The University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with the online education platform Coursera, has launched a specialization certificate program called Foundations of Positive Psychology. The five-course series provides participants with the key theories ...

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Picture Credits
Pictures of Dick and Lillian Callen at their wedding in 1918 and at their golden wedding celebration in 1968 provided by their granddaughter, Kathryn Britton. Dick Callen was one of 6 brothers that reached their golden weddings. All but 2 of the participants in these 6 marriages are in the picture below.

This article first appeared on Positive Psychology News. To see the original article, click here. To comment on this article, click here.

Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.

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Option B (Book Review)

By Lisa Sansom

By Lisa Sansom -

Responding to Another’s Grief

A few days ago, I was walking to work when I saw one of my colleagues. I knew that she had returned to work unexpectedly from her maternity leave because her newborn died from complications at 17 days old. She and I were not close colleagues before she left, but we worked in the same unit. I knew enough of her back story to understand that she must be in a difficult emotional position. As we walked, I mentioned that while we were happy to have her back, this must be tough for her. She shared how difficult it has been for her to find support because many groups are designed to support parents after a stillbirth. Her baby had lived for a few days, so it was different…

I learned a lot about her grief and her struggles and her ups and downs. I was able to listen and support her, acknowledging that her baby would always be in her heart and she would never forget him, that there would be good days and bad days. She admitted that she was finding it hard sometimes. We covered a lot of ground in that short walk and she thanked me for listening as we went to our separate offices. I was able to interact with her in that way not because I’ve been there (I haven’t) and not because I’m a trained coach, but because I had read Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant.

When Option A Disappears

Sheryl Sandberg may be best known as a Silicon Valley powerhouse who has worked at Google and is the COO of Facebook. She wrote her previous book, Lean In, as a way of encouraging women to shatter glass ceilings everywhere. However, when her beloved husband Dave died suddenly while they were on vacation, her world shattered in ways she had never imagined possible. She reached out to a friend, Adam Grant, psychologist, Wharton professor, prolific author and great guy extraordinaire. Together they wrote Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.

This book is mostly Sheryl’s. It is her story to tell, her insights to share, and her emotions to bare. The book is written from her perspective.

Adam is referenced in the third person in discussions of what she learned and what the psychological research says. Followers of positive psychology will recognize some of the academic findings that are shared, such as counting blessings, optimistic explanatory style, gratitude, self-compassion, and resilience. Yet this is not likely the way we would have thought to apply positive psychology.

How She Survived: Book Contents

Sheryl and Dave have two children, and Sheryl describes the flight home, alone, having to face the unimaginable task of telling her children that they would never see their father again. To Sheryl’s great credit, she reached out to her social support network and got solid advice on how to do that: directly, simply and be prepared to answer questions about death. She continued to reach out to get further advice which she shares with us, her readers.

As a mother myself, I can’t imagine her journey of grief, having to be strong for her children, yet suffering so enormously herself. I’ve heard Sheryl interviewed a couple of times on the radio. She is a compelling speaker, even as she relates her story over and over and over again for the benefit of us all. I hope it contributes to her own healing journey. This was a compelling and amazing book to read. Sheryl is very human and shares her story with no holds barred.


She talks about how she felt when others offered her platitudes and what she wishes they had done instead.

She talks about how shocked and horrible she felt when she finally experienced a moment of joy after Dave’s death and he wasn’t there to share it.

She talks about the resilience of her children and how they continue to work together as a family to be there for each other through emotional ups and downs.

She talks about the importance of resilient communities and how much more organizations can do, and should do, to allow people time to grieve and to provide important support when their worlds become broken. She also talks about the policies she is influencing at Facebook to move in this direction.

Community Resilience

I wasn’t sure about reading this book, but I’m ever so glad that I did. I want to read it again with my highlighter firmly in hand and note all the wisdom again. I hope never to find myself in a situation even close to Sheryl’s tragedy, although I know that many people have experienced the death of beloved spouses, dear sweet children and others who are so heart-achingly close to them. I recognize I’m in a very fortunate position that way.

However, this book has definitely equipped me to be more compassionate when someone close to me is suffering from a tragic loss. I feel that I know better what to say, what to do, and how to be a meaningful support with less fear and trepidation, and more confidence. Sheryl’s courage is contagious. May we all be inspired to build community resilience and reach out. None of us should ever feel lonely in our times of difficulty.



Sandberg, S. & Grant, A. (2017). Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. New York: Alfred Knopf.

Grant, Adam. (2013). Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. Viking Press.

Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. New York: Alfred Knopf.

