ArticlePDF Available

Positive psychology coaching: putting the science of happiness to work for your clients, by R. Biswas-Diener and B. Dean

This article was downloaded by:
[Grant, Anthony M.]
11 August 2009
Access details:
Access Details: [subscription number 913840259]
Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,
37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
The Journal of Positive Psychology
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:
Positive psychology coaching: putting the science of happiness to work for your
clients, by R. Biswas-Diener and B. Dean
Anthony M. Grant a
a Coaching Psychology Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Sydney, Australia
Online Publication Date: 01 September 2009
To cite this Article Grant, Anthony M.(2009)'Positive psychology coaching: putting the science of happiness to work for your clients, by
R. Biswas-Diener and B. Dean',The Journal of Positive Psychology,4:5,426 — 429
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/17439760902992498
Full terms and conditions of use:
This article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial or
systematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply or
distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.
The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents
will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug doses
should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,
actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly
or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
The Journal of Positive Psychology
Vol. 4, No. 5, September 2009, 426–429
Positive psychology coaching: putting the science of
happiness to work for your clients, by R. Biswas-Diener
and B. Dean, Hoboken, Wiley, 2007, 272pp., US$50.00
(hardback), ISBN 0-47-0042-46-X.
Coaching and positive psychology appear to be a
perfect fit. Where positive psychology is the scientific
study of what constitutes the life well-lived (Seligman
& Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), the essence of coaching is a
collaborative, solution-focused, action-oriented meth-
odology that aims to enhance the coachee’s personal
and/or professional life experience, goal attainment
and well-being (Grant, 2003). To date, there has been
considerable progress in the field of positive psychol-
ogy as regards understanding human strengths and
values. However, much of the work thus far has been
about investigating the nature of the relationships
between various constructs, such as self-concordance,
well-being, goal attainment and goal satisfaction
(Sheldon & Elliot, 1999), the measurement of con-
structs such as well-being (Ryff & Keyes, 1996) or
the development of a taxonomy of human strengths
(Peterson & Seligman, 2004), rather than research into
how best to operationalize positive psychology con-
structs within a one-to-one helping relationship such as
There have been several book chapters and a
number of journal articles on this topic (c.f., Kauffman
& Scoular, 2004; Seligman, 2007), and there are several
solid texts on using positive psychology primarily
within consulting relationships rather than coaching
(e.g., Linley & Joseph, 2004). However, to the best of
my knowledge, Biswas-Diener and Dean’s Positive
Psychology Coaching is the first complete book to
systematically present the major findings of positive
psychology explicitly for use in coaching practice.
Coaching and positive psychology: an ideal fit?
As Biswas-Diener and Dean argue, coaching and
positive psychology appear to be an ideal fit.
However, if indeed these are such ideal compatriots,
why has coaching received so little attention within the
positive psychology literature? One answer might be
because in the past the commercial coaching industry
has not been held in high regard by many academics,
scientists and scientist-practitioners (Goldstein, 2005;
Salerno, 2005). Indeed, in various quarters coaching
is still regarded with some disdain. To be frank, this
disdain may well be justified as many sections of the
commercial coaching industry have done little to
demonstrate scientific, ethical or intellectual rigor in
either practice, research or coach training, and the
brash marketing by many life coaches is more remi-
niscent of the over-selling found in late-night television
infomercials than in a genuine helping profession.
Given that positive psychology has been at pains to
differentiate itself from the anti-science rhetoric and
faddism frequently associated with the human poten-
tial movement, its distancing from the commercial
coaching industry is understandable.
