by Ruth Pearce

The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen.
—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Have you ever been “in flow” for four days straight? Have you ever wondered if that is even possible? As project manager for the inaugural Embodied Positive Psychology Summit in April, that was how I felt. I went to bed late, I bounced out of bed in time to see the dawn (largely unheard of for me!). No question seemed petty or annoying, no request too small or too large. Every attendee and speaker seemed special, juggling lots of things at the same time seemed easy. Buoyed by the mood of excitement and engagement, I was unstoppable. I smiled so much that the muscles in my face ached. I was hugged by and talked to so many people that I felt I was at the center of something really big and yet at the same time really intimate.

If you were not with us at the summit, what did you miss? Why was I in flow? Where can you find out more? (One way: Find slides, handouts, and additional resources in the Embodied Positive Psychology Summit Toolbox.) Here’s a look at the summit through the SPIRE lens.

SPIRE image

Spiritual: While many of the participants were graduates of positive psychology programs around the world, we had a wide array of others participating. All were in search of greater purpose and meaning in their lives—from people making a personal transition, to people wanting to effect a transition for others; from those there just to take care of themselves for a few days, to those there to learn to take better care of others.

Physical: Some people were attending specifically to enhance their physical health and awareness, like the man who wanted to stop smoking, or the woman who told me she is always sitting and wanted to learn to move. Even those of us not consciously focusing on the physical benefitted from the wholesome food, exercise, fresh air, and nature.

Intellectual: The summit was full of evidence-based information on how to make our lives broader and deeper—including Barbara Fredrickson’s revelations on the science of micro-moments in her keynote talk; the importance of cultivating character strengths, with Neal Mayerson of the VIA Institute on Character; and research presented by Edi Pasalis, director of the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living, on how yoga helps us to focus attention. Meditation with Sharon Salzberg aptly demonstrated the effects—supported by science—of quieting the mind: an increased capacity to appreciate life and to weather the storms we all face.

Relational: Every day provided experiences to cultivate the relational aspect of our lives. I watched attendees chatting at lunch and dinner about experiences and learnings, exchanging e-mails and phone numbers, or looking deeply into each other’s eyes during the many experiential workshops. It was clear that our family of attendees, who had started out as just a large group, had quickly become a community sharing a common purpose—to get everything they could out of the experience, individually and together.

Emotional: To say that we ran the gamut of the emotions during the week would be an understatement. As you see from the Facebook photos, there was a lot of smiling. Some people experienced an “aha” moment, sometimes more than one. There was excitement, joy, and happiness. But as we know, positive psychology is not just about being happy and ignoring the sadness, anger, shame, frustration, or fear that life brings. From Maria Sirois’ stories of finding courage and resilience even in grief, to Dan Tomasulo’s “virtual gratitude visit,” (a psychodrama exercise for thanking someone you have never property acknowledged), we witnessed every emotion.

In addition to our plenary speakers and workshop leaders, our “lunch and learn” speakers were fun, informative, and innovative, and really brought to life the many ways in which positive psychology is an applied science. It was great to see these new presenters in action, in a safe environment surrounded by a warm, encouraging audience.

For me, there were so many learning opportunities—which is great for someone whose top strengths include curiosity and a love of learning. My particular takeaways: Take lessons in how to pay attention. Accept gratitude gracefully. All character strengths matter. We are all connected.

RuthPRuth Pearce is the founder of the newly formed ALLE LLC (A Lever Long Enough). Her company specializes in team and workplace positivity and in building resilience and happiness in young people, particularly teenagers. Most recently, Ruth spent a year first revitalizing and then leading a team of more than 100 technologists in the United States and India on an Enterprise Data Warehouse program. Previously, she spent 20 years as a program manager on large IT programs, primarily in the financial services industry. She is currently working with the Wholebeing Institute planning the 2017 Embodied Positive Psychology (EP2) Summit. Ruth lives in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts with her husband, Gareth, and their dog, Milo.