Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) Final Project by Libby Van Buren
Libby, a humanitarian, business woman and scholar!
It’s difficult to overlook the severity of the homelessness problem in San Francisco. When I walk out of my apartment in Pacific Heights, a gentrified neighborhood that’s miles away from the dicier areas you would associate with soup kitchens and homeless shelters, I run into at least three people who didn’t sleep in beds last night. A few years ago, a disoriented homeless man smashed my dining room window to climb into my second floor condo and was arrested outside my bedroom door. My story isn’t an anomaly; everyone agrees that homelessness in San Francisco is a glaring and heartbreaking issue, but no one is exactly sure how to address it.
According to a nationwide census in 2015, San Francisco was counted as the second most densely populated homeless population in the country right beyond New York City. But San Francisco has many more “chronically homeless” meaning people who aren’t just temporarily down on their luck but permanently living on the streets. There are more people unsheltered each night in San Francisco than any other city in the States.
Most people want to do something to help but are uncomfortable handing over spare change— it can be a clumsy interaction and it’s unclear where that dollar will be spent. This project aims to help with that problem: Pocketful of Sunshine is a small envelope that includes five $5 gift cards to Subway or McDonalds. Slip the small wallet inside your bag and you have easy access to a gift card that promises a warm meal to someone who needs it.
For Christmas I gifted these envelopes to ten friends and family members. Each case came with a note:
“It’s nice to be nice
Give these $5 gift cards to strangers who are down on their luck. If it feels right when the cards are gone, refill the envelope and find more people who could use a warm meal.
If you want sunshine, share sunshine. If you want love, share it. You’ll find that it will come right back to you.”
At first, the goal of this project was to try to help address homelessness in a positive way, but Positive Psychology teaches us that altruism benefits the giver more than the receiver. There are many studies that link benevolent actions with personal happiness and health. Stephen Post, author of “Why Good Things Happen to Good People” has made a career of studying the effects of altruism on health and longevity. He’s found that givers experience less aches and pains: giving promotes health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. He’s found that consistent altruism has a “stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church; it means that volunteering is nearly as beneficial to our health as quitting smoking”.
Another fascinating study analyzed brain scans of nineteen subjects who gave small donations to a variety of causes. Functional magnetic resonance imaging revealed that small act of kindness lit up the pleasure center- the same area of the brain associated with euphoria. For your brain, altruism feels like good sex or delicious food.
Positive Psychology also tells us that habits emerge from repeated behavior: neural networks fire together after consistently repeated behaviors. How easy is it, then, to create a habit of altruism? My hope is that this project affects at least one person positively and gives them the opportunity to reap the benefits of consistent altruism.
- Acts of kindness are contagious (Lyubomirsky, Tkach & Sheldon, 2004; Buchanan & Bardi, 2009; Otake et al,, 2006.
- Contemplating altruism leads to immunity boost (McClelland & Kirchnit, 1988)
- Giving to others releases endorphins (Moll, et al., 2006a; Moll, et al,.2006)
- Hill, Kashmir. “Why does San Francisco seem to have such a huge homeless problem?” Fusion, 19 February 2016. Web.
- Linden, David J Ph.D. “This Is Your Brain on Charitable Giving.” Psychology Today, 31 August 2011. Web. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-compass-pleasure/201108/is-your-brain-charitable-giving>.
- Post, Stephen. Why Good Things Happen To Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life By The Simple Act of Giving. New York City: Broadway Books. Print.
Student Spotlight: Katie Starke
From Katie Starke, a Cheltenham High School biology teacher who is currently pursuing the Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP):
“I turned an ugly bulletin board in the front of the room (with a permanent and broken paper-towel dispenser stuck to it) into a “Win of the Week” board.
For the Warm Up, kids write about a success they’ve had over the past week. They can choose something academic, something extracurricular, or something from their personal life – anything! I push them to share a WIN – something good that happened or something they worked hard at to achieve. I also push them to be specific – instead of “I did well on my test,” try “I studied and earned a 97% on my Geometry test.”
The results have been spectacular. They range from “I pulled my English grade up from a 67% to a 71% and now I am eligible to play basketball” to “I wore a Santa hat the day before Christmas and passed out cards and made people feel good” to “I learned how to play a new song on my violin.” I have already learned so much more about my students through this and some of the co-teachers that come in with kids are participating as well.”
The research that supports this is noted as the broaden and build theory of positive emotion – that focusing our limited attention on what’s good and what’s working will broaden our ability to see things panoramically and build our capacities for connecting and learning which is sure to make any lesson that follows more successful for all.
Way to go, Katie for applying the principles of positive psychology in your world – being a change-agent for students and other teachers — and who knows how far that reach extends!
