ArticlePDF Available

‘Learning from success’: A close look at a popular positive psychology course



This article is a case study of an undergraduate course in positive psychology taught by Dr Tal Ben-Shahar. The course has been taught three times between 2004 and 2008 in the Department of Psychology at the Harvard University. It is currently being taught at the School of Psychology, ‘Interdisciplinary Center’, Herzliya (one of Israel's leading colleges), in both English and Hebrew. The course's main emphasis is on transformation rather than information, while exploring the main question: ‘How can we help ourselves and others – individuals, communities, and society – to become happier?’ The course was innovative in its content as well as in its teaching methods. When taught, it was the most popular course at Harvard with the largest attendance in the history of the psychology department – with enrollment reaching over 855 students (about one out of every seven undergraduate students). Understanding the uniqueness of this course could contribute to the development of teaching the popular and broad field of positive psychology at the undergraduate level and to varied populations.
This article was downloaded by: [University of Haifa Library], [Pninit Russo-Netzer]
On: 12 December 2011, At: 07:38
Publisher: Routledge
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:
‘Learning from success’: A close look at a popular
positive psychology course
Pninit Russo-Netzer
& Tal Ben-Shahar
Department of Counseling and Human Development, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel,
Haifa 31905, Israel
Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, P.O. Box 167, Herzliya 46150, Israel
Available online: 12 Dec 2011
To cite this article: Pninit Russo-Netzer & Tal Ben-Shahar (2011): ‘Learning from success’: A close look at a popular positive
psychology course, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 6:6, 468-476
To link to this article:
Full terms and conditions of use:
This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic
reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, 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. 6, No. 6, November 2011, 468–476
‘Learning from success’: A close look at a popular positive psychology course
Pninit Russo-Netzer
and Tal Ben-Shahar
Department of Counseling and Human Development, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel;
Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, P.O. Box 167, Herzliya 46150, Israel
(Received 23 November 2010; final version received 7 October 2011)
This article is a case study of an undergraduate course in positive psychology taught by Dr Tal Ben-Shahar.
The course has been taught three times between 2004 and 2008 in the Department of Psychology at the Harvard
University. It is currently being taught at the School of Psychology, ‘Interdisciplinary Center’, Herzliya (one of
Israel’s leading colleges), in both English and Hebrew. The course’s main emphasis is on transformation rather
than information, while exploring the main question: ‘How can we help ourselves and others individuals,
communities, and society to become happier?’ The course was innovative in its content as well as in its teaching
methods. When taught, it was the most popular course at Harvard with the largest attendance in the history
of the psychology department with enrollment reaching over 855 students (about one out of every seven
undergraduate students). Understanding the uniqueness of this course could contribute to the development of
teaching the popular and broad field of positive psychology at the undergraduate level and to varied populations.
Keywords: higher education; teaching positive psychology; positive psychology; education
Teaching positive psychology The message and the
The growing interest in positive psychology in acade-
mia has been demonstrated by the increasing number
of courses and programs offered in leading universities
and colleges worldwide at the undergraduate and
graduate levels (e.g., Linley, Joseph, Harrington, &
Wood, 2006; Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).
A large part of this phenomenon is rooted in the field’s
unique emphasis on the science of happiness, flourish-
ing life, and well-being rather than on stress, trauma,
and dysfunction (Keyes & Haidt, 2003). This science,
which promotes ‘that which makes life worthwhile’,
has the potential of building bridges, specifically
between the ‘Ivory Tower’ and Main Street, i.e.,
practitioners, organizations, and the general public.
The objective of the course discussed in this case
report emphasizes the importance of this potential
to bridge the empirical foundation of academic
research and the accessibility of the ‘self-help’ move-
ment. Combining action and reflection, theory and
practice, is especially important in an applied field
such as positive psychology, aiming to implement
principles and tools of positive human functioning
and flourishing into practice in various
professional domains for individuals, groups, orga-
nizations, and society. Understanding the material is
not enough. The message should be personally relevant
to the life of the teacher as well as to that of his or her
students. Furthermore, it has to motivate the students
to actively practice the principles learned in their lives.
In order to achieve these goals, the course was
constructed based on a cross-disciplinary selection of
topics that are central and important psychological
aspects of a fulfilling and flourishing life. This inter-
disciplinary and integrated approach is manifested
in the incorporation of topics that are at the core of the
positive psychology field (e.g., Carr, 2003), such as
happiness, gratitude, flow, relationships, strengths,
humor, mindfulness, and optimism, together with
various topics that touch on other areas in the science
of psychology but are relevant to the human pursuit
for a life of meaning, fulfillment, and happiness (such
as self-esteem, creativity, perfectionism, goal setting,
and the mind–body connection). The integration of
topics covered under the holistic umbrella of mind,
body, and social environment and physical environ-
ment (Baylis, 2004) has the potential of contributing to
a broader and enriched understanding of well-being
and a thriving life.
*Corresponding author. Email:
ISSN 1743–9760 print/ISSN 1743–9779 online
ß 2011 Taylor & Francis
Downloaded by [University of Haifa Library], [Pninit Russo-Netzer] at 07:38 12 December 2011
We recommend that while constructing a positive
psychology course, the instructor should take some
time to reflect and engage in a personal process,
applying the methodology of appreciative inquiry
(AI; e.g., Cooperrider & Whitney, 2005) into personal
values, vision, and mission. The AI method is based on
the fact that questions tend to focus attention and
therefore exploring and learning from past success and
present potential (‘what works’), both personal and
others. This in turn enables inspiration and positive
energy that may contribute to gaining more clarity on
possible course goals and guiding principles that both
the instructor and the students can benefit from. It is
suggested that the process would include questions that
cover aspects of content and method, such as:
What are the things I’ve learned or done that had
made me happy and contributed to my well-being?
What have I learned from other teachers and courses
I have taken? What was most meaningful for me?
What did I want to learn as a student? What motivates
me to teach this kind of course? What important
messages do I want my students to remember from this
class? If I could put together the class that I would
have loved to have taken as a student, what would it
look like and how can I construct it?
This guideline in constructing the course itself as a
whole is congruent with the statement of Carl Rogers,
‘What is most personal is most general’, and Maslow’s
‘Knowledge of one’s own deep nature is also simulta-
neously knowledge of human nature in general’. The
passion derived from selecting the topics that are most
relevant to the teacher, the kind of issues that he or she
would have liked to study as a student, is contagious
and attracts students. If the material relates to the
teacher personally, it is more likely that other people,
i.e., students, will also benefit from this, especially if
the material presented is based upon personal
The importance of designing and exploring the
contents covered in the course (the ‘What’) highlights
the prominence of the teacher, the facilitator and the
messenger of the message (the ‘How’). How can the
teacher be an effective messenger of that message?
This article addresses the domain of positive psychol-
ogy teaching methods in general, considering the
course’s ‘building blocks’ in particular. The objective
of the teacher in this course is not merely to inform
students about research in the field, but additionally
to transform the way the students see the world.
As Shakespeare said, ‘There is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so’. Happiness is very much
about how we perceive the world.
We shall first present the pedagogical principles
upon which the course is based. Next, we shall discuss
the teacher’s role as the facilitator of the materials in
positive psychology, especially in view of their personal
and sometimes intimate nature. Lastly, we shall
propose some useful methods that were identified as
effective teaching instruments and used in the course
both in the United States and in Israel.
