Last year, while preparing to host the biannual International Positive Psychology Association World Congress, Stewart Donaldson,
professor of psychology and dean of Claremont Graduate University’s School of Social Science, Policy & Evaluation (SSSPE), and Meg Rao, a PhD student in positive organizational psychology, noticed something missing from the 13-year-old discipline. There were many regional professional associations around the globe, all devoted to positive psychology: the scientific study of what enables individuals, communities, organizations, and institutions to thrive. However, the bulk of association members tended to be practitioners: coaches, administrators, consultants, and others who deliver applications of the research. But what about an association for scientists, those expanding the
scientific basis for positive psychology’s many applications?
To answer that question, Donaldson and Rao decided it was time to give geographically dispersed researchers a platform to share ideas, data, and methodologies, helping preserve scientific rigor within the growing field. The idea garnered enthusiastic support from other regional associations, and this past April, the Western Positive Psychology Association (WPPA) made its official debut at the Western Psychological Association conference in Reno, Nevada. Just a few months since its inception, the WPPA now boasts more than 300 members in 19 states, and its first conference is planned for next year in Claremont.
“WPPA aspires to be a supportive community for faculty, students, and professional researchers committed to advancing the theory, methods, and empirical research of positive psychology,” said Donaldson, the association’s co-founder.
“We wanted this effort to be very grassroots—not top down, but bottom up,” said Rao, the association’s associate director and also a co-founder. To that end, the association plans to keep costs low (currently, membership is free), and provide networking and professional development opportunities for students and faculty members alike.
In June, Hannah Lucas, a PhD student in positive developmental psychology, came on board to coordinate the association’s Ambassador Program. This program organizes student representatives all over the Western region to disseminate accurate information about positive psychology and gather information about what’s happening in the field at their university. “We really want people to stay aware of what’s going on so people can keep their connections with each other,” said Lucas.
There are two other projects in the works for this year. First is the WPPA Research Map, a web-based visual representation of the “who, what, and where” of cutting-edge research. When you click on a “pin” marking a university, the map will display the names of labs, professors, and researchers in the labs, including project names, topics, and bios. This project is currently focused on compiling information on research being done in 19 states comprising the western region of the United States, and plans to expand over time.
The second project is the Positive Psychology Course Map, also a web-based map showing university-based offerings in positive psychology. “A good part of the mission of WPPA is to help people gain a rigorous, evidence-based understanding of the field of positive psychology, so we want to be able to direct people to quality educational resources,” said Lucas.
WPPA and CGU recently co-sponsored two positive psychology workshops: Introduction to Positive Psychology Research and Evaluation, presented by Donaldson, and Introduction to the Experience Sampling Method (a method widely used in the field to study day-to-day experiences), presented by Jeanne Nakamura of SSSPE’s Division of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences.
For more information, visit www.wppanetwork.org.