Applied Positive Psychology
Facilitating Multidimensional Flourishing
As positive psychology has matured as a field, among its most prominent successes has
been the emergence of a strong applied dimension, known as applied positive
psychology. This burgeoning arena of praxis has involved the development of
interventions and activities designed to promote well-being. This chapter offers an
overview of these efforts, which are organized here according to a multidimensional
meta-theoretical framework known as the LIFE (Layered Integrated Framework Example)
model. This framework features the four main ontological “dimensions” of the person
(mind, body, culture, and society), each of which is stratified into five levels. The model
provides a comprehensive map of the person, and of their well-being, allowing us to
situate and appreciate the range of interventions and strategies that have been
developed within APP.
One of the most prominent and successful aspects of positive psychology (PP) is applied positive
psychology (APP). APP is an overarching term for a burgeoning corpus of positive psychology
interventions (PPIs), activities, and strategies designed to promote well-being. Thus, while PP might
generally be conceptualized as the scientific study of well-being, APP could be defined as the
scientifically based practice of enhancing well-being. The emergence of APP is reflective of the fact
that PP has always had, at its core, a spirit of praxis. In his Nichomachean Ethics (can you please
provide a reference to an accessible version for interested readers?), Aristotle (350 BCE / 2000)
divided human activity into three main types: theōria (contemplative endeavors); poiēsis
(productive/creative disciplines); and praxis (practical occupations, featuring skillful application of
theory). A more recent articulation of praxis was provided by Karl Marx (1845, p. 158), who famously
wrote, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to
change it.” This notion has been influential in the social sciences, where praxis is defined by Foster
(1986, p. 96) as “practical action informed by theory.” In the case of APP, this kind of “practical
action” is specifically in the direction of improving well-being. This spirit of praxis has seen PP being
applied across numerous practical domains, from psychotherapy (Seligman, Rashid, & Parks, 2006)
to education (Seligman, Ernst, Gillham, Reivich, & Linkins, 2009).
In this chapter, I shall consider some of the key practices created or adopted within APP to promote
well-being. Before this though, it is worth briefly touching on the contentious issue of how to
actually define the remit and nature of APP. This includes asking questions around what exactly
constitutes a PPI (and other such activities), and how these might be differentiated from forms of
praxis in other areas of psychology (e.g. clinical psychology).
This is a rather tricky task, with considerable debate around what constitutes necessary and
sufficient criteria for identifying an intervention as a PPI. For instance, Parks and Biswas-Diener
(2014) have identified (and critiqued) three broad definitions of PPIs. Content-level definitions
conceptualize PPIs as interventions that simply focus on “positive topics.” A weakness with such
formulations is that this would encompass any subjectively pleasant activity, with no requirement
that it leads to any beneficial outcome. Variable level definitions require that PPIs exert their
beneficial effects via a recognized theoretical mechanism, such as Fredrickson’s (2001) broaden-and-
build theory of positive emotions. Although this definition is more selective, the concept of a
“positive” outcome often remains vaguely operationalized.
A third type of definition conceptualizes PPIs as practices designed to promote wellness, rather than
alleviate distress or fix dysfunction. However, this formulation overlooks recent developments
around using PPIs for the treatment of psychiatric disorders, such as “positive psychotherapy”
treatments for depression (Seligman et al., 2006). Moreover, all these definitions struggle to
accommodate recent critiques of the foundational notions of “positive” and “negative” themselves
(Lomas & Ivtzan, 2016). Critics argue that ostensibly negative emotions and thoughts may be
conducive to well-being under certain circumstances, while seemingly positively-valenced qualia
might ultimately be detrimental (see, for example, McNulty & Fincham, 2011). This recognition
means it can be difficult to categorically designate a given quality or emotion as being intrinsically
and unequivocally “positive.” As such, seeking to establish a definition for a PPI on the basis that one
of its components is “positive” is likewise problematic. For instance, consciousness-raising activities
of the kind advocated by Paolo Freire (1972) might initially generate feelings of anger—for example,
at societal iniquities—but, through leading to progressive social action, could ultimately improve
well-being. Given that anger is generally appraised as a negative emotion, this would rule out such
activities as being a PPI according to the definitions above, which would be unfortunate from a
Moreover, it may be tricky to appoint a particular intervention as being exclusively a PPI. For
example, one of the most popular and prominent areas of interest within APP is an emerging range
of interventions based around mindfulness (Ivtzan & Lomas, 2015). However, mindfulness-based
interventions (MBIs) were pioneered and developed in clinical settings as treatments for physical
