Judaism + Positive Psychology Part II

Positive psychology, as I’ve mentioned previously, is the study of what makes life worth living. While for many of us that kind of thing is subjective (unless I’m correct and there’s universal consensus that my dog is everyone’s reason for existing), we do know that there are some collective truths about what brings true joy and fulfillment to human beings. There are three mains pillars of the positive psychology movement: positive experiences, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. As Jewish educators, we can find numerous tie-ins to each of these pillars, but for today I’m sharing 1:1.

  1. Positive Experiences - So much of what makes Judaism special for those of us who opt to actively integrate it into our lives are the visceral memories that rituals, songs, smells, and places bring up for us. I can be anywhere in the world but if I hear certain guitar chords I’m transported to youth group Shabbatonim, and when certain smells waft through the air I’m back at my childhood dinner table. Judaism, and the Jewish people, are more diverse than ever. While we can no longer assume that many formerly classic Jewish experiences are universal, we can create environments for our learners where their own formative, positive Jewish experiences can play out. How can we as educators make the experience of Jewish learning, education, and living a positive one that our learners will find value in?

  2. Positive Individual Traits - Judaism spends a lot of time cultivating the collective, but is equally committed to nurturing the individual. Judaism’s answer to the positive traits concept is middot - the virtues/values that form the core of Jewish character development. There are countless amazing resources on this topic out there, including the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Periodic Table for Making Mensches. How can we cultivate the best traits in our learners, and help them see the Jewish tie-ins to who they are as whole people?

  3. Positive Institutions - Too many Jewish institutions have a bad reputation for being out of touch, irrelevant, or otherwise places that people feel they have to go to rather than ones they choose to attend. As educators, we’re often the most accessible, best ambassadors for our organizations and institutions, and it’s up to us to break down those preconceived notions. We need to help our learners and their families build positive relationships with our institutions, and I firmly believe that the #1 way to do that is by building relationships. Rather than supposing that they’ll come as a matter of course, and that they understand/relate to the institution because we’ve done such a great job crafting our mission statement, printing our logo on swag, and placing strategic Facebook ads, we need to make the institution positive by prioritizing human beings. Look at the people behind the mission statement, and draw them in by demonstrating the value that your institution brings to the community you serve. What is your role in making your institution a positive one for your constituents?

So what now?

If you're interested in applying positive psychology to your educational practice and finding the integration points between the two, I encourage you to join me for the new Gratz NEXT class I’ll be teaching starting October 15. Gratz NEXT courses, for those who are unfamiliar, are online learning opportunities for Jewish supplementary educators. You can learn more about Gratz, and all of the offerings, here. I hope you'll join me for 4 weeks of exploration of teens, Judaism, and positive psychology. If you have questions, please reach out to me (email form below!) or the Gratz staff for more info.