Pedagogical principles
The course’s curriculum is mainly based upon a
fundamental principle, namely the combination of
action and reflection. The class is taught on two
interconnected and yet distinct levels. The first level
is similar to any other psychology class. Students read
seminal academic papers and studies available in the
field. They write papers that must be based upon
academic research and they are tested in exams.
However, there is also a second level that aims at
encouraging application to their personal lives. The
constant integration of these two levels emphasizes
that a good theory is something that works in practice.
As Alfred North Whitehead notes, ‘The careful
shielding of a university from the activities of the
world around us is the best way to chill interest and to
defeat progress. Celibacy does not suit a university.
It must mate itself with action’.
Application is where theory and practice create a
positive reinforcing spiral. For healthy growth, action
must intertwine with reflection, acting upon our
reflections and reflecting on our actions. Reflection
as a self-analysis and meaning-making skill is consid-
ered to be a key component in learning (e.g., McKillop,
2005). Reflection is important, especially in a class
such as positive psychology, where personal growth is
a central concern both as part of the content studied
in class and also for students’ self-development, based
on experience and implementation.
Works of Pennebaker and Seagal (1999) and King
(2001) emphasize the importance of writing, specifi-
cally for increasing positive emotion. Based on the
suggestions from King (2001) and others (e.g.,
Lyubomirsky, Sousa, & Dickerhoof, 2006), students
are encouraged to keep an ongoing journal throughout
the course, documenting personal experiences, aspira-
tions, and goals, as well as issues that were added by
the instructor, such as meaningful insights, personal
failures, or challenges. Other than improving the
students’ well-being and personal development, reflec-
tion has the potential of improving retention. Active
reflection is important to increase learning from
experience (e.g., Keeton, Sheckley, & Griggs, 2002).
Hence, it can make a significant difference both
pedagogically and personally for the students.
In addition to the journals, students are required
to complete experiential exercises, namely written
response papers, every week throughout the course
with the goal being to apply the material to their lives.
The response papers are graded pass/fail, and students
pass if they hand them in. The objective of these papers
The Journal of Positive Psychology 469
Downloaded by [University of Haifa Library], [Pninit Russo-Netzer] at 07:38 12 December 2011
is to enable students to meaningfully experience the
material first-hand and deepen their understanding
and internalization. Integrating exercises that include
intense reflection about ideas discussed in class and
direct experience with key concepts as part of course
requirements has the potential to enliven teaching and
enrich learning. Reflection activities enable students
to gain ‘a sense of agency’ (Eyler, 2002) and develop
meta-cognitive skills. These promote active learning
(Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2002) and empower
the students to take responsibility for their own
learning experience (A.Y. Kolb & D.A. Kolb, 2005).
The method of structured reflection, aiming to foster
connections between the material and practice, is one
of the important dimensions constructing the response
papers used in the course. Each response paper usually
includes three parts: a personal reflection, an action
component, and an open introspection in reference to
the weekly reading list. The first part includes guided
questions, instructions, or sentence completion, with
the intention of providing the students with the
opportunity to reflect on the subject or issue they
have learned during the last week in class. The
reflection is followed by exercises to put the ideas
into practice in the students’ lives, i.e., to explore
different dimensions or aspects of the subject discussed
in action and to report them what they did and how it
impacted them. The final part usually instructs the
students to identify one ‘pearl’ from the weekly
reading, i.e., an interesting idea, a useful tool, or an
insightful comment/quote, and to write a couple of
sentences about it at the end of the response paper.
The students indicated that they were intrinsically
motivated to complete the assignments since they
challenged them to address essential and relevant
concerns in their personal lives and explore issues
they care about. In some cases, it was the first time they
were asked explicit questions concerning issues of self-
development and growth, such as, what is really
important for them or what they really would like to
do with their lives. The opportunity to examine and
explore values, experiences, beliefs, and worldviews
regarding major life concerns, such as happiness,
relationships, and success, can serve as a critical
component of identity exploration, especially dur-
ing emerging adulthood developmental stage (e.g.,
Arnett, 2000).
The final project integrates these processes based
on the course’s objective of bridging the Ivory Tower
with Main Street. The students are required to prepare
a 20–30 min PowerPoint presentation on any topic
within the field of positive psychology. As modeled
in the lectures throughout the course, the students’
presentation should synthesize research-grounded
information (based on empirical readings covered in
class and additional resources) with accessibility and
actionable messages (using stories, film excerpts,
exercises of their choice, etc.). The students are
instructed that with research as the foundation, they
can use their ideas and experiences creatively to
illustrate their claims and make their presentation
more effective and interesting. Each student is required
to present his/her project to a group of at least four
people they choose (friends, colleagues, students,
employees, community members, etc.) before the
project is due, who in turn complete a peer evaluation
form for feedback following the presentation. The final
project includes submission of the following compo-
nents: a written text the presentation script (10–15
pages), including references and one-page handout that
was given to audience members concerning key points
and suggestions for application; printed slides that
were used in the presentation; and four completed
evaluation forms and a one-page summary explaining
how the student integrated the feedback received and
lessons learned from the experience into the final
project (which includes a broad description of the
project’s chosen topic, objectives, thesis, recommenda-
tions, etc.).
This assignment serves as a way of passing on the
messages of positive psychology as well as a method of
learning through teaching others (see e.g., Falchikov,
2001). The many diverse and innovative examples
of ideas and presentations conducted by students
reflected creativity and deep engagement in the pro-
cess, indicating that the students were living the
philosophy as they taught it. Also, many of the
students chose to share their presentation, as well as
ideas and insights, with broader circles beyond formal
The teacher
This section presents a two-part principle which can be
seen as carrying complementary facets concerning the
importance of the teacher to the learning process.
Know thyself : Effective teaching is based upon
knowing one’s strengths and preferences, upon authen-
ticity and integrity. As Palmer (1998) notes, ‘Good
teaching cannot be reduced to technique. Good teach-
ing comes from the identity and the integrity of the
teacher’. The emphasis implemented in the past few
years on classroom technique, including the use of a
board or PowerPoint, is important but not sufficient.
Ultimately, the major issue is that the teacher must
identify his/her strengths and his/her teaching style
and preferences, both on the macro (e.g., seminar vs.
lecture class) and micro levels (e.g., structured lesson
vs. improvization). The teacher must ask himself/
herself what are his/her strengths as a teacher? Is it
being systematic point by point? Is it humor? Is it a
one-on-one connection with students, as often happens
in seminars? Buckingham and Clifton (2001) note,
470 P. Russo-Netzer and T. Ben-Shahar
Downloaded by [University of Haifa Library], [Pninit Russo-Netzer] at 07:38 12 December 2011
‘The real tragedy of life is not that each of us doesn’t
have enough strengths, it’s that we fail to use the ones
that we have’. In view of the unique and personal
nature of the material taught in positive psychology
courses, it is important that the teacher expresses
his/her strengths, both for himself/herself and for the
students’ benefit.
Therefore, effective teaching emerges when there is
passion, when it is most personal, when the teacher
practices what he/she preaches, and when personal
strengths are at play. Authenticity in teaching has been
recognized as a significant concept with respect to
learning and development in both teachers and stu-
dents and has been found to be associated with
encouraging a genuine dialog and reflections on
ideas that matter, especially at the higher education
level (Kreber, Klampfleitner, McCune, Bayne, &
Knottenbelt, 2007). Another meaningful side of
authenticity in teaching is the importance of exposing
oneself, of sometimes climbing out of one’s ‘comfort
zone’ in front of a class. The more the teacher can
bring of himself/herself to the classroom, the more
effective the material transmitted will be.
