Having recently come back from the IPPA World Congress Conference, I have been reflecting on how stealthily powerful our Kripalu Certificate in Positive Psychology experience was, and how important it is for us not to only study happiness, but to experience it as well.
Why do I use say “stealthily powerful?” Because I think that there is something inherently sneaky about inner transformation. You really can’t prove it, and you can’t publish it, but you know it when you feel it and you know it when you see it.
What I noticed about the IPPA world congress, with its emphasis on research, was that there is a real need for balance between proving the effectiveness of well-being interventions, and actually feeling happy, joyful, generous, and brave.
The conference was filled with all the top names in positive psychology—Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Richard Davidson, and many others. I noticed that some researchers were more adept at making the science connect to the bodily experience of positive emotions, such as Barbara Fredrickson, while others focused solely on the data, missing the embodiment connection.
As I explored for myself the connection between the research data and the embodied experience, I had an interesting experience with Roy Baumeister, who had just given a fascinating keynote address on Free Will.
Screwing up my audaciousness, I waylaid him at the elevator and asked him the question I had hoped to ask him after his address. He had just talked about the energy drain inherent in any decision. Measuring it calorically, they found that the more choices, the more energy required to make the decision. He noted that this appears to be on the same energy system as self-control, self-regulation, and logical reasoning. In one study, people who were asked to resist a tempting food scored worse on logical reasoning tests than the control group, who had waited quietly.
So my question to him was, “If self-control and logical reasoning are on the same energy circuit, and exerting self-control depletes the available energy for logical reasoning, wouldn’t it follow that exercising logical reasoning would deplete self-control?”
“Yes it would,” he agreed.
“And would that have enormous implications for the thousands of researchers in that room that morning who spend day in and day out exercising logical reasoning? Would that help them understand their struggle to resist the late night ice cream?”
He looked as if a light went on. He smiled and said, “Yes, I should emphasize that more.”
Feeling giddy inside, I released him from my clutches and danced inner joy dances at the thought that I had given a valuable thought to such an illustrious thinker. My chest swelled with pride in knowing that my thought might make a difference.
So, how does this relate to the Certificate in Positive Psychology at Kripalu?
I had the courage to ask the question, I had the insight to make that connection, because I showed up to that conference in my body. I had the express intention of learning through being present in my body. Having nothing to prove to the other attendees, I decided to make myself available as an embodied present listener for what is important about their work. I adopted this stance because I was afraid of being an insignificant outsider, and wanted to step into that conference with a more joy-ready frame of mind. To do so, I called upon my experiences at Kripalu with my Certificate in Positive Psychology colleagues. I remembered the powerful exercises related to looking at other people with kindness, and letting myself be seen. I remembered the smiles aimed at me, and my first tentative attempts to initiate a smile, only to get a 10,000-watt grin in return. And I stepped into that conference with conviction in the power of being present.
Here’s what I thought:
It won’t be a peer-reviewed article that will make me matter at the IPPA, because I haven’t done that yet, and I will let them matter to me, and that will matter to others more than anything.
And it worked. I listened and learned a lot, and had several incredible, life-changing conversations that have vastly altered my sense of what I have to give this world. I now find myself in the terrifying position of recognizing the outline my calling, and am reorganizing my life around it. (You too? Please call me!)
All of this emerged as a result of showing up with the intelligence of my body engaged, my heart open, a smile ready on my face, and my curiosity switched on.
I credit our work in the Certificate in Positive Psychology as the courage source. We all experimented together – learning about positive psychology interventions and trying them on in our own bodies. We discovered an incredibly safe place to be a part of a community, and we have made lifelong friends who share with us the deep, deep feeling that we each can be source of love and well-being in the world.
And as I walked the halls of the conference of the IPPA World Congress on a smile safari to see who I could catch with my smile and get them to flash me one in return, I found myself mustering a heck of a lot of resilience as the inevitable I-don’t-see-you or you-must-be-crazy faces arose.
I imagined that some of these good folks were trying desperately to publish in a peer reviewed journal, and when that happened, they thought, they might feel worthy of being smiled at by strangers. And I felt sad that the IPPA hadn’t started with a dance party. I’m convinced that what we are doing in the Certificate in Positive Psychology by generating full-bodied joy is greatly needed, even within the positive psychology community itself.
Maria McManus writes and speaks on the very important topic of how technical and non-technical people can work together productively, creatively, and without driving each other crazy. A former Vice President of Product Development at iVillage and Director of User Experience Design at the Disney Internet and Media Group, she champions emotionally-intelligent leadership and product design. A graduate of Brown University and a life-long learner, Maria is passionately curious about what makes us do what we do, and is currently working on articulating a unifying theory of human motivation, which she believes, is fundamentally rooted in positive effects.