassion Competence in Organizations, we learn about how to go about awaken compassion competence. Again, it surprises me that we need to construct organizational structures that increase competence in this seemingly natural area, but perhaps organizational life has gotten to the point where humanity is not encouraged unless it is seen as profitable. Worline and Dutton do an excellent job of providing case studies where organizations have created compassion competence across divisions and across geographical divides. You would think, for example, that global organizations would be unable to allow employees to demonstrate compassion across time zones and cultures, but it is perhaps easier than you think. When organizations allow creative mobilization of compassionate energies, employees act and support each other in meaningful ways.

Finally, in part four, Blueprints for Awakening Compassion at Work, we read about personal and organizational blueprints and how to overcome obstacles to compassion at work. There is a trouble-shooting guide for when things do not work out as we wish.


In some ways, this was a very difficult book to read. The stories of suffering experienced by employees in the case studies were heart-wrenching and often tragic.

However, suffering does not have to be so grand or final. Suffering happens also in the day-to-day of our lives: the worrisome call from the school principal, the uncertain health test results which are probably nothing but we need another test just to be sure, the extensive rains that may be flooding your basement as you sit at work watching the storm clouds gather. So we can be compassionate in the day-to-day of our work lives as well.

Just taking the time to listen, to notice, to respond and, as warranted, to act, makes for better work environments where people feel that they matter, and respond in positive supportive ways to others. This isn’t just colleague to colleague or employee to client. This is human to human.

Dave Carroll told me “The time for this idea of compassion in business is now.” I tend to agree, and would add that the time for compassion in business has always been. As long as there has been suffering, there has been a need for compassion. Truly, we cannot be collectively elevated without it in organizations and everywhere.


Dutton, J. & Worline, M. (2017). Awakening Compassion at Work: The Quiet Power That Elevates People and Organizations. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Video of United Breaks Guitars

Dave Carroll’s incident chronicled on Wikipedia

Dave Carroll’s speaker page. Thank you, Dave, for kindly allowing me to quote you.

Carroll, D. (2012). United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media. Hay House.

Rath, T. (2007). Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without. New York: Gallup Press.

Photo Credit: Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons license
Consoling child courtesy of Greens MPs
Perhaps your colleague has a sick child at home courtesy of taylormackenzie
Storm damage courtesy of Crystal Writer

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

Lisa Sansom, MAPP '10, is the owner of LVS Consulting, an independent consulting firm that helps to build positive organizations. Lisa provide services such as individual and leadership coaching, team facilitation, effective communications training, Appreciative Inquiry and change management consulting. Full Bio.

Articles by Lisa are here.


The Positive Psychology Movie Awards for 2016

By Ryan Niemiec

By Ryan Niemiec -

Editor’s Note:This is the eighth year that Ryan has provided positive psychology movie awards. Check the reference list below for the links to previous articles about movie awards, as well as his book on positive psychology at the movies.

We provide Amazon links for each movie. We know there are many ways to gain access to these movies, but the Amazon reviews may be helpful even so.

How would the Oscar ceremony go if it focused on positive themes in movies?

Now in its 8th year, I’m happy to share my observations of the best movies using the science of positive psychology as a lens. In other words, if researchers/practitioners in positive psychology were the ones to give out Oscars for the best films, this is what they might say.

That is the perspective I take each year as I review a wide range of movies, studying them using the criteria of a positive psychology movie, separating the wheat from the chaff, and highlighting those exemplars that have something important to teach us.

Movies, more than any other art-form, capture the human spirit: what it means to live fully, to be resilient, to embrace what’s best in us. In short, positive psychology movies reflect and help us unleash our common humanity. At best, the following films inspire us to reach new levels of human potential; at worst, they are instructive and entertaining.

Award for Best Positive Psychology Movie: Lion

This film captures and evokes nourishing and afflictive emotions in the viewer, offers insight into what is best and worst about human beings, and highlights the persevering effort, adversity, and triumph of the human spirit. The film, based on a true story, shows how the impossible is not so. We are guided by the film’s music, which is anticipatory in tone, mirroring those anticipatory emotions viewers feel as we long for the reconnection of a family that has been split apart.