Modeling the way’: In order to be an effective
and influential teacher, he/she must serve as a role
model, to show the way. Benjamin Franklin noted that
‘Well done is better than well said’, and Ralph Waldo
Emerson remarked that ‘What you do speaks so loudly
that I cannot hear what you say’. The integration
of the message with the messenger cannot be over-
emphasized. A teacher makes an impact when he/she
is authentic and not trying to live up to an image.
This theme is especially evident in research on
emotional and behavioral contagion (e.g., Barsade,
2002; Johnson, 2008). Furthermore, it has been found
that mood contagion is one of the psychological
mechanisms by which charismatic leaders influence
followers (Bono & Ilies, 2006). A leader’s mood can
influence a group’s mood, its affective tone and group
processes (Sy, Coˆ te
, & Saavedra, 2005). The leader,
or the teacher, creates the climate in a classroom,
and therefore, if one wants to create motivation and
passion, one must be motivated and passionate.
There is a story about Mahatma Gandhi that is
told in class which exemplifies this theme. A woman
in India came to Mahatma Gandhi and asked for his
help with her child, who was eating too much sugar.
The Mahatma asked the mother to come back with her
child after a month. When they returned Gandhi said
to the child ‘Stop eating too much sugar!’ to which the
child agreed. The mother, curious and frankly baffled,
asked Gandhi why he had asked them to return after
a month, why could not he have just said that when
they first came. Gandhi responded: ‘A month ago
I was eating too much sugar’. In other words, he first
had to undergo the change in himself that he wanted to
see in the child to stop eating too much sugar, to set
an example. Gandhi’s saying ‘Be the change you want
to see in the world’ reflects the essence of this story.
A teacher who wants to influence and effect a change
in the classroom and among students must begin
with himself/herself by cultivating those characteristics
he/she wants to see in the classroom and in the
students. Research by McNeese-Smith (1997) shows
that if leaders want to be effective, they must exemplify
the behavior they want to see. If they want excellence,
they must exemplify it. If they want an ethical
organization, they must first be ethical themselves.
Throughout the course, the instructor demonstrates
the different ideas presented in class. For example,
modeling the idea of enjoying the learning process
rather than merely the final goal or emphasizing that as
his students, he also experiences failures that are a
natural part of being human, enabling students to
identify with him and learn from his personal stories
about their own lives.
This theme concurs with the importance of teach-
ing and learning as an active process, using first-hand
experiences and in-class activities, aiming to encourage
students to connect with the material through appli-
cation. In conclusion, leading by example, being a role
model for students and an effective messenger for the
material requires authenticity, knowing oneself, and
exemplifying the behavior one wants to see in others.
It must become personal to be effective, both for the
teacher and for the students.
Methods used in the course
The following section explores the methods used in the
course which were identified as effective teaching
instruments both at Harvard and in Israel.
Use of media
The message, the material, is presented through the
use of diverse and eclectic media to cater to multiple
levels of intelligence and to different learning meth-
ods. Building on Gardner’s (1983) work, it is impor-
tant to address multiple intelligence levels of students
as it allows them to both use their own strengths and
enhance their ability to learn, thereby finding per-
sonal meaning in their studies, especially at the higher
education level (e.g., Barrington, 2004). Music is a
critical component of the course’s format. Every class
has a theme song (For instance, ‘I am what I am’ by
Gloria Gaynor or ‘I did it my way’ by Frank Sinatra
for a class on self-esteem; ‘I hope you dance’ by
Lee Ann Womack or ‘Make your own music’ by the
Mamas & Papas for a class on self-concordant goals;
‘When you’re smiling’ by Louis Armstrong for a
The Journal of Positive Psychology 471
Downloaded by [University of Haifa Library], [Pninit Russo-Netzer] at 07:38 12 December 2011
class on emotional contagion; ‘Man in the mirror’
by Michael Jackson for a class on change). There
are a few reasons why it is beneficial to include
music as part of the course, and why a class should
start with a piece of music. Firstly, although not
all kinds of music induce positive emotions (see
Bushman & Huesmann, 2006 for review), our expe-
rience showed that selecting specific types of music
played at adequate contexts throughout the course
arouses positive emotions (Lenton & Martin, 1991)
which, based on the ‘broaden-and-build’ theory
(Fredrickson, 2001), can lead to creativity and more
openness to the material. It can create a positive
atmosphere in the classroom and improve the stu-
dents’ mood, making them ready to absorb informa-
tion and knowledge. Secondly, in accordance with the
work on priming effect (e.g., Bargh & Chartrand,
2000; Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996), beginning a
class with the use of certain words in a song about
relationships, for instance, words about love or about
togetherness, might arouse interest and generate
certain emotions which can be associated with the
topic of the material being taught in that specific
class. Indeed, music and lyrics were found to have the
potential of influencing human behavior (e.g., North
& Hargreaves, 2008). For example, an exposure to
prosocial songs was found to be associated with a
significant increase in tipping behavior (Jacob,
guen, & Boulbry, 2010). Furthermore, single
young women exposed to romantic songs complied
with a dating solicitation more readily than women
exposed to neutral songs (Gue
guen, Jacob, & Lamy,
2010). The third reason for using music has to do
with retention. It was evident, from numerous
students’ accounts following the course, that songs
played in the class served as an auditory trigger for
them, which made them think back to optimism, to
flow, to change, so that the class and its contents
stayed with them for much longer.
Another effective tool which engages the students
through the induction of positive emotions and results
in better retention is humor. Humor helps to relieve
tension, allows sensitive topics to be discussed, and
reduces social distance (Smith & Powell, 1988). Also,
the use of humor with medium diversity throughout
the course makes it possible to deal with the short
attention span of the ‘click generation’ and keeps
students alert and involved. It is important to note that
the use of humor does not necessarily mean that a
teacher who has trouble getting the students to laugh
has to learn to use this powerful tool himself/herself.
Humor can also be ‘imported’ using technology. For
example, funny videos excerpts (from TV, movies,
commercials, etc.) can thus be shown in class. As a rule
of thumb, the course uses one or two humorous videos
in every class.
Stories, quotes, and metaphors
To vividly exemplify the material taught, the course
uses various forms of excerpts and stories extensively.
People naturally think and define themselves through
stories as a way to grasp the world and make sense of it
(e.g., McAdams, 2001). The effectiveness of stories is
rooted in the powerful way they represent and convey
complex, multi-dimensional ideas, making the message
better understood and remembered. As a collective art,
stories make it possible to broaden understanding
in meaningful and relevant ways and therefore can be
used as a highly efficient instructional tool (Kaye &
Jacobson, 1999). Furthermore, they are more convinc-
ing than statistics (e.g., Martin & Powers, 1983) and
bear the potential of moving people much more than
theories because they engage emotions (e.g., Denning,
2002), which in turn can lead to movement and an
impetus to act.
Stories form an important part of every class when
teaching positive psychology topics, regardless of
whether they are personal stories or stories about
other people. Each of the topics discussed in the course
includes presenting a story as an introduction to
research on the topic, followed by an application.
In other words, the story ‘sets the stage’ for a study or
a theory, which in turn leads to action the implica-
tions of the ideas presented and how they can be
implemented in ‘real-life’. It is important to tell stories
that will inspire the students, move them and enable
them to better remember the material. Stories can also
bring research to life. There are some experiments that
are interesting stories by themselves for example, the
experiment of Pygmalion in the classroom (Rosenthal
& Jacobson, 1968) that can be used to exemplify the
importance of beliefs as self-fulfilling prophecies.
