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A Positive Psychology Intervention Program in a Culturally-Diverse University: Boosting Happiness and Reducing Fear

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Abstract

While developing excellence in knowledge and skills, academic institutions have often overlooked their obligation to instill wellbeing. To address this, we introduced a 14-week positive psychology intervention (PPI) program (Happiness 101) to university students from 39 different nations studying in the United Arab Emirates (N = 159). Students were exposed to 18 different PPIs. Pre, post, and 3-month-post measures were taken assessing hedonic and eudaimonic well-being, and beliefs regarding the fear and fragility of happiness. At the end of the semester, relative to a control group (N = 108), participants exposed to the Happiness 101 program reported higher levels of both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being, and lower levels of fear of happiness and the belief that happiness is fragile. Boosts in life satisfaction and net-positive affect, and reduction of fear of happiness and the belief that happiness is fragile were maintained in the Happiness 101 group 3 months post-intervention.
J Happiness Stud
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-018-9993-z
1 3
RESEARCH PAPER
A Positive Psychology Intervention Program
inaCulturally‑Diverse University: Boosting Happiness
andReducing Fear
L.Lambert1 · H.‑A.Passmore2· M.Joshanloo3
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018
Abstract While developing excellence in knowledge and skills, academic institutions
have often overlooked their obligation to instill wellbeing. To address this, we introduced
a 14-week positive psychology intervention (PPI) program (Happiness 101) to university
students from 39 different nations studying in the United Arab Emirates (N = 159). Stu-
dents were exposed to 18 different PPIs. Pre, post, and 3-month-post measures were taken
assessing hedonic and eudaimonic well-being, and beliefs regarding the fear and fragility
of happiness. At the end of the semester, relative to a control group (N = 108), participants
exposed to the Happiness 101 program reported higher levels of both hedonic and eudai-
monic well-being, and lower levels of fear of happiness and the belief that happiness is
fragile. Boosts in life satisfaction and net-positive affect, and reduction of fear of happi-
ness and the belief that happiness is fragile were maintained in the Happiness 101 group
3months post-intervention.
Keywords Positive psychology· Positive psychology interventions· Culture· Fear of
happiness· Fragility of happiness· Wellbeing· United Arab Emirates
1 Introduction
Organizations such as business and governments are now taking a serious interest in their
constituents’ wellbeing and are identifying ways in which wellbeing can be improved.
Concern for constituents’ wellbeing is also important within academia. Focusing on the
delivery of academics along with the application of skills to promote wellbeing, posi-
tive education (Green etal. 2011)—an extension of positive psychology—views schools
* L. Lambert
ltlamber@yahoo.com
1 Canadian University Dubai, Box117781, Dubai, UAE
2 University ofBritish Columbia, Kelowna, BC, Canada
3 Keimyung University, Daegu, SouthKorea
L.Lambert et al.
1 3
and universities as ideal developmental settings in which to teach the social, moral, emo-
tional, and intellectual skills required to enhance and sustain individual wellbeing (Nor-
rish etal. 2013; Oades et al. 2011; Seligman etal. 2009; Waters 2011; White and Waters
2015). Empirically validated interventions and programs that target student wellbeing have
become part of this focus. Yet, the subject of wellbeing in education remains marginal, as
it is often considered to deviate from academic learning (Shoshani and Steinmetz 2014;
White 2016). However, youth need guidance beyond academics in order to become fully
flourishing adults who contribute to society and the workplace in meaningful ways, while
flourishing in their personal lives (Kern etal. 2015; Wong, 2011). Thus, the challenge for
universities is to find ways to fulfill their role and responsibility in cultivating wellbeing
by teaching young adults the skills they need to flourish (Oades etal., 2011; Waters, 2011;
White and Waters, 2015).
2 Why Focus onWellbeing?
Greater wellbeing offers a myriad of benefits to individuals and the societies in which they
live. In a review of 225 studies, Lyubomirsky etal. (2005a, b) showed that while access
to tangible resources can lead to greater happiness, the weight of evidence suggests the
reverse to be true. That is, that greater initial wellbeing results in greater subsequent ben-
efits across multiple domains, in the areas of employment, relationships, health, and even
personal finances. Indeed, the benefits of greater wellbeing across many life domains are
well established. For example, individuals with higher wellbeing had superior financial
earnings (Judge et al. 2010), exhibited more compassion and cooperation (Lount 2010;
Nelson 2009), and volunteered more often as well as donated more time and money (Aknin
et al. 2013; Priller and Shupp 2011) compared to those with lower levels of wellbeing.
Individuals with high wellbeing are also more likely to use seatbelts (Goudie etal. 2012),
engage in physical activity (Huang and Humphreys 2012), eat nutritious diets (Boehm and
Kubzansky 2012) and be non-smokers (Grant etal. 2009). Less racial bias and more pro-
social behaviour are found among those with high wellbeing (Johnson and Fredrickson
2005). Experiencing positive emotions, a proxy for wellbeing, has been demonstrated to
enhance attention, generate more frequent and flexible ideas, and boost one’s creative prob-
lem solving skills (Kok etal. 2008). In the workplace, employees with greater wellbeing
are more productive, satisfied, and committed to their careers (Erdogan etal. 2012); more-
over, optimism (another proxy for wellbeing) predicts workplace success and confidence in
career-related decisions (Creed etal. 2002; Neault 2002).
3 Positive Psychological Interventions
Wellbeing is, to some extent, malleable (Lyubomirsky et al. 2005a, b), particularly via
engaging in activities specifically geared towards that end. Within the domain of positive
psychology, such actions are deemed Positive Psychology Interventions (PPIs); PPIs are
empirically validated, purposeful activities designed specifically to increase the frequency
of positive emotions and experiences, and which help to facilitate the use of actions and
thoughts that lead to flourishing (Sin and Lyubomirsky 2009). PPIs have been successfully
used by organizations (Mills etal. 2013) and in healthcare (Kahler et al. 2014; Lambert
D’raven etal. 2015) and clinical settings (Huffman etal. 2014; Seligman etal. 2005, 2006).
