The University of New Mexico will soon play host to one of the largest gatherings this year of people interested in the science of happiness and what makes life worth living – also known as positive psychology. The annual meeting of the Western Positive Psychology Association (WPPA) will take place on campus March 22-23 in the SUB.  

You may not have heard of psychology having its own sub-discipline focusing on the positive aspects of life, but Department of Psychology Associate Professor Bruce Smith says what can go right, rather than what can go wrong with us is fundamental to the way we live our lives. He’s taught this for 19 years to over 6,000 students at UNM. 

“Positive psychology focuses on what enables us to make the most of our lives and live them to the fullest. It involves studying how we can best foster things like resilience, mindfulness, love, kindness, gratitude, hope, meaning and purpose,” he said.  

While the WPPA annual conference has previously been held in southern California, UNM was asked to host this first post-COVID conference. Hundreds of people are expected to attend.  

“Even though we are far from where it all started, the WPPA leaders were so impressed with our consistently large group of enthusiastic participants in the past, they asked us to hold this first post-pandemic face-to-face meeting here right here at UNM,” Smith said.   

The Department of Psychology is sponsoring the conference with donations from UNM Health Sciences, Sandia National Labs, Visit ABQ and Eastern New Mexico University. The Center for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP), which Smith helped found and is also coordinating the conference.   

The conference is extra special to Smith with its theme ‘Moving from surviving to thriving’, as it’s the title of the positive psychology workbook that he and CAPP peers developed during COVID.  

New Mexico WPPA team
New Mexico WPPA team

“It never fails. When people with these kinds of ideas, values, and goals come together, the energy and enthusiasm is contagious. The result is a wonderful experience and an ever-larger group of those who find great joy in continuing to work together. I hope that as many as possible will come and experience it for themselves," Smith said. 

The conference will have three world renowned speakers, who are experts on happiness, hope, and positive psychology. University of California Riverside’s Sonja Lyubomirsky will be talking about how to increase happiness, and Claremont University's Stewart Donaldson will be speaking on the future of positive psychology.   

UNM’s own Professor Emeritus Bill Miller will be the third distinguished speaker. In addition to serving with the Center on Alcohol, Substance Abuse and Addictions (CASAA) and psychology department for decades, he is the primary founder of motivational interviewing, which revolutionized behavioral health and has made positive change possible for countless thousands around the world. He has written books on lovingkindness, empathy and hope and his talk will offer “Eight Ways to Hope.”   

"For decades, the discipline of psychology was primarily concerned with disorders - with what's wrong with people. Positive psychology focuses instead on what's right with people and on experiences like hope, which I will be addressing," Miller said. 

In addition, there will be a variety of other presentations relevant for increasing happiness and success at school and work; for enabling counselors, teachers, coaches, managers, and other leaders and guides to use positive psychology to improve the lives of others; and what anyone can all do to create lives of greater joy, meaning and fulfillment.  

The conference begins Friday evening, March 22 and takes place all-day Saturday, March 23 in the UNM SUB. There will be additional workshops available by conference presenters on Sunday, March 24. UNM catering will provide dinner on Friday and Saturday as well as a continental breakfast on Saturday morning. The cost of registration, starting at $75 for students, includes these meals. 

Learn more about WPPA, how to register and the conference itinerary here.