1. A Note >From the Editor
2 Feature article: "Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence"
3. Highlights of 2006
4. New March Q&A call with Chris Peterson, Ph.D.
5. The CTH Positive Psychology Coaching R&D List
6. Upcoming training and speaking
7. Positive Psychology Coaching MasterClass with Alex Linley, Ph.D.

1. A Note From the Editor: Ben Dean, Ph.D.

Dear Coaching Toward Happiness Readers,

The highlight of January was Chris Peterson's 80 minute interactive presentation on strengths and virtues on January 20th with more than 300 present from 12+ nations.

It was extraordinary. You can still hear the tape. And you can still join him for a follow-up question and answer session in March. Details below.

The premier magazine of record for the helping professions is without question the Psychotherapy Networker. Month in, month out it covers the most important leading edge issues of the times with superb, lucid prose. It is a joy and an education to read.

The current issue is entitled "Getting Happy: Can Positive Psychology Show Us the Way?" It includes an excerpt from Jon Haidt's new best selling book, The Happiness Hypothesis. In addition, be sure to read Richard Handler's cover story "20 Weeks to Happiness." It includes an overview of the development of Positive Psychology seen through the lens of Marty Seligman's work. It is beautifully written. However, I think Marty would agree that it omits many of the other key actors in the field, most notably Ed Diener, who has been conducting brilliant, rigorous, at times paradigm-breaking research in the field for 25 years.

In the second part of the article, Handler describes his own experience in a 20 week (unnamed Authentic Happiness Coaching) program. His self disclosure is remarkable and engaging in its honesty. I take issue however with many of his conclusions (Disclosure: I was a co-founder of AHC).

But these are clearly labeled as his own observations, not as fact. I salute his honesty, and his seamless writing, and the view from a different set of eyes--those of a Canadian broadcast journalist.

I think this magazine is worth reading whether you are in or out of the filed. So look at these articles. It's only a matter of time before PN's global reach dramatically increases.

And even more fun than the magazine is the annual Psychotherapy Networker Symposium in Washington DC (March 16-19). It's an extraordinary, warm, friendly, exciting, thought provoking conference which will this year again have Jon Haidt and other thought leaders presenting. I think it's the most rewarding, fun conference around. For more information, click here.

2. Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
Ben Dean, Ph.D.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Olympic Winter Games 2006 are in session, and I am a fan. I will watch cross-country skiing, speed skating, ice hockey, even luge. Although I enjoy sports in general, what attract me to the Games are the awe-inspiring feats of the athletes as well as their personal stories of struggle and determination in pursuit of excellence. TV’s sidebar human-interest stories are much parodied, yet they continue to be popular with viewers, suggesting that I am not alone in my appreciation of Olympic greatness. This issue of Coaching Toward Happiness is devoted to a closer look at the strength that affords us a fuller appreciation of beauty and excellence. If you have ever had the hair on the back of the neck prickle while observing athletic excellence, or been moved beyond words while viewing a scene of spectacular beauty, you may possess this strength in abundance.

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence Defined

Peterson and Seligman (2003) define this strength as the “ability to find, recognize, and take pleasure in the existence of goodness in the physical and social worlds” (p. 537).

They further specify that individuals benefit from appreciating three main types of “goodness”:
- 1. Physical or auditory beauty (e.g., the beach at sunset, Beethoven’s Fifth)
- 2. Skill or talent (e.g., a perfect dive)
- 3. Virtue or moral goodness (e.g., an anonymous good deed)

Awe is the emotion that most frequently accompanies this strength. Its behavioral manifestations include wide eyes, open mouth, goose bumps, tears, or even a lump in the throat.

When we exercise this strength, we feel uplifted. Viewing an artistic masterpiece or reading about a heroic, selfless act in the newspaper does not make us feel small in comparison. Rather, it instills within us a sense of awe and connection to something larger than ourselves. Appreciation of beauty and excellence is a virtue of transcendence.