A Positive Psychology Intervention Program ina…
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PPIs are cost effective and easy to deliver, while being non-stigmatizing and lacking side
effects (Layous etal. 2011). Several meta-analyses (Bolier etal. 2013; Hone et al. 2015;
Sin and Lyubomirsky 2009; Weiss etal. 2016) have evidenced that PPIs reliably increase
wellbeing and reduce depressive symptoms over time.
Recent reviews have illustrated the broad range of validated PPIs (see Lambert D’raven
and Pasha-Zaidi 2014a; Rashid 2015). For instance, individuals can reinforce their rela-
tionships via capitalization, the act of responding positively to other’s good news and sup-
porting their efforts (Gable and Reis 2010). Kind acts distract individuals from problems,
raise self-efficacy, and increase happiness (Dillard etal. 2008; Dunn et al. 2008), while
writing about positive events increases wellbeing and decreases depression (Burton and
King 2009; Shapira and Mongrain 2010), much like writing about or showing gratitude
(Boehm etal. 2011; Lyubomirsky etal. 2011). Finding positive benefits in the experience
of negative events also results in less depression, as shown in Helgeson etal. (2006) meta-
analysis. Other PPIs have demonstrated efficacy in shielding individuals against stress and
negative emotions; these include becoming selective about whom, and in what activity, one
invests emotional time and energy (Aaker etal. 2011; Dunn etal. 2011), and developing
purpose by asserting one’s values, (Creswell etal. 2005; Diener etal. 2012).
Although PPIs have been successfully implemented in some educational institutions
(Brunwasser etal. 2009; Seligman etal. 2009; Shoshani and Steinmetz 2014), the need for
positive education has more commonly been identified at the primary and secondary levels.
For example, a review by Waters (2011) highlighting primary and secondary school-based
programs illustrates the breadth of, and possibilities for, the use of PPIs in educational set-
tings. Such programs have focused on the development of gratitude (Froh etal. 2009; Froh
etal. 2008), mindfulness (Broderick and Metz 2009; Huppert and Johnson 2010), charac-
ter strengths (Park and Peterson 2008), and resiliency (Seligman etal. 2009), with each
program/PPI improving anxiety, depression, somatic complaints, optimism, relationships,
hopelessness, the ability to deal with stress and trauma, in addition to improving school
performance. A meta-analysis of 213 programs from kindergarten through high school
substantiated Water’s review, providing further evidence that positive interventions lead to
stronger achievement test results (Durlak etal. 2011). Such evidence negates the concern
that focusing on wellbeing detracts attention from academic learning (Bernard and Walton
2011; Suldo etal. 2011).
Nonetheless, despite this evidence of the benefits of positive education, higher educa-
tion is frequently left out of discussions involving the implementation of wellbeing skills
(Norrish etal. 2013; Oades etal. 2011). As such, few PPI programs exist in post-secondary
institutions. In the current study we aimed to address this gap; we offer evidence of a PPI
program delivered to a group of international university students in the United Arab Emir-
ates (UAE).
4 Divergent Views onHappiness
Although wellbeing yields many benefits, recent research is challenging long-standing
assumptions about the universal desirability of happiness. Culture and religion significantly
affect how happiness is understood, pursued, and desired (Diener etal. 2013; Lambert D’raven
and Pasha-Zaidi 2014b), with studies revealing negative perceptions of happiness. Indeed, fear
of happiness and a belief in its fragility exist across a range of cultures (Joshanloo 2013a;
Joshanloo and Weijers 2013). For example, Joshanloo and Weijers (2013) found that in the
L.Lambert et al.
1 3
West, depressed patients often express the fear of becoming happy and losing control over
their emotions. This fear is also prevalent in Asian cultures where happiness is believed to
threaten relationships, invite jealousy, upset social harmony, or bring disaster. In Islamic
cultures, the expression of happiness is further believed to tempt fate and call forth the evil
eye, and is thought to make individuals appear less serious, mature, and responsible, as well
as facilitating a path to sin. In Iran, sadness is viewed favorably and is often associated with
insight and personal depth (Joshanloo 2013a), causing individuals to shun the expression of
happiness.
As such, fear of happiness revolves around the belief that positive emotions, such as joy,
excitement, or cheerfulness, can bring forward negative consequences (Joshanloo etal. 2014).
Fragility of happiness involves the belief that happiness is controlled by a higher power, is
subject to its will, and can be extinguished if pursued too vehemently and, thus, is fragile
and fleeting (Joshanloo etal. 2015). Research shows that fear and fragility beliefs are preva-
lent across many cultures, but more so in non-Western cultures, including the Islamic ones
(Joshanloo etal. 2014, 2015). Thus, despite the benefits of happiness on wealth, health, and
relationships, the belief that happiness is desirable is not universally shared.
Religious beliefs embedded within cultural beliefs also appear to directly influence happi-
ness and wellbeing. Indeed, studies consistently evidence that religion is a source of wellbeing
in itself (Abu-Raiya etal. 2016; Kashdan and Nezlek 2012; Tay etal. 2014), in particular with
respect to Muslims (Gulamhussein and Eaton 2015; Parveen etal. 2014; Sahraian etal. 2013;
Thomas etal. 2016). Moreover, religious people in religious nations have higher levels of hap-
piness than do religious people in nonreligious nations (Diener etal. 2011). Consequently, cul-
ture and religion indeed matter in questions of wellbeing (see also Magyar-Moe etal. 2015).
Advocates have strongly encouraged that the next stage in positive psychology’s development
is to consider wellbeing from diverse cultural views (Tajdin 2015; Wong 2013). Scholars have
noted the well-established need in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region for a cultur-
ally-appropriate approach to viewing, and enhancing, wellbeing (Lambert et al. 2015); this
region currently lacks academic scholarship in the positive psychology field (Brannan et al.
2013; Joshanloo 2016; Rao etal. 2015). Accordingly, more investigation is required to deter-
mine whether the fear and fragility of happiness can be manipulated, whether the use of PPIs
in a predominantly non-Western setting can achieve wellbeing gains over time, and whether
levels of religiosity are impacted by education about, and use of, PPIs. We sought to help
address this research gap.
5 The Present Study
The purpose of this study was, thus, twofold: (1) to evaluate changes in wellbeing after partici-
pating in a semester-long happiness program relative to a control group, and (2), to examine
the impact of such a program on the fear and fragility of happiness beliefs, as well as religios-
ity, among a culturally diverse group of university students.