However, coaching as presented in Biswas-Diener
and Dean’s book, involves the systematic application
of the behavioral science of positive psychology
in the service of enhancing clients’ life experience,
work performance and wellbeing. It is the focus
on the systematic application of the evidence-based
behavioral science of positive psychology and the
incorporation of an informed-practitioner model that
distinguishes the coaching approach in this book from
the all-too-frequent pop-psychology or pseudo-science
seen in many proprietary coaching approaches. It is
this focus and this grounding that makes this book
such a welcome addition to the coaching and the
positive psychology literature. Whilst being theoreti-
cally-grounded and well-referenced, the book is written
in an accessible, conversational style making the text
highly readable, and the authors take care to present
the academic research in a way that makes it easy
to relate it to one’s own personal everyday life
Applied positive psychology: consultant or coach?
The book is primarily written for practicing coaches
who wish to learn about positive psychology, rather
than positive psychologists who wish to learn about
coaching. The authors assume that the reader holds
a relatively sophisticated prior understanding of
coaching. Consequently, the authors do not spend
time explaining the basics of coaching, rather they get
straight into addressing the book’s primary aim,
which is to impart a straightforward understanding
of the research and science of positive psychology
ISSN 1743–9760 print/ISSN 1743–9779 online
ß2009 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/17439760902992498
Downloaded By: [Grant, Anthony M.] At: 12:50 11 August 2009
for use by coaches in real-life coaching practice.
This Biswas-Diener and Dean do particularly well.
Coaches with no previous knowledge of general
psychology, social science or positive psychology will
find this book presents this information in a highly
accessible fashion. Those who already have some
background in positive psychology will find that the
material presented may well provoke new lines of
thought about how to apply positive psychology.
In addition, the book overall presents a convincing
case for the use of coaching as a methodology for
applied positive psychology.
This latter point is important, because the
dominant methodology for the application of positive
psychology found in the academic literature tends
to position the positive psychology practitioner as
someone who gives the client directions as how to
best improve their well-being. Whilst the role of
expert consultant can be a useful one, there is a
danger that positive psychology interventions based on
a consultation model can become overly-prescriptive;
clearly we need to avoid the patronizing ‘take three
blessings and a gratitude exercise daily, and come
back to see me next week’ approach. Indeed, it is
somewhat ironic that overly-prescriptive positive
psychology interventions run the risk of emulating
the worst aspects of the medical model with its
attendant overt power hierarchies and paternalistic
tendencies. Fortunately, Biswas-Diener and Dean
present a collaborative, client-centered coaching
approach that provides an important counter-balance,
and this is an important contribution in the develop-
ment of an applied positive psychology.
Three key sections in the book
The book is presented in three key sections. The first
section addresses foundational concepts of happiness
and positivity. I found this section of the book to have
a welcome pragmatic focus, with the authors empha-
sizing the utility of happiness rather than taking an
evangelistic stance.
The authors make the salient point that coaching
clients rarely, if ever, come to coaching with the
explicit goal of being happy. Rather, clients tend
to present with specific complaints or problems.
As Biswas-Diener and Dean point out, the skill of
the coach lies in being able listen carefully to client
complaints, identity the unstated emotional needs and
then work with the client to help the client set goals
that are both materially and emotionally satisfying.
Indeed, the section on goal setting gives the reader
some useful ways to approach the process of setting
goals from a positive psychology perspective, and
reminds coaches to pay particular attention to issues
of self-concordance and goal conflict.
However, I found the section of the book on the use
of goals to be somewhat over-focused on the main-
stream positive psychology literature. Whilst this focus
is in keeping with the aims of the book, I felt that this
section would have benefited from drawing on the
broader goal literature to a greater extent, particularly
the work of Street (2002) on conditional goal setting,
and Locke and Latham’s seminal works on goals and
task motivation (2002).
Following the discussion of goals, Biswas-Diener
and Dean then go on to present a chapter on ways
to enhance happiness and well-being. This chapter
details a range of evidence-based interventions. Again,
the information in this section was well-referenced
and highly accessible, and most practicing coaches will
have little difficulty in adapting it for use in their own
coaching practice or in their own lives.
The second section of the book centers on character
strengths and virtues, and is predominately focused on
the work of Peterson and Seligman (2004). Whilst this
is a seminal work in the area, it would have been
useful had the book also covered other approaches
to understanding character strengths and virtues.
