This Veterans Day, Proof Positive is shining a light on the Army’s approach to wellbeing for all their troops. It’s a proud example of scaling the science and skills of happiness to our nation’s service members and veterans. Proof Positive hopes systems like schools and social service organizations can learn from this large-scale adoption about what is possible when wellbeing training and resources are provided to all.

Before Katie Curran served as our Chief Wellbeing Officer, she was a Primary Instructor for the US Army as part of the University of Pennsylvania’s resilience training program. There, she trained soldiers in positive psychology skills—the same wellbeing skills we can use in our daily lives. She offered some insights into what Proof Postive’s vision of wellbeing for all could look like and how the US Army can teach us how to scale the wellbeing revolution for the autism community. 

“The beauty is that wellbeing and resilience are teachable, learnable, and spreadable skills. What’s taught at the individual level can be implemented at the group, team, or organizational levels, providing a ripple effect of positive outcomes,” said Curran. 

Individual wellbeing practices might look like daily mindfulness sessions or gratitude journals. But how did the US Army, an entity with 1.3 million active-duty soldiers, many living with mental health issues and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), scale these practices to boost the wellbeing and resilience of its service members

For soldiers, being equipped with strategies to improve wellbeing matters a lot. Curran stressed the importance of proactively teaching skills that can help prevent depression and anxiety, starting with the individual. Proactively learning and applying wellbeing skills can act as a buffer to adverse outcomes down the road, such as PTSD. 

Curran and leaders from the University of Pennsylvania’s resilience training program brought wellbeing skills to soldiers one “classroom” at a time. Capitalizing on the Army’s existing model for scaling solutions such as health and fitness and basic training to ensure unit readiness, the Penn team worked to train 200 soldiers at a time to become Master Resilience Trainers.  

Mid-level leaders in the Army (sergeants primarily) were hand-selected to learn the skills and be responsible for ensuring they were practiced and utilized by their soldiers. Similar to the physical trainers responsible for the physical health of their soldiers and ensuring they do sit-ups and push-ups daily, MRTs are responsible for ensuring their soldiers practice skills like gratitude, strength spotting, and avoiding catastrophic thinking when it strikes. 

Curran and her colleagues held trainings on every Army base around the globe for nearly a decade, ultimately training more than 40,000 mid-level leaders in the Army to ensure the force was ready and resilient. General George Casey, the US Army general at the time, even pulled soldiers out of deployment for positive psychology and resilience training, demonstrating the prioritization of wellbeing from leadership. And it worked. 

 Soldiers claimed, “If I had learned these skills as a teenager, I could have saved my marriage, my relationships. I would have been a different kind of leader. ” The skills brought considerable benefits to their lives; their leadership styles changed for the better, and most importantly, they gained another tool in their toolbelt to cope with the challenges of serving.

Organizations can look to the Army as a large system that successfully spreads the skills of wellbeing. The US Army is known for its structure, discipline, and emphasis on training and readiness, characteristics any organization needs to practice and implement the science and skills of happiness. Soldiers undergo extensive training programs to prepare them for the physical, mental, and technical demands of their role. Additionally, the Army continually invests in ongoing training and professional development to keep soldiers current and capable. 

Do you see any parallels between Army culture and our civilian quest for wellbeing? 

The positive psychology training for the Army was intense because of the nature of their work. Curran and her team focused on metacognitive skills, such as identifying thinking traps, identifying deeply held core values and beliefs, putting things into perspective, and coping with catastrophic thinking.

Still, soldiers practiced the “everyday” skills we know and love, such as Character Strengths and Active Constructive Responding. Master trainers attempted to shift a soldier’s perspective from maintaining personal character to believing each person has unique strengths that can be capitalized on for good. Building on what’s right with us gives us hope. We need to be able to ask, “How can my strengths help me succeed in this moment?” 

Active Constructive Responding taught soldiers to spend time on good news. Soldiers are used to problems arising, analyzing situations, and contingency planning, and they’re hardwired to focus on the negative (just like all of us). But by learning Active Constructive Responding, they quickly realized that celebrating good news is just as important. When you positively and genuinely respond to your teammate’s good news of an honor they received or strategy that went right, it builds trust with those around you.

Learning positive psychology skills led to soldiers cultivating more resilience. They learned to handle challenges, grow from setbacks, and build and maintain relationships with families and teammates. If the science and skills of happiness can work for the US Army, it can work for schools, for people with autism, and it can work for you. Will you join the wellbeing revolution?

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