(Kabat-Zinn, 1982) and psychological disorders (Teasdale et al., 2000). As such, it would be hubristic
to claim mindfulness as a PPI (rather than, say, a medical or psychotherapuetic intervention). That
said, recent years have also seen the extensive development and use of MBIs in non-clinical
contexts, such as with school children (Burnett, 2011) or workers in various occupational settings
(Shapiro, Astin, Bishop, & Cordova, 2005). Although such interventions fulfill many of the same
functions as they do in clinical settings—like helping alleviate negative symptoms like anxiety—they
also target positive outcomes, such as academic engagement and performance, for instance
(Beauchemin, Hutchins, & Patterson, 2008). Interestingly though, this indeterminacy around what
MBIs actually are offers a potential way of identifying PPIs. Specifically, PPIs might perhaps be
defined not so much by the practices themselves as by the population they are applied to. That is,
my colleagues and I have broadly defined PPIs as “empirically-validated interventions designed to
promote wellbeing in a non-clinical population” (Lomas, Hefferon, & Ivtzan, 2015, p. 1349). I should
add that this would not stop interventions that are classically regarded as being PPIs—such as
gratitude-based interventions (Emmons & McCullough, 2003)—still being used in clinical settings
and/or harnessed to address mental health issues, as per positive psychotherapy (Seligman et al.,
2006) or positive clinical psychology (Wood & Tarrier, 2010). These latter examples remain a
somewhat gray (and very important) area at the intersection of PP and fields like clinical psychology.
Nevertheless, this general definition does offer a potential heuristic for ascertaining what constitutes
a PPI. My colleagues and I have found this definition useful when teaching about APP, and as such it
is a definition that informs the present chapter. Of particular utility is the fact that this definition
greatly expands the scope of APP, allowing it to draw on a wide range of theories and activities that
can help facilitate well-being. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find discussions of APP being
focused around a relatively small number of interventions that happen to have been developed by
pioneering figures within the field, such as the gratitude-based tasks developed by Emmons and
McCullough (2003), or the “three good things” exercise formulated by Seligman, Steen, Park, and
Peterson (2005). While such PPIs are of course valuable, having been consistently found to enhance
well-being (Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009), it can be frustrating to see the field limiting itself to this
narrowly circumscribed corpus of psychological techniques. In doing so, it risks overlooking the great
wealth of practices—some of which were not developed within the context of PP per se—that may
help to engender well-being.
For instance, PP has been criticized for largely overlooking the impact upon well-being of factors like
the physical functioning of the body (Hefferon, 2013) and sociocultural processes (Lomas, 2015).
However, the field has begun addressing these critiques, as seen with the emergence of paradigms
such as “positive health” (Seligman, 2008) and “positive social psychology” (Lomas, 2015). As such,
this chapter will attempt to give a sense of the newly expanding scope of APP, highlighting the
diversity of strategies for enhancing well-being that can be regarded as within the remit of the field.
In order to do that, I shall organize the presentation using a multidimensional theoretical framework
that my colleagues and I have developed , namely the LIFE (Layered Integrated Framework Example)
model (Lomas, Hefferon, et al., 2015).
The LIFE Model
The LIFE model was created as an orienting framework and pedagogical strategy that enabled my
colleagues and I to organize the diversity of interventions and activities within APP. It involves a
multidimensional conceptualization of the person, and therefore offers a multidimensional approach
to well-being. Such approaches to health and well-being are increasingly common. An early example
is the World Health Organization’s (1948) widely cited definition of health as “a state of complete
physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.” This
formulation recognizes three main dimensions to the person, and their health/well-being—physical,
mental, and social—as does Engel’s (1977) influential biopsychosocial model of health. By contrast,
the LIFE model is based on a model of the person developed by the philosopher Ken Wilber (1997),
which features four dimensions. These dimensions are produced by juxtaposing two common
binaries, thereby creating a parsimonious and logically appealing framework.
The first binary is the contrast between subjective “mind” and objective “body/brain.” This
dichotomy has intrigued thinkers throughout the ages, often being referred to as the “mind–body
problem” (Chalmers, 2004). While there are various philosophical perspectives on this issue, many
assert a version of dualism, acknowledging the reality of both dimensions (even if there are
disagreements around how they interact, as indeed there have been throughout history; Damasio,
2005). This is true of the dominant paradigm in contemporary consciousness studies, the neural
correlates of consciousness (NCC) approach, which proposes that subjective mental states are
accompanied by analogous neurophysiological states (Fell, 2004).
