Applications of positive psychology – happiness and flourishing

Applications of positive psychology – happiness and flourishing

The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of: Capitalizing On A Day with Dad

Posted: 11 Aug 2007 06:16 AM CDT

By John Yeager

John M. Yeager, Ed.D, MAPP is Director of the Center for Character Excellence at The Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana. John consults with Dave Shearon, and Sherri Fisher at, an organization that integrates best practices in education with cutting edge Positive Psychology research. John’s bio.John writes on the 11th of each month and his past articles appear here.

Positive interventions such as capitalizing, savoring and expressing gratitude have the potential to intentionally and explicitly cause a favorable change in subjective well-being. Shelly Gable, a professor at UCLA, has done extensive work in the area of capitalization. Capitalization is about sharing positive events with others which may increase positive emotions and a sense of increased belongingness. The more that positive emotions are shared, the greater likelihood that they will be remembered. One major component of capitalization is active constructive responding (ACR) – a process in which a person provides enthusiastic support when providing feedback to another person. Although I consistently practice capitalization and ACR with my students, I decided to try it out at a recent family affair.

In early August, our family flew out to Boston to attend a family reunion that also coincided with my father’s 80th birthday. Prior to the trip, a variety of past images and thoughts permeated my brain of “not being a good-enough son.” This included several real and some standard self-inflicted adversities that have wasted emotional energy in me since childhood. With a strong grasp of the positive psychology skills of capitalizing through active constructive responding; savoring; and showing gratitude, I consciously made a decision that the reunion and birthday would be a celebration of my father’s life, for all the good in him; and to make the event about him, not me. The reframe focused on helping capitalize on his words and actions; expressing gratitude for “being a good father” and personally savoring these moments in time during the party/reunion.

By focusing on my Dad and others, I was able recapture wonderful memories from childhood as I played badminton with my ten year old daughter. At one point, I called her my sister’s name – she looked similar at that age. I was back in time, a real good time and I was savoring – basking in the warmth of sharing my positive childhood experiences with my daughter. And when my father came into the game, I marveled at the athletic skills of a man in his ninth decade – instead of making it a Freudian competition.

This wasn”t about living up to expectations. It was all about the good, and when my father spoke to the entire family about his orchestration of the event – as he and my step-mother planned everything – there was not a dry eye. He exclaimed that the party and reunion was about us, not him. It was about keeping family connected. He did this all for us.

After he spoke, an amazing calmness came over me, and I asked for everyone’s attention as I publicly spoke to my Dad, reminding him of a time when I was 11 years old, and was fidgeting fearfully at the starting line of a 3-mile 4th of July road race. I realized that all the other runners were between 16-40 years of age. I was totally out of my league. I look up at my father and he appreciatively nodded his head up and down, and softly said to me, “It’s okay. It will be fine.” And it was, and still is!

This brief discourse was not designed to share my dirty laundry and luggage of childhood issues as an end in itself. By calling upon the skills of active constructive responding, savoring, and showing gratitude, I transcended the moments into a wonderfully powerful and fulfilling experience. I think I grew a lot that day as I made the lyrics of the Carly Simon song, The Stuff the Dreams are Made Of, come alive:

Take a look around now

Change the direction

Adjust the tuning

Try a new translation

Dont look at your man (in this case, my father) in the same old way

Take a new picture

Just because you don”t see shooting stars

Doesn”t mean it isn”t perfect

Cant you seeê¢__‘Ô_

It’s the stuff that dreams are made of

It’s the slow and steady fire

It’s the stuff that dreams are made of

It’s your heart and souls desire

It’s the stuff that dreams are made of