by Elaine O’Brien

Both this year and last, WBI’s Embodied Positive Psychology Summit has led me toward greater solace, growth, connection, and positive transformation. More than a month later, I’m lifted up, elevated, and in awe of the experience. Following up on the excellent articles written by Ruth Pearce, Megan McDonough, and Megha Nancy Buttenheim, here are some reasons why I love the Summit.

Megan, WBI’s CEO, leads with Heart Intelligence. It’s exhilarating and a true joy to experience her approach. During the opening session of the Summit, “Cultivating a Growth Heartset,” Megan set a tone around love and connection, generously welcoming and uniting conference faculty, attendees, staff, and volunteers. Megan, Ruth, and the WBI team did an outstanding job promoting a generosity of spirit, kindness, and caring.

Lisa Buksbaum of Soaring Words and I presented a workshop, “Move2Love, Thriving, and Soaring,” which, in part, explored Celebratory Learning, a coalescence of movement, learning, and love connections. One key tenet was instilling a sense of belonging, purpose, and enjoyment in using our healthy bodies to help others in our respective practices. Similar to the Move2Love experience, Megha led participants to communitas, moving us together rhythmically toward a peak experience of behavior synchrony, inspired joy, and connection during her uplifting Let Your Yoga Dance session.

Caroline Miller pre-launched her new book, Getting Grit: The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating, Passion, Perseverance, and Purpose. I attended Caroline’s terrific pre-conference workshop on goal setting, with an amazing group of participants. While Caroline was attending her son’s college graduation at University of Pittsburgh, the first part of the workshop was led by Maria Sirois, a special treat.

The brilliant Joan Borysenko graced us with her presence and knowledge around the power of mind/body medicine for growth and transformation. Joan discussed how we are “social animals who require the shelter of one another to thrive.” On the cutting edge of mind/body medicine, she beautifully elucidated the importance of love’s biological impact, mental training, exercise/physical activity, breathing, music, epigenics, and the mighty microbiome. She also shared how a compassionate presence in healers is their greatest asset.

Stephen Cope gave a compelling presentation about the power of connection. Similar to Joan’s points about our humanity, Stephen stated, “We are seeking humans to connect with” and to be fully connected humans. “The right company and companionship is the whole of human life.” Stephen told inspiring stories from his new book, Soul Friends, and described how “friends are more important than willpower.” Like Caroline, Stephen discussed how we all need a good teacher—someone who will be there for us, a positive energizer. “We need someone to push us, who doesn’t go away; this forces us to gather ourselves together.” Stephen discussed the “joy of joining, connecting with other minds across cultures, and feeling gratitude around the networks of our connections.”

Barbara Fredrickson enchanted with her authenticity, scholarship, and passion around her work and research. Barbara is the President of IPPA, the International Positive Psychology Association, and at the helm of this year’s IPPA conference in Montreal.

Karen Whelan-Berry led a great workshop, “Rooted and Winged: Integrating Intention and Best Self.” She discussed how we are all born with potential, and how the future is a “series of nows,” and it is relational and intentional—something our heart wishes.

In their brilliant session “Self-Care and Patient Care,” Maria Sirois and Darshan Mehta discussed the need for doctors (and patients) to practice self-care: “To care for the other, you must care for yourself.” They led an interesting exercise around what charges our energy—what offers withdrawals versus deposits.

Another high point was when Dr. Neal Mayerson stepped off the dais during his presentation, “Seeing and Being Seen: The Virtue of Love,” to embrace his wife, Dr. Donna Mayerson. His sweet appreciation for Donna’s love, caring, and kindness was a heartwarming moment demonstrating Neal’s character strength of loving and being loved.

Todd Kashdan has been a larger-than-life champion for me since we first met at the European Positive Psychology Conference in 2008. During my doctoral work at Temple University in the psychology of human movement/kinesiology, Todd generously encouraged me to keep going. As Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed in the line, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,” Todd inspired me to forge ahead with my unique research and practice. It was a thrill to see him in action.

Post-Summit, I’m experiencing a deeper sense of validation around the importance of leading with love and the power of sparking positive energy to lift up others, and myself. I am savoring precious moments of valuable connection, knowledge shared, and the great people I had the honor and pleasure of meeting—and I’m already anticipating the goodness that next year’s Summit will bring.

Want to learn more about the Summit? You can get access to the presenters’ slides, workshop handouts, videos, and other resources here.

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.