The second binary is between the individual and the collective. This reflects the idea that there are
two fundamental modes of existence, referred to by Bakan (1966) as “agency” and “communion.”
Agency refers to the way people exist as discrete, autonomous individuals, whereas communion
reflects the idea that people are also inextricably embedded in sociocultural networks. Traditionally,
the study of these modes of being has tended to be somewhat compartmentalized, with psychology
focusing on agency, for example. However, theorists have begun to recognize the limitations of
studying these modes in isolation, and the need to explore their complex interactions, as reflected in
the emergence of compound terms like “psychosocial” (Martikainen, Bartley, & Lahelma, 2002).
Wilber’s (1997) innovation was to juxtapose these two binaries—with the “subjective” and
“objective” binary forming two columns (left and right respectively), and the “individual” and
“collective” binary forming two rows (top and bottom respectively)—creating a two-by-two matrix
of four quadrants, shown below in Figure 18.1.
<COMP: Place Figure 18.1 Here>
The subjective-individual quadrant, at the top-left of the matrix, is the domain of the mind, an
umbrella term encompassing all subjective experience, such as thoughts, feelings and sensations (as
well as unconscious subjective dynamics, such as filters and biases). The objective-individual
quadrant, in the top-right of the matrix, is the domain of the body/brain (i.e. physiological
functioning and its link to behavior). The subjective-collective quadrant, in the bottom-left of the
matrix, is the “intersubjective” domain, that is, people’s subjective experience of being enmeshed
within a shared culture (i.e. enjoying similar worldviews and values, such as an “individualist”
ideology). Finally, the objective-collective quadrant, in the bottom-right of the matrix, is the
“interobjective” domain of society, which refers to the structural scaffolding of a culture (e.g.
housing infrastructure or economic systems).
Wilber’s framework represents a powerful tool for conceptualizing well-being in an integrated way.
For example, Hanlon, Carlisle, Reilly, Lyon, and Hannah (2010, p. 307) have harnessed it in public
health to understand the “maze of interconnected problems” which affect well-being. Consider, for
instance, a person experiencing dysphoria in relation to being made unemployed. From the
perspective of the mind, their plight could be appraised in terms of subjective distress, understood
using cognitive theories of psychiatric disorder, and addressed through therapy. From the
perspective of the body, it can be viewed in terms of brain dynamics, understood with
neurochemical theories, and treated through medication. From a cultural perspective, their distress
could be appraised in terms of the meaning of unemployment, understood through constructionist
theories (e.g. concerning the valorization of work in Western societies, and the concomitant censure
of being out of work; Cohen, Duberley, & Mallon, 2004), and tackled by challenging societal norms.
Finally, from a societal perspective, their plight could be viewed in terms of socioeconomic factors
that contribute to and result from unemployment, understood through economic and political
theories, and addressed through efforts toward a fairer society. Essentially, Wilber’s position is that
none of these four perspectives can be considered the “right” one; all have something valuable to
contribute to the situation, and ideally all could be engaged with, to most effectively address the
person’s plight. Thus, Hanlon et al. argue that all these “key dimensions of human experience need
to be considered, harmonized and acted on as a whole” to fully address the well-being of the person
A particular strength of Wilber’s framework is that it is “meta-theoretical.” That is, the framework
itself is “content-free,” in that it does not prescribe or advocate the inclusion of specific theories.
Rather, it provides scholars with a framework that they can use to situate concepts and theories
from their own field. And, this is what my colleagues and I did, using the framework to organize the
various material of interest within APP. However, we also found it useful to create our own
adaptation of the framework, which we labeled the LIFE model. Essentially, our innovation was to
stratify each of the dimensions into five distinct layers, where each level encompasses or supersedes
the level below it, as shown below in Figure 18.2. There are of course many possible ways of carving
up the domains; our way is merely one example—hence the acronym—of how it might be done. As
explained further below, we stratified the mind into: (1) embodied sensations; (2) emotions; (3)
cognitions; (4) consciousness; and (5) “awareness+.” Then we stratified the body/brain into: (1)
biochemistry; (2) neurons; (3) neural networks; (4) the nervous system; and (5) the body (as a
whole). Finally, we stratified both culture and society using the supra-individual levels of
Bronfenbrenner’s (1977) experimental ecology—i.e. (1) microsystems; (2) mesosystems; (3)
exosystems; and (4) macrosystems—plus an additional outer layer, namely (5) ecosystems.