Seligman and Peterson (2003) make the important point that it is sometimes necessary to “strip away layers of snobbery to be sure what it is that we are valuing: someone’s appreciation of life’s finer things and moments, or merely his or her ability to afford them” (p. 520). Price may or may not reflect real value. People can savor a simple meal prepared at home as well as an elegantly presented meal at an expensive restaurant. Whether one is evaluating a dining experience, a painting or a companion, there is abundant truth in the old adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While many will make superficial judgments that inaccurately assess value, the “beholder” whose strength is an appreciation of beauty and excellence may find deeper qualities that others miss. Self-styled arbiters of what is beautiful and good often err in their appraisals. Noting this tendency, Leo Tolstoy observed, “It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” Apparently some things have not changed since Tolstoy’s era. Ours is a culture of media hype that extols pretty faces and toned bodies and subjects us to ongoing appraisals that may be far from accurate. We need not accept another’s assessment of what is beautiful or excellent. Also, it is not necessary to learn associated jargon in order to make our own judgments when savoring wine or appreciating art—Indeed, someone who is deeply affected by an instance of beauty or excellence is unlikely to find adequate words to describe it.

Theoretical Traditions

Awe has received little attention in the lab, but it has a long tradition in religious and philosophical texts. Peterson and Seligman (2003) note that awe is the normal response to an encounter with the divine. If we feel God’s presence within ourselves, or if we believe that we see it reflected in nature or in the selfless act of another person, awe is the natural response. Certainly some people are able to appreciate beauty and excellence and experience awe and wonder apart from any religious perspective, but openness to spiritual encounters may foster that experience. One function of the music and ritual of religious observance may be to facilitate the experience of awe.

The humanist Abraham Maslow wrote extensively about individuals’ ability to appreciate the excellence and beauty around them. More broadly, he wrote about the varying capacities of individuals to experience peak experiences: Within any culture there are individuals who “have private, personal, transcendent, core-religious experiences easily and often, and who accept them and make use of them; and on the other hand, those who never had them or who repress or suppress them and who, therefore, cannot make use of them for the personal therapy, personal growth, or personal fulfillment” (1964, p. 29, as cited in Peterson and Seligman, 2003). There is little doubt that most of us would prefer inclusion in the former category rather than the latter! Maslow speculated that individuals who are highly rational and materialistic are less able to experience peak experiences.

How can we as a society encourage the development of beauty and excellence?

Peterson and Seligman (2003) observe that efforts to cultivate this strength in children fail because the focus is on the object of beauty or exemplar of excellence rather than the experience of appreciation. Anyone who can recall a time when a stressful school assignment sapped the joy out of a great novel or work of art can appreciate this point. Peterson and Seligman (2003) recommend that parents and teachers encourage the development of this strength in children by exposing them to as many different examples of excellence or beauty as possible and then “standing back and letting beauty take its own course” (p. 523).

If you or your clients are interested in developing your own ability to appreciate beauty and excellence in the world (and more frequently experience awe), consider the following ideas adapted from a list by psychologist Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia:

  1. a. Go to a museum and pick out a piece of artwork or a display that has aesthetic value and touches you because of its beauty.
  2. b. Write down your thoughts about a piece of art, or something beautiful you see around the grounds.
  3. c. Take a walk with a friend and comment on something beautiful that you see.
  4. d. Attend a concert and enjoy the sound for its musical value. Or pick out the most moving music you know of, and listen to it appreciatively on headphones every night. Or ask a friend to recommend the most beautiful music he or she knows.
  5. e. Keep a journal, and every night, record something you saw during the day that struck you as extremely beautiful, or skillful.
  6. f. Find something that makes you happy—whether in the category of aesthetics, value, physical activity, or whatever is pleasing to you--and let it inspire you throughout the day.

Hope you enjoyed this issue of Coaching Toward Happiness. Until next month--

Ben Dean

3. Highlights of 2006 to date:

Chris Peterson's tour de force on January 20th was the highlight of the month. More than 300 fans of Chris and Positive Psychology joined together from at least 12 nations for his interactive call. Since in a teleclass--unlike a workshop--everyone has a microphone (the telephone receiver), when the call was unmuted, the cacophony was so loud we could not make out a single word. We muted out most participants for a sound-perfect time.

Chris led a fabulous call with me as Sancho Panza, interrupting, asking questions.

Then I thought to give out an AOL address and began feeding Chris questions pouring in by email in real time from all parts of the globe.