A Positive Psychology Intervention Program ina…
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6 Method
6.1 Participants
A total of 268 students participated in the study (Tx group: n = 159; male = 62, female = 97,
age range: 17-43, Mage = 21.11, SDage = 3.41; Control g roup: n = 108, male = 56,
female = 52, age range: 18-35, Mage = 21.44, SDage = 2.79). A broad range of nationalities
(39 in total) were represented with Nigerian (10.01%), Emirati (7.5%), and Indian (7.1%)
composing the largest groups (see Table1 for detailed counts). Participants were predomi-
nantly Muslim (77.61%) followed by Catholic/Christian (12.69%; see Table1 for detailed
counts). All students (with the exception of 13 participants who were Emirati nationals in
the intervention group and 7 in the control group) were expatriate students currently living
in Dubai (UAE) and enrolled in a 4-year university program. All participants were from the
same university; intervention group participants were enrolled in the Introduction to Psy-
chology course while control group participants were not enrolled in the course. The major
and year of each student was not solicited as the course was an open elective and students
Table 1 Nationalities and religions of participants
Nationality Frequency Percentage Nationality Frequency Percentage
Nigerian 27 10.1 Sudanese 1 0.4
Emirati 20 7.5 Australia 1 0.4
Indian 19 7.1 Brazilian 1 0.4
Jordanian 17 6.3 Cameroun 1 0.4
Iranian 16 6.0 Greek 1 0.4
Pakistani 16 6.0 Korea 1 0.4
Syrian 16 6.0 Polish 1 0.4
Chinese 14 5.2 Serbian 1 0.4
Kazakhstan 14 5.2 South African 1 0.4
Palestinian 14 5.2 Sri Lankan 1 0.4
Egyptian 12 4.5 Turkmenistan 1 0.4
Lebanese 12 4.5 Ukraine 1 0.4
Afghanistan 7 2.6
Libyan 7 2.6
Russian 7 2.6
Iraqi 5 1.9 Religion Frequency Percentage
Yemeni 5 1.9 Muslim 208 77.6
Algerian 4 1.5 Catholic/Christian 34 12.7
Armenian 3 1.1 None 19 7.1
Moroccan 3 1.1 Hindu/Sikh 3 1.1
Saudi 3 1.1 Buddhist 2 0.7
Tajikistan 3 1.1 Bahai 1 0.4
Tanzanian 3 1.1
Bahraini 2 0.7
Filipino 2 0.7
French 2 0.7
Italian 2 0.7
L.Lambert et al.
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came from a diversity of programs such as engineering, IT, communications, architecture,
and health sciences. All students were from second year onwards as the course required a
1year English prerequisite. The language of teaching is English.
6.2 Procedure
The Ethics Review Board granted approval for the study; all participants gave informed
consent and were informed that they could withdraw their results from the study at any
time. A total of 10 introductory psychology sections were offered from January 2015 to
the end of 2016 in which students participated in the 14-week Happiness 101 program
(Lambert 2012, 2016), which was previously developed by the first author and evaluated
in a primary healthcare setting (Lambert D’raven etal. 2015). The Happiness 101 program
was embedded in the Introduction to Psychology courses taught by the first author and
primary investigator, the status of which students were aware. The program was presented
to students as a program that had been shown to work in other cultures. While students
were aware that their responses were part of a study, emphasis was placed on the infor-
mation and interventions rather than on the research aspect of the study. Measures were
taken at the start and end of the 14-week program and again at 3months post-treatment. To
maintain objectivity, the data were analyzed independently by the second and third authors.
Eighteen validated PPIs were undertaken during classes over the course of the semester
(e.g., engaging in good deeds, writing a gratitude letter, using mindfulness, savoring; see
Table2 for an overview of the program including the full set of PPIs employed), with rec-
ommendations to practice them over the course of the week.
Many intervention studies have been criticized for merely assessing one or a handful of
PPIs in isolation, and for not being framed upon a theoretical orientation to contextualize
or guide their work (Gander etal. 2016). The Happiness 101 program is structured accord-
ing to the PERMA (Seligman 2011) model. The PERMA model highlights five pathways
(Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments) thought
to best reflect the ways in which individuals achieve wellbeing. Various PPIs were selected
to reflect each pathway, much like the Gander etal. (2016) study, which used PERMA as
its theoretical orientation and evaluated the overall effects of selected PPIs according to
each pathway. For instance, writing a gratitude letter was included in the pathway of Rela-
tionships, savoring in the Positive Emotion pathway, and writing a reverse bucket list in the
Accomplishments pathway. In addition, positive psychology concepts such as adaptation
(Lyubomirsky 2011), flow (Csikszentmihalyi 1990), the broaden and build model (Fre-
drickson 2006), and the architecture of sustainable happiness (Lyubomirsky etal. 2005a,
b) were introduced. Understanding how positive psychology contrasts with traditional psy-
chology was also discussed as part of psychology’s historical development. Group discus-
sions, along with written or in-class activities, facilitated instruction. Although religious
beliefs and beliefs regarding fear and fragility of happiness were of interest in the study,
these constructs were not directly addressed in the classes or written materials. Participants
received course credit; participants were not involved in any additional university support
programmes.
6.3 Measures
Wellbeing is multidimensional and comprises both feeling good and functioning well,
hedonia and eudaimonia respectively (Keyes and Annas 2009; Ryan and Deci 2001; cf.
A Positive Psychology Intervention Program ina…
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Table 2 Overview of happiness 101 program and PPI used
Content Week 1 and 2 Week 3 and 4 Week 5 and 6 Week 7, 8, and 9 Week 10 and 11 Week 12 and 13
Theme Introduction to Positive
Psychology
PERMA
Pathway of Positive
Emotion
Pathway of Engagement Pathway of Relation-
ships
Pathway of Community
Relationships
Pathway of Achievement
Pathway of Meaning
Content Happiness myths
Positive (and main-
stream) psychology
PERMA model (Selig-
man 2011)
Positive emotion
(Broaden & Build,
Fredrickson 2006)
Sustainable happiness
(Lyubomirsky etal.