<COMP: Place Figure 18.2 Here>
In the remainder of this chapter, I will show how this framework can be used to organize the various
interventions and concepts within APP. That is, any given intervention can be situated primarily in a
specific dimension, and moreover in a particular level within that dimension. For instance, MBIs
might be placed within the subjective domain, specifically at the level of consciousness (i.e.
awareness). In general then, PPIs that involve psychological techniques for enhancing well-being—
for instance, the kind one could do sitting alone at home, such as mindfulness—can be situated in
the subjective quadrant. By contrast, interventions involving physical actions (such as exercise) can
be situated in the objective quadrant, whereas those concerning relationships (e.g. communication
techniques) belong in the intersubjective quadrant, and those concerning structural features of the
environment (say, its aesthetics and ergonomics) can be placed in the interobjective quadrant. In
saying this, there are two key caveats. First, just because a PPI can be situated primarily in one
domain does not mean that it does not also impact upon the other domains; indeed, the whole point
of an integrated model is that the domains are interconnected. To return to the example of an MBI,
even if we situate this in the subjective quadrant, such interventions will still have manifestations in
the other domains, such as the neurophysiological correlates of mindfulness (situated in the
objective domain), cultural norms relating to practice (situated in the intersubjective domain) and
the physical environment in which practice takes place (situated in the interobjective domain).
The second, and related, caveat is that just because a PPI can be situated primarily in one level does
not mean that it does not also involve the other levels. For instance, while MBIs involve the
development of conscious awareness, evidently one can become aware of the other levels (i.e.
embodied sensations, emotions, thoughts, and higher-level states). Thus, situating a PPI within a
given domain, and describing it as targeting a particular level, is simply a heuristic device. We must
therefore strive to remain cognizant of the complex interrelationships between the domains and
levels. With that in mind, we’ll take the dimensions in turn. Given that my colleagues and I have
deliberately defined APP as having a large remit—namely, all initiatives and interventions “designed
to promote wellbeing in a non-clinical population” (Lomas, Hefferon, et al., 2015, p. 1349)—there
are a great many practices that could be mentioned here. Clearly, it is far beyond the scope of this
chapter to cover all such practices. Rather, the aim is simply to highlight indicative activities, thus
indicating the great scope and potential of APP.
In using the LIFE model to provide an overview of APP, we can start with the subjective domain of
the mind. As noted above, here we can situate PPIs that work on the various levels of the mind via
psychological techniques for enhancing well-being. More specifically, the LIFE model identifies five
phenomenological “strata”: embodied sensations, emotions, cognitions, conscious awareness, and
“awareness+.” Readers interested in how these levels were derived are encouraged to see Lomas,
Hefferon, et al. (2015) for more details. Suffice to say here that one might regard these levels as
proceeding from “lower” to “higher,” emerging in this order both in phylogenetic terms (i.e. the
evolution of the species) and ontogenetic terms (i.e. the development of a person). From an APP
perspective, we can examine PPIs and activities that “work on” the various subjective levels (while
bearing in mind the caveat above that most PPIs impact upon more than one level).
Taking first embodiment, as noted above, PP has begun to respond to Seligman’s (2008) call, in a
paper on “positive health,” for the field to become more than a “neck-up” focused discipline. Thus,
we are seeing the emergence of activities aimed at helping people engage adaptively with their
embodied experience. These include interventions based on practices derived from Eastern religious
traditions, such as yoga (Khalsa, 2007) and Tai Chi (Adler & Roberts, 2006), as well as more
contemporary therapeutic efforts, such as Pilates (Latey, 2001) and other such “Body Awareness
Therapies” (Gard, 2005). Of course, many such activities pre-date the emergence of APP. However,
following our expansive definition of the field—i.e. encompassing all activities/interventions that can
promote well-being in non-clinical populations—these can, and arguably should, be considered as
within the remit of APP, and/or as practices that the field ought to embrace. Moving “up” to the
level of emotions, the importance of these to PP can hardly be overstated, with “positive” emotions
being almost the defining feature of the field. In terms of situating PPIs at this level, though, this
does not simply mean those that promote positive emotions as an outcome (as this is arguably the
aim of all PPIs). Rather, emotion-focused PPIs are those that enhance participants’ ability to work
with their emotions. These can range from PPIs designed to cultivate specifc emotional qualities, like
loving-kindness meditation (Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008), to more comprehensive
interventions aimed at engendering global skills, such as Mayer and Salovey’s (1997) concept of
emotional intelligence (e.g. Crombie, Lombard, & Noakes, 2011).