Personal stories or biographies bring out emotions
because they humanize a subject, make something feel
real rather than remain abstract. Marva Collins’ story,
for example, can illustrate the importance of role
models, agency, and expectations for positive develop-
ment, whereas Roger Bannister’s four-minute-mile
story may inspire a discussion on positive priming
and self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1997). It is easier to
grasp and relate to a story about a person rather than
to statistics and large numbers. As the Soviet dictator
Joseph Stalin, who put this to bad use, said, ‘One is a
tragedy and millions are a statistic’. Stories make
theories and numbers come alive. Another important
form of communicating messages vividly is the use of
metaphors and quotes. The power of metaphors
and analogies has long been recognized by philoso-
phers and poets (Weick, 2003). Historically, metaphors
have been used in clinical psychology in order to help
clients access intuitive and unconscious material
(e.g., Jung, 1961), and are increasingly considered
to be an important factor in promoting changes in a
472 P. Russo-Netzer and T. Ben-Shahar
Downloaded by [University of Haifa Library], [Pninit Russo-Netzer] at 07:38 12 December 2011
patient during psychotherapy (Martin, Cummings,
& Hallberg, 1992). Research, especially in the field
of leadership, shows that the most effective leaders,
in politics or business, use rhetorical imagery such
as metaphors (e.g., Hartog & Verburg, 1997;
Milward, 2007). Metaphors appeal to the listener’s
diverse senses, engage emotions, imagination, creative
thinking, and values, all of which act to maintain the
vividness of the experience (Conger, 1989).
Throughout the course, quotes are repeated exten-
sively as metaphors. For example, when the impor-
tance of resilience in face of adversity or failures is
studied, Edison is quoted saying, ‘I failed my way to
success’. The same method is used when teaching the
idea of the ‘hedonic treadmill’ which suggests that
people adapt rapidly to positive changes in their
surroundings and soon return to their baseline
levels of happiness (e.g., Brickman, Coates, & Janoff-
Bulman, 1978; Gilbert, Pinel, Wilson, Blumberg, &
Wheatley, 1998; Kahneman, 1999). To highlight this
idea that good and bad events temporarily affect
happiness (Diener, Lucas, & Scollon, 2006), the mes-
sage that is repeated over and over again is that
‘Happiness depends more on our state of mind rather
than on our status or the state of our bank account’.
By the end of the semester students remember this
Making it personal
As stated above, the course deals first and foremost
with issues that relate personally to the students’ lives.
Alongside with introspection, reflections, response
papers, and application on the students’ part, the
personal nature of the material is also reflected onto
the teacher. By sharing personal examples, telling
personal stories, the teacher can create a deeper
connection between himself/herself and students.
Another important aspect of personalizing the material
is the use of experiential demonstrations of the
material throughout the course. This method is pow-
erful because it allows the students to experience
first-hand the benefits of the tool or practice that is
being taught. For example, at the beginning of a class
on mindfulness, the students are led through a few
minutes of meditation. Subsequently, they are exposed
to research on the benefits of meditation. At a class
concerning the permission to be human, the students
are instructed to visualize an experience from their past
in which they gave themselves the permission to be
human, and to reflect on their feelings following the
experience. Afterwards, students are asked to imagine
how they can bring more of these qualities and insights
to their lives today.
The class, while drawing on personal anecdotes,
using music, and other ‘fun’ means, is still rigorous and
based on scientific evidence. It is important to keep in
mind that most people have their personal views and
opinions about happiness and are reluctant to let go
of these even when they encounter conflicting empir-
ical evidence. The class, therefore, whether through
lectures, sections, and readings, emphasizes that what
distinguishes positive psychology from the field of self-
help is precisely the reliance on science. In other words,
personal views and opinions can provide a starting
point, the beginning of the inquiry process, however
the gate keeper protecting the field must be rigorous
research and evaluation.
Lastly, since the course aims to bring about positive
change, a transformation in the students’ lives, it is
important to be aware of a phenomenon known as
‘the honeymoon effect’ (e.g., Goleman, Boyatzis, &
McKee, 2002). This occurs after the students have been
inspired by a lecture; they become excited and want to
make a difference, to make a change in their personal
lives and environment. Very soon after the ‘honey-
moon effect’ wears off, they go back to their base level
of excitement. The issue is how to teach students to
make a significant difference in their lives, a difference
that can yield a lasting change that reaches beyond the
‘honeymoon phase’. Here again, the key is combining
both action and reflection. According to Locke and
Latham (1984) and Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven,
and Tice (1998), the key to lasting change lies in
distancing the students from the need for self-discipline
or control, which is a limited resource, and instead
create rituals. Students learn to set precise goals
and ritualize activities in order to arrive at a routine.
John Dryden, a British poet said, ‘We first make our
habits, and then our habits make us’. The key is to
create positive rituals in the students’ lives through
their own choices and goals, whether it is a ritual
of keeping a gratitude journal, a ritual of meditation,
a ritual of exercising at particular times every week,
or a ritual of spending time with family and friends.
Unique challenges and summary
This article has addressed various concerns regarding
the construction and formation of a positive psychol-
ogy course in higher education, using a popular course
as a case study. The course under discussion consists of
a combination of research, which looks at a phenom-
enon indirectly by studying people, and a search which
looks at a phenomenon directly through introspection.
Many of the students’ evaluations remarked that the
course had changed their lives for the better. In an
attempt to unlock the course’s ‘success code’, it can
perhaps be suggested that several factors combined
The Journal of Positive Psychology 473
Downloaded by [University of Haifa Library], [Pninit Russo-Netzer] at 07:38 12 December 2011
together to explain its popularity. The material’s
relevance and importance to the students’ lives and
well-being, facilitated by accessible and practical tools
along with a supportive and holding environment,
are of special importance considering the variety of
stressors students face during college life, including
academic pressure and multiple demands (e.g.,
Kadison & DiGeronimo, 2004). Striving for a happier
and balanced life, not as one of the many goals to be
obtained in the future, but as a legitimate and
meaningful state to be in the present, may present a
unique challenge, especially at a demanding and high-
achieving university like Harvard. Recent growing
concerns regarding mental health problems among
university students, such as depression and anxiety
(e.g., Eisenberg, Gollust, Golberstein, & Hefner, 2007),
may clarify this urgent need to address issues, such as
personal well-being and self-fulfillment.
By using the methods described above, the teacher
was able to meet the challenges of teaching intimate
issues in large, crowded classes. As mentioned previ-
ously, an important part of the course was based on
writing a journal, as proposed by Pennebaker and
Seagal (1999) and King (2001); this assignment facil-
itates the absorption of the materials in the students’
lives, especially when there is a large crowd of students.
Hence, regardless of class size, personally engaging
students in the material through exercises and journal
writing seems to contribute to their experience, growth,
retention, and depth of understanding.
Another important method used was that of
dividing the class into sections where groups of 20
students met with a teaching assistant (graduate
students and professional group moderators) for one
weekly hour to discuss the material taught in the
course. These group sections formed an integral part of
the class, enabling students to discuss and better
understand ideas from lectures and readings as well
as sharing experiences from the response papers.
