Some call it bliss. Others, serenity. For Nick Hernandez of Lincoln, Nebraska, the study and practice of positive psychology is both way of life and career.
The 41-year-old couldn't have imagined this two decades ago. Back then, the Olathe, Kansas native was a married post-graduate student who looked at people and life critically. Now he's co-founder and
evangelist for an organization called Posiivity Matters, He hosts Community Matters on KZUM 89.3 FM, conducts coaching-team building workshops, makes presentations and organizes activities – all around
the notion that individuals and communities thrive when engaged in nurturing activities.
He's convened regional and citywide summits (Happiness Lincoln) and contributed to events (Cameron Effect and Seeds of Kindness) on the subject.
Before finding his niche, he got divorced and entered recovery for a problem drinking habit. The seeds of his "community-building" were planted earlier through Hispanic leadership opportunity and Midwest
Center for Nonprofit Leadership programs he completed in Kansas City, Missouri.
He earned a bachelor's degree from liberal arts Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas and did graduate studies in economics at the University of Texas at Austin.
When he lost his job as an economist with the Texas Department of Labor, he found a matching job with the Nebraska Department of Labor in 2002. When his unit took the Gallup organization's Strengths Finder test, he learned a new way of thinking and being. "It was a very
meaningful experience," he said. "I then discovered there is a field called positive psychology." In reading up on it, he became convinced he found the holistic pathway he'd been missing.
"It was a shift in mindset. I had a real critical mindset that wasn't focused on strengths before. It opened up new territory for how how I saw myself and others."
Newly aware he was by nature and nurture a convener, a leader, an affirmer and an appreciator, he embraced "hooking up with good in ourselves" and became "an encourager for others to grow into potential you see in them that they may not be aware of."
"I found it really fulfilling to be in that role for others."
Meanwhile, he sounded out experts who further encouraged his interest in the philosophy and science of positive psychology, well-being and human flourishing.
"That deepened my sense that maybe I'm onto something here."
He then broadened his reach of influence.
"I started getting involved more in the community."
Upon completing the Great Neighborhoods program offered by Neighbor Works Lincoln, he said, "I found myself feeling a sense of purpose to see if it could be put into action at the neighborhood association level."
In 2007 he restarted the dormant Havelock Neighborhood Association and revived its fall festival.
"It was quite an enriching experience to create an occasion for people from different places in the neighborhood to get together. I enjoy coming up with activities that make mindfulness fun and accessible."
He helped lead kindness campaigns in Lincoln that inspired participation by adults and youth.
"Kindness hopefully has a double effect. The stories we tell ourselves when we volunteer or do random acts of kindness are self-affirming. We think, 'I'm the kind of person that practices generosity, kindness and compassion.' That alters the story of who we are in our identity.'
Hernandez's journey has been far more than academic.
"It was spurred by my own experiences in recovery and then getting involved in service work. What I found eventually was a profound sense of fulfillment by volunteering to take a recovery meeting into the Lancaster County adult detention center.
"That's where I really felt I started taking this idea of practicing generosity as a way of life and really committed myself to doing it in a systematic way."
His recovery has paralleled his well-being quest.
"Once I got into recovery I realized I felt a deep sense of loneliness. I know there were people around me who loved and cared for me, but for some reason I wasn't letting it connect. Through being in
recovery and getting in service, I finally felt that sense of connectedness."
Since humans are genetically wired to be on high alert, he said, we must consciously choose positive thoughts. He's convinced our basic desire and need for well-being is achieved "when we're able to share our sense of self, our core ideas with others in a positive relationship, whether friendship or romantic, who really care about us growing into that."
"That's the direction I'm trying to take this habit of kindness and generosity. I am exploring if this can be something fostered through small group conversation grounded in the philosophy and science of well-being."
He's long organized discussion groups promoting positive psychology research and the benefits of practicing mindfulness. His 2015 Happiness Lincoln summit at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
featured scholars on the 15th anniversary of America's first national positive psychology conference held in Lincoln, a community that ranks high in well-being measures.
His Community Matters radio show facilitates discussions with well-being experts from around world, including a recent guest he Skyped-in from Israel.
On May 20 he organized a community conversation on collaboration at Lincoln's Constellation Studios with fiber artist Karen Kunc, a philosophy professor and a public health advocate.
His speaking, coaching, team building doesn't pay all the bills, thus he makes money other ways, including teaching social dance – swing, salsa, tango, ballroom.
"That's personally an extremely fun, positive psychology intervention – cognitive, social, physical well-being all in one."
He's now actively pursuing work in the human resources field.
Follow him on Facebook and YouTube. His show broadcasts Mondays from 11:30 a.m. to Noon and streams at http://kzum.org.
Read more of Leo Adam Biga's work at leoadambiga.com.