Moving to the cognitive level, as PP has developed a greater understanding of the impact of
thoughts on well-being, this has led to the creation of cognitively focused PPIs. These include
recalling positive events in discursive prose (e.g. gratitude journals; Emmons & McCullough, 2003),
writing at length about positive memories (Burton & King, 2004), and developing
meaningful/supportive narratives about past traumas or challenges (Pennebaker & Seagal, 1999).
Other interventions include narrative restructuring exercises, where people are helped to engage
with challenging events through activities such as creative arts, and thereby to develop adaptive
narratives around these experiences (Garland, Carlson, Cook, Lansdell, & Speca, 2007). Stepping up
to the level of conscious awareness, the exemplar PPI in this regard is mindfulness, as highlighted
above. In the wake of Kabat-Zinn’s (1982) seminal Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program,
numerous MBIs have emerged. While some are specifically for use in clinical settings—and so by our
definition are not PPIs per se—many others have been used in non-clinical settings, and so certainly
fall within the remit of APP, including ones that specifically align themselves with PP (e.g. Ivtzan et
al., 2016). Finally, meditation is also associated with the kind of advanced states of consciousness
and/or spiritual experiences that fall under the rubric of “awareness+” in the LIFE model. In this final
tier we can situate the various practices people worldwide have created to help them access such
states and experiences. Indeed, researchers have already begun harnessing the power of these
practices in contemporary interventions, including prayer (Mardiyono, Songwathana, &
Petpichetchian, 2011) and contemplation of the sacred (Goldstein, 2007).
We now turn to the objective domain of the physiological body/brain. Here, the stratification is
based on an evident hierarchical configuration, where each level is encompassed by the one above,
as follows: biochemistry (i.e. subcellular mechanisms); neurons; neural networks; the nervous
system; and the body “as a whole.” (This configuration reinforces the point that the LIFE model is
just one “example” of how stratification might occur. One could easily identify other physiological
hierarchies, e.g. featuring more gradations or including other elements.) In terms of APP, in this
domain we can situate interventions designed to act on each given level. Of course, in one sense, all
interventions could be regarded as having an impact on physiology and analysed as such. For
instance, to return to our example of MBIs, there is a proliferation of research into their effects on
various physiological outcomes, from immune system functioning (e.g. Davidson et al., 2003) to
brain-wave activation (Lomas, Ivtzan, & Fu, 2015). Rather, the point here is to situate interventions
that specifically target this domain.
Starting with the biochemical level, medical fields like psychiatry have developed a wealth of
interventions designed to impact upon well-being by altering biochemical processes. A prominent
example is pharmacological treatments for psychiatric disorders, such as selective serotonin
reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications for depression (Ferguson, 2001). Currently, such interventions
would not be considered within the scope of APP, because they tend to be restricted to clinical
populations, and can only be delivered by licensed medical practitioners. However, it remains a
theoretical possibility that, in future, biochemical treatments could fall within the remit of APP. For
instance, Sessa (2007) argues that clinicians should consider using psychoactive substances not only
to treat disorder, but also to actively promote well-being above and beyond an absence of mental
illness (as per the goal of PP). Moving up levels, we find interventions that specifically target neural
populations and networks. For instance, a subset of the aforementioned NCC approach is the
“neural correlates of wellbeing” paradigm (Urry et al., 2004). This paradigm traces the associations
between well-being and specific patterns of neural activity, like greater left-sided hemispheric
activation (Davidson, 2000). Thus, from an APP perspective, there is the possibility of developing
interventions that specifically facilitate these kinds of patterns. A pioneer in this regard is
neurofeedback, in which participants—including even children—can be trained to self-generate
patterns of electroencephalographic brain-wave activity that are conducive to well-being (e.g.
Gruzelier, Foks, Steffert, Chen, & Ros, 2014).
Neural networks can be situated within the nervous system more broadly. As such, neurofeedback is
likewise encompassed by the wider paradigm of biofeedback. For instance, research has suggested
that physiological processes like Heart Rate Variability (HRV) play an important role in well-being;
that is, HRV is regarded as, among other things, an index of regulated emotional responding, such as
generating the emotional responses of “an appropriate timing and magnitude” from a clinical
perspective (Appelhans & Luecken, 2006, p. 229). Consequently, we are seeing the creation of
interventions that help people self-regulate such processes, such as that by Kleen and Reitsma
(2011), who combined HRV biofeedback with mindfulness training.
