Positive Movement For Flourishing Lives | Elaine O’Brien

[This article is by Elaine O’Brien, PhD, Psychology of Human Movement]

Movement, activity, and play are essential for our physical and intellectual development. Positive Movement can boost our health, happiness, and well-being at every age.

We can apply intentional positive movement to help individuals, communities, and society. We can use our strong bodies and positive movement to help ourselves, others, the world, and our environment.

What Is Positive Movement

Positive Movement is the intersection of the teachings of Positive Psychology, Appreciative Studies, Exercise, and Sports Medicine, Fitness Science, Human Movement Studies, and Embodied Well-Being. The aim of Positive Movement (O’Brien, 2021) is in creating a meaningful quality of life, healthspan, and fulfillment, often in the service of others, our environment, and our own actualization.

The highest form of Positive Movement is the Transcendent Movement (O’Brien, 2021). Transcendent Movement (TMo) connects us to our highest potential by applying intentional movement practices that inspire care, respect, kindness, and love. TMo strategies contribute to our health, healing, our environment, and our humanity.

Positive Movement for Happiness

Positive Movement for A Kinder World

Mindful, positive movement is a viable and sustainable psychological intervention. Our movement makes a difference at every age.

My research and practice encourage people to move more and well at home, at work, and at play. My aim is in helping people experience embodied well-being and vibrant health. Positive movement can lead us toward a better, kinder world and flourishing lives.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Captain Thomas Moore was approaching his 100th birthday. He had served in India and Myanmar, then known as Burma, during World War Two. But now the war veteran wanted to honor the brave, dedicated, and overworked health care workers.

Guard of Honor for Captain Tom on his 100th lap
Captain Tom on his 100th lap (Pic: BBC News)

So Captain Tom set up a fundraiser, vowing to walk 100 laps around his garden. On April 16, 2020, with his walking frame and a steely resolve, he completed 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday. Soldiers from 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment formed a Guard of Honour for the final laps of his walk.

At 100 years of age, Captain Tom Moore received great honors and was promoted to an army corporal. On July 17, 2020, the British Queen knighted Sir Thomas Moore for his determination and dedication. Sir Tom’s initial goal was to raise £1,000. To date, Sir Tom’s efforts have raised £33 million for National Health Service Charities.

It’s all for the sake of the nurses and the NHS we have, because they are doing such a magnificent job. Every penny that we get, they deserve every one of it. – Capt Sir Tom

This inspiration illuminates the power of using your healthy body to help others.

There are thoughtful ways we can use our healthy, strong bodies to help others and our environment.

Plogging, a combination of jogging with picking up litter helps reduce plastic pollution. Plogging started as an organized outdoor ecological activity in Sweden around 2016. An effort to stop plastic pollution, it has spread to other countries since. Plogging is an excellent way to use our healthy body to get fit and help our environment.

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Plogging - Picking up litter while jogging or walking.jpg
Plogging – Picking up litter while jogging or walking (Pic: Chicago Tonight)

Positive Movement Interventions

Like traditional positive interventions, more novel positive movement interventions can help people flourish. Physical activity can prompt positive emotions. Positive movement builds fitness and can buffer individuals against the stresses of life.

There are many benefits around positive movement and physical activity. Positive movement:

  • Bolsters good feelings
  • Alleviates stress
  • Improves our self-esteem
  • Offers us an authentic self-perception,
  • Helps us sleep better
  • Improves cognitive functioning
  • Boosts brain health
  • Boosts individual and social fitness

Movement can support the building of valuable positive resources, a very positive intervention. Our daily mindful movement can make a difference in how we think, feel, and behave.

Positive movement can improve people’s lives. These benefits can uplift education, commerce, leisure, civic, green, and global well-being. Here’s an example.

Habitat For Humanity India has built homes for over 386,400 families. Habit India members rebuild homes and lives, especially in the aftermath of disasters. People are using their healthy bodies, construction skills, and physical labor. They are helping people gain access to decent shelter while building goodwill. They are helping to build thriving communities.

 Habitat For Humanity India
Houses for families in need (Pic: Habitat for Humanity India)

Physical Activity: Equally Relevant To Mind, Spirit, And Body

Research shows movement promotes learning, creativity, and positive emotions. When we are feeling good, we can get to the work of helping others and ourselves. We can direct our mental activities in an intentional, connected way while training physically. Doing this allows us to cultivate many whole health benefits including experiencing:

  • Greater body awareness
  • Greater body acceptance
  • Improved mental clarity
  • A greater transfer of training principles to daily life
  • The development of more compassion.

Engagement in positive movement can give us a sense of purpose. We can also create “meaning in motion.” This can contribute to our “Ikagai,” from Japanese: “that which makes one’s life worth living.”

Ikigai - Dimensions For Balanced Life by Alex Tanchoco
Ikigai (Pic: Alex Tanchoco, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Transcendent Movement: Meaning In Motion

When I was a pioneer Dance/Fitness Instructor Trainer, I got an idea. I planned to raise funds for the Central New Jersey Lung Association to help people breathe easier. I invited the Shore Fitness dance/fitness instructor team, our students, friends, and my company to help. My vision was to train dancers who would perform in the first National (American) Football League Halftime Show fundraiser.