Award for Meaning: Kubo and the Two Strings

This runner-up for Best Positive Psychology film should be required viewing for anyone wanting to look beyond the surface of life. Through its animations, it is poignant, emotional, transcendent, and deep. It highlights central themes of positive memory, impact of storytelling, longevity and energy of family connections, facing life transitions, taking courageous actions, and especially, finding meaning in both life and death.

Award for Resilience: Silence

This is a true story of two young priests who journey to find their mentor in 17th century Japan when Christians were tortured and executed for their beliefs. The novelty of not only the modalities of torture but also the energy of resilience is palpable.

Award for Achievement/Accomplishment:. Hidden Figures

One of the year’s best films offers deep lessons about fairness, authenticity and fighting for what is right, in this case, fighting for individual and collective freedoms against a male-dominated system at NASA in the 1950s. The entire system resists the brilliant minds of three African American females but their perseverance pays off and has a direct impact on the U.S. space program.

Award for Mindfulness: Arrival

The protagonist, a language expert, comes to learn that despite her being able to live in the present and see the future, what really matters is the present moment. She discovers the ultimate mindfulness path: she learns to let go of the future (and in her case, letting go of the negative things that will happen) and appreciate the present moment. This is metaphorically portrayed through her connection with aliens that teach her a universal language for communicating.

Award for Heroism: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The Star Wars franchise, in part based in Joseph Campbell’s mythology and the hero’s journey, maintains this theme in a film that highlights the story of a young woman’s journey to free herself, find her father, and save the galaxy from evil atrocities.

Award for Applied Spirituality: Hacksaw Ridge

Never proselytizing and only expressing his religious freedom, Desmond Doss is a conscientious objector during World War II. He objected on the grounds of his Seventh-day Adventist faith, but wanted to serve in the military as a medic. He perseveres in his objection, remarkably both in training and at war, and heroically, single-handedly saves the lives of 75 men left to die on the battlefield. Exhausted and under fire, after each man he saves he turns in prayer to God, exhausted, saying, “Help me get one more.” And, he did… 75 men later.

Award for Positive Relationships: The Intervention

During a couples’ weekend, the viewer can learn from displays of poor communication and conflict, as found in all relationships, but also from honest, meaningful communication and connection with one another and the facing of challenges directly as a dyad, together.


Award for Transformation: Train to Busan

From South Korea, this zombie apocalypse film offers tremendous insights for enthusiasts of positive psychology around mindfulness/mindlessness, unconditional love, positive/negative relationships, empathy/disempathy, and courage/cowardice. Observe the protagonist through the lens of kindness (and lack thereof) and witness his transformation in his relationship with his daughter from complete disengagement to full (i.e., maximum) use of kindness/care.

Award for Signature Strengths Use: Jackie

Immediately following the assassination of President Kennedy sitting next to her in their car, Jackie Kennedy navigates profound grief with her signature strengths of perspective, self-regulation, and prudence. She elevates these strengths through the lens of her leadership strength. Interestingly, her strengths use at this horrifying time of her life far exceeds her strengths use two years prior in the early days of her time in the White House during a different kind of stressor.

Award for Teamwork: Captain Fantastic

A self-sustaining, family utopia relying on interdependence and teamwork as they find survival, wisdom, pleasure, and engagement in life deep in the forest, begins to unravel after they learn of the death of a loved one. They must find a way to improve upon their “team” mindset in order to survive and thrive as a unit.

Award for Morality: Eye in the Sky

The film opens with a quotation from Aeschylus: “In war, truth is the first casualty.” The film attempts to fairly depict and grapple with moral dilemmas and how various systems and levels of authority engage with the truth; leaders must decide (and follow protocols) around whether or not to destroy a compound containing two suicide bombers preparing to attack (as well as 3 of the top 5 most wanted terrorists), at the expense of killing innocent bystanders and civilians, which include a young girl selling food for her family.

Award for Positive Parenting: Gleason

Documentary of a former professional football player who is diagnosed with the degenerative, neuromuscular disease, ALS, at a young age. To leave a trail of wisdom and love for his young son, he has his mental, emotional, physical, behavioral, and spiritual journey filmed. Deep themes of positive parenting as related to savoring, meaning, and living life with intentionality can be found. The film might be viewed as a companion to the story of Randy Pausch, the professor/author of The Last Lecture.

