Louisa Jewell Interview – Happiness & Longevity, Part 1

Stanford Center on Longevity in the US is about to announce the finalists in their 3rd annual Design Challenge, with the 2015-16 theme “Using Happiness to Optimize Longevity”. The Design Challenge offers cash prizes and entrepreneurial mentorship in a competition open to all university students around the world who want to design products and services which optimize long life for everyone. This year’s challenge theme sorts into the three Stanford Longevity categories: Mind, Mobility, and Financial Security.

Considering the title of this year’s theme ties happiness to longevity, I thought who better could bring some insights to our understanding of what this could all mean, than Louisa Jewell, who in 2012 founded the Canadian Positive Psychology Association. This organization brings together innovative researchers and practitioners to disseminate the knowledge of positive psychology to share and help improve the psychological well-being of all Canadians.

Louisa Jewell

Louisa Jewell is a graduate of the ground breaking Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania, which is the first master’s program in the world that offers in-depth study of the science of psychological well-being, led by renowned psychologist, Dr. Martin Seligman.

In Part 1 of my Jan.7th interview with Louisa Jewell, I began by asking – what is “positive psychology”?

 

Louisa:

“In a nutshell it’s the scientific study of psychological well-being and human flourishing…. While traditional psychology focuses in on mental illness, and what is wrong with us – positive psychology focuses on what is right with us…what makes us strong, resilient; what makes us perform at our best, what helps us stay the course when things go terribly wrong in our lives…. Positive psychology is more of a strengths based model, a kind of balancing out, where for many decades  psychology focused on a disease model.”

So understanding positive psychology as a theory and practice, what is the link to happiness? Is happiness something you actually utilize as an outlook or, is it an outcome of some action, or is it both?

Louisa:

“Good question. For years, the popular media has taken positive psychology and really called it the study of happiness and we’ve been branded with this happy face, so people think that’s what it’s all about…. However if you think about the different studies that we do, positive psychology leads to happiness and in that sense happiness becomes a tool…. But as an outcome for example people will say – if you work hard you you will become successful and then you will be happy, and of course you’ will be happy at work.”

What do we mean when we say, as the Stanford Design Challenge suggests, that we can use happiness to optimize longevity?

Louisa:

“…What we have found in the research is that happiness keeps you healthier… and as a result people develop good coping mechanisms, which can contribute to a longer and healthier life.”

While the Stanford Design Challenge doesn’t talk it out, it strikes me that what they likely mean is that happiness is a tool; or maybe said differently – it is an outlook, an inner strength, that utilizes or focuses ,as Louisa says, on what is right with us. In that sense, we can assume that the entrepreneurial student designers, who will come up with new technology based products or services, will apply their flourishing minds to help make that promise of longevity a positive experience.

Any day this month, this year’s Design Challenge finalists will be announced and I will update on that, along with part two of my interview with Louisa Jewell as we discuss how happiness might change or support us through our human life course as we move to an older age.

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