by Warren Goldstein-Gelb
I attended WBI’s Certificate in Positive Psychology shortly after turning 50. I believed that the program would contribute to my personal development and help me explore what to do with “the second half of my life.” I soon realized I wanted more than to develop myself personally—I wanted to connect the two increasingly important parts of my life: positive psychology and social justice.
I began to develop the idea for B-Change, a podcast offering tools and resources for leaders and emerging leaders, to help them build strong and sustainable movements and organizations. My first interview for the podcast was in 2015, at the International Positive Psychology Conference at Disney World, where I spoke to Joanne Brunn, a fellow student, about creativity.
But before I could release the podcast, on September 12, 2015, I suffered a major stroke, which nearly killed me.
On my journey toward recovery, I found myself using several positive psychology techniques: neuroplasticity, growth mindset, and meditation and mindfulness. I wrote a blog post about my recovery here.
Without the use of my right arm and with other health barriers, the prospect of putting out a podcast seemed remote. But I discovered a new partner in my wife, Marcy, and a community of supporters who were willing to lend their ideas and help—and B-Change came back to life.
As we began to interview social justice leaders who had endured years of difficult struggles, and I reflected on what it took for me to persevere, it only further buoyed my passion for bringing positive psychology and social justice together. It also gave me a renewed sense of purpose and meaning.
Where Social Justice Meets Positive Psychology
We explored new ways in which social justice approaches and positive psychology techniques reinforce each other: For example, positive psychology highlights the need to build on individual character strengths. And many of the social justice leaders we speak with highlight the importance of drawing upon the strengths of communities that have historically been looked upon from a deficit perspective.
When leaders approach their staff, volunteers, and organization as a whole with positive psychology principles and tools—when they believe in the power of their people— it can have a transformative effect on the organization and its impact. Positive psychology also offers tools and techniques to help leaders persevere and renew themselves as they engage in physically and emotionally exhausting work
By moving beyond individual practices to society as a whole, we can expand the impact of positive psychology for the greater well-being.
Warren Goldstein-Gelb is a social justice activist and writer, who has worked in a wide range of nonprofits settings—the Boston environmental justice nonprofit Alternatives for Community and Environment, a collective progressive paper the Somerville Community News and currently at the Welcome Project, a local immigrant rights organization. In 1999, he earned his masters in Tufts Urban and Environmental Policy program. He is a graduate of the Certificate in Positive Psychology.
Marcy Goldstein-Gelb has been a social justice organizer for 30 years. From 1999 to 2016, she served as executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), and is currently co-executive director for National COSH. During her years at MassCOSH, Goldstein-Gelb helped establish the organization as a leading statewide voice for worker safety. Marcy teaches leadership at the Harvard Trade Union Program at Harvard Law School, with a focus on practices for leading the nation’s unions in ways that reflect labor’s values.