Honorable Mention Awards


Movie Images not shown above:


McCarthy, J. (2011). The positive psychology of zombies: The power of perseverance. The Psychology of Well-being.

Niemiec, R. M. (2017, June release). Character Strengths Interventions: A Field Guide for Practitioners. Hogrefe Publishers.

Niemiec, R. M. (2007). What is a positive psychology film? [Review of The pursuit of happyness]. PsycCRITIQUES, 52(38). DOI:10.1037/a0008960. Available for download from ResearchGate.

Niemiec, R. M. (2017). The positive psychology of zombies. [A review of Train to Busan]. PsycCRITIQUES, 62(10), Article 10. DOI: 10.1037/a0040769

Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2013). Positive Psychology at the Movies: Using Films to Build Character Strengths and Well-Being Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe.

Smithikrai, C. (2016). Effectiveness of teaching with movies to promote positive characteristics and behaviors. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 217, 522-530.

Earlier Positive Psychology Movie Awards by Ryan Niemiec:

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

Ryan Niemiec, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist, coach, and Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character. He's an international presenter on character strengths, mindfulness, and positive psychology. Ryan is author of Mindfulness and Character Strengths and co-author of Positive Psychology at the Movies and Movies And Mental Illness.

Articles by Ryan are here.


Journey from Adversity: #WHATIS Post-traumatic Growth? (Book Review)

By Alicia Assad

By Alicia Assad -

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

This familiar quotation suggests our struggles will lead to resilience, if we pull through them at all.

Yet if we find ourselves enduring traumatic experiences so powerful that they turn our worlds upside down, we might wonder,

“How? How am I going to get through this and become stronger?”

I have been in this place of struggle, having survived a few serious traumas myself. Since I am relentlessly optimistic, I always believed I would somehow find a way to piece my shattered beliefs together. But I was desperate to know how.

A positive psychology practitioner, I was applying tools like gratitude and hope theory to move away from despair, but it wasn’t until I stumbled across research illuminating the experience of growth after adversity that I began not only to heal, but also to grow.

Then I actively sought a positive life transformation by sharing my experience publicly. I became passionate about disseminating the information I found valuable in a time of struggle.

My personal connection to the topic of post-traumatic growth offered me this opportunity to review Miriam Akhtar’s book, #WHATIS Post-Traumatic Growth?, a book about the journey from trauma to growth.

A trauma survivor, my first thought when I finished reading it was,

“I wish I had had this book when I was suffering.”

What’s in the Book?

In five chapters and 141 compact pages, Akhtar’s personal experience is woven with the research and practical tools of positive psychology to raise awareness about the concept of post-traumatic growth, that is, that positive change can happen in the wake of a traumatic event.

Akhtar gives her readers 20 inspiring reasons to be open to the concept of post-traumatic growth, and her personal anecdotes give her research-based tools authenticity.

What initially struck me about this small book is its structure. Akhtar organizes a vast amount of information in a simple, easily digestible manner, which I believe is crucial for the real world. In the wake of trauma, I felt exhausted, defeated, and disoriented. That was not the time to dive into a big book. However, I could picture myself dipping into Akhtar’s message and finding tools practical enough to apply even in times of high stress.

Shame Begone

Akhtar discusses the unnecessary shame often associated with negative subjective experience. She explains that trauma can shake our beliefs and make us feel that our safety is shattered. That can lead to emotional, psychological, and physical harm, which can seriously disrupt the course of our lives.

We can experience this even in facing smaller repeated traumas. Her broader definition of trauma might inspire readers to look at even more ordinary adversities for opportunities for growth.

Naturally, we want to avoid adversity at all costs, but if we move toward the adversity that life inevitably brings, we might experience a positive transformation in one or more of the five key areas:

  1. Personal strength
  2. Closer relationships
  3. Greater appreciation for life
  4. New possibilities
  5. Spiritual development

This information is inspiring, but it brings me back to the question I once wondered: “How.”

