Building Social Capital with the Online Positive Psychology Hour

“Social capital” is a term coined by Wayne Baker, one of the world’s foremost experts on building and strengthening connections. Baker, who serves as faculty director of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan, defines social capital as “how willing people are to help others in their social network.” This concept relates to reciprocity in general, which is the “exchange of resources between two people.” 

Wholebeing Institute has been building a variety of social capital throughout its existence. During the pandemic, this took the form of the online Positive Psychology Hour, launched in early 2020. Megan McDonough, WBI founder, and Caroline Kohles, CIWPP alum, of the Marlene Mayerson JCC Manhattan interviewed WBI alumni and faculty. They offered support, understanding, and practical skills drawn from applied positive psychology. It was a pioneering effort to create connections and share skills to navigate life during crisis. 

The series marks its two-year anniversary on Thursday, March 31, and it’s still going strong. On that date, the three of us—Megan, Caroline, and myself—will celebrate this anniversary with another entry in the series. “The Two-Year Milestone: Honoring Our Time Together”, from 12:00–1:00 pm ET, will explore how has all of us in this community have helped each other hold the enormity of what we’ve been through together. We’ll dive into the opportunities and growth that the difficulties of this time have given us. Register here


Building, Bolstering, and Buffering

Last year, just as the Positive Psychology Hour was marking its one-year anniversary, an article appeared in the 2021 edition of the Journal of Positive Psychology. A dream team of positive psychologists, many of whom have been faculty or guest speakers for WBI, came together to share their findings about “the role that positive psychology factors can play in buffering against mental illness, bolstering mental health during COVID-19 and building positive processes and capacities that may help to strengthen future mental health.” 

The paper considered how these three processes (buffer, bolster, build) can be generated through nine positive psychology topics: meaning, coping, self-compassion, courage, gratitude, character strengths, positive emotions, positive interpersonal processes, and high-quality connections.

These nine topics served as a kind of exclamation mark—a validation of the series offerings—as they corresponded directly with the wide variety of topics that WBI faculty, friends, and alumni presented throughout the pandemic. Each of their individual voices was an active ingredient providing daily doses of applied techniques to nourish our collective and individual well-being. 

We have seen the community expand and build as participants show up consistently with an eagerness and openness for learning and engaging with the material. This has been possible because participants have increased their intellectual resource. Many participants have shared with us how they have improved their psychological resources, such resilience and self-efficacy as well as their social resources. This build effect is felt in the widening circles of connection that have been made within the learning community, which has grown exponentially, both in live attendance and those who listen to the recordings in our WBI archive.


Giving Back and Gratitude

Students who have completed Wholebeing Institute courses are known for their deep sense of gratitude and commitment to the work ahead. This series has provided students with a great opportunity to give back to the greater good. Reciprocity, according to Baker, means “I help you and you help someone else, and maybe that person will end up helping me (or someone else) sometime in the future.” Baker’s research has shown that when reciprocity is widespread in organizations, it improves productivity, promotes learning, and builds a climate of trust. 

In 2020, researcher and series speaker Barbara Fredrickson (also a guest on our series) advised that in order to address the challenges of the pandemic, individuals and organizations would need to generate resources and build alliances and teams. This charge is answered by The Positive Psychology Hour. It is a testimony to the growing social capital found throughout the Wholebeing Institute. We have been able co-created upward and outward spirals by asking ourselves how we can help and asking others for their help. This has created virtuous circles that encourage reciprocity and giving. 


This article is adapted from Phoebe’s chapter in the book Finding Unshakable Happiness, Donna Martire Miller.

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