2005)
Engagement; flow (Csik-
szentmihalyi 1990)
Adaptation (Lyubomir-
sky 2011)
Capitalization (Gable
2013)
Communication
Why people matter
Value of good deeds
Social media and rela-
tionships
Gratitude to deepen
relationships
What is meaning?
Achievement
The road ahead
PPIs used Mindfulness (Brown
etal. 2007)
Reduce over- thinking
(Lyubomirsky and
Tkach 2003)
Record the positive
(Kurtz and Lyubomir-
sky 2013)
Write/think
about + experiences
(Burton and King
2004)
Savoring (Bryant and
Veroff 2006)
Optimism (Carver etal.
2010)
Self-talk (Hardy etal.
2001)
Letting go (Watkins etal.
2013)
Three good things
(Seligman etal. 2005)
Plan a date (Lambert
2009/2012)
Active-constructive
responding (Gable
2013)
Good deeds (Aknin and
Dunn 2013)
Retreat from social
media (Ferguson and
Kasser 2013)
Gratitude letter (Duck-
worth etal. 2005)
Best Possible Self (Shel-
don and Lyubomirsky
2006)
Goal setting (Sheldon
etal. 2010)
How to be remembered
Family tree (Fischer etal.
2010)
L.Lambert et al.
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Kashdan etal. 2008). Both hedonia and eudaimonia are necessary for complete flour-
ishing and wellbeing (Kern etal. 2015; Keyes 2005; Waterman etal. 2010), thus, both
feeling good and functioning well were assessed. We used a variety of measures not
only to capture nuanced aspects of well-being, but also to help determine if differences
or gains in well-being held true across different well-being measures (as per Passmore
etal. 2017). This was of particular interest with respect to eudaimonia, given the diverse
conceptual backgrounds informing this construct (e.g., Keyes 2002; Huta and Water-
man 2014; Ryan etal. 2008; see also review by Lambert etal. 2015). As noted in the
introduction, we felt it equally important to assess the effects that learning about, and
using, PPIs would have on beliefs regarding the fear and fragility of happiness as well
as impact on level of religiosity. Moreover, given the direct contribution that religiosity
has on well-being, we also deemed it important to control for religion in our analyses as
it is possible that initial levels of religiosity could affect well-being trajectories of our
participants.
A total of eight measures were utilized (described in detail below): two measures of
hedonic well-being: (1) Scale of Positive and Negative Experience, (2) Satisfaction with
Life Scale; two measures of eudaimonic well-being: (1) Flourishing Scale, (2), Question-
naire of Eudaimonic Well-Being; one measure of overall mental health: The Mental Health
Continuum—Short Form; two measures pertaining to happiness beliefs: (1) Fear of Hap-
piness Scale, (2) The Fragility of Happiness Scale; and one measure of religiosity: Brief
Version of the Santa Clara Strength of Religious Faith Questionnaire.
Scale of Positive and Negative Experience (SPANE; Diener et al. 2009, 2010). The
12-item SPANE measures positive feelings (SPANE-P), negative feelings (SPANE-N),
and the balance between the two (SPANE-B). It is considered appropriate to use in cultur-
ally diverse settings as it does not include lists of emotions that might be problematic for
non-English speakers, rather it uses terms like “good”, “bad”, “positive” and so forth. The
SPANE was shown to have good reliability and validity (Diener et al. 2010), as well as
high factor loadings for the SPANE-P and SPANE-N. The construct validity of the overall
SPANE was good, with moderate to very high correlations with other emotion and wellbe-
ing measures. Cronbach’s alphas in the current study were between .74, and .81.
Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS; Diener etal. 1985). The 5-item SWLS assesses an
individual’s overall judgment of satisfaction with their life as a whole versus specific life
domains (Pavot and Diener 2008). Items (e.g., “I am satisfied with my life”, “If I could live
my life over, I would change almost nothing”) are rated on a 7-point scale with end points
of 1 = strongly disagree and 7 = strongly agree. Scores range from 5 to 35, with the neutral
point at 20. The SWLS has been shown to have high internal consistency (0.79 and higher),
while test–retest reliability and convergent validity is also high (Pavot and Diener 1993).
The SWLS is a widely used wellbeing measure (Larsen and Eid 2008; Pavot and Diener
2008). Cronbach’s alphas in the current study were .74, .76, .74.
Flourishing Scale (FS; Diener et al. 2009). The FS is an 8-item measure of social
psychological prosperity. It includes the following: having a sense of competence, feel-
ing engaged and interested, reporting meaning and purpose, feeling a sense of optimism,
accepting the self, having supportive and rewarding relationships, contributing to the well-
being of others, and being respected by others. Items (e.g., “I am engaged and interested
in my daily activities”, “I am optimistic about my future”) are rated on a 7-point scale
ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree. The FS has shown high reliability
and validity in college student samples (Diener etal. 2010). The construct validity of the
FS was acceptable, based on its moderate to high correlations with scores on several other
wellbeing measures (rs = .78, 73). Cronbach’s alphas in the current study were .80, .84, .83.
A Positive Psychology Intervention Program ina…
1 3
Questionnaire of Eudaimonic Well-Being (QEWB; Waterman et al. 2010). Eudaimonic
wellbeing involves the development of potentials and fulfillment of personal goals; thus,
it is based on activity and not solely on what individuals think about their life or feel at a
given moment. The 21-item QEWB measures effort, self-discovery, enjoyment, purpose and
meaning, development of one’s potentials, and involvement. Waterman etal. (2010) found all
items to load onto a single factor with high internal consistency suggesting altogether that the
psychometric properties of the QEWB can be considered acceptable. Examples of the items
include, “I believe I have discovered who I really am” and “When I engage in activities that
involve my best potentials, I have this sense of really being alive”. Cronbach’s alphas in the
current study were .76, .79, .80.
The Mental Health Continuum Short Form (MHC-SF; Keyes 2009). The MCH-SF meas-
ures three sources of wellbeing, i.e., social (social integration and contribution), emotional
(positive emotion and satisfaction with life), psychological (autonomy and personal growth).
The 14-item scale has been validated across many cultural contexts (Joshanloo et al. 2013;
Khumalo etal. 2012) and has good test–retest reliability over 3months (Lamers etal. 2012).
