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Positive psychology

By Steve Draper,   Department of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.

This page lists a few basic starting points, plus pointers to pages by me about specific applications I'm concerned with that are related to Positive Psychology.

Positive psychology emerged fairly recently as a new area of academic psychology that seeks to study the nature and causes of happiness (as opposed to unhappiness and mental illness), and how to act so as to increase it.

  • Opening statement / account of its origin as a "field"
  • Gable, S., & Haidt, J. (2005) "Positive Psychology" Review of General Psychology, vol.9 no.2 pp.103-110 doi:10.1037/1089-2680.9.2.103
  • Further links are below.
  • Where does the term "PosPsy" originate?

  • Pronouncing "Csikszentmihalyi", pointed out by by Eniko Zsoldos: with other links or 5 sec. video only.

  • "Philebus" by Plato (Socrates) on whether pleasure is the key to happiness

    My own pages / projects related to positive psychology

    1. Dramatic educational improvements inspired by positive psychology, particularly Dweck.
    2. Level 4 option course on Positive psychology
    3. DACE courses some colleagues and I have put on on happiness and positive psychology.
    4. Public health approaches to mental illness,

    5. ASMR = Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, which basically is about the peculiar comfort of watching some vacuous videos and the soothing response this produces in many people. Cf.
    6. mmmHealth
    7. Green Space: how simply spending time in green spaces / outdoors seems to have measurable positive effects.

    Basic links on positive psychology

  • a new (2015) collaborative site about posPsy.     See also: Seph Pennock's site
  • Culture, well-being, and health (Phil Hanlon):   Website and podcasts   Papers
  • Centre for confidence and well-being in Glasgow
  • Self-help podcasts from the university student counselling service. These are not about Positive Psychology from an academic perspective; but are practical self-help.
  • Phil Hanlon's site on Society, Health, and well-being   Starter video
  • Positive psychology center at University of Pennsylvania (Seligman's base)
  • Tal D. Ben-Shahar's Harvard course on Positive Psychology   His website
  • Think tank on using well-being not GDP to run society
  • Jones,A. & Crandall,R. (1986) "Validation of a short index of self-actualization" Personality and social psy.bulletin vol.12 no.1 pp.63-73 This paper gives a short (15 item) questionnaire that measures self-actualization: one possible measure of positivity.
  • Steger on Pleasure vs. meaning of life for happiness:   see also here
    Steger,M.F., Kashdan,T.B., Oishi,S. (2008) "Being good by doing good: Daily eudaimonic activity and well-being" Journal of Research in Personality vol.42 no.1 pp.22-42

    Elaine Fox

  • Elaine Fox
  • Her tests
  • Michael Mosley Horizon programme mentioning her work
  • CBM = Cognitive Bias Modification


    Carol Dweck's work is particularly important for the educational applications, though she has some differences from other positive psychology researchers. For a first getting to grips with Dweck's particular theory, the advice I have had is to read her book "Self-theories".

    I have a page summarising several dramatic published studies of educational gains from interventions which, to me at least, are inspired by Dweck.

    Her main idea or focus is that many learners (prototypically American school children) see all educational tests and tasks as measures of aptitude, showing they are "smart". Consequently if they fail, they do not seek to improve nor to try harder, because of course aptitude is fixed. This attitude is profoundly damaging for learning. "A good education is not so much one which prepares a man to succeed in the world, as one which enables him to sustain failure." (Bernard Iddings Bell)

    The best way into her ideas may be through her books:
    Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (NY: Random House)

    Dweck, C.S. (2000) Self-Theories -- Their role in Motivation, Personality and Development. Essays in Social Psychology (Philadelphia: Psychology Press)

    She also has papers:
    Mueller, M.C. & Dweck, S.C. (1998) "Praise for Intelligence can Undermine Children's Motivation and Performance" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology vol.75, No.1, pp.33-52

    Dweck, C.S. (1986) "Motivational processes affecting learning" American Psychologist vol.41 no.10 pp.1040-1048

    But is mindset a good idea?

    Mindset seems to be about getting people to think the issue with learning is making an effort, not having an aptitude. But is this a benign idea?

    Malcolm Gladwell: "Once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder."

    The book "Mao's last dancer" by Li Cunxin paints an outstanding example of growth mindset, especially the chapter called something like Teacher Xao speaks. Also I suppose a good portrait of the role of teachers (good and bad) in this. It makes it sound deeply unattractive and the enemy of well-being, happiness; but just the thing for getting out of poverty, losing contact with your family, and gaining worldwide celebrity.

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