Teaching Positive Psych in Italy (Guest Post)

By my friend Simone, owner of blog Simone Vibes. This post is a great application of psychology. I created this blog so that everyone can incorporate psych into their daily lives, so if you have any examples of applying psychology into practice, please feel free to share it with me and write something for my readers!

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I love Positive Psychology, and I have loved it ever since I took its introductory course at Penn in the fall of 2013. Professor Angela Lee Duckworth radiates positivity, and her excellence in the field is palpable. The simplest exercises in making life worth living can bring enormous changes to our daily lives.

During my Fulbright year in Italy, I was invited to teach some guest lectures at local high schools, on a topic of my choice. It was not hard for me to decide on a mini-course introducing the field of Positive Psych, and the success rate, even among unruly Italian teenagers, some struggling to fully grasp the English language, was overwhelming.

In Salerno, Italy, much of the population is struggling with unemployment and dangers from the Mafia. Located just 45 minutes south of Naples, this small coastal city is a hub of mob activity. Many of the kids have hard familiar conditions that they hide with overly confident comments and cool fashion. However, underneath it all, their teachers confided in me that life is not easy. I decided to bring two exercises – ‘Three Good Things’ and the ‘Gratitude Letter’ – to their lives, to see if it had any effect.

At first, many of the students, between the ages of 15-18, were skeptical. Some said it seemed cheesy, others grunted at the task to appear cool. But I had faith. After a brief, but relatively thorough introduction on the origins of and ideas behind Positive Psychology, I let them choose one of the exercises, to be completed at their leisure.

At the end of class, I asked if anyone wanted to read their letter or list out loud. At first timid, some kids eventually raised their hands. Mind you, English is not their native language, so writing these personal things in English class, and thus, obviously in a language they may still feel a bit awkward in, added to the challenge. However, they did a fantastic job, both linguistically and in terms of content.

Those who read out loud had much softer, excited tones in their voices than at the beginning of class. The other classmates listened very attentively. Some nodded. Others looked pensive.

When I asked the young students how the exercise made them feel, the answers ranged from “so happy” to “funny” to “with lots of love”. In their own sweet way, they demonstrated that simple exercises from Positive Psychology can be applied to anyone. With a little faith, they can have an unexpectedly uplifting effect, even on the stubborn and skeptical!

Later that day, I received several Facebook friend requests from the students. Wondering about this, having only spent a couple of hours in each class, I reached out to their permanent teacher to inquire about these requests. She smiled and told me, “They really loved your class. It put them in a good mood. They did not even scramble to leave for lunch!”

This positive effect undoubtedly made it onto my list of three good things that day. Not only that, it was one of the unquestionable highlights of my Fulbright year.

I believe in the power of Positive Psychology across cultures and age groups, across languages and traditions. I am grateful for what I learned and hope to keep sharing it whenever possible.

 

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