Diagnoses range from flourishing mental health (upper limits), languishing (lower limits),
and moderate mental health for those who are neither flourishing nor languishing. Recently,
the MCH-SF was tested in student samples from 38 different countries (N = 8066; Zemojtel-
Piotrowska etal. 2018). Zemojtel-Piotrowska and colleagues recommended the use of an over-
all mental health score—that is, treating scores from the MCH-SF as a single dimension—
given that differentiation between the subscales was not strongly pronounced, particularly in
more collectivistic countries. Thus in the current study, we calculated only an overall score of
mental health. Cronbach’s alphas in the current study were .85, .89, .87.
Fear of Happiness Scale (FHS; Joshanloo 2013a; Joshanloo etal. 2014). The five-item
scale captures the stable belief that happiness is a sign of impending unhappiness. The
measure is shown to be reliable (Joshanloo 2013a) and has been used and validated across
multiple national groups and countries and considered to have good statistical properties
(Joshanloo etal. 2014, 2015). Examples of the items include, “I prefer not to be too joyful,
because usually joy is followed by sadness.” Cronbach’s alphas in the current study were
.74, .80, .81.
The Fragility of Happiness Scale (Joshanloo etal. 2014, 2015). The four-item scale cap-
tures the belief in the fleetingness of happiness and is rated on a 7-point scale. The scale
has been used, validated and understood as having a constant meaning across multiple
national groups and countries and considered to have good statistical properties (Joshanloo
etal. 2014, 2015). Item examples include, “Something might happen at any time and we
could easily lose our happiness.” Cronbach’s alphas in the current study were .81, .83, .86.
Brief Version of the Santa Clara Strength of Religious Faith Questionnaire (SCSRFQ;
Plante etal. 2002). The SCSRFQ is a shorter version of the original scale featuring five
items to measure the strength of religious faith. It is considered valid and reliable (Chron-
bach Alpha = .95), with the shortened version considered as effective as the original. An
example of the items includes, “My religious faith impacts many of my decisions.” Cron-
bach’s alphas in the current study were .85, .88, .88.
7 Results
In order to examine if post-intervention levels of wellbeing, fear of happiness, and fragility
of happiness differed between the intervention and control group, we conducted a series of
ANCOVAs using the first two assessments, excluding the 3-month follow-up (see Table3
L.Lambert et al.
1 3
for detailed statistics). Pre-intervention scores were used as a covariate in all analyses.
With regard to wellbeing, analyses revealed that at the end of the 14-week Happiness 101
program, affect balance was higher (d = 0.23) and eudaimonic wellbeing was significantly
higher in the intervention group (d = 0.40). Scores on the measures of satisfaction with life,
flourishing, and overall mental health were not significantly different between the groups
at post-intervention. With regard to attitudes towards happiness, at post-intervention, the
intervention group reported significantly lower levels of fear of happiness (d = 0.47) and of
believing that happiness is fragile (d = 0.23). No difference in religious faith was evidenced
between the groups at post intervention.
We ran a second set of ANOCOVAs using pre-intervention scores of the dependent
variables, age, gender, and pre-intervention scores of religious faith as covariates. For the
most part, effect sizes did not differ significantly utilizing these additional covariates. The
one exception to this was affect balance, with significance level changing from p = .080 to
p = .051. However, effect size differed only by .03.
We conducted a series of paired t-tests to examine differences in wellbeing and atti-
tudes towards happiness within the intervention group at pre, post, and 3-month follow-up
time points, excluding the control group (see Table4 for detailed statistics). All measures
of wellbeing were significantly higher at post-intervention compared to pre-intervention
(affect balance: d = 0.30, satisfaction with life: d = 0.33; flourishing: d = 0.19, eudaimonic
wellbeing: d = 0.24, overall mental health: d = 0.20). Further, significant gains in levels
of affect balance and satisfaction with life from pre-intervention were maintained at the
3-month follow-up (ds = 0.21, 0.21 respectively). Compared to pre-intervention, fear of
happiness was significantly lower at post-intervention (d = 0.36) as was believing that hap-
piness is fragile (d = 0.36). These significant differences were maintained at the 3-month
follow-up (d = 0.28, d = 0.47). No significant differences in religious faith were evidenced
within the intervention group across the three measurement times. Although significance
from pre- to post-intervention was marginally higher for religious faith, the effect size was
small (d = 0.10).
8 Discussion
In this study, we demonstrated that learning about positive psychology concepts and using
PPIs resulted in boosts to both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being (as assessed by a vari-
ety of measurement scales) from pre- to post-intervention, and sustained gains in affect
balance and life satisfaction at the 3-month mark. Further, greater affect-balance and eudai-
monic wellbeing scores relative to a control group at 3-month post-intervention were also
observed. Our results are consistent with previous studies where gains were maintained
over time (Duckworth etal. 2005; Gander etal. 2016; Lambert D’raven etal. 2015). More-
over, effect sizes for change in well-being and attitudes towards happiness (ds from 0.19 to
0.47) were within the range, and for the most part at the high end, of the average effect size
for PPIs (ds from 0.20 to 0.34, Bolier etal. 2013).
