by Martha Fagan and Susan Peppercorn

Imagine having your interests, values, and feelings amplified more than 100 times. That was the effect of participating in the Embodied Positive Psychology Summit last month, with 150 colleagues from around the world. To experience the upward spiral, as Barbara Fredrickson refers to it, was truly a whole-body experience. Four things stood out for us at the conference.

Vision animates, inspires, transforms purpose into action.
Warren Bennis

The Embodied Positive Psychology Summit was not your average conference (a collection of presentations thematically coupled by keynote speeches). This conference had a vision that not only acknowledged the past but also looked to the future of what thriving can be. Through the leadership of Wholebeing CEO Megan McDonough, we were able to imagine the possibility of embodying positive psychology, not just think about it. Imagine a positive approach to the arts and humanities or what our bodies teach us about authenticity? The vision of the Wholebeing Institute inspired us to think more broadly and courageously about where this nascent field can go and the role each of us will play in it.

Common Language
As we had a chance to ponder this vision of embodiment, it was immediately apparent that we were just where we needed to be to absorb this concept and discuss our thoughts with others who share a common language. To be among people schooled in and excited by the concepts of positive psychology was not only refreshing but also expansive. Entering into meaningful conversations without having to explain the basics felt so freeing, and allowed for a vibrant and probing exchange of ideas. It was not merely words that were exchanged—smiles, attentive listening, and soft eyes that welcomed deep connection contributed to the group’s palpable positive energy. These micro-moments of connection, or love, as Barbara Fredrickson would describe them, allowed for so much to be shared in a wholebeing way.

Centeredness, Not Balance
Imagine standing on one leg for 30 minutes. Is the grounded foot firmly planted, or is it trembling and wobbling a bit to keep you upright? In our culture, we talk so often about our “work/life balance” that the phrase becomes meaningless, because balance is a temporary phenomenon, not a permanently achievable state. Whether you ascribe to the PERMA model of well-being made famous by Dr. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, or the SPIRE model from the Wholebeing Institute, achieving balance among all of the organizing principles can feel like an impossible task. Megan McDonough’s concept of being in alignment, being centered in ourselves, reminds us to notice that we are always moving, even if our movement is so subtle it’s imperceptible. We need not try for perfection.

The most powerful takeaway from these three days was a genuine sense of hope—hope for a future in which mind and body are treated as a single whole, striving towards well-being and flourishing. We left with a deep awareness that each one of us can make a difference one small step at a time—our actions have a ripple effect on others as we live into this work, walking the walk and not just talking the talk. The research and ongoing explorations in the fields of character strengths, prioritizing positivity, authenticity, grit, yoga, lovingkindness meditation, resilience, narrative practices, and gratitude remind us that we are on the cutting edge of exciting change in our world, and that we are the change makers. Spending these days surrounded by the innovators and the early adopters leaves us with no doubt that positive change isn’t just possible—it is inevitable!

Get access to the presenters’ slides, workshop handouts, videos, and other resources from the Embodied Positive Psychology Summit.

Martha Fagan, a graduate of CiPP2, writes and teaches on well-being and happiness. Her private coaching practice focuses on helping clients reach their goals while fostering greater levels of self-compassion and resiliency. She has a background in psychiatric nursing and is also trained in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Martha served twice as a teaching assistant for Maria Sirois’ Crafting the Resilient Life program at Kripalu.

Susan Peppercorn, a graduate of CIPP1 and teaching assistant for CIPP2, is passionate about helping people find greater levels of satisfaction in their careers. A certified positive psychology and career coach, Susan is the founder and CEO of Positive Workplace Partners. Before becoming a coach, she spent 15 years in business development and marketing in high technology and higher education.