Thursday, January 28, 2010

I know you want it...

So many of you have asked about this program. I'm LOOOOVING it. Go for it!

Dear Authentic Happiness Member:

We are happy to announce that the Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania is now accepting applications for the 2010-2011 academic year.

We are looking for the next class to join the more than 190 students who have enrolled in this extraordinary program in the five years since its inception and who are now applying positive psychology in education, medicine, law, business, psychotherapy, counseling, coaching, consulting, and elsewhere. Some of our younger students are now enrolled in Ph.D., J.D., or M.D. programs to further their training before engaging in the practice of positive psychology.

Because MAPP is offered on an executive education model, most of our students continue to work full time during the year and commute to Philadelphia - from across the United States and as far away as Mexico, the UK, Sudan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand! - for the on-site classes. While many students have already earned other master's degrees or even Ph.D.'s, only a Bachelor's degree is required for admission.

If you hold at least a Bachelor's degree (or will complete one this spring), have an excellent academic record, and are interested in learning about positive psychology and its applications from leading researchers and practitioners in the field, we invite you to find out more about our program. If you think the program may be a good fit for you, we encourage you to submit an application before the deadline of March 1, 2010.

For more information about our program, please visit our website at

In addition to general program information, the website contains a link to a recorded Virtual Information Session that features input from administrators, professors, and students of the MAPP program.
Please feel free to pass this message along to anyone else you know who might be interested in this program.

Whatever you choose to do in this New Year, we hope it will be one of authentic happiness for you and yours.


Marty Seligman
Positive Psychology Center
University of Pennsylvania

James Pawelski
Director of Education and Senior Scholar
Positive Psychology Center
University of Pennsylvania

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A drunken confession

Dear Audience:

I must admit this is written on a few glasses of wine and not so much food. It's been about a week since I've last written.

I've intentionally not written because I felt a lack of inspiration. And here's why and what I've learned about "lack of." (just in case you ever feel the same vacuum).

1. There is always abundance at hand.
It's really just about the perspective you have. I've let myself get so caught up in to-do's that I've lost the sense of "anything is possible" that I so pride myself in. There is always a way out. There is always a way in. There is always a refreshing solution. It might not be easy to decide - but the light is there. So freakin bask in it. It's up to you. Sonia Satra, a brilliant coach, has a great "perspectives" exercise to help one step out of the stuck-i-ness.

2. Thinking is bad.
Maybe it's because I'm a Gemini or a Vata-Pita(ayervedic dosha), I'm a very analytic heady person. But I know that the head, our cognitive functioning, isn't always aligned with the heart. Or the body. It's so easy to rationalize anything. But what is your heart telling you? (This isn't very scientific (yet), just human).

3. Enjoy. Enjoy. Enjoy. What brings you dance?
While coaching me, Sonia paid deep attention to my body language. She noticed when I think, I cross my arms. When I'm in the zone, I have a rhythm with my body and circle my hands. When I'm in my head, I fidget with my jewelry. When I get defensive, I go to the hips. As highly smart and in-tune I think I am...I know enough that I don't know. And sometimes my body knows best. And sometimes you need someone else to look and share what the hell is really going on. Sonia asked me to dig deep and consider what I could do to get me into my rhythmic zone. In positive psychology speak this would be considered a positive intervention (don't you just love gulping your own medicine?).

So for this silly and small as they are... I'm committing to doing a few things that I know will snap me back to the creative, vivacious, energetic person I know I am. Here's my homework:

1. Wearing some really cute clothes.
2. Dancing (even if that means by myself and looking like a fool).
3. Spending time with one of my best friends who reminds me of my best self.

What are the small things that get YOU back to YOU?

With much love and vino,

PS This picture was taken when I was in Israel. I was just lifted up on the shoulders of very tall men to touch a sacred spot about 10 feet up on a wall. The superstition goes that if you touch this spot and make a wish, your wishes will come true. I love this picture because I am wide open and inspired.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Some great quotes from my Vision Board Weekend

This weekend I'm creating a vision board with Barbara Bizou. She still has space in her LA event. I've heard some very inspiring language and quotes that I wanted to capture here:

"It's not considered trespassing to expand beyond your boundaries."

"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." -GK Chesterton

"When you're in alignment with your vision, that's when the miracles happen."

Karla (my business partner) and I love taking Barbara's weekend workshop. We'll be doing a one day vision event geared towards entrepreneurs with ROCKSTAR launchers and visionaries on Jan 31st. Please pass this on! Barbara will be providing our ladies with her personal board tips.

With much love,

Friday, January 15, 2010

BREAK-UP, BREAK-DOWN, BREAK-THROUGH: honoring the ugly to get to beautiful, again.