5 articles

New Coursera Series on Positive Psychology

By Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton

By Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton -

The University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with the online education platform Coursera, has launched a specialization certificate program called Foundations of Positive Psychology. The five-course series provides you with the key theories and research in the field of Positive Psychology, as well as opportunities for application. When completed, you earn a certificate that can bolster your resume and professional profile.

Foundations of Positive Psychology is taught by the “father of Positive Psychology,” Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, and leading practitioners and researchers from Penn. Here’s the list of courses in the series.

  • Positive Psychology: Martin E.P. Seligman’s Visionary Science with Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman
  • Positive Psychology: Applications and Interventions with Dr. James Pawelski
  • Positive Psychology: Character, Grit and Research Methods with Dr. Angela Duckworth & Dr. Claire Robertson-Kraft
  • Positive Psychology: Resilience Skills with Dr. Karen Reivich
  • Positive Psychology Specialization Project with Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman

You can get a 7-day trial period for free. After that, the course series costs $79 per month. You can move through it at your own pace.

To learn more or enroll: Foundations of Positive Psychology on Coursera

This article first appeared on Positive Psychology News. To see the original article, click here. To comment on this article, click here.

Senia Maymin and Kathryn Britton are the senior editors of Together they have edited two books in the Positive Psychology News series: Resilience: How to Navigate Life's Curves and Gratitude: How to Appreciate Life's Gifts. Kathryn co-edited the third book in the series, Character Strengths Matter, with Shannon Polly. Their co-authored articles are here.

Senia Maymin, MAPP '06, is the coauthor of Profit from the Positive. Maymin is an executive coach to entrepreneurs and CEOs. Her PhD is in organizational behavior from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Full Bio. Her solo articles are here and her articles with Margaret Greenberg are here.

Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06 also co-authored Smarts and Stamina onusing positive psychology principles to build strong health habits. Blog. Full bio. Her solo articles are here.


Character Strengths Interventions (Book Review)

By Scott Crabtree

By Scott Crabtree -

Character Strengths Interventions: A Field Guide for Practitioners gives readers a fantastic in-depth tour of the science of the 24 Values-In-Action (VIA) strengths. The guide contains many immediately applicable interventions that can be used with clients. I wished for a reader-friendly guide to the book that recognizes the time pressures that practitioners face. For that reason, I’m going to do my best to provide a “how to use this book” guide at the end of this review.

The author is one of the most qualified people on earth to write this book. As the Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character, he helps lead the institution that delivers the VIA Character Strengths assessment, and much of the research around strengths. He develops (or co-develops) VIA’s courses, reports, and programs.

Ryan Niemiec

Dr. Niemiec’s deep understanding of strengths research shines in this guide. The first several chapters are packed with solid peer-reviewed studies that help the reader deepen their understanding of strengths, what they are (and are not), and how to work with people to take advantage of their strengths. I’ve been studying strengths, coaching executives using strengths, and giving highly rated strengths workshops to Fortune 50 clients and many others for years, but still found myself regularly copying bits of science from the book to my notes for future strengths workshops and coaching. The first few chapters are loaded with this science, and with helpful chapter summaries.

The True Gems

For practitioners like me, the true gems of this book are the tips, snapshots, handouts, and interventions.

Over 20 Strengths-Based Practitioner Tips are included in the book. These tips are clearly set off in boxes and include practical things that practitioners can do to better understand strengths and get their clients to better understand, develop, and act on strengths. For example, the first tip starts with the words, “Context is king,” and suggests ways to reflect on the impact of context on character strength use. My only criticism is that for the first few tips, it’s not clear whether the author is recommending the activity for practitioners or clients. While later tips are clearer, several early tips say things like “Take your highest character strength”, without being clear whether “you” means the practitioner, the client, or both. Practitioners will need to decide for themselves until the tips get more precise later in the book.

Also, some of the tips could be more realistic. For example, the author suggests that as practitioners, we rate from 1-10 our use of each of the 24 strengths for a single activity at the beginning, middle, and end of the activity. Really? That’s 720 ratings. I honestly doubt that more than 1% of the population would ever want to invest so much time into seeing how strengths are used for a single activity. But, of course, readers can simply skip over any of the tips they don’t understand or don’t find useful.

The guide includes 24 very useful handouts, one for each of the VIA strengths. These contain a definition, research highlights, questions for strengths building, and interventions. These handouts are fantastic resources to help practitioners and their clients understand the essence of each strength, where to learn more about it, and ways to develop and use it.

