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Primer In Positive Psychology


The number of positive psychology courses taught at the undergraduate level nationally has rocketed from zero to 100 in five years, declared Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD, in a Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schoolsinvited address at APA's 2003 Annual Convention.




primer in positive psychology


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"When you're teaching abnormal psychology, you can't tell someone to go out and be schizophrenic for a week," said Seligman, the Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a former APA president. "But when you teach positive psychology, there are always meaningful assignments you can give students."


He noted the importance of explaining to students that, just as with the study of mental illness, positive psychology uses validated test batteries, placebo-controlled studies and solid interventions rooted in science. In fact, said Seligman, more than 127,000 people have signed up so far to participate in Web-based positive psychology research being conducted by him and collaborators at various institutions.


"As teachers we have a unique opportunity here," he concluded. "If we can at the high school level, at the college level, at the professional level, begin to teach people how to have more pleasure in life, how to have more flow in life, how to have more meaning in life, then positive psychology will have come of age."


APA's Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools has published a positive psychology unit plan for high schools. It is available online for members at APA's High School Psychology and by request from Mayella Valero in APA's Education Directorate.


Positive psychology is the scientific study of what goes right in life, from birth to death and at all stops in between. It is a newly-christened approach within psychology that takes seriously the examination of that which makes life most worth living. Everyone's life has peaks and valleys, and positive psychology does not deny the valleys.


Ciarrochi J, Atkins PW, Hayes LL, Sahdra BK, Parker P. Contextual positive psychology: Policy recommendations for implementing positive psychology into schools. Front Psychol. 2016;7:1561. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01561


Nicholas Hall, MAPP '06, is the manager of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business Behavioral Lab. He consults on worker satisfaction and engagement, and sits on the advisory board of Omnirisk Management Tools. His research work focuses on work satisfaction, character strengths, and positive psychology, and is published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.


There are several tests for what is broadly called emotional intelligence. The three well-known scales are the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory, the Emotional Intelligence Scale, and the MSCEIT (Salovey et. al., 2004). The MSCEIT, compared to the other tests, is the one that has the least amount of overlap with other psychological constructs and analytic intelligence, showing it to be a significantly separable and unique construct according to current psychology. (FYI, psychological constructs can include personality, such as the Big Five of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism). The MSCEIT is made up of eight task groups, two for each branch of emotional intelligence as defined by Salovey and Mayer (1990). The four branches of EI represent a hierarchy of abilities:


If you are teaching or know someone who is teaching a course, please enter the positive psychology course information here for everyone to see! This is a public list, so please be aware of that when entering your email address:Enter Your Positive Psychology Course Info HERE


His ability to live this message was acknowledged by students at the University of Michigan. In 2011 they honoured him with The Golden Apple Award for outstanding teaching. Students described the positive impact he had made on their lives.


In a word, no. Since World War II, psychology has focused its efforts on psychological problems and how to remedy them. These efforts have reaped large dividends. Great strides have been made in understanding and treating psychological disorders. Effective treatments now exist for more than a dozen disorders that were once seen as intractable (Barrett & Ollendick, 2004; Evans et al., 2005; Hibbs & Jensen, 1996; Kazdin & Weisz, 2003; Nathan & Gorman, 1998, 2002; Seligman, 1994).


One consequence of this focus on psychological problems, however, is that psychology has little to say about what makes life most worth living. Positive psychology proposes to correct this imbalance by focusing on strengths as well as weaknesses, on building the best things in life as well as repairing the worst. It asserts that human goodness and excellence is just as authentic as distress and disorder, that life entails more than the undoing of problems.


Positive psychology is different from positive thinking in three significant ways. First, positive psychology is grounded in empirical and replicable scientific study. Second, positive thinking urges positivity on us for all times and places, but positive psychology does not. Positive psychology recognizes that in spite of the advantages of positive thinking, there are times when negative or realistic thinking is appropriate. Studies find that optimism is associated with better health, performance, longevity, and social success (Seligman, 1991; Lyubomirsky, King & Diener, 2005), but there is evidence that in some situations negative thinking leads to more accuracy and being accurate can have important consequences (Alloy, Abramson, & Chiara, 2000). Optimistic thinking can be associated with an underestimation of risks (Peterson & Vaidya, 2003). For example, we do not necessarily want a pilot or air traffic controller to be an optimist when deciding whether to take off during a storm.


Positive psychology acknowledges a debt to humanistic psychology, which was popular in the 1960s and 1970s and has many followers to this day. Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers (among others) proposed that people strive to make the most of their potential in a process called self-actualization, which can be thwarted or enabled by a variety of conditions. Humanistic psychology emphasizes the goals for which people strive, their awareness of this striving, and the importance of rational choice in this process.


Alloy, L., Abramson, L., & Chiara, A. (2000). On the mechanisms by which optimism promotes positive mental and physical health. In J. Gillham (ed.) The science of optimism and hope: Research essays in honor of Martin E.P. Seligman (pp. 201-212). Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press.


Christopher Peterson was at the University of Michigan, where he was professor of psychology and organizational studies and former director of clinical training. He held the appointment of Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, in recognition of his contributions to teaching. Peterson was among the 100 most widely cited psychologists in the world. He was a member of the Positive Psychology Steering Committee, a consulting editor to the Journal of Positive Psychology, Perspectives on Psychological Science, and Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the Positive Psychology Book Series Editor for Oxford University Press. He authored A Primer in Positive Psychology, published in 2006 by Oxford University Press, as well as Pursuing the Good Life, selections of his PT blog column.


Positive psychology is the scientific study of human strengths and virtues. It involves an attempt to move toward a more balanced perspective on human functioning that considers motives, capacities, and human potentials. Counseling Psychology historically and presently continues to be one of the few disciplines that highlights the values of fostering human capacities, satisfaction, and well-being. In some form Counseling Psychology always has been a vital part of promoting good health and preventing disease, including mental, physical, and social disorders for individuals and communities. It is in the context that this Section was formed. The aim of the this group is to focus on how Counseling Psychology fosters and builds human strength and well-being and in pursuing this endeavor, furthers the development of positive psychological science and practice. This site includes information about positive psychology research, teaching, and practice as well as events, strengths based books, and resources.


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