Areté and Positive Psychology
Positive Psychology classes are increasing in number at colleges and universities around the country. We have created a two tiered program that employs the Positive Psychology approach to better prepare our students for success in school and in life. The two tiers are: The PUP Print program and its outreach component Areté Leadership Program for high school students. Our PUP Print and Areté programs are both experiential, adventure-based, character education, service learning programs. Mirroring the focus in Positive Psychology, PUP Print and Areté focus on strengths of the participants and create an environment that allows for experimentation of intrapersonal (e.g., mastery of feelings, insight, ability to manage emotions and goal directed behavior and interpersonal skills) and interpersonal skills (e.g., empathy, altruism and emotional intimacy). The participant’s identity, confidence and overall sense of efficacy is developed through the experience of the groups’ collective efficacy; in other words, we all succeed when one succeeds. Creating positive environments is a key component in the program. The focus on the environment as a positive (almost Utopian) society, allows for growth to occur within the individual and the group. The Areté Leadership Experience takes the same strength-based approach to development used in PUP Print to local high schools and draws on college-aged students who have completed PUP Print to facilitate as mentors.
The mentoring experience further solidifies the focus and training on strengths and values. Mentors help to create an effective learning environment and provide guidance and support. Studies have identified that the use of positive peer culture and mentoring can affect behavior change such as improving social interactions and increasing youth assets (e.g., responsible choice and community involvement). Additionally, seizes the opportunity to increase the knowledge of one’s strengths and values which in turn have long term effects on the individual. Moreover, Areté empowers individuals with decision-making, critical thinking, coping and communication skills which will enhance their secondary, college and whole life experience.
Qualitative research currently in process, is investigating the long-term impact of these programs (e.g., 5 -10 year post- participation) on participants through a reflective survey. Preliminary results from the survey suggest that the programs have impacted students by creating a bridge between their higher education academics and the community. They feel acknowledged as emotionally competent youth by their community of peers. Themes that are emerging as most beneficial to the participants are exploration of their strengths, connection to others and preparation for the future. As one participants responds,
“It prepares you for life in a way that nothing else can. Spend a week with people you have never met before, learn to trust them, work with them, & develop a relationship that you want to keep for a lifetime. This experience gets you ready for the "real world". Living away from home for the first time, a new job, a new city, going to college; all of these things require you to meet new people and new personalities, and work with and around them.”
Another participants reflects on the Positive Psychology experience as,
“It was definitely more of a personal growth program. And the beauty of the program is everybody grew differently during the program, and everybody learned something new and different about themselves, even if they didn’t fully realize it at the time. The reason to go is that it will be life altering. It won’t 'rock your world' , in the sense that you won’ t have a singular moment where your entire viewpoint and idea of self is suddenly and irrevocably altered, rather it will take the plane of your understanding and slightly and subtly shift it, without your full realization, understanding, or even permission, and only later, when you look back upon the path of your life journey will you come to fully understand and appreciate the small but influential nudge that Areté made in your life orbit.
Various types of Positive Psychology techniques are employed such as the Reverse Gratitude Journal. Unlike other journal processes that focus on the inner thoughts and feelings of the writer, the Areté/ PUP Print journal is comprised of messages from other participants to the journal owner. These messages reflect their impression of the person such as things they noticed about them that they feel are valuable assets or things they noticed about them that are considered impressive or honorable. Another recurring theme in the survey is the power of the journal.
“It helped me bring out a side of myself that usually only came out with family or close friends at a time when I was usually a little more shy and reserved around people I didn't know very well. In only a week I felt like I had a bunch of new best friends, and I still go back sometimes and read my old arête journals. It always makes me feel really good about where I was in my life at that point, even though my memories of time surrounding it aren't always that stellar.”
The focus of PUP Print and Areté is best expressed through the words of Sanchez, (2005, p.59) who poignantly affirms the value of building character and emotional competencies in our children when he states, “great civilizations of the world point out a disconcertingly common denominator of survival: a civilization’s citizenry could to varying degrees be academically competent, but once the same citizenry failed to be educated in the virtue of character, it steadily declined”. As professed by Aristotle, eudaimonia is a result of virtue, valor and character which is all that is Areté.