The event I produced had over 200 dancers who performed at Giants’ stadium. Together we raised $50,000.00 (US) for the Lung Association patient programs. We worked hard to learn an exciting 10-minute choreographed routine for the show.

The best part was game day, and seeing more than 50,000 Giant’s fans up, moving, and dancing, many for the whole 10 minutes. This innovation was “A Giant IDEA for Better Breathing.” This idea, adopted across the U.S., raised $6 million (US) for lung association patient services.

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Movement for Sustainability

Positive movement can help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a simple intervention like walking to school can make a positive impact.

Walking more has many positive implications; it can:

  • Be a climate change intervention
  • Be a weight management intervention
  • Be a diabetes prevention and management intervention
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease and other non-communicable diseases
  • Can regulate our immune system to thwart communicable diseases
  • Can boost emotional fitness
  • Can offer a positive connection to nature and the outdoors
  • Boost positive energy.

One study looked at Americans who walked 30 minutes each day instead of driving. The research showed this would cut the annual U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide by 64 million tons. This would save about 6.5 billion gallons of gasoline. Further, the walkers would shed more than 3 billion pounds, and gain greater fitness.

A University of California at Berkeley scientist also had important findings. The average person walking half an hour a day would lose about 13 pounds a year. Additionally, they would burn a total of 10.5 trillion calories. This would create a major reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

A free-to-use calculator to measure your carbon footprint is available at Carbon Footprint.

Mind-Body Harmony

Asian philosophy explores mind-body harmony, and discusses: “proper body-mind harmony, and proper demeanor.” Strength training, like Tai Chi, can be as much of a mind-body experience, depending on how we practice it. Yoga, dance/fitness, strength training, Tai Chi, and sport provide excellent health benefits.

Tai-Chi-on-beach
Tai-Chi – a martial art that combines gentle physical exercise and stretching with mindfulness

Dance is a great way to improve your health, confidence, brainpower, well-being, and physical fitness. Classical Indian Dance is a moving meditation and an art that can be performed almost at any age. Many women are now learning the artistry, expression, and grace of Indian Dance. This includes the classical Odissi, which is indigenous to Orissa in Eastern India. Indian Dance is a perfect exercise. It promotes flow and grace, along with individual and social fitness, when done in a group.

Moving for The Greater Good

We can connect through movement and build our social capital. We can move to better health and positivity. In his book Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken charts a mostly-unnoticed civil society movement across the world that is “humanity’s immune response to toxins like political corruption, economic disease, and ecological degradation.”

Hawken encourages us. He believes people often move in ways that support the well-being of people they may never even meet. We can move to help promote kindness, love, and goodwill, and healing. We can use our healthy bodies to raise awareness and help others. This creates a light beam of hope and healing.

Movement is life.

— Dr. R. Tait Mackenzie

Positive Movement is inspiring. My oldest student, “Mom” Marie, began fitness training with me at age 89 years. Marie was in my dance/fitness program until age 101. She lifted light weights, did Tai Chi, dancing, stretching, and balancing. She “graduated” to chair exercises, but always moved with grace and joy. Marie lived life fully and joyfully. “Mom” Marie was an inspiration, and we all missed her when she passed at age 102.

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Positive movement helps us greet lifespan changes. Moving well and awareness of our body is an important skill, especially as we age. Our proprioceptive sense, that is, our body awareness in space, matters. Mindful movement can reduce falls, increase vitality, and improve our brain health. Movement interventions can improve our health and well-being, and inspire others too.

Positive Ageing
Positive Ageing – living healthily and engaging positively with society as one’s age allows

Applying positive movement is a great opportunity to help people. It is a valuable addition to the science of Positive Psychology. We can teach and coach people to move with inspiration, love, and care for one another.

Positive movement can improve our understanding and performance in the arts and sciences. Movement can improve our mastery in the highest art form, living better lives. By moving with inspiration, we can promote kindness, love, and care for one another.

Final Words: Positive Movement Activities and Tips

  • Think about which activities you enjoy. What are ways you liked to move as a child?
  • Move to feel better and to do good things for yourself, others, and your community.
  • Be in the moment: consider how you move, stand, sit, and walk. Try to dance with intention and joy whenever you can.
  • Remember little actions, over time, can yield big results.
  • Try new activities and ways to move daily. Consider Tai Chi, Dance/Fitness, Sport, Recreational Activities, and Play.
  • Try to build in the meaningful movement at home, work, and during free time. You don’t need a lot of time to fit in some cool moves.
  • Join forces. Create meaningful activities and fun moving with family and friends.
  • Move to “open your heart,” and “lift your posture.”
  • Play music you like to get you moving.
  • Create a safe, welcoming space to inspire movement.
  • Consider your process, long-term goals, and move toward greater health, goodness, and vitality.

• • •

Elaine O'Brien, Positive Movement
Elaine O’Brien, MAPP, PhD

Author Bio: Elaine O’Brien, PhD, is a speaker, presenter, author, and well-being strategist. One of the first in the world to become a Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) under Martin Seligman, she later got her PhD in Psychology of Human Movement. Elaine has led organizations and tens of thousands of people to move toward vibrant health, greater fitness, and resilience. Dr. O’Brien will present “Transcendent Movement: SHAPES” at the IPPA Evidence in Action Conference. She is writing a new book about “Positive Movement, Flourishing Lives.” Find out more about her work here: Elaine O’Brien. She is on LinkedIn too.


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