2009 was a very tough, personal year for me. One of the best and the worst yet. I broke off a long term relationship, started another one, got engaged, planned a wedding in two months, cancelled the wedding, moved three times, started a full-time masters program, and continued to run and grow two businesses.

I remember post break-up(s) how frustrated I would get for the sudden forgetfulness and clumsiness that took over the person I formally was. I’d walk into rooms forgetting why. I’d make appointments and not be able to keep them. I felt tired and demotivated. And while I showed up the next day(s) post break-up for work, ready to go, I wasn’t really ready at all. I kept wondering to myself, why am I not on top of my game?


In trying to keep it all together, I almost got away with IT. I almost got away from the big lesson. I almost got away from the pain.

Here are five insights/points/tips I picked up on why and how to honor the ugly. Honor it so you can break-through and grow beyond the breakdown.

1. There’s a difference between experiencing negative emotion and just festering. Don’t fester. Feel the darkness but look towards the light and always move towards it. They say “acknowledge” your negative feelings - which is hard. What exactly does “acknowledge” mean? That’s part of the journey, figuring that out.

2. Negative emotion narrows your breath as much as your thinking. You’re literally less creative and able to see the big picture. You’re very focused. Read Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson, there’s research that proves this.

3. Because you’re focused, you are more likely to better analyze a problem or something that doesn’t feel right. You make certain types of decisions, better. Like leaving a relationship that you shouldn’t be in. It’s hard to leave something if everything feels dandy.

4. So therefore, negative emotion is good for you - at least in small doses. When you experience a big loss, obviously you’ll experience more of it. However, on a regular day, you want to experience THREE positive emotions to every ONE negative. Read Barbara Fredrickson's book, Positivity, for research on why this magic ratio works...I’ll provide another post to talk more about this later. Want to know your ratio of positive to negative emotion? Take the PANAS test here.

5. If you don’t address deep negative experiences, your body will address them for you. Let yourself feel, experience, “acknowledge,” so you CAN move on.

For some of you, this blog may seem out of sorts for “Positively Stella!” But it’s not healthy or smart to pretend that shit doesn't go down. Life is beautiful, but it can get messy.

In Diener and Biswas-Diener’s book: Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, they discuss that being too happy and too optimistic can actually be bad for you. On a scale from 1-10, 10 being extremely optimistic, people who are very optimistic at a 7 or 8 are FAB. But people who are at a 9 or 10, might be too peachy keen. Take the optimism test on

So why is being too positive bad?
1. If you have a health condition and just hope for the best and that everything will be fine, you might ignore signs and symptoms that need attention.
2. If you’re so deliciously satisfied with yourself and life, than you might lack the drive to take things to the next level at work. You might not challenge yourself to grow.
3. If you’re SOOOO positive that you’re almost manic, you run the risk of being insensitive, flaky, and other fun stuff.

Here's to honoring the processes that make life worth living.

With much love in both the light and the dark,

Monday, January 11, 2010

Damsel DEstressed

Coming back from an intensely activating weekend at UPenn I couldn't wait to get home to do and think NOTHING! As I arrived in the New Brunswick train station, I decided to go for something I never, ever do. Take the train station elevator.

I was tired, I had big luggage, and the door was wide open. I figured, why not?!?

Following me was a cheerful young woman in a wheelchair. Together we scooted into the welcoming elevator and pressed "Ground Level." Whoops, nothing happened. We pressed again, and again. Nothing. We pressed the alarm. We pressed everything. We laughed.

Oh shit we were stuck in an elevator.

With my mighty 5 foot frame I tried to push the door open to no avail. I called the cops who told us to stay put. OK.

Aside from the smell of urine which we adapted to in about five minutes, the experience was positive and inspiring. It was a delight to be stuck with Eloise, a lovely medical student. We trusted we would be just fine.

Here's what I learned:
1. If there's nothing you can do about something, just laugh.
2. Even if it smells like pee, you can find something delightful in a situation.
3. I'm so grateful to live in a country where we have organized systems in place to protect. Thank GOD for the brave (and cute) firefighters who came to our rescue in about 10 minutes.
4. Everything will be OK.
5. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I'm taking the stairs next time.

So here's to destressing even when you're literally stuck.

Much love,

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hugging David Cooperrider

"I just want to hug you! You've made me cry three during your lecture. Your energy opens us up. It comes from your authentic love and centered self. Thank you." This is what I said to David Cooperrider, the Founder of Appreciative Inquiry. From the United Nations, to the Dalai Lama, to the world's top CEOs, to individual nations, to cities, to hospitals, to universities, to families, David has been driving a new way of change, a new language, a new future. This man is as incredibly humble as he is brilliant. David is not a dramatic, suspenseful, orator. He's a cheery, even keeled, soft-spoken, accessible, and kind man. As I hung onto David's every word I was surprised by my level of engagement relative to his calm presentation style. He wears simple clothes, a delightful smile, and I couldn't sense of stitch of ego in this 21st century game changer. I've never been the affectionate type, especially with people I don't know. But as our class intervened David's lecture to give him a dose of his own appreciative medicine, I felt compelled to get up in the middle of his lecture and give him a big hug. He gave me a big hug back.

