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European positive psychology conference: love, national happiness comparison tables, & life satisfaction assessment (2nd post)

I wrote yesterday about the two pre-European Conference on Positive Psychology (ECPP) workshops I went to on "Positive supervision" and on "Positive relationships".  Then in mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the conference proper began.  It was heralded by Taiko drummers and a cluster of brief welcoming speeches.  Apparently there are 920 people at the conference from about 50 different countries.  The country spread is similar, but the numbers are up 50% on the approximately 600 attendees at the 5th ECPP I went to in Copenhagen four years ago.  We now have three days of conference with 10 invited symposia, 5 invited workshops, 29 symposia, 29 workshops, 34 thematic paper sessions, and 214 posters.  It's going to be a bit of a journey!

And the journey started with a bang - the admirable Barbara Fredrickson giving a keynote presentation entitled "Love and health".  I am (probably like the vast majority of people with a scientific interest in positive psychology) a big fan of Barbara Fredrickson's.  I hadn't bought her new book "Love 2.0", but I have ordered it now.  I took pretty extensive notes during this talk, including fascinating information about an as yet unpublished research study contrasting groups randomized to train in mindfulness or to train in a loving kindness meditation (the latter appears to boost positive emotions more and this has knock-on benefits for physical health via inflammatory & immune changes).  I'll write more about Barbara's keynote once I'm home again after the conference and I've had a chance to look at her new book as well.

The next day began with keynotes by the conference chair, Jan Walburg, on "The promise of positive psychology for society" and John Helliwell from the University of British Columbia on the "World happiness report".  John Helliwell is a professor of economics and a former president of the Canadian Economics Association.  He also seems brilliant, a thoroughly nice guy, and one of the absolute world experts on happiness & wellbeing at countrywide levels.  Once he'd finished, I walked up to the front of the lecture hall to thank him for his deeply fascinating talk.

Wikipedia states "The World Happiness Report is an annual measure of happiness published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.  In July 2011, the UN General Assembly passed a historic resolution inviting member countries to measure the happiness of their people and to use this to help guide their public policies   The first World Happiness Report was released in 2012 ... it drew international attention as a landmark first survey of the state of global happiness ... the report is edited by Professor John F. Helliwell ... Lord Richard Layard ... and Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs ... ".  John, in his talk, described findings from the most recent survey published in 2013.  The 155 page report is freely downloadable from the internet.  Its eight sections include "World happiness: trends, explanations and distribution", "Mental illness and unhappiness" (mental illness is the single most important cause of unhappiness, disability & absenteeism worldwide but it is largely ignored by policy makers), "The objective benefits of subjective well-being" and "Using well-being as a guide to policy".  Six factors explain three quarters of the variation in happiness scores over time and among the 150 or so countries involved.  These six factors are GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity.  Fascinating stuff and well worth digging into more in the future.

We now had a somewhat overwhelming choice of 16 different workshops, symposia and presentations of papers.  I went to symposium on "Positive psychological assessment".  The main take home message I noticed here was from a talk by Charlie Lea on "Happy thoughts: high life satisfaction and the use of the best supporting life domains".  She seemed to replicate a finding that she said had also been noted by Ed Diener.  When assessing life satisfaction, one can do this "globally" (for one's life in general) or one can do it bit by bit for the various aspects/domains of one's life.  Apparently those who report higher global life satisfaction scores not only have higher average scores across their different life domains (than those reporting lower global satisfaction), but also seem to be more influenced in their overall global scores by the domains where they score particularly highly (glass half full).  Those reporting lower overall global scores lose twice - both in having lower average scores across their life domains, and also in being more influenced in their global assessments by domains where they score poorly (glass half empty).  Mm ... there could well be useful clinical/real life interventions here seeing if one can help people with low global assessments to "count their blessings", notice what is going well for them, and possibly use gratitude interventions to underline these positive areas.  A research study in the making!?       

See tomorrow's post for what happened "after the coffee break"!   

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