by Elaine O’Brien

My practice around the positive psychology of human movement involves creating “growth groups”—bringing people together with the goal of providing uplifting relationships and lessening the encumbrances of loneliness. The idea is to help people start where they are, and create an upward spiral of optimal health, performance, and deeper connection.

My life’s work is designing and researching positive individual and community fitness programs, educating around the power of moving well, and leading people to greater health, wholebeing, and love connections. My doctoral research demonstrated how appreciative community dance/exercise programs, like my FitDance and Move2Love programs, help improve both mental and physical health. The work of the late Dr. Ray Fowler, a MAPP professor at the University of Pennsylvania, identified how physical activity interventions are important in providing a constructive synchronicity between positive psychology and positive health.

The women in my study were strong, zesty, self-determined, community spirited, and loving; these outcomes have had far-reaching effects, bolstering them and their families. Working with my older clients/students/friends for more than 20 years has led me to a greater realization about the preciousness of life and how the quality of our lives matters.

Recently, I received a phone call from the daughter of a cherished student and friend, letting me know that her mother, Betty Costello, had died. Betty would have been 99 this year. She attended my classes faithfully, dancing aerobically, lifting weights, stretching, and balancing for 16 years, until age 91, when she “graduated” to a lighter, seated exercise class. Betty was vibrant and loved. She had the highest kicks! She inspired people with her character strengths, especially kindness, caring, zest, and a sense of fun and wonder. She made me laugh one day when she admitted that she sat down on the curb during a St. Patrick’s Day Parade so she could see what the men were wearing under their kilts!

Like my research participants, Betty demonstrated a high level of self-determination. Self-determination theory (SDT) is a theory of motivation concerned with our inherent tendencies to act healthfully and effectively. Edward Deci and Richard Ryan discuss the facets of SDT as autonomy, connectedness, and mastery. Betty was autonomous, making independent choices about her life. She was connected to people, giving, with many friends, and she had a level of mastery: She entertained the troops as a USO Girl in her youth, and later performed with our FitDance team.

Ultimately what people want is more good time, not just more time, which is why goals that lead us toward wholebeing, thriving, and love are so important. As we travel through life, and as we live longer, programs like Move2Love and FitDance help us make our time more productive, useful, and healthy. Move2Love, as a component of “lifestyle medicine,” offers a new model of positive education and therapy, one in which learning to move and play together with others, in the spirit of harmonious passion, leads us toward wholebeing. In my research, “belongingness” increased participation adherence, motivation, and enjoyment.

The art and science of movement has no borders, and transcends all. What if we actively aim to recreate, accept, and encourage the idea of play, dance, and movement, with the purpose of enhancing the quality of our lives? What if we prioritize deepening connections and loving others, the world, and ourselves?

Elaine O’Brien and Lisa Honig Buksbaum offer the workshop “Move2Love, Thriving, and Soaring,” the Embodied Positive Psychology Summit at Kripalu, May 1–4, 2017. They will offer a celebration of movement, learning, and belonging, exploring positive embodiment, social fitness, and how to deepen love connections.

Elaine O’Brien, PhD, MAPP, is an educator, trainer, program designer, producer, writer, presenter, and pioneer in health/fitness promotion, positive aging, positive exercise, and the art and science of positive psychology and human movement. Elaine is creative director/CEO of Lifestyle Medicine Coaching & Training, a consultancy, and FitDance: Move2Love, delivering positive community/group exercise programming and training protocols to help boost exercise safety standards, motivation, adherence, enjoyment, whole health, and well-being. Elaine has offered training programs and consultation throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Sweden, United Kingdom, Korea, and China, working with governments, universities, and companies to bring people together and to inspire celebratory learning, best practices, and optimal experiences. She has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers, and the University of the Sciences. Her mission is to elevate, educate, and help move people toward positive health, greater whole well-being, and more love.