Reflections from Positive Psychology seminar

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” Churchill

This week I attended Henley’s Positive Psychology course. Just before I go into that, the website for Good Day At Work (you need to go there – resources galore!) is

Anyway, Henley.It was all quite academic really – no, it was! Having submitted my latest OU assignment only the night before, I found myself absorbing a presentation by yet another professor. I came away with references to a library-full of books that would both keep Amazon in business for the foreseeable future (see end of blog for breakdown) and empty my bank account.

Dr Kevin Money, from the Henley Partnership led on this event and Sarah Colston and Crispin O’Brien from the New Economics Foundation, gave us an overview of their work in the field of positive psychology – which, by the way, was defined as the difference between short term joy and long-term happiness. And the main nuggets I picked up were:

Meetings:       Size of team impacts positivity of meetings – golden number is 4-5
Feedback:     What gets taken on board is the personal rather than task level
Positivity:       Attracts interaction, broadens our thoughts and actions, we pay more attention and are more creative and flexible
Negativity:     Shouldn’t take the place of replacing the positive.
Mediocrity:     If you only focus on negativity you will only achieve mediocrity.
Success:        If you focus on strengths, you will achieve success.
Co-creation:  Develops positive engagement/psychology

Positive psychology only works if we work in teams, value different strengths and make ourselves vulnerable to other people.

The science bit:

Fredrickson codified utterances of 60 teams’ meetings to determine that the:

  • highest performing teams have a ratio of 5-6 positive to each negative utterance
  • lowest performing teams have a ratio of 0.36 positive to each negative utterance

However, there is a magic/optimum ratio – minimum is 3:1 and maximum 8:1 (after that, it just feels patronising!)

Linley studied negativity bias in psychology based on evolution:

Emotion                      Reaction
Fear                              fight or flight
Anger                           deter future violations
Sadness                      treading carefully – body shuts down
Disgust                        try to get away from it, spit it out, avoid

Referring to Seligman and Nohria’s work, evidence suggests the fundamental human drivers are:

Meaning        – purpose bigger than ourselves
Bonding        – being part of a group that cares for us/part of our identity
Learning        – continuing t learn/grow/develop
Defending     – the need to defend things that are meaningful to us

NEF has undertaken a lot of research on happiness at work, in fact you can try out their questionnaire yourself ( and if it intrigues you, you can call them to discuss undertaking a wider piece of work for you. Anyway, their research findings to date indicate that for happiness and wellbeing we need to:

Feel                         Function
Happiness              sense of competence
Contentment          sense of connection
Enjoyment              experiencing positive relationships
Curiosisty               autonomy (control over one’s life)
Engagement          sense of purpose

NEF has also developed a set of evidence-based actions to develop personal wellbeing: ‘five ways of wellbeing’

Action                     For example
Connect                  With people around you, build connections
Be active                 Exercise, discover physical activity, play
Take notice            Be curious, notice, remark, savour
Keep learning        Try something new, rediscover a new interest
Give                         Do something nice, thank someone, smile

I don’t know how Dr Kevin Money had drawn all this together without one conversation with John Timpson, but I guess the exhaustive reading list might have helped:

  • de Botton A: the constellation of Philosophy introduction to philosophy covers the philosophers’ theories and then applies them to common problems that people face
  • Frederickson B: Positivity: Groundbreaking research to releases your inner positivity and thriveWhat positivity is and what it does.
  • Grayling A.C: The meaning of Things: Applying philosophy of life A series of short essays on a wide range of life subjects – e.g. love, sorrow, tolerance, morality – by eminent philosopher.
  • Linley. P: Positive Psychology in Practice What positive psychology is, how the research findings apply in practice, with scientific point of positive psychology.
    Paul Ekman (1950s) The evolutionary role of emotions
  • Money. Dr K: Putting positive Psychology to Work (thesis – presumably not available)
  • Nohria N, Lawrence P: Driven: How human nature shapes our choices The four main drivers of human beings.
  • Seligman M: Flourish: A new understanding of happiness and wellbeing Seligman was the first to move psychology from focusing exhaustively on what’s wrong to looking at what’s right. Five elements of positive psychology with some practical activities
  • Zimbardo P: The Lucifer Effect – How good people turn evil. The starting poing is the Sanford prison experiment, in which students were divided randomly into guards and prisoners and how they deal with their roles. Covers african boy soldiers, nazi camp guards, the My Lai massacre, Abu Ghraib and experiments where participants are encouraged by authority figures to inflict pain.
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2 Responses to Reflections from Positive Psychology seminar

  1. Christoper says:

    Excellent, what a website it is! This web site presents helpful facts to us, keep it

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