Finally, in terms of the body “as a whole,” here we are generally concerned with interventions and
activities which impact upon physiological functioning more broadly (rather than being limited to
any of the preceding levels). Perhaps the most obvious and important practice in this regard is
sport/exercise. Research consistently shows that this not only impacts upon physical health—e.g.
reducing the risk of diverse health conditions, from type-2 diabetes (Colberg et al., 2010) to
cardiovascular disease (Vuori, 1998)—but also mental well-being. This effect is partly indirect, as
physical health is itself associated with subjective well-being (Penedo & Dahn, 2005). However, it is
also direct, since exercise is linked to positive affect via mechanisms like endorphin release, the so-
called “runner’s high” (Boecker et al., 2008). For all these reasons, Hefferon and Mutrie (2012) have
described exercise as a “stellar” PPI. Finally, we might also mention the relevance to APP of factors
such as food intake. As with exercise, diet not only indirectly affects mental well-being (i.e. via its
impact on physical health), but also directly. For instance, Ford, Jaceldo-Siegl, Lee, Youngberg, and
Tonstad (2013) observed an association between positive affect and consumption of a
“Mediterranean” diet. Consequently, within the remit of APP are emergent non-clinical
interventions aimed at helping people develop a healthy diet, such as Williamson et al.’s (2007)
school-based obesity-prevention program.
Culture and Society
Finally, we’ll end by considering the collective domains of the LIFE model, i.e. culture and society
(the intersubjective and interobjective realms, respectively). Focusing on these can help redress a
prominent criticism leveled against PP, namely that it tends to “psychologize” well-being—i.e. regard
it primarily as an inner mental state over which the individual has control—and to overlook the
sociocultural factors that impact upon it (Becker & Marecek, 2008), such as educational and
economic opportunities (Prilleltensky & Prilleltensky, 2005). Learning from such critiques, PP can
develop a more comprehensive approach to well-being by taking the collective domains into
account. In the LIFE model, these are both stratified using Bronfenbrenner’s (1977) experimental
ecology, which identifies four sociocultural “levels” of increasing span: micro-, meso-, exo-, and
macrosystems. These levels straddle both quadrants, such that one can analyse all levels from an
intersubjective (e.g. shared values) and/or an interobjective (e.g. structural aspects of that level)
perspective. In addition, the LIFE model adds an outer layer that encompasses all of these, namely
the environmental ecosystem. Thus, in terms of APP, we can use these levels to situate sociocultural
activities and interventions that impact upon well-being.
The microsystem is the immediate social setting of the person, e.g. their family or workplace. From
an APP perspective, perhaps the most prominent microsystemic approach is practices that enhance
the quality of relationships. I have already mentioned some relevant PPIs above; for example, by
generating pro-social emotions, loving-kindness meditation can improve relational connectedness
(Fredrickson et al., 2008). (Indeed, one could argue that the ability for a PPI to impact upon multiple
domains in this way is an indication of its potency.) There are also practices that explicitly focus on
relationship dyads; for instance, Kauffman and Silberman (2009) highlight the use of PP in couples’
therapy to facilitate “growth-fostering relationships,” such as teaching people effective
communication strategies like “active-constructive responding” (Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004).
Such practices are transferable to other microsystems: e.g. active-constructive communication is
promoted in positive organizational scholarship as an effective leadership strategy (Avolio, Bass, &
Jung, 1999). Additionally, from an interobjective perspective, APP initiatives could involve improving
the micro-setting environment. For instance, Gesler’s (1992) work on therapeutic landscapes has
shown that enhancing the aesthetics of one’s milieu—especially via plants and natural light—has a
powerful impact upon well-being.
Next, the broader mesosystem concerns the interaction between microsystems. This level
recognizes that people “exist in inter-locking contexts” which together affect functioning (Sheridan,
Warnes, Cowan, Schemm, & Clarke, 2004, p. 7). Meso-level PPIs involve working with clients across
multiple settings in their lives. For example, in the case of children’s well-being, Sheridan et al. point
out that their two primary microsystems are home and school, which have a “bidirectional,
reciprocal influence over each other” (p. 11). As such, Sheridan et al.’s “family-centred positive
psychology” establishes partnerships between families and schools to address the “academic, social,
or behavioural needs” of a child who is troubled in some way (p. 10). Similarly, the “Families and
Schools Together” program is a successful school-centered intervention—endorsed by Save the
Children—which builds protective factors for children by inviting families into the school to
participate in co-produced activities. Then, broader still, is the exosystem, which refers to the
broader structures in which microsystems are embedded, such as the “local community.” From an
APP perspective, here we can situate the burgeoning range of community-based interventions that
have been designed to promote well-being. For instance, in the UK, the Well London project is a co-
produced initiative in which researchers worked with marginalized communities in the more
disadvantaged areas of the city to develop bespoke strategies to foster health and well-being (Wall
et al., 2009).