I've heard him speak on the VIA (VEE-uh) as least 10 times and learn something each time. This 80 minute call was new, different, and showed again why he has twice been chosen the best teacher in the entire University of Michigan.

To hear the January 20th call--Call 1-405-244-4000, Box 223 (24/7--anytime, day or night).

Background: For background on Chris and the talk, click here. To see what Chris looks like, click here.

4. New March Q&A with Chris Peterson, Ph.D.

Most exciting: In March, we'll have an encore call with Chris answering questions we have about the strengths and virtues and about positive psychology in general. Information to come.

This time I'll send you the bridge and a reminder in plenty of time to come to the call!

And be prepared, Chris, has a wonderful book, A Positive Psychology Primer, coming out in May, published by Oxford University Press.

5. The CTH Positive Psychology Coaching R&D List

This list is intended not for students but for experienced coaches, consultants and other change agents who are actively using positive psychology theory and interventions in their practices. We'll use this list to find ways to share ideas and experiences about our work. Learn more.

Note: In future issues we'll look for wisdom from those of you who use PP in other settings such as schools, with your children, with yourself, with athletic teams, and so on.

6. Upcoming Training and Speaking Schedule

Ben Dean Ph.D., is a psychologist, coach, and the founder of MentorCoach LLC. Learn more.


Ben founded MentorCoach®, www.mentorcoach.com, in 1997. It is an internationally recognized coach training school accredited by the International Coach Federation and focused on training helping professionals to develop rewarding part-time and full-time coaching practices.

The Spring MentorCoach 31-Week Training Programs begin (via teleconference) on March 8, 2006 (at 12:00 pm or at 8:00 pm Eastern) on April 13, 2006 (8:00 pm Eastern) and April 14, 2006 (12:00 noon Eastern). All times eastern time zone US. Add 5 hours for GMT.

For details, click here. Please note the Q&A calls on Monday, Feb 27, 2006 from 8:00 pm to 8:59 pm Eastern (New York Time) and Tuesday, February 28, 2006 from 1:00 pmto 1:59 pm Eastern (New York Time). Register for these Q&A calls here.

Coaching Toward Happiness Speaking Schedule

Ben Dean, Ph.D.
Ben will be speaking on "Coaching and Positive Psychology" in:
Dallas Fort Worth, TX (2/24/06),
Houston (2/26/06)
Hartford, CT (3/10/06)
Tarrytown, NY (3/12/06)
Detroit (3/24/06)
New York City (4/21/06)
Philadelphia (4/23/06)
Click here for details.
Questions? E-mail: info@mentorcoach.com
Or call our office at 301-986-5688.

On 3/19/06, Ben Dean, Ph.D. and Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. All Day Institute: The Art and Science of Positive Psychology. Psychotherapy Networker Symposium; Washington, DC Psychotherapy Network, 5135 MacArthur Blvd., N.W., Washington, DC 20016; 888-232-0866;
e-mail: info@PsychNetworker.org; web: www.psychotherapynetworker.org.

Alex Linley, Ph.D. is leading a 12-week teleclass on Positive Psychology and Coaching. It begins March 9th and will be held on 12 Thursdays at 11:00 am Eastern (NY Time). Alex will be teaching from London where it will be 5:00 pm GMT (London Time). In this class, Alex intends both to provide an overview of the basic theory and practice, all of positive psychology and then how to apply them in in a coaching relationship. Learn more.

LIVE Q&A with Alex on Positive Psychology Coaching:

Join Alex for a live, interactive question-and-answer session about this course on Monday, Feb 27 at 12:00 Noon Eastern (New York Time). To register for Q & A, click here.

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Copyright 2006 Coaching Toward Happiness, All rights reserved.

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Interview with Robert Biswas-Diener Friday, November 18, 2005

Listen Online
To listen online, click here.

Listen by Telephone
To listen by telephone, call 1-212-990-6658 anytime, day or night. Details below.

You can listen to a tape of the interview with Robert by telephone, anytime, day or night (24/7) by calling 1-212-990-6658. To fast forward through this in 15 second intervals, press *3 (star three). The tape recording begins very slowly as I welcome callers for three minutes before introducing Robert. But about three minutes in, it begins. This is a free call except for your long distance charges to New York City.

For instructions on how to control the tape playback, click here.