Nevertheless, this section of the book is a good
introduction to the Values in Action Inventory of
Strengths (VIA-IS; Peterson & Seligman, 2004) for
those coaches not already familiar with Peterson and
Seligman’s approach. Biswas-Diener and Dean also
present an informed perspective on the use of the
VAI-IS in coaching, and this rightly includes a
discussion on cross-cultural issues and a caution on
over-simplistic notions of a strengths approach.
This is important because without a solid under-
standing of the underlying principles and without
a sophisticated coaching skill-set, a strengths-based
coaching intervention can easily come across as
over-simplistic Pollyanna ‘happy talk’ or, even worse,
downright patronizing. Biswas-Diener and Dean dis-
cuss a range of ways to avoid these pitfalls, including
ideas on how to prepare the coaching client for
a strength-based coaching session, and they suggest
a number of ways of introducing the strength-based
paradigm to clients.
Preparing clients for a coaching session is one
thing, but another problem faced by many coaches is
how to prepare themselves for a coaching session. How
can one best get into a strengths-based mindset in
order to facilitate such thinking in the client? The
section on how to use a strengths-based framework to
prepare for a coaching session contained some useful
tips and techniques. For example, in addition to
The Journal of Positive Psychology 427
Downloaded By: [Grant, Anthony M.] At: 12:50 11 August 2009
planning the process of the session (also discussed in
the Appendix), Biswas-Diener and Dean suggest that
coaches mentally prepare for a coaching session by
focusing on and explicitly detailing the clients’
Their well-grounded advice is for coaches to be
themselves, rather than trying to impress clients by
being a ‘super-motivated, all-action achievement
coach.’ This may appear common-sense or even trite
advice, but my experience is that many novice coaches
automatically assume that if they are offering positive
psychology coaching services then they themselves
must always be happy, highly positive, incredibly
motivated, and all aspects of their lives must be
perfect. Biswas-Diener and Dean’s message is clear
and important; know yourself, be yourself and be
authentic in your coaching style.
They also present scripted examples of how such
a session might progress, and this gives some insight
on ways to use the strength-based approach in a
coaching session. Here I felt it would also have been
helpful to have some more scripted examples of how
to deal with client ‘objections’ to the use of a strength-
based approach. This is because most coaches will
have had clients who, despite presenting as being
willing and engaged, still manage to find multiple
reasons why they should spend time in the coaching
session talking about their problems or past difficul-
ties, rather than strengths or solutions, and many
coaches find it difficult to help clients shift from a
problem to solution-focused mindset.
The third section of the book presents a short
overview of special topics in positive psychology,
including its application to jobs, careers and organi-
zations, and a discussion on the future of positive
psychology. This section is much briefer than the
other two sections. It presents useful information but,
because of its brevity, this section had a sense of
unfulfilled promise, and I would have liked to have
read more of the authors’ thoughts and experience
on these issues. Maybe this section will form the
beginnings of their next book on coaching? There are
certainly many coaches practicing in work-related
domains such as executive coaching, organizational
change, and training managers in coaching skills who
would welcome a workplace coaching text on positive
psychology, and this would be a valuable addition to
the coaching and positive psychology literature.
Meta-theoretical issues
An issue that some may consider to be a limitation,
and one which I believe is broadly true of writings on
positive psychology coaching in general, is the lack of
an commonly-used and explicitly-stated overarching
theoretical framework. Although applied positive psy-
chology encompasses a number of theoretical sub-
perspectives (e.g., Deci & Ryan, 1980; Fredrickson &
Losada, 2005) and a number of authors have presented
a range of approaches to a meta-theoretical frame-
work for positive psychology (e.g., Sheldon, 2004), few
authors within the positive psychology coaching arena
detail their underlying assumptions or meta-theoretical
In contrast, other domains of applied psychology
explicitly articulate their assumptions and frameworks.