Further, this study realized important reductions in the belief in the fear of happiness, as
well as the fragility of happiness, in the intervention group at post-intervention which were
maintained at the 3-month follow-up. Reductions in these beliefs were not observed in the
control group and can, thus, be attributed in part to engaging in PPIs as well as learning about
positive psychology concepts in general. This is in line with Gander etal.’s (2016) suggestion
that greater benefits are found using this two-pronged method rather than merely targeting
A Positive Psychology Intervention Program ina…
1 3
Table 3 Between group differences: treatment versus control for first two assessments (pre-intervention and post-intervention)
Descriptive statistics
M (SE) ANCOVA with pre-score as covariate
[95% CI for mean difference | 95% CI effect size]
ANCOVA with additional covariates
[95% CI for mean difference | 95% CI effect size]
Treatment Control Condition Covariates Condition Covariates
Scale of Positive and Negative
Emotions—Balance*
8.29 (.464)
8.37 (.470)
n = 149/147
7.00 (.567)
6.92 (.571)
n = 100/100
F(1, 246) = 3.086
p = .080, [− 0.156, 2.734]
d = 0.228, [− 0.227, 0.481]
Pre-score: p < .001 F(1, 241) = 3.841
p = .051, [− 0.007, 2.918]
d = 0.254 [− 0.001, 0.509]
Pre-score:
Age:
Gender:
pre-SCSRFQ:
p < .001
p = .373
p = .088
p = .771
Satisfaction with Life 25.56 (.316)
25.54 (.322)
n = 158/155
25.07 (.388)
25.05 (.392)
n = 105/105
F(1, 260) = 0.973
p = .325, [− 0.492, 1.479]
d = 0.124, [− 0.123, 0.371]
Pre-score: p < .001 F(1, 254) = 0.948
p = .331, [− 0.507, 1.498]
d = 0.123 [-0.125, 0.371]
Pre-score:
Age:
gender:
Pre-SCSRFQ:
p < .001
p = .762
p = .406
p = .136
Flourishing 45.49 (.413)
45.44 (.422)
n = 157/154
44.55 (.506)
44.58 (.513)
n = 105/105
F(1, 259) = 2.046
p = .154, [− 0.352, 2.222]
d = 0.180 [-0.068, 0.428]
Pre-score: p < .001 F(1, 253) = 1.682
p = .196, [-0.449, 2.183]
d = 0.164, [-0.085, 0.413]
Pre-score:
Age:
Gender:
Pre-SCSRFQ:
p < .001
p = .615
p = .449
p = .303
Questionnaire of Eudaimonic
Wellbeing**
59.11 (.708)
59.05 (.727)
n = 122/120
55.94 (.865)
56.07 (.885)
n = 82/82
F(1, 201) = 8.009
p = .005, [0.962, 5.383]
d = 0.404, [0.121, 0.686]
pre-score: p < .001 F(1, 196) = 6.613
p = .011, [0.696, 5.276]
d = 0.369, [0.085, 0.651]
pre-score:
age:
gender
pre-SCSRFQ:
p < .001
p = .759
p = .378
p = .757
Mental Health Continuum 46.78 (.781)
46.90 (.796)
n = 153/150
45.98 (.976)
45.95 (.988)
n = 98/98
F(1, 248) = 0.414
p = .521, [− 1.659, 3.238]
d = 0.083, [− 0.171, 0.337]
Pre-score: p < .001 F(1, 242) = 0.549
p = .460, [− 1.569, 3.459]
d = 0.101, [− 0.159, 0.351]
Pre-score:
Age:
Gender
Pre-SCSRFQ:
p < .001
p = .309
p = .607
p = .779
Fear of Happiness** 13.50 (.429)
13.53 (.438)
n = 160/157
16.05 (.525)
16.00 (.531)
n = 107/107
F(1, 264) = 14.116
p < .001, [− 3.885, − 1.213]
d = 0.469, [0.221, 0.717]
Pre-score: p < .001 F(1, 258) = 12.728
p < .001, [− 3.830, − 1.106]
d = 0.447, [0.198, 0.696]
Pre-score:
Age:
gender
Pre-SCSRFQ:
p < .001
p = .222
p = .631
p = .328
Fragility of Happiness* 18.61 (.384)
18.71 (.392)
n = 158/155
19.73 (.467)
19.69 (.472)
n = 107/107
F(1, 262) = 3.422
p = .065, [− 2.308, 0.072]
d = 0.232 [-0.015, 0.478]
Pre-score: p < .001 F(1, 256) = 2.534
p = .113, [− 2.197, 0.233]
d = 0.200, [-0.047, 0.447]
Pre-score:
Age:
gender
Pre-SCSRFQ:
p < .001
p = .844
p = .458
p = .833
L.Lambert et al.
1 3
Table 3 (continued)
Descriptive statistics
M (SE) ANCOVA with pre-score as covariate
[95% CI for mean difference | 95% CI effect size]
ANCOVA with additional covariates
[95% CI for mean difference | 95% CI effect size]
Treatment Control Condition Covariates Condition Covariates
Religious Faith 11.21 (183)
11.17 (.170)
n = 159/156
11.03 (.222)
11.05 (.225)
n = 108/108
F(1, 264) = 0.402
p = .526 [− 0.384, 0.750]
d = 0.074 [− 0.170, 0.319]
Pre-score: p < .001 F(1, 259) = 0.168
p = .682 [− 0.458, 0.699]
d = 0.052 [− 0.194, 0.297]
Pre-score:
Age:
Gender
p < .001
p = .729
p = .249
SCSRFQ Santa Clara Strength of Religious Faith Questionnaire
*Marginally significant difference between groups
**Significant difference between groups
A Positive Psychology Intervention Program ina…
1 3
Table 4 Treatment group paired t tests pre- post- follow-up
*Marginally significant difference pre and post, and between pre and follow-up
**Significant difference between pre and post, and between pre and follow-up
a Significant difference between pre and post, but no significant difference between pre and follow-up
Variable Descriptive statistics
M (SD)
Paired t test
Pre Post Follow-up Pre to post Post to follow-up Pre to follow-up
Scale of Positive and Nega-
tive Emotions—Balance**
6.02 (6.80)
n = 151
7.91 (6.98)
n = 157
7.55 (6.51)
n = 128
t(148) = 4.52
p < .001, [1.156, 2.952]
d = 0.296, [0.130, 0.462]
t(125) = 0.44
p = .662, [− 0.867, 1.359]
d = 0.036, [-0.139, 0.211]
t(120) = 2.40
p = .018, [0.238, 2.506]
d = 0.206, [0.026, 0.386]
Satisfaction with Life** 23.78 (5.07)
n = 159
25.44 (4.93)
n = 159
25.18 (4.65)
n = 132
t(157) = 4.55
p < .001, [0.928, 2.350]
d = 0.327, [0.166, 0.488]
t(130) = 1.45
p = .149, [− 0.183, 1.190]
d = 0.108, [− 0.064, 0.280]
t(130) = 2.52
p = .013, [0.220, 1.826]
d = 0.213, [0.040, 0.387]
Flourishinga44.65 (5.41)
n = 158
45.65 (5.77)
n = 159
45.07 (5.95)
n = 132
t(156) = 2.43
p = .016, [0.196, 1.881]
d = 0.185, [0.027, 0.343]