The most all-encompassing of Bronfenbrenner’s (1977, p. 515) levels is the macrosystem, namely
“overarching institutional patterns” such as “economic, social, educational, legal, and political
systems.” Although consideration of such systems may seem far removed from the concern of APP,
on reflection these are indeed very relevant to the field. The reason is that most of the practices
outlined above depend upon macro-level processes. For instance, whether or not schools are
enabled/encouraged to implement PPIs like mindfulness depends upon the educational policy of
that country. As such, in terms of APP, we can begin thinking of macro-level interventions, such as
shaping public policy according to well-being considerations (Evans, 2011). A pioneering example of
this is Bhutan, which since 1972 has used Gross National Happiness as an index of social progress
and to inform policy decisions (Braun, 2009). These types of considerations are beginning to be
implemented more widely. For instance, prominent UN-commissioned analyses of global happiness
levels have led to well-being-focused policy-level recommendations (Helliwell, Layard, & Sachs,
2013). Finally, the outer tier of the LIFE model is the environmental ecosystem. Again, this is of real
relevance to APP, since human well-being depends upon the well-being of the planet, both in
proximate terms (e.g. factors like air quality impact upon health) and in existential terms (we depend
on a viable planet for our very lives) (Smith, Case, Smith, Harwell, & Summers, 2013). Thus, from an
APP perspective, here we can include any intervention that helps to improve the environmental
context in which people live. A nice example here is “active commuting” initiatives—e.g.
encouraging people to walk or cycle to work—which not only help reduce carbon emissions, but
have the added “multidimensional” benefit of improving the health of participants (Yang, Sahlqvist,
McMinn, Griffin, & Ogilvie, 2010).
Applications and Future Directions
The chapter has outlined a comprehensive multidimensional approach to well-being, based on
Lomas, Hefferon et al.’s (2015) LIFE model. The model identifies the four main ontological
dimensions of the person—and hence of their well-being—namely, subjective mind, objective
body/brain, intersubjective culture, and interobjective society. The model then stratifies these each
into five levels, introducing further nuance to our appreciation of the dimensions. As this chapter has
shown, this framework can then be used to organize the field of APP, i.e. by situating the various
PPIs and practices within its different dimensions and levels. As a result, we are able to gain an
overarching sense of the great range and scope of APP, allowing us to realize the diverse ways in
which we can endeavor to improve well-being. This model can then be used to help improve
people’s well-being in real-life settings. That is, the central premise of the model—and indeed of the
work of Ken Wilber (e.g. Wilber, Patten, Leonard, & Morelli, 2008), which inspired the model—is
that well-being is a function of all the dimensions, and all the levels with these. Thus, as a broad
generalization, the greater the extent to which all dimensions and levels are addressed and catered
to, the better a person’s well-being will be. Consider, for instance, a person who excels in the
physical dimensions of well-being (e.g. being very healthy, with adaptive physiological functioning),
but is faring badly in terms of the social dimensions of well-being. While their physical well-being
certainly would be a boon, overall their flourishing would be enhanced if they could also improve
their social existence.
The model therefore has implications for people looking to improve well-being, whether for
themselves as individuals, or in terms of a broader organization of people, such as a school or a
company. That is, a powerful way to engender these improvements is to engage in a wide range of
activities/interventions—some of which have been outlined above—targeting as many dimensions
and levels as possible. Indeed, this is the approach outlined by Wilber et al. (2008) in their notion of
“integral life practice,” and interested readers are encouraged to explore Wilber’s work for practical
examples of how a multidimensional approach to well-being might be implemented. Thus, for
instance, a person looking to develop their well-being might not only take up a meditation practice
(targeting the subjective domain), but also a program of physical exercise (targeting the objective
domain) and become involved with a new social commitment (targeting the sociocultural domain).