Contemporary health psychologists for example, tend
to work within a bio-psychosocial perspective (e.g.,
Sheridan & Radmacher, 1992). Where alternative
theoretical orientations are assumed in domains such
as health psychology, for example post-modern or
constructionist frameworks (Hepworth, 2006), those
core assumptions are normally explicitly stated, even if
only briefly.
In addressing issues related to theoretical orienta-
tion, Biswas-Diener and Dean welcome the notion
that positive psychology is transtheoretical, and that
there is no single theoretical framework for positive
psychology. This, they argue, is a good thing because
... (positive psychology) can be accepted in bits and
piece by everyone, without concern for ugly profes-
sional turf wars based on dearly held theoretical
orientations’ (p. 220). Their point has some merit.
However, without an explicit theoretical reference
point, positive psychology coaching runs the risk of
becoming (or perceived as being) a purely simplistic
technique-driven process, resulting in a superficial
one-size-fits-all approach. Although those with a
substantive training in psychology (or the social
or behavioral sciences) will be very familiar with (for
example) cognitive-behavioral or bio-psychosocial
conceptualisations, many individuals who come to
coaching from other backgrounds may not have
such a grounding (Spence, Cavanagh, & Grant,
2006). It may be useful for future work to explicitly
articulate such theoretical frameworks, and in this way
further contribute to the ongoing education of coaches
and the continued development of the field of applied
positive psychology.
Coaching and positive psychology have much to offer
each other. The sustained development of positive
psychology coaching requires that coaches become
informed about the science of positive psychology,
428 A.M. Grant
Downloaded By: [Grant, Anthony M.] At: 12:50 11 August 2009
and conversely, that positive psychologists become
knowledgeable about evidenced-based coaching meth-
odologies. Coaching authors have a vital role to play
in ensuring that coaches have exposure to the research,
practice and the theory of positive psychology.
Fortunately, Biswas-Diener and Dean’s book manages
the rare feat of balancing reader accessibility with
scientific fact, real-life experience with theoretical
frameworks, and optimism with a refreshing dose of
pragmatic realism. This book is a welcome addition
to the coaching and positive psychology literature.
Biswas-Diener, R., & Dean, B. (2007). Positive psychology
coaching: Putting the science of happiness to work for your
clients. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (1980). Self-determination
theory: When mind mediates behavior. Journal of Mind
& Behavior, 1(1), 33–43.
Fredrickson, B.L., & Losada, M.F. (2005). Positive affect
and the dynamics of human flourishing. American
Psychologist, 60(7), 678–686.
Goldstein, S. (2005). Editorial: Coaching as a treatment for
ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 9(2), 379–381.
Grant, A.M. (2003). The impact of life coaching on goal
attainment, metacognition and mental health. Social
Behavior & Personality, 31(3), 253–264.
Hepworth, J. (2006). Strengthening critical health psychol-
ogy. Journal of Health Psychology, 11(3), 401–408.
Kauffman, C., & Scoular, A. (2004). Towards a positive
psychology of executive coaching. In P.A. Linley &
S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive psychology in practice
(pp. 287–302). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Linley, P.A., & Joseph, S. (Eds.). (2004). Positive psychology
in practice. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Locke, E.A., & Latham, G.P. (2002). Building a practically
useful theory of goal setting and task motivation.
American Psychologist, 57(9), 705–717.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character strengths
and virtues. A handbook and classification. Washington,
DC: American Psychological Association.
Ryff, C.D., & Keyes, C.L.M. (1996). The structure of
psychological well-being revisited. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 96(4), 719–727.
Salerno, S. (2005, August 9). Qualifications needed to
be a life coach: er ...none. [Electronic version]. Times
Online. Retrieved December 19, 2005, from www.time,,7-1726677,00.html.
Seligman, M.E. (2007). Coaching and positive psychology.
Australian Psychologist, 42(4), 266–267.
Seligman, M.E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive
psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist,
55(1), 5–14.