There are also a number of snapshots set off in grey boxes. These contain bulleted lists for quick reference to the points made in the preceding text

70 Strengths Interventions

Even better than the handouts are the 70 strengths interventions that make up chapter 8. Most of these interventions come with an overview, the purpose of the intervention, the specific steps involved, and the research behind it. Many of these also come with tips and even troubleshooting ideas. These 70 interventions cover:

  • Character strengths awareness
  • Character strengths use
  • Meaning and engagement
  • Specific character strengths (e.g., gratitude, love, spirituality)
  • Positive relationships
  • Resilience (problem management)
  • Goal-setting/achievement
  • Mindfulness

Generously, each of these 70 interventions as well as each of the 24 strength handouts has this text at the bottom: “This page may be reproduced by the purchaser for personal/client use.” This generous sharing allows practitioners to put the book to immediate use with clients. Thank you Dr. Niemiec!

How to Use this Book

With all these wonderful research-based tips, handouts, and interventions, how could this book be better? By making the practical content easier to find. The book could be improved with the addition of a “how to use this book” section. I’m going to do my best to add one here.

This book is over 300 pages long. If you are not familiar with strengths and how to use them to improve the lives of your clients, you’ll want to read this book from beginning to end. Busy, experienced practitioners like me will want to skip many of those pages and get to the immediately applicable contents. I knew the 70 interventions were in the book, but it still took me quite a while to find them!

So here’s my guide:

    If you are more knowledgeable about strengths and experienced in using them with clients, you’ll probably want to skim the first three chapters looking for snapshots, Strengths-Based Practitioner Tips, and the chapter summaries. As an aside, the book would be even more useful if these were gathered up in an appendix.

  1. Foundations of Strengths-Based Practice: Seven Core Concepts of the Science of Character
  2. Signature Strengths: Research and Practice
  3. Practice Essentials: Six Integration Strategies for a Strengths-Based Practice
    Chapters four and five get into misconceptions and advanced issues that all but the most experienced practitioners will want to digest.

  5. Behavioral Traps, Misconceptions, and Strategies
  6. Advanced Issues in Applying Character Strengths
    That will get you to the most useful parts of the book for practitioners: chapter 6 with its 24 VIA strength handouts and chapter 8 with its 70 interventions. In-between is chapter 7, which is largely a guide to chapter 8.

  8. Character Strength Spotlights: 24 Practitioner-Friendly Handouts
  9. How to Apply Character Strengths Interventions
  10. Research-Based Interventions for Character Strengths

After those chapters are an afterword and several appendixes. There is also a strong reference list and a helpful index.


Character Strengths Interventions is a gold mine for practitioners. Its tips, 24 handouts, and 70 interventions are the most valuable nuggets. Figuring out how to quickly finding those nuggets will make this book even more useful.

I hope this review helps you efficiently strike gold in this valuable book.




Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Character Strengths Interventions: A Field Guide for Practitioners. Hogrefe Publishers.

Photo Credit: Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Strengths build loving relationships courtesy of Riccardo Palazzani – 3 millions views
Resilience together courtesy of Symic
Follow the guide courtesy of Katie@!
Gold nugget courtesy of lancehenry

This article first appeared on Positive Psychology News. To see the original article, click here. To comment on this article, click here.

Scott Crabtree is a passionate teacher of neuroscience, psychology, and the science of happiness. He is empowering organizations to apply findings from cutting-edge brain science to boost productivity and happiness at work. He can be reached through his site Happy Brain Science or on Twitter: @ScottCrab.

See Scott's solo articles and his articles with Chris Wilson.


Getting Grit (Book Review)

By Kathryn Britton

By Kathryn Britton -

“When we learn how to set the right goals and see them through to the finish line, become comfortable with discomfort, and use setbacks as springboards, we can live with passion, purpose, and perseverance.” Getting Grit, p. 5

Grit came to the forefront last year when Angela Duckworth published a book describing the research on passion and perseverance in the pursuit of long-term goals. Duckworth told stories about grit in action and grit in the making. Since then there has been lively discussion around questions such as

  • Is grit always good? If not, how can people recognize when it has gone awry?
  • Is grit malleable? If so, what specific things can people do to build more beneficial grit?
  • Is there enough grit out there to help us deal collectively with the immense challenges of our age?


Enter Caroline Miller’s new book, Getting Grit. Miller builds on the goal-setting foundation she established in Creating Your Best Life to address these questions in a clear and compelling way. As a striver herself and a performance coach, she has seen grit develop, sometimes go awry, and sometimes drive amazing long-term progress toward very hard goals. Miller’s definition of authentic grit will give you a hint about her answers to these questions.

