PositiveCulture.org has previously worked with companies operating in the health and social care field, not only in employee engagement but including examining ways to improve the engagement of elderly clients with the support services on offer. We are therefore always interested in seeing the work of others who apply the lessons of positive psychology in the support of elderly people in receipt of care or support. The fact that long-term engagement and deep satisfaction can be enjoyed in later life is so often ignored in care environments, where the focus is to demonstrate the absence of suffering and the occasional introduction of short-term enjoyment through activities.

We were delighted then to discover this report (click here) from the Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland, which provides an extremely detailed and imaginative study of various aspects of designing well-being in elderly care homes. The report is broken down into three parts, the fourth of which is entitled "Looking at Design: Confronting Expectations".

It is precisely the job of leaders in the care sector to "confront expectations".  For too long, expectations have been low amongst all parties, sadly including the recipients of the service themselves.

The authors of this part of the report looking at applying the principles of positive psychology to the design of care homes are playing their role in challenging expectations. We agree that the application of these principles can indeed improve the working experience of staff as well is making a huge difference to the well-being of residents. Many of the suggestions made in the report will not be new to progressive minded leaders in the care sector, but this report does draw all the ideas together well and give them a scientific grounding by referring to various studies and experiments which add rigour to anecdotal or common-sense conclusions.

At over 240 pages long, the report is not light reading. However, we feel the findings will be of interest to anyone looking at applying positive psychology in a care environment.


A Guide to Creating Hope in Your Life

Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others

By Shane J. Lopez

Dr. Shane J Lopez has become the leading researcher in the field of hope.  In his latest book he further refines his theories and presents an accessible mix of science, practical advice and anecdotes to bringing to life the importance of hope in personal wellbeing and success.  He argues that hope is a key factor in leading a happier, healthier and more productive life.

He begins by drawing a distinction between optimism and hope.  Optimism is believing that the future will be better, whilst hope is the additional belief that you have role in making that future a reality.  Hope, then, is self-empowered optimism!  This introduction of personal responsibility is important and pleasingly sets a theme for the book – hard work and effort are still needed to get you the future you want, even with the help of the recommendations made in the book.

Lopez describes “the Hope Cycle”, proposing a 3 step journey of goals, agency and pathways.  It struck me that this relates directly to the first 3 steps of the GROW model we often use for coaching:

1. Goals:  how you want the future to be

2. Agency:  the perceived ability to reach the goal, which is very similar to the “Reality” component of GROW

3. Pathways: the routes to reaching the goals, the “Options” of GROW

Lopez emphasises our choice in determining the future we wish to pursue and offers a series of practical tools to assess our hopefulness and to learn to be more hopeful.  The fact that hope can be learned is useful knowledge in itself, but perhaps the most hopeful lesson of the whole book is the way that hope can be learned from others – hope is contagious!

Also included are many real life stories of people the author has worked with or studied to illustrate hope in action.  Whether these stories come across as uplifting or clichéd probably depends on the inclination of the reader, but they do serve to remind us that hope is possible in all circumstances.

Making Hope Happen is both informative and entertaining, combining effective “self-help” strategies with rigorous background research and academic theory.  It will appeal equally to personal, professional and academic audiences.  If you want to make the future better than the present, I recommend this book.

Queendom.com is a company providing online personality tests.  If you haven't seen them, take look and try some of their tests.  They have some interesting questions to help you get to know yourself better.

Yesterday they issued the results of some research based on an analysis of over 6,000 people who took their Optimism/Pessimism Test.  They found that:

- Optimists are better-equipped to deal with stress (score of 75 vs. 51 on a scale from 0 to 100) than pessimists
 - They are more confident in  their ability to cope with
hardship (64 vs. 42)
 - Optimists rated their level of health better than
pessimists, while the latter were more likely to be have been  diagnosed with depression
 - 99% of optimists strive to find something positive in even the most difficult situations (vs. 7% of pessimists)
 - 97% of optimists said that they refuse to give up, no matter how difficult things get in their life (vs. 25% of pessimists)
 - When they’re feeling down, 98% of optimists will strive to focus on the good things in their life (vs. 6%
of pessimists)
 - When faced with a difficult problem, 98% of optimists stated that they try to look at it from different angles in order to come up with a solution (vs. 25% of pessimists)
 - When life gets too hectic, 95% of optimists said that they know how to calm themselves down and relax (vs.
18% of pessimists)
 - 83% of pessimists keep their problems to themselves, rather than seeking help from others (vs. 21% of

These are powerful figures for us all to consider as individuals.  But if you are in business, you cannot ignore this information.  Look at problem solving - optimists are almost 4 times more likely to try to look at a problem from another angle and 14 times more likely to refuse to give up.

It is a good job that  large part of what makes an optimist can be taught.  Businesses that want positive problem solvers need optimists in the company, but is doesn't mean you have to sack the pessimists first!  Just try a little positive training, and see the difference it can make.

You can read details of the report at: http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/1163200

The latest chapter in the Harvard Grant Study

Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study
by George E. Vaillant (2012)

Harvard’s Grant Study, or to give it its proper name “the Grant Study of Adult Development”, is the longest running longitudinal social scientific study of human development there has been so far.  Between 1939 and 1942, Harvard University recruited 268 of its undergraduates to participate in a (then) revolutionary new study of the human life cycle.  The purpose was to chart the ways in which a group of promising individuals coped with their lives over the course of many years. 

George E. Vaillant, director of the study from 1966, published results in “Adaptation to Life” looking at the lives of the men to age 55.  This was a tremendous insight into the different approaches and methods people took into dealing with the challenges of life.  But now we get a chance to stare again into the lives of the study group as the men move into their nineties in the new book “Triumphs of Experience”.

Vaillant describes how his travels to visit the subjects took him around the world – from England to New Zealand.  The identities of the participants have always been kept confidential (with the exception of John F. Kennedy, who is of course no longer a part of the study).  Although the style of the author may not fit with some of the latest views from the field of positive psychology this is nonetheless a fascinating insight to the achievement of wellbeing into later life.  And the advancing age of the author (Vaillant himself was born in 1934) adds to the understanding he has of the priorities faced by the group members.

Through the lives of the study group members we see how people who divorce once (or more) can still go on to enjoy a happy marriage; how people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so earlier in their lives; how success or otherwise at any stage of life does not pre-determine success at a subsequent stage.  “Lives change and things can get better,” writes Vaillant.

- Memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength

- How well we age after the age of 80 has more to do with habits former before we are 50 than our genetic makeup

This book is a unique insight into the lives of people maturing into old age, as illustrated by one quote from a study member:

“With age you acquire more understanding.  The things you felt so passionate about when you are young, you learn to let go of.  You realize that all those things you thought you were going to be, you ain’t.  As I have often said, at this stage in life it’s not what you’ve accomplished in a day, but how the day felt.”

Into one’s nineties, lives continue to evolve and improve, in ways that we do not anticipate at earlier stages of life.  Maybe we can find our own contentment sooner by learning from some of the lessons discovered and described by the surviving men of the Grant Study.