Sheldon, K., & Elliot, A.J. (1999). Goal striving, need
satisfaction and longitudinal well-being: The self-concor-
dance model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
76(3), 482–497.
Sheldon, K.M. (2004). Optimal human being: An integrated
multi-level perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates, Publishers.
Sheridan, C.L., & Radmacher, S.A. (1992). Health psychol-
ogy: Challenging the biomedical model. New York: Wiley.
Spence, G.B., Cavanagh, M., & Grant, A.M. (2006). Duty of
care in an unregulated industry: Initial findings on the
diversity and practice of Australian coaches. International
Coaching Psychology Review, 1(1), 71–85.
Street, H. (2002). Exploring the role of conditional goal
setting in depression. Clinical Psychologist, 6(1), 16–23.
Anthony M. Grant
Coaching Psychology Unit
Department of Psychology
University of Sydney, Australia
The Journal of Positive Psychology 429
Downloaded By: [Grant, Anthony M.] At: 12:50 11 August 2009
... Whilst PP can be taught or delivered without a coach (Terni, 2015) the complementary nature and shared goals of the two fields mean that delivering PP using coaching techniques can really help coachees achieve a flourishing state (Biswas-Diener & Dean, 2007). Grant (2009) points out that the field of PPC is still missing research on appropriate methodology of PP to coaching. Programs such as MAPPCP are a step in the right direction and will shed more light on to how exactly the two fields can work together in practice. ...
... ed on findings from interviews with 7 coaches who used PP in their practice. The latter is an empirical research study specifically on effective factors of change in PPC. Literature on how PP is used by coaches in their practice was not found. This could be due to coaches not reporting findings or it could be due to lack of uptake of PP by coaches.Grant (2009) points out that whilst a lot of progress has been made in the realms of PP research, an area that has been overlooked is how exactly coaches can operationalize PP in their practice. ...
Full-text available
Proceedings of papers presentaed at the 3rd Applied Positive Psychology Symposium at Bucks New University, Saturday 20th May 2017
Full-text available
In spite of the potential benefits that strengths-based coaching can bring to organizations, basic questions remain regarding its impact on work engagement and job performance specially among non-executive employees. In a controlled trial study, 60 employees from an automotive industry company participated in a strengths-based micro coaching program over a period of five weeks. The intervention followed a strengths-based coaching approach, grounded in the identification, development, and balanced use of personal strengths to foster positive outcomes. Mixed methods, using quantitative and qualitative measures, were taken. Both the participants and their supervisors completed pre, post, and follow-up questionnaires, and the results indicated that the intervention program was successful in increasing all the study variables after finishing the program. The results also showed the durability of the effects on the outcome variables over time (follow up). Qualitative data supported the study hypotheses. Through open questions inquiring about the outcomes of the program, the participants stated that it helped them to increase performance and well-being. Practical implications suggest that this program can be a valuable short-term applied positive psychology intervention to help employees increase their work engagement and performance and promote optimal functioning in organizations.
Full-text available
Little has been reported about the skills, experience and training of coaches in the Australian context, yet these are critical factors in the ethical practice of coaching. Previous research and experience suggests that formal coach training varies considerably in terms of curricula and quality. At the same time, data is emerging that suggests a significant number of coaching clients may be using coaching as a socially acceptable form of meeting therapeutic needs. This raises questions about the duty of care coaches owe to their clients in safeguarding their mental health and well-being. Similarly, it raises questions about the degree to which current industry training assists coaches discharge that duty of care. In order to explore these issues empirically, a total of 148 Australian coaches answered a questionnaire covering three areas: (i) current coaching practice; (ii) background experience and coach training (iii) ethics and professional affiliations. A minority of respondents reported a background in psychology or counselling, yet more than 10 per cent of respondents indicated that they regularly coached clients in relation to issues commonly associated with serious psychological distress (e.g. fears about personal loss, life crises, social isolation and self esteem). The preliminary data presented here indicate that there is need to identify the range and depth of issues presented in coaching, the training needed for coaches to effectively identify and refer clients with mental health issues, and the limits and responsibilities of our duty of care as coaches.