t(130) = 1.52
p = .131, [− 0.201, 1.530]
d = 0.117, [− 0.055, 0.289]
t(130) = 0.49
p = .623, [− 1.149, 0.691]
d = 0.041, [− 0.130, 0.212]
Questionnaire of Eudaimonic
Wellbeinga
57.58 (8.64)
n = 137
59.56 (9.11)
n = 142
58.45 (9.02)
n = 124
t(121) = 3.22
p = .002, [0.844, 3.550]
d = 0.242, [0.061, 0.423]
t(110) = 1.65
p = .101, [− 0.264, 2.930]
d = 0.141, [− 0.046, 0.328]
t(107) = 1.39
p = .168, [− 2.610, 0.462]
d = 0.121, [− 0.068, 0.310]
Mental Health Continuuma44.44 (10.54)
n = 154
46.83 (11.10)
n = 158
45.91 (10.76)
n = 128
t(152) = 2.70
p = .008, [0.591, 3.801]
d = 0.203, [0.043, 0.363]
t(125) = 0.98
p = .329, [− 0.872, 2.586]
d = 0.078, [-0.097, 0.253]
t(123) = 1.36
p = .175, [− 3.184, 0.587]
d = 0.121, [-0.056, 0.298]
Fear of Happiness** 15.94 (7.54)
n = 160
13.41 (6.61)
n = 160
13.58 (6.98)
n = 132
t(159) = 5.12
p < .001, [1.559, 3.516]
d = 0.355, [0.194, 0.516]
t(131) = 0.19
p = .852, [− 1.055, 0.873]
d = 0.013, [− 0.158, 0.184]
t(131) = 3.57
p = .001, [0.915, 3.191]
d = 0.282, [0.108, 0.456]
Fragility of Happiness** 20.53 (4.97)
n = 158
18.66 (5.19)
n = 160
18.39 (5.23)
n = 132
t(157) = 4.10
p < .001, [0.949, 2.710]
d = 0.359, [0.199, 0.519]
t(131) = 0.81
p = .418, [− 0.521, 1.249]
d = 0.071, [− 0.100, 0.242]
t(130) = 4.70
p < .001, [1.371, 3.362]
d = 0.470, [0.292, 0.648]
Religious Faith 11.48 (3.29)
n = 160
11.14 (3.59)
n = 159
11.38 (3.37)
n = 133
t(158) = 1.81
p = .071, [− 0.031, 0.736]
d = 0.101, [− 0.121, 0.318]
t(132) = − 0.91
p = .366, [− 0.813, 0.302]
d = 0.074, [− 0.299, 0.162]
t(132) = 0.43
p = .670, [− 0.382, 0.592]
d = 0.032, [− 0.200, 0.260]
L.Lambert et al.
1 3
specific interventions in isolation, as is commonly the case in other PPI studies. Yet, it is
unknown whether it was the positive psychology information, the experience of PPIs, or the
combination thereof which caused these reductions. Future studies are needed to tease apart
these aspects. It is important to note that, to our knowledge, our study is the first to show that
the belief in the fear and fragility of happiness (Joshanloo etal. 2014, 2015) can be affected
in response to interventions. Moreover, as noted in the introduction, although some cultural
and religious beliefs frame happiness in a negative light, our findings suggest that receiving
instruction in the science of wellbeing and experiencing its effects can reduce attitudes of fear
and fragility of happiness, without diminishing levels of religiosity.
In fact, the reduction in the endorsement of fear and fragility beliefs might have in turn
contributed to the gains observed in well-being as a result of the intervention. Research on fear
and fragility beliefs indicate that holding these beliefs is associated with lowered hedonic and
eudaimonic well-being across cultures (Agbo and Ngwu 2017; Joshanloo etal. 2014, 2015).
In particular, if these beliefs are accompanied by high levels of pessimism, they may come to
have an even stronger negative impact on well-being (Joshanloo etal. 2017). That is, these
beliefs may accompany or even lead to generalized unfavorable expectancies, such as the ideas
that happiness is not achievable, out of control, or not worthy to pursue. Such a mindset may
demotivate the person and generate feelings of inadequacy to make positive changes in the self
and life in general (Joshanloo 2017). In sum, we speculate that the reduction in fear and fragil-
ity of happiness may have contributed to the gain in well-being in the present study. Further-
more, although fear and fragility beliefs have not been explicitly targeted in the intervention,
we speculate that contents related to optimism and internal locus of control might have been
largely responsible for the reductions in the endorsement of fear and fragility of happiness
across the time points.
Yet, what are the ethical and moral considerations of modifying such cultural beliefs, even
if wellbeing increases as a result? Arguably, most PPI studies have been conducted in the West
where more than 90% of the research published in positive psychology emerges and positive
psychology’s individualistic and democratic outlooks are assumed, influential, and unques-
tioned (Arnett 2008; Bermant et al. 2011; Christopher and Hickinbottom 2008; Giacaman
etal. 2010; Joshanloo 2013b). As individuals increase focus on their individual happiness and
utilize these Western-originating PPIs, will they become less collectivistic and more individ-
ualistic over time? Measuring change along the collectivistic-individualistic continuum as a
result of PPI use would be an interesting avenue to pursue as well as determining which PPI
had the strongest wellbeing effects given that we tested the overall effects of a battery of PPIs.
Finally, while positive psychology focuses on wellbeing, the amelioration of depressive
symptoms is also important. Although this was not the focus of the present study, future inter-
vention studies could assess whether negative emotions are reduced via PPI programs such as
the Happiness 101 program (Lambert 2009/2012) used in the current study. As many of our
participants hailed from countries in which there was, or currently is, civil unrest, incorporat-
ing positive psychology interventions to address trauma and other vulnerabilities may be a
vital addition in future programs and studies (Brunzell etal. 2016).
