Q&A with the editors of Mindfulness, Acceptance, & Positive Psychology
Q&A with the editors of Mindfulness, Acceptance, & Positive Psychology
Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Positive Psychology: The Seven Foundations of Well-Being, is the first book to successfully integrate key elements of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and positive psychology to promote healthy functioning in clients. Edited by two of the leading scientists in mindfulness and acceptance and well-being, Todd Kashdan, PhD, and Joseph Ciarrochi, PhD, the book provides concrete, modernized strategies based on the “seven foundations of well-being” to use in clinical or private practice.
Why is this book necessary?
Two separate communities, contextual behavioral science and positive psychology, began at about the same time and set the same goals: to help people lead richer, meaningful lives. To our surprise, these two communities rarely talked to each other and produced two isolated bodies of research and applications. This book can be viewed as a synthesis that is intended to create the most potent, cutting edge interventions to help people move past suffering and toward a life of happiness, meaning and purpose in life, vitality, and a sense of belonging, mastery, and autonomy. But this attempted synthesis is not straightforward. It raises deep theoretical and practical questions that we answer in this book. For example, how do you combine work in positive psychology that “aims to replace negative experiences with positive ones” with work in contextual behavioral science that aims to help people focus less on positive form (how something appears on the surface) and more on positive function? Or how do you align people’s values, strengths, and goals to mindfully instill moments with greater vitality and meaning? Or how can mindfulness and cognitive reappraisal, two effective strategies for improving one’s quality of life, work together?
The book features the leading thinkers in positive psychology and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). How did you create a cohesive storyline with such a wide array of people and interests?
We were fortunate to get our wish list of the greatest minds interested in promoting well-being. We did not just choose the most distinguished scientists, we chose the people who are emerging with the state-of-the-art research, theory, and most importantly, applications to improve people’s quality of life. We wanted people who connect their ideas to broader issues that matter to people on the frontlines. To facilitate this, we did not tell people what to write about. Rather, we asked people to write about whatever they were most “hot and bothered about”. But we did give them one objective and that was, end your chapter with concrete strategies and skills so that people can walk away with a clear understanding of how they can improve their own and other people’s lives. We also asked the authors to eliminate jargon, such as buzzwords, insider concepts, and scientific lingo. We did not want this to be a dull academic text book. We could not be prouder of what these great minds did. In our opinion, these chapters offer the clearest description of theory and practical interventions. As an example, in Chapter 8, Mairead Foody and Yvonne and Dermot Barnes-Holmes explain some of the problems with existing positive psychology interventions such as gratitude and expressive writing and how these interventions can be improved through the lens of relational frame theory.
There are a vast number of books on mindfulness and acceptance. Is there anything new here?
We both felt that the majority of discussions, workshops, research, and books on mindfulness are rehashing the same content. There is a fascination with "the present moment" as if mindfulness is only about being blissfully attuned to whatever and whomever you are with here-and-now. There is also the issue of mindfulness being fused with the notions of “non-judgment” and “non-striving”. But this raises questions. How does training people to be more mindful affect their ability to make decisions and act? By definition, decisions among competing options for time, energy, and money require judgments. How can we teach people to be mindful in the messy, complexity of the real world where rejection, failure, boredom, and annoying, obnoxious people are the norm rather than the exception? This book is about understanding mindfulness and acceptance in the context of everyday perils and promises.
Beyond mindfulness, several authors introduce creative ideas that have yet to be communicated to the outside world. For example, in Chapter 9, Robert Biswas-Diener introduces the notion of “microculture” as a contextual positive psychology intervention. In Chapter 12, Bryan Roche, Sarah Cassidy, and Ian Stewart present a program for “nurturing genius”. They share practical details for how to implement this program along with new data on raising intelligence scores that eradicates the idea that IQ can not be substantially improved. It looks like it can be. The book is filled with creative exercises on how to enhance meaning and purpose in life, self-compassion, and take advantage of the benefits of guilt while not allowing oneself to be dominated by shame.
What new research is included that will be of interest to the ACT community?
There are some sexy storylines in this book that will be of particular interest to the ACT community. In Chapter 2, Eric Garland and Barbara Fredrickson put an end to the arms race between two emotion regulation strategies shown to have the greatest benefit on psychological functioning, cognitive reappraisal and mindfulness. They walk the readers through “the mindful coping model”, showcasing how positive emotions and cognitive reappraisals can be integrated into mindfulness and acceptance based interventions to create a more powerful approach. In Chapter 4, Kristin Neff and Dennis Tirch dive deeply into the latest research on self-compassion and social relationships, and self-compassion interventions. In Chapter 6, Lance McCracken introduces new research on the least researched and arguably most important aspect of ACT: committed action. In Chapter 7, Acacia Parks and Robert Biswas-Diener point to the boundary conditions of when seemingly efficacious positive psychology interventions fail to work. This contextual theme runs throughout the book with concrete information on when and why interventions work or fail. Readers will be introduced to new work on how to address moral emotions and behaviors in high-risk populations (Chapter 10) and new ideas for cultivating a sense of meaning and a clear sense of purpose in life that have existed outside the sphere of ACT and the ACBS community until now (Chapter 11). And that is just a sample of what is in the book.
Who is this book for?
We spent a great deal of time writing our own chapters and editing authored chapters to create a book for anyone interested in enhancing their own well-being or with a vested interest in enhancing other people’s well-being. To do this, we removed the jargon that often stifles psychological work. To create a book that is relevant to health professionals on the frontlines, each chapter is designed to move from research and theory to concrete, practical therapeutic strategies. To create a book for researchers and laypeople, chapter 1 provides a visual map of what concepts emerge in each chapter, spending time to define terms such as mindfulness, values, functional beliefs, and perspective taking from the get-go. We feel confident that this book presents a comprehensive, thoughtful, provocative commentary on what we have learned so far about well-being, the limits of our knowledge and problematic assumptions, and where we need to go next to improve the lives of people, couples, families, and organizations.
Todd Kashdan, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology and senior scientist at the Center for Consciousness and Transformation at George Mason University. Kashdan has published over one hundred peer-reviewed articles on meaning and purpose in life, happiness, mindfulness, how to deal with stress and anxiety, and social relationships. He is the author of several books, including Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, and a TEDx speaker. His work has been featured in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and on CNN, National Public Radio, and other media outlets. Kashdan received the 2013 American Psychological Association (APA) Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology.
Joseph Ciarrochi, PhD, is a professor at University of Western Sydney. He has published over eighty scientific articles in the area of well-being, and a number of books, including Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life for Teens and Emotional Intelligence in Everyday Life. His work on emotional intelligence is among the most highly cited in the field. He is currently investigating mindfulness, acceptance, values, and other core processes that promote well-being and effectiveness.
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