“Social capital” is a term coined by Wayne Baker, one of the world’s foremost experts on building and strengthening connections. Baker, who serves as faculty director of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan, defines social capital as “how willing people are to help others in their social network.” This concept relates to reciprocity in general, which is the “exchange of resources between two people.” 

Throughout its existence, Wholebeing Institute has been building social capital in a variety of ways. During the pandemic, this took the form of the online Positive Psychology Hour, launched in early 2020. In these free lunchtime Positivity Hours, WBI founder Megan McDonough, CIWPP alum Caroline Kohles of the Marlene Mayerson JCC Manhattan, and I interviewed WBI faculty and alumni who offered understanding, concrete help, and practical skills drawing from the field of applied positive psychology. It was a groundbreaking effort to forge connections and to share skills for navigating life during a crisis. 

The series marks its two-year anniversary on Thursday, March 31, and it’s still going strong. On that date, the three of us—Megan, Caroline, and myself—will celebrate this anniversary with another entry in the series. “The Two-Year Milestone: Honoring Our Time Together”, from 12:00–1:00 pm ET, will explore how has all of us in this community have helped each other hold the enormity of what we’ve been through together. We’ll dive into the opportunities and growth that the difficulties of this time have given us. Register here.


Buffering, Bolstering, and Building

Last year, just as the Positive Psychology Hour was marking its one-year anniversary, an article appeared in the 2021 edition of the Journal of Positive Psychology. A dream team of positive psychologists, many of whom have been faculty or guest speakers for WBI, came together to share their findings about “the role that positive psychology factors can play in buffering against mental illness, bolstering mental health during COVID-19 and building positive processes and capacities that may help to strengthen future mental health.” 

The paper considered how these three processes (buffer, bolster, build) can be generated through nine positive psychology topics: meaning, coping, self-compassion, courage, gratitude, character strengths, positive emotions, positive interpersonal processes, and high-quality connections.

These nine topics served as a kind of exclamation mark—a validation of the series offerings—as they corresponded directly with the wide variety of topics that WBI faculty, friends, and alumni presented throughout the pandemic. Each of their singular voices has been an active ingredient serving up daily doses of applied practices to nourish our individual and collective well-being. 

As participants have shown up consistently, with eagerness and openness to learn and engage with the material, we have witnessed the broaden-and-build effect within our community. The broadening has happened as participants have increased their intellectual resources; many have told us how they have built psychological resources, such as resilience and self-efficacy, as well as increasing their social resources. This build effect is felt in the widening circles of connection that have been made within the learning community, which has grown exponentially, both in live attendance and those who listen to the recordings in our WBI archive.


Gratitude and Giving Back

A central feature of students who have graduated Wholebeing Institute courses is that they embody a deep sense of gratitude and a commitment to serve the work forward. The series has been a wonderful opportunity for them to offer support to the greater good. Reciprocity, according to Baker, means “I help you and you help someone else, and maybe that person will end up helping me (or someone else) sometime in the future.” Baker’s research has shown that when reciprocity is widespread in organizations, it improves productivity, promotes learning, and builds a climate of trust. 

In 2020, researcher and series speaker Barbara Fredrickson (also a guest on our series) advised that in order to address the challenges of the pandemic, individuals and organizations would need to generate resources and build alliances and teams. The Positive Psychology Hour continues to answer this charge. It stands as a testimony to the ever-expanding social capital woven throughout the Wholebeing Institute community. As a result of us asking ourselves how we could help, and asking others to collaborate and serve, we have been able to co-create upward and outward spirals that have generated virtuous circles of reciprocity and giving. 


This article is adapted from Phoebe’s chapter in the book Finding Unshakable Happinesscreated by Donna Martire Miller.

Phoebe Atkinson

Phoebe Atkinson

Program Faculty

Phoebe Atkinson is a core faculty member of WBI’s Positive Psychology Coaching Certification program. She is a licensed clinical social worker, certified coach, and board-certified trainer, educator, and practitioner in psychodrama, sociometry, and group psychotherapy. She serves on the faculty for WBI’s Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology, and is also a graduate of the program.

Along with Jennifer Hanawald, Phoebe teaches the online Positive Psychology: Skill-Building Intensive course and leads the Positive Psychology Coaching Mentorship.

Find out about Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology

Learn more about WBI’s Positive Psychology Coaching Certification.