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Happy? Improving Your Life Using Evidence-based Science

As mavens of wellness, midwives are in a powerful position to help guide our clients (and ourselves) in making positive, proven choices that support not just physical wellness, but also holistic well-being.

by Cathy Hartt, CNM, RN, MS, Midwife of Changes Wellbeing Coaching Services

Perhaps you noticed the big smiley emoticon on the cover of Time magazine in 2005, in a full issue dedicated primarily to the science of positive psychology. Or maybe you heard about a film called Happy that premiered just last month?

If I didn’t know better, I would wonder if this was some Norman Vincent Peale approach that had little to do with midwifery. Wait—hit that pause button! A good deal of the work in the field of psychology during the past 10-15 years relates to how people can improve their health and well-being.

In 2004, I attended an innovative course in positive psychology coaching taught by pioneer psychologist Martin Seligman. I knew instantly that it was a great match for nurse-midwifery practice. At that time, I recall Dr. Seligman explaining the focus of psychology during the past 50 years was to help those with mental illness get from a minus 10 to a 0 (stable in their communities). As he related, this is worthy work, but did little to help people really flourish.

As a midwife, I always considered myself somewhat of a maven of wellness. We are a profession built on empowering client strengths to improve health and wellness. I believe the next step is to empower ourselves and our profession with knowledge about how humans can flourish in life. Psychology has come a long way from many of the theorists we study in our nursing psychology courses. Freud, Erickson, Piaget, etc. all contributed to our knowledge. We are now called upon to integrate the work of Seligman and positive psychologists into our daily work.

According to Christopher Peterson, PhD, positive psychology “is the study of what goes right in life,” and is as genuine as what goes bad and deserves equal time. It is not a form of pop psychology, “The Secret,” or untested self-help (Peterson, 2012). As a nation, we spend more than $11 billion dollars per year on self-help, most of which is not science-based (Hensch, 2011).

Positive psychology is based on strengths, or focusing on what is right with people. So, let’s take the first step. One of the first “application exercises” done in most positive psychology courses is to discover your own strengths. I invite my colleagues to apply the science to their own lives. My challenge to each of you is to spend 20 minutes or so taking the VIA survey of character strengths located on Dr. Seligman’s research Web site. (Readers will need to get a log-in and will find the test link about half-way down on the page.)

Try using those strengths in a new way each day—and see what happens to your mood as you do. Enjoy!

Cathy Hartt, CNM, RN, MS, practiced full-scope midwifery from 1990-2005.In 2004, she had the opportunity to train as a positive psychology coach with Martin Seligman, PhD, and other internationally recognized psychologists. She began a coaching practice in 2004 and has since specialized in wellbeing (wellness and happiness coaching, combined) for both individuals and groups (online, local and distance).She continues her coaching education through MentorCoach. In addition, she teaches online health and nursing courses for several colleges in Colorado.You can subscribe to her wellbeing blog at

1.Peterson, C. (Jan. 30, 2012). Foundations of positive psychology [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved March 15, 2012, from
2.Hensch, D. (2011). Happiness and the potential of positive psychology. Retrieved March 15, 2012, from

Posted 3/26/2012 1:46:06 PM



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