Written By: Fiona - Mar• 05•12

I spent three days last week at the ‘Happiness and its Causes’ conference in Sydney where we listened to great words of wisdom from world leaders, researches and entertainers, all with the over-arching theme of ‘Life Death and Everything’.  The line-up included the likes of Sogyal Rinpoche (Author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying), pioneering psychologists, Martin Seligman and Ellen Langer, acclaimed ethicist, Peter Singer, and the big-hearted and hilarious comedian, Ahn Do – plus many more with stories and facts to share. As you can see, it was a mixed bag.

The audience too, were a mixed bag, with over a thousand people from all walks of life: counsellors, psychologists, educators, teachers, researchers, academics and at least one quantity surveyor (ie, my husband Steve).

Given all the wisdom, knowledge and insights shared, the highlight for me was Saturday morning, at a post-conference workshop by Martin Seligman. With great proficiency, empathy and interest, he encapsulated the research and practicalities of positive psychology (including the dissemination of the acronym, PERMA (see below) and shared his vision for the future.

But that wasn’t the best bit.

The best bit came last, at the end of the workshop, when Steve suggested I give one of my Teacher’s Toolkits (never leave home without one!) to a Polish journalist called Eva Foley, as a contribution to her plea of ‘But what about all the people in my home country who can’t afford access to this kind of information?’ during the workshop.

Eva was overjoyed at my gift and apologised for not having something to give me in return. (Little did she realise that her delight was gift enough.) She said she’d gratefully take the toolkit back to Poland and pass it on to her colleagues and friends who were involved in education.

As we walked away from Eva, she cried out: ‘But wait! I do heff something for you!’ and reached into her pocket and placed a smooth stone in my hand.  ‘It is a piece of amber from the Baltic Sea that I picked up before flying to Australia. I wanted to bring a little bit of Poland with me to the conference.’ She placed the smooth and golden amber stone in the palm of my hand. ‘And now it is yours!’ It was a real gem, this gift of hers. As was Eva.

In that short interaction I had with Eva, I understood once again, the power of kindness.  Her delight at receiving my gift was good enough to fill me up, but her reciprocal gift compounded my joy. Such small gestures can make big impacts.

I left the conference with pearls of wisdom and gems of gratitude, and a link formed from the Sydney Harbour to the Baltic Sea.


“There are various factors that have been correlated with happiness,[3] but no validated method has been found to improve happiness in a meaningful way for most people.

Psychologist Martin Seligman provides the acronym PERMA to summarize Positive Psychology’s correlational findings: humans seem happiest when they have

  1. Pleasure (tasty foods, warm baths, etc.),
  2. Engagement (or flow, the absorption of an enjoyed yet      challenging activity),
  3. Relationships (social ties have turned out to be extremely      reliable indicator of happiness),
  4. Meaning (a perceived quest or belonging to something      bigger), and
  5. Accomplishments (having realized tangible goals).



Happiness and its Causes conference:


Martin Seligman on Ted:


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One Comment

  1. Steve Grimes says:

    I attended this conference as an interested lay-person, just to see what all the fuss is about. It had a really great feel, and the potential for this, particularly in our schools, is mind-boggling.

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