One might of course become even more specific, and target multiple levels within one domain. For
example, in terms of the subjective domain, in addition to practicing meditation (which pertains
primarily to the level of awareness), one might also take up a practice of Tai Chi (which pertains
primarily to embodiment), a course on emotional intelligence (which pertains primarily to
emotions), start a creative writing habit (which pertains primarily to cognitions), and explore forms
of spiritual practice (which pertains primarily to awareness+). This multidimensional process can
then of course be implemented on an organization-wide basis, e.g. harnessed by managers as a way
of improving the people who belong to such organizations (e.g. companies or schools). Thus, for
instance, a company manager might devise a program of activities for its employees, which taps into
as many of these dimensions and levels as possible.
The model also has implications in terms of a research agenda, as the dimensions and levels of the
model could be used to conduct a comprehensive assessment of well-being. That is, there are
assessment tools that specifically pertain to each level within each dimension, as shown in Table
18.1 below (together with the background theory underpinning/informing that particular tool).
These tools provide an indication of how people are faring in terms of that particular level. Thus, a
global assessment of well-being—for instance of employees within a company—might involve using
a range of such tools, covering as many levels as possible.
<COMP: Place Table 18.1 Here>
This table just includes one indicative example for each level; clearly, there are many more potential
tools that could be used in this regard. Nevertheless, the key point of the table is to simply
emphasize the value of a multidimensional analysis, and provide an example of how this might be
done. That is, a global assessment of well-being would examine as many levels as possible, with well-
being as a whole regarded as a function of all these levels. This is the kind of research agenda that is
made possible by multidimensional frameworks such as the LIFE model. This agenda can then be
allied with the practical agenda recommended by the model, namely endeavoring to enhance well-
being by using activities and interventions pertaining to as many dimensions and levels as possible.
Together, these practical and research agendas show a promising way forward for APP, and will
hopefully be explored further in the years ahead.
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Figure 18.1: Schematic diagram of the four quadrants.
Figure 18.2: The Layered Integrated Framework Example (LIFE) model.
Table 18.1: Table showing indicative assessment tools (and related theories) pertaining to the
dimensions and levels of the LIFE model
The Body-Awareness Scale-
Health (Gyllensten, Ekdahl,
& Hansson, 1999)
Embodied awareness is a key
aspect of well-being (Mehling
et al., 2009)
The Positive and Negative
Affect Scale (Watson, Clark,
& Tellegen, 1988)
The ratio of positive to
negative affect is the first of
two components of
“subjective [i.e. hedonic] well-
being” (Diener, Sandvik, &
The Satisfaction with Life
Scale (Diener, Emmons,
Larsen, & Griffin, 1985)
Judgments of quality of life
are the second component of
“subjective [i.e. hedonic] well-
being” (Diener et al., 1985)
The Mindful Attention and
Awareness Scale (Brown &
Mindful awareness is a
“meta-skill” that impacts
upon multiple aspects of well-
being (Brown, Ryan, &
Spirituality at Work Scale
(Ashmos & Duchon, 2000)
Spirituality is linked to
meaning and purpose, which
are key components of
Cortisol secretion (Schulz,
Kirschbaum, Prüßner, &
Cortisol is a biomarker for
stress (Schulz et al., 1998)
Activation of neurons in
prefrontal cortex (PFC)
(Newberg & Iversen, 2003)
The PFC plays a key role in the
self-regulation of attention
Asymmetric activation of
left hemisphere (Davidson
et al., 2003)
asymmetry is associated with
“approach behaviours” and
positive affect (Davidson et
Increased heart rate
variability (HRV) (Kemp &
HRV is a psychophysiological
marker of physical and
mental health (Kemp &
Self-Rated Health Status
(Miilunpalo, Vuori, Oja,
Pasanen, & Urponen, 1997)
Self-rated health is predictive
of morbidity and mortality
(Miilunpalo et al., 1997)
The Multidimensional Scale
of Perceived Social Support
(Zimet, Dahlem, Zimet, &
Perceived social support is a
key stress buffer (Umberson
& Montez, 2010)
The Readiness for
Scale (Mattick, Bligh,
Bluteau, & Jackson, 2009)
different work teams or fields
reflects the “bridging”
dimension of social capital
(Seibert, Kraimer, & Liden,
Social Network Analysis
(Cross, Borgatti, & Parker,
Social network analysis
reflects the quality of network
ties across an institution
(Cross et al., 2002)
The Spirit at Work Scale
(Kinjerski & Skrypnek,
Spirit at Work is one example
of one’s occupation aligning
with a broader/deeper set of
macro-values, such as
religious orientation and
expression (Kinjerski &
Connectedness to Nature
Scale (Mayer & Frantz,
Connection to nature is a key
aspect of personal well-being,
and at a systemic level is
likewise vital to