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Capstones - 2019

By Christina Cheuk

We are healthier, richer, safer, and better educated than ever before. Yet, paradoxically, depression is on the rise in the United States. Given the strong emphasis that positive psychology places on the importance of social relationships, I review direct and proxy evidence that relationships are deteriorating in the United States. Additionally, I outline next steps to strengthen this hypothesis. The implications of this work point toward a need to complement the joys of modernity with interventions and policies that support strengthening our weakened relationships.

By Scott Clewis

In the aftermath of a medical error or adverse event, physicians can experience a range of unproductive negative thoughts and emotions, as well as psychologically and emotionally debilitating symptoms, generally referred to as second victim syndrome (SVS). The literature in positive psychology suggests that there are numerous evidence-based interventions related to managing thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that can help mitigate against adverse psychological consequences when confronting negative events. This paper hypothesizes that by arming medical students, residents, and established physicians with five science-based resilience interventions related to cognitive and emotional regulation, they will be better equipped to maintain resilience, or perhaps even thrive, in the face of medical errors and adverse events, thereby preventing or mitigating against the severe consequences of SVS.

By Amy O’Sullivan

Eating disorders are bio-psycho-social diseases that affect nearly 20 million women and 10 million men in America (National Eating Disorder Association, 2018). They are serious but treatable illnesses that develop when a genetic predisposition is paired with an environmental activation. Out of all mental illnesses, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate, with one person dying as a direct result of an eating disorder every 62 minutes (Smink, Van Hoeken, & Hoek, 2012). Eating disorders adversely affect every aspect of human life, including physical and mental health, intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships, professional pursuits, sense of meaning and purpose, and overall well-being. Existing treatment methods provide opportunities for individuals with eating disorders to interrupt and reduce symptoms. Relapse during and soon after treatment, however, is extremely common. The field of eating disorders has not yet pivoted to address what patients need to sustain recovery and thrive. Positive psychology’s theory, research, and interventions present a supplemental treatment approach for practitioners to implement to revive the recovery process to increase the success for those struggling with eating disorders. Positive psychology can operate to empower and motivate patients, reconnecting them to their meaning and purpose outside of the illness. This paper discusses eating disorders in-depth, recognizes and applauds traditional treatment methods, and proposes how enhancing positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment can further promote recovery.

See Amy’s full capstone on Penn’s Scholarly Commons website.

By Mina Simhai

Positive psychology interventions can increase well-being, and this paper proposes three personalized interventions for enhancing meaning in life, one component of well-being. Part I lays a theoretical foundation, providing an overview of positive psychology; meaning, its benefits and its sources; and research on pursuing meaning. Part II explains the One Important Year Project and related book I plan to write entitled One Important Year: One Human’s Quest to Cultivate a Year that Matters. It proposes three pathways for cultivating meaning in life: seeing meaning, building meaning, and giving meaning. These pathways form the basis of twelve monthly meaning interventions that I will implement in the One Important Year Project. Finally, Part III proposes one representative monthly meaning intervention for each pathway and examines the empirical underpinnings: gratitude from the seeing meaning pathway, time in nature from the building meaning pathway, and caring for an elderly, widowed parent from the giving meaning pathway. The latter examines the meaninglessness trifecta and protective factors that buffer against meaninglessness. An outline of the book is contained in an appendix. The future vision is a community of people cultivating their own One Important Year projects, inspired by this paper and the book I will write.

By Katy Sine

Self-love is a prevalent topic in philosophical and academic literature, as well as contemporary culture. Some view self-love as a beneficial and necessary component to self-actualization, well-being, and loving others. However, many in the scientific community associate self-love with narcissism and selfishness. This paper advances a theoretical argument towards a healthy form of self-love. To better understand the relationship between self-love and narcissism, we also developed a measure of unconditional, non-narcissistic, self-love, called “The Whole Self Love Scale.” Whole self-love creates an integration from inside out, an important nuance that distinguishes it from other highly correlated positive self-constructs. The Whole Self-Love Scale showed a high degree of convergent validity when measured against similar constructs and a very high degree of divergent validity in relationship to narcissism and contingencies. Furthermore, whole self-love was highly correlated with measures of satisfaction with life and positive affect. Collectively, this evidence suggests that whole self-love is an important element of subjective well-being and should not be considered a form of narcissism.

By Joel Treisman

In the opening line of Tolstoy’s "Anna Karenina," we read that all happy families are alike, yet all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. The Anna Karenina Principle is derived from this and is understood to mean that success in any endeavor is so elusive that failure to achieve even one condition for success will lead to certain doom. Applying this principle to the family, one might say that a deficiency in any one element of family well-being will prevent family flourishing and doom a family to be unhappy. Thus, there are many more ways for a family to be unhappy than to flourish. Is this a helpful frame through which to view family well-being and happiness? What have scholars from the science of human flourishing learned about the conditions for family well-being? How does individual well-being relate to family flourishing? How do positive psychologists conceptualize, define, and measure family well-being? I present findings from a broad survey of the positive psychology literature related to defining and measuring individual and family flourishing. I conclude with a conceptual framework for a Family Flourishing Dashboard (FFD). The dashboard incorporates a curated subset of scales for measuring subjective individual and family well-being. Such a dashboard may help families and the practitioners who work with them by promoting informed and constructive discussion about individual family members’ hopes and goals for the family. Practitioners who work with families may find this dashboard of value in planning and developing positive interventions intended to boost family well-being.

By Sari Wilson

Research has shown the benefits of religion and spirituality to an individual’s well-being. And yet, over the last several decades, the Catholic Church has seen a decline in affiliated members, especially amongst adolescents. Furthermore, this same population of adolescents has experienced exponential increases in anxiety, depression, and suicide rates, which begs the question: how must the Church respond? This paper examines this decline in religious affiliation and decrease in adolescent well-being, looking specifically towards character strengths and virtue for remedies. Finally, using the new science of positive psychology, this paper will propose that holiness is found through living the virtuous life, which ultimately leads to a life of fulfillment.

See Sari’s full capstone on Penn’s Scholarly Commons website.

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