The How of Post-traumatic Growth

Akhtar first reveals,

“The process starts by trying to make sense of the trauma, which can prompt a re-evaluation of our core beliefs… But later on this rumination shifts into something more constructive as people find some meaning in the adversity and gravitate toward a place of acceptance about their changed world, gaining wisdom and well-being along the way.”


In the pages that follow, she delivers tools based on theory from mindfulness to cognitive behavioral therapy to help manage our emotions. These are followed by techniques to address the physical realm, reminding us to focus on physical activity, rest, and sleep when enduring trauma.

Rounding this off is her Personal Resilience Toolkit, a well-packaged compilation of techniques from ACT to a discussion of mindset and constructive rumination.

Akhtar shows us not only that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but illuminates a step-by-step path to help us to reach it. Her path is substantiated with personal experience, inspiring stories, and research-based tools.

If you are eager to make sense of life’s inevitable adversities, read this book. Akhtar reminds us that our future can be bright perhaps not in spite of the adversity we face, but because of it.



Akhtar, M. (2017). What is Post-Traumatic Growth?. Watkins Publishing.

Akhtar, M. (2012). Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression: Self-Help Strategies for Happiness, Inner Strength and Well-Being. London: Watkins.

Assad, A. (2015). Growing through adversity. Positive Psychology News.

Roepke, A. M. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2015). Doors opening: A mechanism for growth after adversity. Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(2), 107-115, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2014.913669. Abstract.

Tedeschi, R. G. & Calhoun, L. G. (1998). POSTTRAUMATIC GROWTH: Positive Changes in the Aftermath of Crisis (Lea Series in Personality and Clinical Psychology).

Photo Credit: from Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Struggle courtesy of Neil. Moralee
Light at the end of the tunnel courtesy of Henry Hemming
Rainbow courtesy of Nêssa Florencio

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

Alicia Assad, MAPP '08, Health Counselor is a writer and mother of four. Having survived postpartum anxiety, multiple pregnancy losses, and her son's burn injury, she contemplates ways that concepts such as optimism and gratitude can lead to growth in the aftermath of adversity. She is a former Miss New Jersey and Radio City Rockette. Follow her writing on Facebook, @AliciaAssadWrites, and visit her website, Alicia Assad: Recovering Perfectionist. MOM. Happiness Aficianado. Storyteller. Alicia's articles for Positive Psychology News are here.


Three Ways to Explore Positive Psychology with LEGO®

By Mads Bab

By Mads Bab -

In my recent post, I wrote about the importance of learning not just through words but also through visual input and physical manipulation. Let me illustrate with three ways to explore positive psychology with LEGO®.

Learning from the Past

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) is a strong tool to do a range of different retrospective explorations. It can be used to share and align lessons learned by having the group reflect on how things went well and what influenced a certain outcome. From here the group can make a more informed decision on what changes they want to make in the next iteration.

LSP can be used to explore challenges from our past but also the nature of our success and progress.

The negativity bias described by Rozin and Royzman refers to the observed tendency for things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) to have a greater effect on psychological state and processes than do neutral or positive things. In other words, something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person’s or group’s behavior and cognition than something negative.

LSP is a neutral tool not seeking a negative or positive analysis. It can however help balance out the negative side effects of our negativity bias by making the positive explorations more visual, tangible, and deeper in terms of meaning.

The building of models and creation of narratives and metaphors helps participants separate their problems and negative experiences from themselves. This process of externalization allows individuals and groups to explore their relationships with problems, thus embodying the narrative motto: “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.” The same goes with strengths or positive attributes which are also externalized, allowing people to engage in the construction and performance of preferred identities.

We could tell the same story from several different perspectives, resulting in changes in attitude and feelings which could have an enormous impact in our life. Freedman and Combs tell us that the different ways of telling a story influence how life is experienced.

The richness of the dialogue created with the LEGO® models also help the group move away from just using the exploration of positive experiences to induce good feelings. Instead the exploration of narratives, metaphors, connections and patterns helps the group learn from positive experience, thus building an individual and collective efficacy.

Examples of possible usage:

  • Retrospectives
  • Identifying and learning from best (and worst) practices
  • Understanding adaptive and maladaptive behavior and positive emotional patterns
  • Creating timeline overviews and the helpful interaction of different instances

Learning from the Present

Life and learning unfold in the present, but we live in a world that contributes in a major way to mental fragmentation, disintegration, distraction, and reduced coherence. In many cases the effects of these mental challenges makes it difficult to align ourselves or the group in the present.