Full-text available
The authors summarize 35 years of empirical research on goal-setting theory. They describe the core findings of the theory, the mechanisms by which goals operate, moderators of goal effects, the relation of goals and satisfaction, and the role of goals as mediators of incentives. The external validity and practical significance of goal-setting theory are explained, and new directions in goal-setting research are discussed. The relationships of goal setting to other theories are described as are the theory’s limitations.
Full-text available
Despite its high media profile and growing popularity there have been no empirical investigations of the impact of life coaching on goal attainment, metacognition or mental health. This exploratory study used life coaching as a means of exploring key metacognitive factors involved as individuals move towards goal attainment. In a within-subjects design, twenty adults completed a life coaching program. Participation in the program was associated with enhanced mental health, quality of life and goal attainment. In terms of metacognition, levels of self-reflection decreased and levels of insight increased. Life coaching has promise as an effective approach to personal development and goal attainment, and may prove to be a useful platform for a positive psychology and the investigation of the psychological mechanisms involved in purposeful change in normal, nonclinical populations.
Executive Coaching: A Generation ChangeThe Pragmatics: What is Executive Coaching?Toward a New Synthesis: Positive Psychology and CoachingCoaching Techniques and Interventions and their Underlying TheoryHow Small Differences in Perspective can have a Huge ImpactThe Research Conundrum
The past decade has given rise to an increasing interest in relationships between goal setting and depression. Significant relationships have been identified between goal type, goal framing, goal difficulty and goal organisation, and depressive experiences. The present paper explores individuals' motivations controlling goal setting and their relationship to rumination and depression. Findings indicate that whilst some individuals make their personal well-being conditional upon general life achievements, others make the achievement of only one or two specific goals a prerequisite for personal happiness. This specific process has been named Conditional Goal Setting (CGS). Findings suggest that CGS is significantly related to depression. This relationship appears to be mediated by rumination with CGS of achievement goals but not CGS of relationship goals. Findings are discussed with reference to current goals and depression research.
A thorough and up-to-date guide to putting positive psychology into practice From the Foreword: "This volume is the cutting edge of positive psychology and the emblem of its future." -Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Authentic Happiness Positive psychology is an exciting new orientation in the field, going beyond psychology's traditional focus on illness and pathology to look at areas like well-being and fulfillment. While the larger question of optimal human functioning is hardly new - Aristotle addressed it in his treatises on eudaimonia - positive psychology offers a common language on this subject to professionals working in a variety of subdisciplines and practices. Applicable in many settings and relevant for individuals, groups, organizations, communities, and societies, positive psychology is a genuinely integrative approach to professional practice. Positive Psychology in Practice fills the need for a broad, comprehensive, and state-of-the-art reference for this burgeoning new perspective. Cutting across traditional lines of thinking in psychology, this resource bridges theory, research, and applications to offer valuable information to a wide range of professionals and students in the social and behavioral sciences. A group of major international contributors covers: The applied positive psychology perspective Historical and philosophical foundations Values and choices in pursuit of the good life Lifestyle practices for health and well-being Methods and processes for teaching and learning Positive psychology at work.
The commentaries on my original article ‘The Emergence of Critical Health Psychology: Can it Contribute to Promoting Public Health?’ provided engaging views on what critical health psychology (CHP) actually is and does. Consideration of each commentary gave rise to numerous themes and generated my own further thoughts on CHP which I frame as five key areas of a continuing dialogue: (1) reflexivity and CHP; (2) health psychology: pluralist or not? (3) CHP as a moral project; (4) social action and change; and (5) strengthening critical approaches to health. Throughout I highlight concepts and issues that are integral to the capacity of CHP to create a shift towards a reinvigorated action-orientated agenda.