The sections also included exercises and activities
in order to get the students to practice and apply key
concepts from the course. The activities were chosen
from varied lecture topics based on the criteria that
they could be easily done by students over a week,
appropriate for a class setting. These activities
stretched the students to take some risks outside of
their ‘comfort zones’ but were not too emotionally
challenging or risky. Some activities took place outside
the classroom setting, according to the topic’s charac-
teristics. For example, in a section concerning mind-
fulness, to give the students a more comprehensive
experience of the concept taught, they were encouraged
to go outside and find private reminders or signs for
personal well-being by association and to share them
with the group. The message was that lessons are
all around us, hidden in a flower, person, etc., likewise
a sign ‘Park Here’ can be used as a reminder to relax,
to be present; a stop sign, to slow down; a flower,
to experience the beauty in the smallest things.
The use of dyadic interactions or working in
small groups is an important tool in a large class-
room, especially when personal and intimate issues
are concerned. The joint work, both in group sections
and in lectures, allowed sharing ideas, insights, and
feelings with one another regarding the relevance of the
material to their lives. For example, during a class on
gratitude and learning to focus on the positive (being
a ‘benefit finder’ rather than a ‘fault finder’), each
student turned to a classmate to share something that
he/she was grateful for, as well as share different
situations from their own lives using the ‘benefit finder’
point of view. Conversational learning enables inte-
gration of thinking and feeling, talking and listening,
and recognizing individuality and relatedness (A.Y.
Kolb & D.A. Kolb, 2005). From students’ accounts
and feedback, it seems evident that working in small-
group sections, along with online communications
(through emails and the course website) enabled them
not only the opportunity for intensive application, but
also to foster relationships building and positive social
connection that may serve as a valuable support system
and a contributor to the their well-being, especially
as undergraduate students during their first years of
higher education.
It is important to note that the exact same course
was taught both at Harvard and in Israel, with the
same success, both in terms of the numerous students
enrolled (relatively to the department’s size) and
in students’ responses and evaluations. In Israel, the
course is taught using the same syllabus, slides, and
exercises, both in English (for a foreign students
program) and in Hebrew (for Israeli students). Its
vast impact was manifested in the different programs
the students in Israel independently initiated based
on the course, aiming for contribution to their com-
munity. A few examples of these projects are programs
for at-risk population in different cities, an interven-
tion program in Sdereot for children living under
the fear of attacks, and a program for sick children
in hospitals.
Furthermore, the same ideas were also taught
in Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe with very few
modifications. The essential ideas, principles, and
methods were the same across different cultures and
countries. As stated, the material taught included
issues that are relevant to people’s lives in different
cultures, emphasizing the study and exploration of the
self, both theoretically based on research and experi-
entially through exercises and application.
In other words, while cultural differences are
important to understand and are certainly very real
and relevant to the study of happiness in terms
of emotion expressions (e.g., Kuppens, Realo, &
Diener, 2008), orientations (individualism/
474 P. Russo-Netzer and T. Ben-Shahar
Downloaded by [University of Haifa Library], [Pninit Russo-Netzer] at 07:38 12 December 2011
collectivism), or motivations (e.g., Oishi & Diener,
2001), similarities, regardless of whether they are
superficial or profound, are more pronounced than
differences. The ‘big developmental theories’ (such as
those of Freud, Erikson, Piaget, etc.) are based upon
their basic premise regarding universal human nature
(e.g., Rutter & Rutter, 1992). Likewise, whereas differ-
ent cultures can highlight different values or have
different elements that they find meaningful, pleasur-
able, and engaging as major components defining one’s
happiness (Seligman, 2002), the essence is the same
people inherently want to be happy and strive to live
a flourishing life. Uchida, Norasakkunkit, and
Kitayama (2004) note that although happiness and
well-being were found to be ‘significantly grounded
in socio-cultural modes and contexts, it certainly does
not deny universal underpinnings of happiness and well-
being’ (p. 235). For example, Australians or Americans
may experience more flow when engaging in individu-
alistic activities, while in Kenya or in China, for
instance, people may find more flow engaging in
group or communal activities. Nevertheless, attaining
happiness, in its different and broad manifestations,
represents a core human, universal, goal that is not
necessarily restricted to specific circumstances or events.
In sum, the topics contained in the field of positive
psychology which address a person’s pursuit of fulfill-
ment and happiness, concerns that are inherent to
human nature, have potential for personal growth as
well as scholarly development. It is possible to bridge
theory and practice and action and reflection by
exploring the self as well as the material. The course
discussed in this article puts a prominent emphasis on
the personal–experiential aspect of learning, enabling
transformation along with information, based on a
premise that to study psychology and to forgo studying
the self, is to forgo the most important source of truth
available to us. It is, to our understanding, the key to
learning not only positive psychology but human
psychology in general. Accordingly, it can be stated that
in order to teach materials as unique as positive
psychology effectively at the higher education level,
one must address both the message and the messenger. It
is our hope that the principles and methods presented in
this article and acquired from the experience of the
course will contribute to broadening the resources
available for teaching in the developing field of positive
psychology at the undergraduate level and beyond.
Arnett, J.J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of
development from the late teens through the twenties.
American Psychologist, 55, 469–480.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control.
New York, NY: Freeman.
Bargh, J.A., & Chartrand, T.L. (2000). The mind in the middle:
A practical guide to priming and automaticity research.
In H.T. Reis & C.M. Judd (Eds.), Handbook of research
methods in social and personality psychology (pp. 253–285).
New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Bargh, J.A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity
of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and
stereotype activation in action. Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, 71, 230–244.
Barrington, E. (2004). Teaching to student diversity in higher
education: How multiple intelligence theory can help.
Teaching in Higher Education, 9, 421–434.
Barsade, S.G. (2002). The ripple effect: Emotional contagion
and its influence on group behavior. Administrative Science
Quarterly, 47, 644–675.
Baumeister, R.F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., & Tice,
D.M. (1998). Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited
resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74,
Baylis, N. (2004). Teaching positive psychology.
In P.A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive psychology in
practice (pp. 210–217). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons.
Bono, J.E., & Ilies, R. (2006). Charisma, positive emotions
and mood contagion. The Leadership Quarterly, 17,
Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (2002). How
people learn: Brain, mind and experience and school.
Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978).
Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative?.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 917–927.
Buckingham, M., & Clifton, D.O. (2001). Now, discover your
strengths. New York, NY: Free Press.
Bushman, B.J., & Huesmann, L.R. (2006). Short-term
and long-term effects of violent media on aggression in
children and adults. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent
Medicine, 160, 348–352.
Carr, A. (2003). Positive psychology: The science of happiness
and human strengths. London: Brunner-Routledge.
Conger, J.A. (1989). The charismatic leader: Behind the
mystique of exceptional leadership. San-Francisco, CA:
Cooperrider, D.L., & Whitney, D. (2005). Appreciative
inquiry: A positive revolution in change. San Francisco,
CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Denning, S. (2002). The narrative lens: Storytelling in 21st
century organizations. Knowledge Directions, 3, 92–101.
Diener, E., Lucas, R.E., & Scollon, C.N. (2006). Beyond the
hedonic treadmill: Revising the adaptation theory of
well-being. American Psychologist, 61, 305–314.
Eisenberg, D., Gollust, S.E., Golberstein, E., & Hefner, J.L.
(2007). Prevalence and correlates of depression, anxiety,
and suicidality among university students. American
Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 77, 534–542.
Eyler, J. (2002). Reflection: linking service and learning
linking students to communities. Journal of Social Issues,
58, 517–534.
Falchikov, N. (2001). Learning together: Peer tutoring in
higher education. London: Routledge-Falmer.
Fredrickson, B.L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in
positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of
positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218–226.