David has given the world a tremendous gift. And by give - I mean GIVE. Appreciative Inquiry is not a trademarked or copyrighted process- it can be used by any professional or organization as an approach to creating positive transformation.

I have to get up early for an 8am Sunday here are some of the highlights from David's talk today to our MAPP class (Masters of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania) that I want to share with you:

1. All change begins in the imagination. It literally does.

2. It's not about top-down or bottom-up, it's about the WHOLE. Get everyone involved in change.

3. “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths..making a system's weaknesses irrevelant.” -PETER DRUCKER, one of the most prolific writers on management.

4. Organizations aren't problems that need solving. Their rich full of solutions. Let's release the our deficit/problem-centered model of change.

5. "AN ESTIMATED $300 BILLION IS LOST IN THE US ECONOMY DUE TO DISENGAGED EMPLOYEES." Woah. I don't have the source...but I believe David.

6. It's not the past, nor the present, but rather anticipation of the future that drives human beings. The power of change happens in the images, inner dialoge, and metaphors within us and organizations.

7. The questions we ask set the stage for what we find. The questions we ask create our reality.

8. Consider your ROA. Your return on attention. Companies spend millions figuring out what's WRONG. Rather, investigate what's right, what you want to grow.

9. Why has AI taken off.
-Exceptionality: We are all exceptions to the rule - no one is born the same. AI seeks to highlight the exceptions.
-Essentiality: It's not about being the central focus that we crave as human beings, but rather it's the need to feel essential in a group. AI enables people gives notice to the essential and meaningful contributions of everyone in the WHOLE.
-Equality of voice: We have a right - responsibility - to honor the full voice of any organization or system. Only by assembling the whole can we create monumental, lasting, and fast change.

10. This is all new. We still haven't nailed the language to this process and this new way of being and calling for change. The limits of language limit our world. So together we must seek to create a new common vocabulary, so we can live within a new context of possibility and imagination.

Much love and good night.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Workin' BAD for the Money

According to an MIT study (and several others) dangling the carrot doesn't work - more reward, more mulla, actually inhibit creativity and productivity. In his latest book, DRIVEN, Daniel Pink discusses the new operating system we should all be considering as we enter the age of right-brain economics.

Here are three main points Pink discusses in a fantastic talk at TED:
1. There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. MIT, The London School of Economics, and several other institutions have conducted experiments proving that what companies do to motivate their workforce does NOT work.

2. Increasing incentive (offering more reward or money) decreases performance. At least when the work involves some thinking and creativity. Incentive does help improve performance when it comes to simple, mechanical tasks - but that's not really the bulk of what we deal with, anyway. MIT conducted an experiment. If you ask two groups to solve a problem. The group offered incentive to solve the problem faster will perform less well than the other.

3. Meaning, Autonomy, and Mastery are the currency that motivate workers today. Sure, getting paid a fair wage is VERY important. But the work has to mean something to the worker. Give your employees some sense of control. For example, Google lets its workers spend 20% of their time on anything they want. It's from this free time that 50% of Google's innovations spawn - like GMAIL.

Anyway, you can watch Pink's video and read his books for the sources and research.

But here's my two cents on why this happens. Which, perhaps Pink goes into in his new book but since I have only seen his TED conference video, forgive me if I think I'm being original here.

I believe that rather than see the reward as a reward, a worker actually sees it as a potential LOSS. Meaning, "If I don't do this fast enough, I'll LOSE the $20 bonus I can receive." The effect of narrowed thinking is what happens when one experiences negative emotion and fear (Fredrickson, 2009). I bet that it's fear of loss versus motivation to win which causes the less-than-effective thinking.

Barry Schwartz, author of the Paradox of Choice, gave us a lecture the other day about human beings actually put more weight into potential loss than potential gain. We'd rather NOT LOSE than gain something. This is called prospect theory. It constantly affects the way we make decisions. Sometimes, the way something is framed - can affect our interpretation of it as a potential loss or a potential gain. Here's an example Schwartz included in his presentation:

Imagine yourself having just been given $500. Which of these two possibilities would you prefer?

[A] A sure loss of $100

[B] A loss of $200 with probability .5, and a loss of $0 with probability .5

Most people answer choose [A]. Because it sounds like less of a loss. But you're more likely to come out on top if you choose [B].

Lastly, time pressure and performance pressure does impact performance, so I'd like to look further into the research to learn what factors they controlled for in making this big claim to fame.