Here’s a picture of Katie (middle) flanked by two fellow teachers from Cheltenham School District, a place committed to the wellbeing of its teachers, students and families:
Lisa Brown, Katie Starke and Jennifer Hall – Cheltenham teachers also in the current Philadelphia Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology class.
Student Spotlight: Samantha Inch
Samantha describes herself as a Communicator, Writer and Life Enthusiast. She is currently a Communications Manager at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, PA and holds 10 years of communications, and public relations experience working with organizations of all sizes. As a Certified Applied Positive Psychology Practitioner, Samantha is now bringing the pioneering change of positive psychology to Jefferson Health as part of a movement to increase productivity, empower individuality, and decrease stress in the workplace.
With a background in corporate America leading executive communications, she earned a reputation for being able to humanize the way leaders relate to their employees. She created employee experiences infused with human emotion and authenticity. This vulnerability in storytelling, while not a traditional way of communicating in business, continued to propel Samantha toward finding a way to bring humanity to mundane, negative or toxic cultures.
Within and outside of corporate America, Samantha has also led “happiness workshops” for young women looking to find themselves, deal with stress and prioritize self care.
Samantha’s experience in Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) only fueled her further appreciation of the power of being human and how expressing ones individuality can empower us at home and at work. She has totally redefined her view of what success consists of based on these new insights – and is now bringing this to people so they can show up as their authentic selves and effectively navigate any situation life throws their way.
Combined with a certification in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Samantha has taken her new definition of success and added key lessons from Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) to create a new program for companies looking to improve their employee engagement. Her program is founded on our foundational knowledge of the brain and body; how to apply that knowledge to deal with negative and stressful scenarios; how to generate daily awareness of our thoughts; and how to build positive mindsets, strengths and habits. This is about prioritizing employee needs – and in turn, will bring numerous benefits to any company struggling to motivate, inspire or engage their employees.
Samantha resonates deeply with the idea that “life’s journey is about un-becoming everything that isn’t really us so we can be authentically who we were meant to be in the first place.” She has built her program using scientific positive psychology interventions so people can unlearn beliefs and habits that don’t serve them well, and re-learn how to create their own formula to be successful and flourish in the workplace.
There’s no doubt that Samantha will have an enormous positive impact on Jefferson through her program, and will continue to spread messages of empowerment and positivity to individuals, young women, and organizations.
Learn more about Samantha and her journey at http://www.hersavorylife.com/
Student Spotlight: Mary Zenzen
Mary Zenzen is a gem, full of delightful surprises.
A striking blonde who flew in from Colorado to join our Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) weekends in Philadelphia, Mary reminds you of a jewel, showing different sparkling light when turned.
Example 1: Courage. At an early on-site, Mary shared that one of her sons was having difficulty learning. Counter to advice from his teachers, Mary trusted her sense of what he needed and put him on a different academic regimen, requiring him to figure out how to learn. She was right: he figured it out and is flourishing in his learning now.
Example 2. Integrity. During lunch at on-sites, Mary looked for partners to walk with. Literally walking the talk, she kept her body active, which is one of the principles we learn in class. On one of these walks, she described to me her life with her Mom, then with her husband and friends. An exercise with her answering personal questions confirmed what I suspected. Throughout her life, Mary walks the talk. Integrity permeates her actions with family, friends, and husband.
Example 3. Service. During another on-site, Mary leaks out a service project for which she was project manager: World Vision, Step into Africa, AIDS experiential exhibit at Colorado State University (2008). “How many of these have you done, Mary? “Oh, about every 5 years I do another….” Following are her descriptions of 2 others she helped start and of which she was a board member:
1. Character Fort Collins: A city-wide character movement which involved the City of Fort Collins, Larimer County, Poudre School District, Colorado State University, the business community, the faith community, and the family sector (2000-8).
2. CHAMP: A city-wide character movement for coaches, parents, and teachers which used a train-the-trainer delivery model to equip coaches to be good coaches of character (2003-8).
Spotlight Questions for Mary:
Briefly describe your life until now.
I am experiencing an unexpected gift of midlife: an interesting combination of wisdom and hindsight from the past, with plenty of runway in front of me to dream and create for the future.
I am deeply grateful for my family. I was blessed with: loving and intelligent parents (a great start); a husband I’ve been growing with for 30 years; beautiful responsible adult children who are a complete blessing; and, now a grandchild and another on the way. Wow–I see why people on their deathbeds wish they worked less and enjoyed their families more.
I was given lot of tools for dealing with life, but when I found positive psychology I had what I needed to teach others, and make that my life’s calling. Now, I am on my way, with many thanks to Louis, Emiliya, and our CAPP 10 cohort in Philadelphia. I wanted a supportive professional community to grow with, and I found one. Thank you all for being my Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) family… one more family for which I am deeply grateful!