The Journal of Positive Psychology 475
Downloaded by [University of Haifa Library], [Pninit Russo-Netzer] at 07:38 12 December 2011
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple
intelligences. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Gilbert, D.T., Pinel, E.C., Wilson, T.D., Blumberg, S.J., &
Wheatley, T.P. (1998). Immune neglect: A source of
durability bias in affective forecasting. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 617–638.
Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2002). Primal
leadership: Realizing the power of emotional intelligence.
Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
guen, N., Jacob, C., & Lamy, L. (2010). ‘Love is in the
air’: Effects of songs with romantic lyrics on compliance
with a courtship request. Psychology of Music, 38,
Hartog, D.N.D., & Verburg, R.M. (1997). Charisma
and rhetoric: Communicative techniques of international
business leaders. The Leadership Quarterly, 8, 355–391.
Jacob, C., Gue
guen, N., & Boulbry, G. (2010). Effects of
songs with prosocial lyrics on tipping behavior in a
restaurant. International Journal of Hospitality
Management, 29, 761–763.
Johnson, S.K. (2008). I second that emotion: Effects of
emotional contagion and affect at work on leader and
follower outcomes. The Leadership Quarterly, 19(1), 1–19.
Jung, C. (1961). Memories, dreams, reflections. New York,
NY: Vintage Books.
Kadison, R., & DiGeronimo, T.F. (2004). College of the
overwhelmed: The campus mental health crisis and what to
do about it. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Kahneman, D. (1999). Objective happiness.
In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.),
Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology
(pp. 3–25). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Kaye, B., & Jacobson, B. (1999). True tales and tall tales.
Training and Development, 53, 44–52.
Keeton, M.T., Sheckley, B.G., & Griggs, J.K. (2002).
Efficiency and effectiveness in higher education. Dubuque,
IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
Keyes, C.L.M., & Haidt, J. (Eds.). (2003). Flourishing:
Positive psychology and the life well-lived. Washington,
DC: American Psychological Association.
King, L.A. (2001). The health benefits of writing about life
goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27,
Kolb, A.Y., & Kolb, D.A. (2005). Learning styles and
learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher
education. Academy of Management Learning and
Education, 4, 193–212.
Kreber, C., Klampfleitner, M., McCune, V., Bayne, S., &
Knottenbelt, M. (2007). What do you mean by
‘‘Authentic’’? A comparative review of the literature on
conceptions of authenticity in teaching. Adult Education
Quarterly, 58, 22–43.
Kuppens, P., Realo, A., & Diener, E. (2008). The role of
positive and negative emotions in life satisfaction judgment
across nations. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 95, 66–75.
Lenton, S.R., & Martin, P.R. (1991)The contribution of
music vs instructions in the musical mood induction
procedureBehavioral Research Therapy 29, 623–625.
Linley, P.A., Joseph, S., Harrington, S., & Wood, A.M.
(2006). Positive psychology: Past, present and (possible)
future. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 3–16.
Locke, E.A., & Latham, G.P. (1984). Goal setting:
A motivational technique that works. Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Lyubomirsky, S., Sousa, L., & Dickerhoof, R. (2006). The
costs and benefits of writing, talking, and thinking about
life’s triumphs and defeats. Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, 90
, 692–708.
Martin, J., Cummings, A.L., & Hallberg, E.T. (1992).
Therapists’ intentional use of metaphor: Memorability,
clinical impact, and possible epistemic/motivational
functions. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,
60, 143–145.
Martin, J., & Powers, M. (1983). Truth or corporate
propaganda: The value of a good war story.
In L. Pondy, P. Frost, G. Morgan, &
T.C. Dandridge (Eds.), Organizational symbolism
(pp. 93–107). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
McAdams, D.P. (2001). The psychology of life stories.
Review of General Psychology, 5, 100–122.
McKillop, C. (2005). Storytelling grows up: Using storytelling
as a reflective tool in higher education. Paper presented at
the Scottish Educational Research Association conference
(SERA 2005), November 24–26, Perth, Scotland.
McNeese-Smith, D. (1997). The influence of manager
behavior on nurses’ job satisfaction, productivity, and
commitment. Journal of Nursing Administration, 27, 47–55.
Milward, R.E. (2007). Leaders understand the power of
words. Journal of Leadership Studies, 1, 81–83.
North, A.C., & Hargreaves, D.J. (2008). The social and
applied psychology of music. Oxford: Oxford University
Oishi, S., & Diener, E. (2001). Goals, culture, and subjective
well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27,
Palmer, P.J. (1998). The courage to teach. San Francisco, CA:
Pennebaker, J.W., & Seagal, J.D. (1999). Forming a story:
The health benefits of narrative. Journal of Clinical
Psychology, 55, 1243–1254.
Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the
classroom: Teacher expectation and pupils’ intellectual
development. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Rutter, M., & Rutter, M. (1992). Developing minds. London:
Penguin Books.
Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Authentic happiness. New York,
NY: Free Press.
Seligman, M.E.P., Steen, T.A., Park, N., & Peterson, C.
(2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation
of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.
Smith, C.M., & Powell, L. (1988). The use of disparaging
humor by group leaders. The Southern Speech
Communication Journal, 53, 279–292.
Sy, T., Coˆ te
, S., & Saavedra, R. (2005). The contagious
leader: Impact of the leader’s mood on the mood of group
members, group affective tone, and group processes.
Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 295–305.
Uchida, Y., Norasakkunkit, V., & Kitayama, S. (2004).
Cultural construction of happiness: Theory and empirical
evidence. Journal of Happiness Studies, 5, 223–239.
Weick, C.W. (2003). Out of context: Using metaphor to
encourage creative thinking in strategic management
courses. Journal of Management Education, 27, 323–343.
476 P. Russo-Netzer and T. Ben-Shahar
Downloaded by [University of Haifa Library], [Pninit Russo-Netzer] at 07:38 12 December 2011
... This variation is perhaps not surprising as there are few quantitative or qualitative evaluations of these courses, leaving educators with an inadequate research base upon which to design them. Most investigations simply provide narrative descriptions of these courses from the educators' perspectives (Russo-Netzer & Ben-Shahar, 2011), and as a result, neglect students' perspectives. As students are privy to otherwise inaccessible insights about courses (Busher, 2012), understanding their perspectives aids in designing courses tailored to their needs, which in turn, may increase their engagement with, and learning, in these courses. ...
... Furthermore, in developing this comprehensive positive psychology course, we considered it important to introduce wellbeing theory at the outset of the course and use this theory to structure course content. In line with this recommendation, a case study of the popular positive psychology course offered at Harvard University identified the integration of theory and practice as a key objective (Russo-Netzer & Ben-Shahar, 2011). Additionally, we ensured lecture content was well aligned with the wellbeing enhancing activities prescribed, and we included reflective writing activities, along with setting applied assessment tasks, to encourage students to use these activities. ...