LSP helps cultivate a non-judgmental awareness of the present that bestows a host of benefits to the individual and group. This can result in an increased awareness of behavior that hinders or helps the group learn collaboratively. In other words it induces a sense of collective mindfulness.

The science of mindfulness implies that it is important to live in the moment, but the problem is how, says Ellen Langer, a psychologist at Harvard and creator of the psychology of possibility. “When people are not in the moment, they’re not there to know that they’re not there.” She explains that overriding the distraction reflex and awakening to the present takes intentionality and practice.

LSP gives the facilitator tools to help a team or a group, in a fun way, to construct and imagine their realities. They can access and voice subconscious knowledge and insight that might otherwise be harder to bring forth.

An awareness of the present with a glimpse into the future is fundamental to prototyping and experimentation. Prototyping and experimentation is about moving an idea or possibility into a concrete next step and creating an early draft of what the final result might look like. LSP helps the process of prototyping and experimentation because you can visualize and create the abstract idea you want to express. It helps because what you cannot build you can tell, and what you cannot tell, can often be told by the model and its complex set of metaphors.

Examples of possible usage:

  • Prototyping and experimenting with positive possibilities
  • Understanding and defining values, principles, character strengths, and opinions
  • Increasing awareness of other team members and exploring helpful mindsets
  • Defining core concepts to align idea generation and brainstorming

Moving towards the Future

Imagining a desired future and building the determination to move towards it comprise a core application area of LSP. The abstract nature of the future, of goals, dreams, visions, and possible scenarios makes LSP a strong tool to help make the future more comprehensible and manageable.

This future navigation is called prospection. Positive psychology pioneer Martin E. P. Seligman and colleagues tell us that prospection refers broadly to the mental representation and evaluation of possible futures. Prospection may include planning, prediction, hypothetical scenarios, teleological patterns, daydreaming, and evaluative assessment of possible future events.

This ability to represent possible futures fundamentally shapes human cognitive, affective, and motivational systems. Prospection is a ubiquitous feature of the human mind. What you intend to do is based on what happened in the past; what you actually do is not. Becoming aware of these mental challenges when moving toward the future is a key.

LSP serves as a catalyst of the prospection process allowing a multi-dimensional exploration of the future. The use of LSP helps free the group from constricting mindsets that limit their thinking.

Examples of possible usage include:

  • Self-determined goal setting
  • Exploring narratives and metaphors underlying best possible selves (individual and group-based)
  • Exploring visions, missions, and dreams
  • Creating and analyzing scenarios

Interested? Find more in our eBook on LSP. Our next Certified Facilitator Training in the use of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® for Positive Psychology will take place in Copenhagen from August 14-17, 2017. From the event page:

“If you, like us, think that four days of play, learning and positive psychology in Copenhagen sounds pretty nice, then join us for four days of certification in using LEGO® Serious Play® for Positive Psychology.”



Bab, M. & Boniwell, I. (2017). LEGO® Serious Play® for Positive Psychology.

Freedman, J. & Combs, G. (2009) Narrative Ideas for Consulting with Communities and Organizations: Ripples from the Gatherings. Family Process 48(3), 347-362. Abstract.

Langer, E. (1989). Mindfulness. Cambridge: A Merloyd Lawrence Book.

Rozin, Paul; Royzman, Edward B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 5,(4) 296-320.

Seligman, Martin E. P.; Railton, Peter; Baumeister, Roy F.; Sripada, Chandra (March 2013). Navigating into the future or driven by the past. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 8(2): 119-141. DOI: 10.1177/1745691612474317. Abstract.

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

Images provided by the author and used with permission.

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

Mads Bab, MAPP UEL is an experienced facilitator of group processes and author of books on flourishing at work. Mads is also parttime associate professor on the Danish Master of Postive Psychology program. From his Danish based consultancy Gnist (Danish word for Spark), Mads has worked with LEGO® Serious Play® for positive psychology around the world. Bio. Mads' articles are here.


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