Much love,

For more info read Driven, by Daniel Pink, and The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz.

You can watch Dan Pink's TED talk here:
Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation | Video on

You can watch Barry Schwartz giving a fascinating TED talk about choice here:
Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice | Video on

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Some wise person (I don't remember who) said: "If you find your piece in the puzzle, you enable 10,000 others to find theirs."

Thus, identifying and acting on your purpose, is not only a nice-to-do, but a MUST-DO. You owe it to the world. I believe we're obligated to journey into our best self. This is why studying flourishing is so important - why I LOVE me some PP (positive psychology).

This sense of responsibility in the jigsaw helps motivate me to actually take care of myself. Having helped thousands of women launch their businesses, one of the biggest challenges we work on is self-care. If you don't take care of YOU, how can you fully realize your potential?

As I gulp down the NyQuil, I'm taking some of my own medicine. More on this later.

Much love,

Monday, January 4, 2010

People Matter

One of the key pillars to flourishing is relationships. Below is a paper I wrote on November 29th, 2009 about where happiness resides. Relationships matter. If you happen to be watching the PBS special tonight - you'll see it covers some of the research I reference below.

Where does happiness reside: in the individual, dyads, or in groups?

I say all three. Haidt (2006) would agree, as he claims that happiness happens in the “in-between.” It happens in between the self and one’s work, in between the self and a loved one, in between the self and something larger than the self, a group. However, while happiness occurs in all three instances; happiness cannot occur solely within the individual alone. If the only connection one has is work, and not in between other people or groups, than most likely, that person is not happy. Unless that person has a very structured way of dealing with their time and the environment, loneliness lacks the external stimulation, feedback and goals we need to keep our attention from wandering down the negative spiral. Usually, even when we want to be alone, as soon as we are, we end up wanting to be around others again (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). In the below I will discuss happiness in each instance and also highlight findings that supports each occasion.

Happiness happens at the individual level in several ways, but I’ll just focus on one: flow. Flow can occur in a non-work environment, but let’s just assume it’s work for this paper. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow describes when an individual is in total immersion, “in the zone.” While in this state, the individual is challenged, but has the skills to meet his challenge. Time stands still and attention is laser focused on the task at hand. The experience of flow keeps one wanting to come back for more. It feels good. You’d do it even if you didn’t have to. Doing it is an ends in itself. Your deep focus enables you to forgot about all of life’s other worries. You are in total control. You’re neither bored or anxious. You feel like you’re discovering. It can happen to a dancer, a child spinning into virtugo, a yogi, and a surgeon on the operating table.

Happiness between two individuals is driven by two main principles: attachment, that bonds child to mother, and caregiving, that bonds mother to child (Haidt, 2006). A study on rhesus monkey reveals that “contact comfort,” the feeling of a mother, is critical for development. Researchers found that monkeys would cuddle with a cloth in the absence of a mother; they would do this despite the cloth, not being a source of milk. Attachment enables a feelings of both safety and exploration; two needs that continue into adulthood and into our romantic relationships. Feeling a loved one’s embrace, knowing they are in the room, that they are there to support us, gives us security and courage to explore the world. Furthermore, being in a deeply connected relationship offers an opportunity for giving, which is as beneficial, if not more, to receiving. It’s proven that happy individuals are likely to live longer and that they have better immune systems, recover faster from surgery, and all other benefits.

Finally, happiness exists between the individual and others, a group. We can define a group as narrow as one’s spouse and children to connectedness with people we don’t even know. To support this, we consider Haidt’s ultrasocial concept, and studies of the brain. Robin Dunbar has demonstrated that our brain size is in almost in perfect proportion to our social group size. And our brains are huge compared to other mammals. They are only 2% of our body weight, yet they consume 20% of our energy, and they’re so big they cause us to be born pre-maturely (compared with other mammals) so we can at least make it out of the womb. Why do we have such huge brains, so we can manage the social landscape of our human world. This social landscape is indeed critical to our well-being. In fact, if you look at suicide rates, single individuals have the highest rate, married people, less so, and those with children, the least. Connection between individual and group is super special because meaning is created. The stepping out of oneself into something larger than “me” is most transformative and even transcendental for some. Literally, the human brain has two switches that turn-off when one is engaged in a a mystical experience or a ritual experience with others. These switches turn off one’s spatial boundaries and spatial location; so literally, a feeling of oneness with all the world and all the people occurs. This can be triggered in something as simple as repetitive drilling in the army. I shall end on a quote by William McNeill, describing how marching induced a state of altered consciousness and ultimate connectedness with his fellow soldiers:

"Words are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swilling out, becoming bigger than life." (Haidt, 2006).


Haidt, J. (2006). The happiness hypothesis: finding modern truth in ancient wisdom.
New York: Basic Books. 
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York:
Harper Perennial.