Undergraduate positive psychology courses are typically semester-long educational courses or units of study dedicated to providing students with an understanding of the science of wellbeing and the factors contributing to optimal human functioning. A number of universities around the world offer positive psychology courses, yet little is known about students' perspectives of these courses. Evaluating students' perspectives may enable educators to modify courses to better address students' needs, which in turn, may increase engagement with, and learning in these courses. This study provides an in-depth account of students' perspectives on a positive psychology course offered at an Australian university. After completing the course, nine students participated in focus groups to discuss their experiences. Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, three superordinate categories (and 14 subcategories) were identified , namely, interest in wellbeing, beneficial to wellbeing, and balancing competing needs. Participants expressed interest in learning about wellbeing, experienced the course as beneficial for wellbeing, and recognised several challenges in delivering course content. The richness of these results supports the utility of assessing and evaluating students' perspectives using a qualitative approach, and the emerging themes provide insights into the aspects of positive psychology courses more broadly that may enhance students' learning and wellbeing. ARTICLE HISTORY
... Moreover, these beneficial effects on mental health may carry over into physical health, in as much as they reduce the impact of stress and result in healthier lifestyles (Hernandez et al., 2018;Park et al., 2016;Proyer et al., 2018). While there have been some successful attempts to involve whole educational institutions in positive psychological approaches (Oades et al., 2011;Seligman et al., 2009), the most practical and realistic way to increase the benefits of positive psychology in the context of education may be to develop courses that are readily accessible to a larger audience (Ramachandram, 2016;Russo-Netzer & Ben-Shahar, 2011;Shimer, 2018). ...
... Positive psychology courses at the college level may have especially strong potential for improving human happiness and other aspects of health and well-being (Goodmon et al., 2016;Maybury, 2013;Smith et al., 2021). First, they not only can give students the opportunity to learn about happiness and what may make them happy, healthy, and well, but can also include research-based activities and exercises students can experiment with to find what works best for them (Russo-Netzer & Ben-Shahar, 2011;Shimer, 2018). Second, since positive psychology may be relevant for everyone and not just traditional college students (Peterson & Seligman, 2004;Seligman, 2011), courses can be developed and adapted for different ages, cultural contexts, and life situations. ...
Full-text available
This study investigated the effects of an 8-week online positive psychology course on happiness, health, and well-being. There were 65 undergraduate students in the course and a comparison group of 63 undergraduates taking other online psychology courses. The participants were assessed on positive mental health (e.g., happiness, positive emotions), negative mental health (e.g., anxiety, depression), general health, and personal characteristics (e.g., hope, resilience) during the first and last week of the courses. The anxiety and depression measures had cut-offs for clinically significant symptoms. The hypotheses were that the positive psychology students would have significant improvements on all measures and a reduction in the percent anxious and depressed relative to the comparison group. The hypotheses were supported with large effect sizes for positive and negative mental health (mean ds = 0.907 and − 0.779, respectively) and medium-to-large effects for general health and personal characteristics (d = 0.674 and mean ds = 0.590, respectively). There was a reduction from 49.2 to 23.1% percent anxious and from 18.6 to 6.2% percent depressed with no change in the comparison group. In addition, improvements in the online positive psychology course were compared with a previous study of a similar face-to-face positive psychology course (Smith et al., 2021) showing the effect sizes for improvements relative to the comparison groups were larger in the online vs. face-to-face course (mean ds = 0.878. vs. 0.593). Possible explanations for these differences are discussed along with the implications for maximizing the benefits of positive psychology courses in the future.
... When positive psychology has been taught in college classrooms over the last fifteen years it has been incredibly popular and gained press attention at schools like NYU, Yale, and Harvard (Engle, March 2021;Russo-Netzer, & Ben-Shahar, 2011). Specifically, the use of media, including music, the intentional use of humor and telling stories was leveraged in each class and supported the "themes" for each topic. ...
... The surveys, the anecdotes, the research and the feedback from student and professors alike makes for a compelling case: positive psychology taught through a well-being course in the college classroom is a class students want to take and -if they are given the opportunity to take it -can improve student well-being. Prestigious schools have demonstrated that these classes are a proven accessible method, classes are well-attended, and make a positive impact (Russo-Netzer, & Ben-Shahar, 2011, Smith et al, 2020). ...
Reports indicate that a mental health crisis of epidemic proportions continues to grow within the US college student population. More than twenty five percent of today’s US college students struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues (Eisenberg & Ketchen Lipson, 2019). The COVID-19 pandemic changed life on college campuses for the entire 2020-2021 academic year. To date, little is known about the impact of COVID-19 on the average US college student’s experience and well-being. The following exploratory study seeks to understand the impact of COVID-19 on US college students, identify what tools and resources are accessible to them through their colleges, and discover what additional support they would utilize if accessible. This study begins with a literature review focused on the field of positive psychology, including an overview of its principal goals and methodology. The study then moves to analysis of a self- report survey of 124 US college students using descriptive statistics and qualitative analysis. The qualitative and quantitative analyses are supported with professor and student feedback. Finally, this study takes a closer look at the state of well-being curriculum in US colleges today. Drawing on prior research in positive psychology and the results of the self-report survey of US college students, this study highlights the promising role of a positive psychology course (Russo-Netzer, & Ben-Shahar, 2011) as a potential solution to improve student well-being. A semester long course curriculum is proposed for US colleges to adopt in their pursuit toward helping students thrive.
... The concept of positive education emerged shortly after positive psychology was founded as schools became increasingly aware of the need to improve the wellbeing of their students (Seligman et al., 2009), prompted by data on the poor state of mental health for young people around the world (Slemp et al., 2017). Positive education uses theories and models from positive psychology, such as Seligman's (2011) PERMA theory of wellbeing, and applies them in the form of interventions at educational institutions ranging from primary schools to universities (Russo-Netzer & Ben-Shahar, 2011;Waters & Loton, 2019). However, positive education interventions rarely focus on improving teacher wellbeing alongside that of students. ...
Full-text available
This systematic literature review summarises the research into interventions intended to improve the wellbeing of educators in the early childhood to secondary sectors. A search of articles published between 2000 and 2020 yielded 23 articles that met our inclusion criteria. Studies were included if they collected quantitative or qualitative data about educator wellbeing pre-intervention and post-intervention from the same group(s) of educators. We classified articles into five categories based on their content: multi-foci (several content areas included in a program), mindfulness, gratitude, professional development (classroom practice oriented), and physical environment. The articles revealed wide variations in: wellbeing theories underpinning interventions, the phenomena measured, and the effectiveness of the interventions. In some studies wellbeing was conceptualised as the absence of negative states (such as stress), in other studies to the presence of positive states (such as satisfaction), and in a few studies as the combination of both these approaches. Some of the gaps noted across the research include the lack of attention to the role of the school climate in determining the success of an intervention, and the lack of analysis to explore whether interventions work better for some individuals than others (for example, a lack of reporting of the characteristics of participants who drop out of the interventions). Overall, the multi-foci interventions show the most promise for improving educator wellbeing.
... Moreover, positive psychology courses have the potential to be intrinsically rewarding for students [45,53], as they learn evidencebased strategies to improve their SWB while having the unique opportunity to put them into practice. As such, positive education courses have emerged across the globe, including the positive psychology courses offered at Harvard and Yale University, which were rated as the largest university class with 855 and 1182 students, respectively [51,54]. ...
Full-text available
The profile of subjective well-being (SWB) in university students is perturbing in many respects. Indeed, university students are in need of tools to combat stress and promote SWB now more than ever given the adverse repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Positive education could serve as a SWB tool to help university students deal with academic, personal, and global stressors. While a number of studies have quantitatively reported the impact of positive education on student SWB, few have considered students’ experiences and perceptions of changes in their SWB as a result of taking a positive education course. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to qualitatively explore university students’ experiences in a positive education course and their perceptions of its influence on their SWB immediately after taking the course. Undergraduate students ( n = 17) who had taken a positive education course during the Winter term of 2020 (January–April) were recruited via volunteer sampling. Data were collected by means of semi-structured interviews and analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis. Analyses revealed that the course improved the students’ SWB, self-compassion, mindfulness, and optimism. Mechanisms such as greater self-reflection, implementation of intentional positive activities, and big picture thinking underlie these reported improvements. Our findings support positive education’s effectiveness in enhancing student SWB and expand on the current literature by proposing novel mechanisms linking positive education to enhanced student SWB, self-compassion, mindfulness, and optimism.