9 Limitations
All students had English as a second, third, or even fourth language. While the course
had a 1year English prerequisite, this may nonetheless have posed difficulties in under-
standing the scale items and program content. The questionnaires were, however, done
A Positive Psychology Intervention Program ina…
1 3
in class where students could ask for help with terminology. We did not collect data to
ascertain year of study of participants. Experiences of first- and final-year students can
be notably different; future studies could include this demographic as a possible mod-
erator variable. Ascertaining program of study (data which we did not collect) would
have allowed for comparison analyses within the intervention group to explore possi-
ble difference in well-being, happiness beliefs, and religiosity across broad academic
disciplines (e.g., students in social sciences vs. natural sciences). We recommend that
these data be collected in future studies. Students, in contrast with community samples,
may also have reported overly positive states of wellbeing at the start of term when new
professors and friends create excitement, especially when informed the class project is
on happiness. At the same time, wellbeing scores may have been temporarily lower than
usual given that end of term deadlines, fatigue, and final exams were looming. Because
the happiness program was done for credit, it is unknown whether this affected their
results or whether they continued to engage in the interventions outside of class and
beyond the term. It is possible that coming from countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen,
Nigeria, Lebanon, etc., and moving to the UAE, the most stable and safe country in the
MENA region, could have contributed to the reductions in participants’ beliefs given
that happiness is indeed fragile in insecure settings.
10 Conclusion
The growth of wellbeing programs within academia is a welcome development that can,
we believe, irreversibly transform the field of education. However, this is currently far
from a global norm. We encourage higher educational institutions to take wellbeing as
seriously as organizations do, and to track indicators of wellbeing in their student body
in order to better understand where to target interventions. We also encourage insti-
tutions to consider the cultural and religious implications of using PPI programs, and
to develop and validate locally relevant programs and interventions (Lambert et al.
2015). Programs like the Happiness 101 program (Lambert 2009/2012) used in the
current study, clearly bring about changes in wellbeing, changes that may have future
positive implications for school achievement (Durlak etal. 2011), work (Erdogan etal.
2012), job success (Creed etal. 2002; Neault 2002), and health (Huang and Humphries
2012). But more than anything, such programs offer youth a means to attain the skills
to achieve greater versions of themselves, something not currently on offer in most aca-
demic institutions.
We also advocate for the inclusion of wellbeing programs that address academic insti-
tutions as a whole, in line with Oades etal.’s (2011) advice that a truly positive univer-
sity must include faculty, administration, the university campus residential setting, and the
work environment as targets of interventions. Individual wellbeing gains are difficult to
uphold where the broader environment is not the focus of such work. Finally, as this study
was the first to show that beliefs of fear and fragility of happiness can be manipulated, and
that wellbeing gains are possible in a group of highly diverse international students, we
encourage continued inquiry in this direction to achieve a representative global positive
psychology (Wong, 2013).
L.Lambert et al.
1 3
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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Chapter
How happiness is defined depends on who is asked. In the case of universities, student happiness should prevail, yet their voices are often overlooked. This is also the case in the research literature where non-Western views are less frequently reflected. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country whose population is comprised of nearly 90% expatriate residents, is a good study case as campuses are filled with international students and the wellbeing of residents is a national priority. Responses from 80 UAE-based expatriate students reveal they are happiest with friends and in social activities and interactions; they want more opportunities to connect socially in classrooms and campuses, efforts which can be crafted by faculty. They also want joyful, inspiring learning where they can discuss and be exposed to other views, with many driven by the need to feel productive, efficacious and engaged. Solutions included the need for faculty to develop warmer student relationships, the maintenance of online learning to reflect realities of work and relationships, and for students to be treated with more respect as fee-paying adults. As the number of international students rise, research into their happiness and what universities can do to increase it remains a global priority.
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Two studies with 230 and 363 Canadian undergraduate students tested the relationship between incremental theories of well-being (i.e., beliefs regarding the malleability of well-being) and a positive mental outlook. In Study 1, incremental theories of well-being were associated with Prioritizing Positivity (purposely incorporating pleasant activities into one’s daily routine) and showed a positive relationship with several other indicators of positive mental functioning (e.g., intrinsic motivation, eudaimonic motivation). In Study 2, incremental theories of well-being were associated with Positivity (viewing life and experiences with a positive outlook) and were positively correlated with additional indicators of positive mental functioning (e.g., harmony in life, self-compassion). In both studies, the relationship between incremental theories of well-being and both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being held true across different measures. A synthesis of major results using a Bayesian meta-analytic procedure suggested a moderate association between an incremental well-being mindset and well-being. Results of these studies help to situate incremental views toward well-being within a broad positivity framework, and to expand the nomological web of correlates of implicit theories of well-being.
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Objective: The Mental Health Continuum – Short Form is a brief scale measuring positive human functioning. The study aimed to examine the factor structure and to explore the cross cultural utility of the MHC-SF using bifactor models and exploratory structural equation modelling (ESEM). Method: Using multigroup confirmatory analysis (MGCFA) we examined the measurement invariance of the MHC-SF in 38 countries (university students, N = 8,066; 61.73% women, mean age 21.55 years). Results: MGCFA supported the cross-cultural replicability of a bifactor structure and a metric level of invariance between student samples. The average proportion of variance explained by the general factor was high (ECV = .66), suggesting that the three aspects of mental health (emotional, social, and psychological well-being) can be treated as a single dimension of well-being. Conclusion: The metric level of invariance offers the possibility of comparing correlates and predictors of positive mental functioning across countries; however, the comparison of the levels of mental health across countries is not possible due to lack of scalar invariance. Our study has preliminary character and could serve as an initial assessment of the structure of the MHC-SF across different cultural settings. Further studies on general populations are required for extending our findings.
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The basic premise of positive psychology is that the happiness and fulfillment of children and youth entail more than the identification and treatment of their problems. This article provides an overview of positive psychology and the Values in Action (VIA) project that classifies and measures 24 widely recognized character strengths. Good character is multidimensional, made up of a family of positive traits manifest in an individual's thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Recent research findings are presented concerning the correlates and the consequences of the VIA character strengths for positive youth development. Character strengths are related to achievement, life satisfaction, and well-being of children and youth. Further, the implications and specific techniques informed by positive psychology are discussed for school counselors in the context of a strengths-based approach.
Chapter
The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions stems from a set of twin hypotheses. First, the broaden hypothesis proposes that positive emotions momentarily expand our perception of the world in ways that facilitate global visual processing, better attentional flexibility, and larger thought-action repertoires. The build hypothesis purports that, over time, these fleeting experiences of expanded awareness that accompany positive emotions such as joy and excitement accumulate over time to facilitate growth of a person's social, cognitive, emotional, and physical resources. Empirical evidence supporting these hypotheses is discussed, as well as the theory's implications for behavior, psychological resilience, social interaction, and health.