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European positive psychology conference in Copenhagen: arriving, opening speeches & reception (first post)

I flew into Copenhagen yesterday afternoon.  I have a low key good feeling about the place.  Nice.  Clean.  Small enough not to feel overwhelmed.  Friendly.  How appropriate that Denmark, the hosts of this "5th European conference on positive psychology", have so often been ranked top in the world on life satisfaction.  See for example Christensen et al's paper "Why Danes are smug: comparative study of life satisfaction in the European Union."  I walked from Central Station to register at the conference and then on to the little hotel I'm staying in to dump my luggage. 

Back to the start of the conference and a series of opening addresses.  Apparently we're about 600 people from nearly 50 countries and 5 continents.  We've been provided with three downloadable sets of information - a 4 page "Programme at a glance", a 21 page "Session overview" giving basic information (title, author, academic institution &, where relevant, room) of all conference presentations, workshops, symposia, and posters, and finally a 152 page "Book of abstracts" giving more information about both the talks and also the posters.  At this first evening welcome, we had brief talks from various speakers.  For me, one of the more memorable was by President of the European Network for Positive Psychology Antonella del Fave who, amongst other things, talked about differing cultural views on wellbeing.  I was struck by how often "harmony" seemed to be mentioned by people and by how little research has been done on harmony compared with "life satisfaction", or "happiness", or "positive emotions" more generally. 

It was also good to hear Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi speak as I've known of his work on "flow" for so long - Wikipedia gives a good introduction and clicking on "flow" in this website's tag cloud links through to more on his work too.  Csikszentmihalyi mentioned "Effortless attention" a recent book edited by Brian Bruya and a related study on pianists playing favourite music.  Apparently the pianists showed parasympathetic nervous system activation with slowing of heart rate and breathing and non-visible but measurable activation of smiling muscles.  This is an interesting area, and later in the conference Barbara Fredrickson too touched on parasympathetic nervous system activation as a potentially important pathway linked to positive emotions.  Csikszentmihalyi also described a research study on chess players that challenged and progressed his own proposition that states of flow & enjoyment are most likely to be produced when our skill level is well matched with the activity's level of challenge.  For these strongly internally motivated chess players they reported preferring playing better opponents where they were quite likely to lose - a link presumably to an urge to learn and progress.

After the series of introductory talks we were bussed (or could walk) to Copenhagen City Hall for a charming "opening ceremony" complete with brief speeches, music, good company & good food.  Raking around on the internet later, I was pleased to find a fuller blog about the conference and these first speakers by Bridget Grenville-Cleave at the Positive Psychology News website. 

I left the ceremony still buzzing to walk the evening Copenhagen streets with a couple of friends.  Then back to the hotel, Germany & Ghana playing a football world cup match, and finally to bed.

See tomorrow's post for a description of the first full day of the conference.



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