... This insight may be instrumental in cross-cultural contexts, where clients and psychologists have differing worldviews. However, many studies on PPI exposure focus on western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) populations (Henrich et al., 2010), attendant with surging numbers of these students studying positive psychology (Russo-Netzer & Ben-Shahar, 2011;Shimer, 2018). The experiences of students in non-Western contexts, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), remain relatively unknown. ...
Full-text available
Background An increasing number of undergraduate positive psychology courses offer students a holistic view of the broader discipline of psychology. Even short-term participation in positive psychology activities as part of a taught course may improve psychological well-being and lower stress. However, there is a dearth of qualitative evidence on how students experience this learning process. Objective This study aimed to explore UAE-based undergraduate students’ reflections on their experiences of an elective positive psychology course and their participation in various positive psychology interventions (PPIs). Method This qualitative study explored 21 UAE-based undergraduate students’ reflections on taking a semester-long positive psychology course, in which they participated in PPIs. The rich data from semi-structured interviews were analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis. Results Three main themes emerged, namely rethinking positive psychology, changes in perspective on happiness and search for positivity, and enhanced relationships. Conclusion and Teaching Implications The study suggests that positive psychology may reach past the time and space of the taught course and have at least a short-term positive impact on students' mental and social lives. Findings from this study imply the potential of positive psychology in higher education and point towards further integration of such courses in undergraduate programs in the UAE and beyond.
This study investigates how an employee's core self‐evaluation (CSE) affects their self‐regulation depletion in response to leader injustice. To reconcile the conflicting predictions of CSE reported in the existing leadership and justice literature, we propose and test a self‐esteem contingency model for CSE, drawing on the self‐determination theory (SDT) account of the self‐regulatory process. We hypothesize that when an employee's CSE is heavily contingent on the leader's approval and recognition (denoted as high‐level leader‐contingent self‐esteem), CSE facilitates a controlled form of self‐regulation in response to leader injustice, leading to self‐regulation depletion. Conversely, when one's CSE is less contingent on the leader's approval (denoted as low‐level leader‐contingent self‐esteem), self‐regulation facilitated by CSE in the presence of leader injustice is less of controlled, reducing the likelihood of self‐regulation depletion. Our results and implications from three studies consistently supported our main hypothesis regarding the three‐way interaction of leader injustice, CSE and leader‐contingent self‐esteem, as well as highlighting the potential downside of a follower's self‐esteem being overly reliant on their leader's treatment.
Full-text available
Courses that target wellbeing have grown in higher education. Positive Psychology Interventions (PPIs), the empirically validated activities designed to generate wellbeing, form the bulk of these courses. Their effectiveness has been documented across global meta-analyses; but less so in the Middle East/North Africa region and in classroom settings. Given the stigma of mental health, we developed and evaluated a happiness and wellbeing course to determine whether it could yield greater wellbeing in the United Arab Emirates. A semester-long happiness and wellbeing course (i.e., positive psychology) offering weekly PPIs was evaluated against pre- and post measures of subjective wellbeing, positive and negative emotion, a fear of happiness, locus of control, individualism and collectivism, somatic symptoms and stress. Only a statistically significant decrease in participant’s fear of happiness was recorded; no other impact was evident. PPIs, while normally effective, may be less so in raising wellbeing in a classroom setting where academic pressures may conflict with necessary insight and growth. Alternatively, it may be that these interventions are less effective in non-Western contexts where happiness and wellbeing are not considered urgent or essential goals, and where distress and wellbeing may co-exist more comfortably. Thus, despite such courses being of great interest in popular discourse and regularly used to support government agendas and institutional initiatives, they may not always be impactful routes to building the wellbeing of young people in higher education. More critical assessment of their outcomes and further study into how they can be better adapted for regional audiences is the way forward.
Full-text available
This research was published in Thai, entitled "การพัฒนารูปแบบการจัดการเรียนรู้วรรณคดีไทยตามแนวคิดจิตวิทยาเชิงบวกโดยใช้รูปแบบ PERMA กับการจัดการเรียนรู้โดยใช้คุณลักษณะที่เป็นจุดแข็งเป็นฐานเพื่อสร้างเสริมสุขภาวะของผู้เรียนระดับมัธยมศึกษา." To access a published version, please visit the link below:
Milton Friedman once argued that the free market system has been the most effective economic system in lifting millions out of poverty and that greed is a key component of that system. While greed has been almost universally condemned throughout major world religions, economists such as Friedman, have argued that there are some benefits to greed in free market economies. In this chapter, I explore the positive case for greed in a market economy argued by John Meadowcroft. Ultimately, I argue that while there are benefits to society derived from individuals pursuing their self-interest, in contrast, the effects of greed on society are harmful. I then suggest solutions on how society can help shape the character of its citizens through education in the arts and positive psychology in an effort to curb the excesses of greed.
Full-text available
The memorability, clinical impact, and possible epistemic and motivational functions of therapists' intentional use of therapeutic metaphor were examined in 4 dyads of experiential psychotherapy. Clients tended to recall therapists' intentional metaphors approximately two thirds of the time, especially when these metaphors were developed collaboratively and repetitively. Clients rated therapy sessions in which they recalled therapists' intentional use of metaphors as more helpful than sessions in which they recalled therapeutic events other than therapists' intentional metaphors. Four distinctive epistemic and motivational functions of therapeutic metaphor were observed.
Positive Psychology in Practice in the ClassroomLessons Learned from ExperienceConclusion: Positive Psychology as One Part of the Science of Well-Being
What is positive psychology? Positive psychology is concerned with the enhancement of happiness and well being, involving the scientific study of the role of personal strengths and positive social systems in the promotion of optimal well-being. The central themes of positive psychology, including Happiness, Hope, Creativity and Wisdom, are all investigated in this book in the context of their possible applications in clinical practise. Positive Psychology is unique in offering an accessible introduction to this emerging field of clinical psychology. It covers: available resources including websites and test forms, methods of measurement, a critique of available research, recommendations for further reading. Positive Psychology will prove a valuable resource for psychology students and lecturers who will benefit from the learning objectives and research stimuli included in each chapter. It will also be of great interest to those involved in training in related areas such as social work, counselling and psychotherapy.
In this article, the author describes a new theoretical perspective on positive emotions and situates this new perspective within the emerging field of positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory posits that experiences of positive emotions broaden people's momentary thought-action repertoires, which in turn serves to build their enduring personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources. Preliminary empirical evidence supporting the broaden-and-build theory is reviewed, and open empirical questions that remain to be tested are identified. The theory and findings suggest that the capacity to experience positive emotions may be a fundamental human strength central to the study of human flourishing.
In this article, the author describes a new theoretical perspective on positive emotions and situates this new perspective within the emerging field of positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory posits that experiences of positive emotions broaden people's momentary thought-action repertoires, which in turn serves to build their enduring personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources. Preliminary empirical evidence supporting the broaden-and-build theory is reviewed, and open empirical questions that remain to be tested are identified. The theory and findings suggest that the capacity to experience positive emotions may be a fundamental human strength central to the study of human flourishing.