What drew you to Positive Psychology?
I have studied leadership, business, psychology, and spirituality all my adult life–about 30 years. I turned to them when I was in a difficult spot or in a transition where I needed to reinvent myself. 5 years ago, I entered a tricky transition–empty nest, midlife, and a job that wasn’t using all my skills and abilities. It was a very empty place where I toughed it out, but I needed something new and life-giving to get me growing again. My job took me out east on a regular basis, so I started reading the New York Times and found an article about Sonja Lyubomirsky’s work. Reading her books, connecting the dots, and finding other positive psychology researchers… I knew I was on to something that provided purpose and meaning in my life again and which I could turn into meaningful work to help others. I took a 40-hour Pursuit of Happiness certificate course, and then found the International Positive Psychology Association. When attended its conference last summer, I met Emiliya and Louis and signed up for CAPP.10! The program met all of my personal and professional goals, and I’m well on my way to integrating positive psychology into my personal and professional life.
What lessons has PP taught you?
The biggest lessons.
1. The conditions by which human flourishing emerges can be generated through intentional effort. Positive psychology provides the evidence-based strategies for generating higher levels of positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and purpose, achievement and vitality.
2. I can put the fundamentals of positive psychology to work in a specific context–e.g., the workplace. The Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan provides the most relevant framework for doing this.
3. Practicing and teaching positive psychology are extremely important in setting up this generation and the next for success. There is work to be done to embed positive psychology teaching and practices into systems and organizations. We start with ourselves and recruit others into the process. It’s a lot of work. I’m up for it!
Write your life story of the next 3 years:
So, Mary starts a company called Better World Organizations, LLC, which equips people to set a new standard for positive leadership and performance. She teaches positive psychology and how it can be integrated into systems and organizations to thousands, no, millions, of people by the year 2020. Individuals start taking responsibility for becoming positive change agents in their workplaces, schools, families, and communities. The root of many problems dries up as mindset shift from “fixed” to “growth.” Mayors, school superintendents, police chiefs, and community leaders say, “There was a time when people didn’t understand the power of gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness….Today, most people understand positive psychology principles, put them to work in their own lives, and teach others. These people integrate positive psychology into their workplaces, schools, families, and communities all the time. It’s great to have everyone working together to create positive organizations and communities.”
So, Mary is talking to the mayor now….He’s interested.
Wow, Mary. Rock our world.
<Student Spotlight contributed by David Shen, CAPP>
Student Spotlight: Kristen DiOrio
We were honored to have Kristen participate in CAPP.3 in New York, NY and then assisted the inaugural Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) Philadelphia cohort in the spring of 2015. She remains involved in the local Philadelphia CAPP community.
What brought you to study positive psychology?
At my former organization, I was encouraged to create a corporate training to help promote career development of our employees. I thought about what I was passionate about and realized that my deepest passions lie in the fact that true freedom, success and happiness comes from the thoughts that we choose to think. One thing led to another and I was introduced to Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) . When I read the syllabus, I literally screamed out loud and said “THIS IS WHAT I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR ALL OF MY LIFE!!” THIS is the scientific proof and practical ways in which we can change our thoughts to support our success, happiness and well-being. Finding positive psychology and CAPP was literally the beginning of the rest of my life.
How are you applying positive psychology at work and at home?
Positive psychology is not just something I study, but it is a way of life for me. How I show up in the world as well as how I interact my daughter, family, friends and colleagues. I utilize it from the moment I start my day and look at the chalk board in my bedroom marked with a positive affirmation. I use it while giving my daughter the space to be herself and savor the moments that I have with her. I practice it when I learn to love my body because if I want my daughter to, then I have to make sure that I have it/do it myself. I will be utilizing it at work when I deliver unconscious bias trainings to new hires for diversity and inclusion and also, our future initiatives around strengths and purpose.
What gives you a sense of meaning & purpose?
My daughter of course (who was in utero during my Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) experience), and sharing universal love. After going through a passion profile consultation, I was given three archetypes of how I show up in the workplace based on my purpose and passion. Here are some key words which give me a sense of meaning on a daily basis: being a change-agent, an alchemist, embracing possibilities for improvement in myself, others and my organization; being a teacher creating the foundation of institutional wisdom while passionately exploring new information and new ways of viewing the world; being a healer who passionately seeks the source of turmoil to create peace, apply salve to open wounds, and mend broken relationships or broken spirits.
What’s your favorite “happiness” intervention?
I honestly don’t know if I can come up with just one!! Practicing gratitude is one of my fave’s though.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I am eternally grateful for the Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) , positive psychology and the tribe of wonderful people it has brought into my life. It has been a deep transformation for me and taken me so much closer to embracing my true power and purpose here.
<Student Spotlight contributed by Karla Chin, CAPP>