positive psychology

Emerging trends in Positive Psychology

Lasting ideas from the European Conference of Positive Psychology 2018

In late June, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the European Positive Psychology Conference in Budapest. The conference brought together researchers, practitioners and pioneers of Positive Psychology from across the globe.

As ever, there was a richly packed and diverse programme of keynotes, seminars and workshops.

All the sessions I attended were thought provoking and of a really high standard, but there are a few ideas and talks that have made a lasting impression. I wanted to share these.

I also wanted to highlight resources that I’ll be exploring further, so you play along at home. You'll find these in the links throughout the blog and a section at the end.

To be clear, this is a narrow and personally biased selection. For those who want a comprehensive overview of ECPP 18, I recommend checking out the conference programme and/or the abstracts submitted.  


1) Moving from an individual to a systems perspective

A, potentially fair, criticism of positive psychology is that to date, the majority of research undertaken and constructs developed have focussed on flourishing at an individual level. Arguably, the field sometimes fails to account for the complex systems and networks of social relations and structures within which people are embedded.

In a symposium chaired by Margaret (Peggy) Kern it was refreshing to hear a number of presentations on the need to consider system informed positive psychology which applies the holistic lens of systems science with the strengths-based lens of Positive Psychology. As Paige Williams suggests this enables us to consider issues and ways of working from inside out and outside in.

Lindsay Oades offered that one explanation for our individualistic focus was the, perhaps unrecognised, influence of liberalism ideals and principles. Lindsay argued that it might be useful for researchers and practitioners to deliberately explore other political philosophies such as communitarianism. 

My, perhaps simplistic, understanding of communitarianism is that good society is based on the successful interplay between liberty and social order, individual rights and social responsibility.

Shifting our focus from enabling individuals to reach their highest potential to enabling us all to make our highest contribution is certainly something I will be reflecting on and exploring further. It reminded me of some of the sentiments expressed in the pioneering Benefit Mindset work developed by Ash Buchanan

2) Making art from broken pieces

Itai Ivtzan highlighted both the need and the opportunity for positive psychology as a discipline area to broaden its focus beyond positive emotions and experiences and in particular move more attention to the study of how people successfully live through, and grow and transform from, negative experiences.  

Described as a ‘second-wave” of positive psychology, Itai outlined a future for the field which encouraged and enabled people to embrace and recognise the ‘dark side’ of life.

From a personal perspective, I have always seen positive psychology attending to both negative and positive experiences, but I recognise the potential need for greater balance in the research. 

To illustrate the opportunities to grow from challenge, set-back and adversity, Itai introduced us to Kintsugi. This is the Japenese art of repairing pottery which celebrates and recognises, rather than conceals, breakage and restoration. The literal - and quite fantastic - translation of Kintsugi is 'golden repair'.

I loved this concept. As humans we continually build and grow from our imperfections, mishaps and failings, as well as our strengths and successes. 

Image from  Diversity NZ blog


3) Using the Job Demands and Resources Model for energy and engagement

A number of talks, symposia and posters used the Job Demands-Resources (JDR) model as a mechanism for considering how to influence energy and engagement. Whilst primarily applied in the context of work, I also saw the model being used for coaching, personal development and education.

Whilst I was certainly familiar with the JDR model and the positive torrent of research of this model led by Arnold Bakker and Eva Demerouti amongst others, I’ve not seen it make such a leap into positive psychology.

In particular, it was interesting to see JDR models which highlighted the importance of building and drawing from personal resources, such as mindset, behaviours and beliefs and the linkages with job crafting.

4) Learn it, Live it, Lead it, Embed it.

As a father and someone who has worked in the Higher Education sector, I’m always drawn to understanding how positive psychology is, and can be, applied within schools, colleges and universities.

Charlie Scudamore delivered a fantastically candid and insightful session on the lessons learnt from nurturing and embedding a positive educational culture at Geelong Grammar in Australia.

The key idea that I took away from Charlie’s session didn’t relate specifically to positive education but more about the factors which were critical in embedding and supporting change.

Charlie was clear that in order to build truly transformative approaches to wellbeing across the organisation people needed to:

  • learn about the concepts – the science behind them and the practical application
  • consolidate this learning by applying their personal lives - living the concepts,
  • leading and (in the case of schools) teaching these new approaches
  • spot and lead opportunities to embed the ideas into new ways of working.

I really liked the Learn, Live, Lead & Embed approach. From personal experience I have seen so many initiatives fail to reach their partial or full potential because some, or all, of these different stages haven’t been reached.

5) Interest and research in Job crafting is growing

From a personal and professional perspective, I was really pleased to see a growing interest in job crafting. Job crafting refers to pro-active changes that individuals make to the tasks, relationships and the way they think about the meaning and value of their work.

To my knowledge, Gavin Slemp, Peggy Kern and I were the only group to present a paper on job crafting at the European conference in Angers in 2016. This year there were at least 5 presentations that referenced the potential benefits of crafting work and personalising our thoughts, tasks and relationships.

Wilmar Schaufeli highlighted research showing the positive relationships between job crafting and engagement, wellbeing and performance. Machteld van den Heuvel  gave a masterclass on how to deliver job crafting interventions. Håkon Tveiterås and Benedicte Langseth-Eide gave a number of practical examples of how job crafting could, and had been, used as part of leadership and employee enrichment initiatives to enable better health, functioning and performance. Bente Alsos from Wideroe Airlines gave practical examples of how job crafting had been used by people, including airline cabin crew to frame the benefits of their work.

Aside from her presentation on the power of communications training to build high quality relationships, Belen Varela generously shared her own ideas and research of how she is encouraging job crafting in Spain and beyond. 

It was also a pleasure to share my research and thoughts, which I had developed with Gavin Slemp, on the new concept of “micro” job crafting. We found that when analysing examples of job crafting in action which we had collected the majority of crafters appeared naturally drawn to making very small, micro, job crafting changes in their work (5 - 12 minutes a day).

I argued that encouraging more job crafting at a micro-level might be the key to encouraging more of us to personalise our approach to work. 

Screenshot of slides presented by Rob Baker and Gavin Slemp at ECPP 2018

Screenshot of slides presented by Rob Baker and Gavin Slemp at ECPP 2018

ECPP in Iceland 2020 

I would really recommend the European Conference of Positive Psychology for anyone researching, applying or exploring the concepts in this field. The sessions were accessible, the delegates warm and welcoming and the passion for the discipline area was palpable.

See you at the in Reykjavic in 2 years time. And if you want to discuss or explore any of these ideas further then get in touch. I'd value the opportunity to think about and explore them further.