“the passionate pursuit of hard goals that awes and inspires others to become better people, flourish emotionally, take positive risks, and live their best lives. For me, grit isn’t a positive unless it is a force for good.” Getting Grit, pp 14-15

A Coach Between Book Covers

Getting Grit is like finding a grit coach between book covers. If you believe you need clearer goals, greater motivation to follow them through, and help dealing with discomfort and setbacks, you might hire someone like Miller to be your performance coach. If that’s out of reach, start with Miller’s new book and work through the exercises she provides to build this complex quality. Keep in mind Miller’s important caveat:

“Developing authentic grit means experimenting with these ideas, practicing them over and over, learning what works through trial and error, and evolving from a cook who masters one behavior at a time to a master chef who blends them all together repeatedly with hard work and for the right reasons.” Getting Grit, p. 91

I firmly believe in thinking of life as a series of experiments. Here are grit ingredients she suggests including in your own experiments with baking a grit cake (metaphor Miller’s).

  • Building Passion to Fuel Purpose: Identifying a harmonious passion, making sure it doesn’t become an obsessive passion. She draws on the research of Bob Vallerand, who defines harmonious passion as freely chosen for the pleasure that comes from the activity, not to please someone else or outshine someone else.
  • Happiness: Taking intentional action to support personal happiness, because “… we don’t become happy after we succeed at something, but rather succeed precisely because we are happy first.” (p. 107)
  • Goal-setting: Goals direct attention toward what matters, energize people, prolong effort, and lead to self-discovery of skills and resources.
  • Self-Regulation: How do you set up conditions that support will power and help you say “no” when you need to do so? The exercises in this chapter includes a discussion of fathers playing with their children. A little bit of roughhousing helps children learn how to cope with frustration.
  • Risk-Taking: A lot of people talk about taking risks, but not many get this specific about how. I appreciated Miller’s first suggestion: “Ask yourself ‘Why not?’ instead of ‘Why?’” She explained that gritty people don’t endlessly stare at their options waiting for the perfect choice to emerge. They move out, ready to learn from what happens.
  • Humility: When I thought of grit as a compound strength, it didn’t occur to me to include humility, so I read this chapter with particular interest. Miller warns people about selfie grit earlier in the book. She tells the story of a young man from Haiti brought to school in the United States who says, “I don’t understand how anyone can say they are self-made. I couldn’t have accomplished anything without so many people doing things for me … How can you make yourself successful all by yourself?” One of the exercises in this chapter is to “Toot someone else’s horn.” (p. 160 & p. 166).
  • Perseverance: This chapter describes struggling well, overcoming procrastination, and numerous pragmatic ways to build the ability to persevere. One theme in the exercises is to be around other people who persevere. Perseverance is contagious.


  • Patience: Here’s another that I didn’t expect, but it makes good sense. Powerful goals aren’t achieved all at once, and they aren’t achieved without discouraging setbacks. I’m reminded of my father and his brother both applying for Rhodes scholarships after World War II. Both were turned down. My uncle moved on to other things, but my father interviewed members of the selection committee to find out where he fell short. He spent two years working on the qualities they wanted to see and was accepted the second time he applied. My birthplace, Oxford England, is evidence of his patience and his grit.


In her book and her earlier TEDx talk, Miller expresses deep concern that we are experiencing a grit deficit right now and that the Millennial Generation has been bubble-wrapped to the point that they aren’t learning to do hard things. There is a clear suggestion that helicopter parents are standing between them and things they need to learn.

I have a little hesitation about the urgency of Miller’s argument. I do agree that my generation of parents has been over-protective, but in my opinion it’s a temporary over-correction for too little protection in preceding generations. When my mother was growing up, children had great freedom starting at very early ages, shooed outside, and called in for meals. Imagine what they learned from so much independence! But there is a family story about my father falling into an irrigation ditch at the age of 4 while playing with his 6- and 7-year-old siblings. He only survived the fast-flowing water because his coat filled up with air and kept him afloat until the current pushed him close to a bank so that his siblings could pull him out. At least one of my mother’s cousins drowned in an irrigation ditch. People no longer routinely leave a 7-year-old in charge of two younger siblings, and I don’t find that a bad thing.

Perhaps Getting Grit will contribute to a swing back toward the middle, helping parents learn how to be there for their children without getting between them and the difficult things they need to face to grow wise and strong.


Getting Grit is a clear, application-oriented book full of reflection questions, activities, and exercises for people who want to build authentic grit that will make a difference not just to themselves, but also for the communities around them.



Miller, C. A. (2017). Getting Grit: The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passion, Perseverance, and Purpose. Boulder, CO: Sounds True .
Miller, C. A. (2014). The moments that make champions. TEDxGramercy.

Miller, C. A. & Frisch, M. B. (2009), Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide. New York: Sterling.
Britton, K. H. (2014). Think of it as an experiment. Positive Psychology News.

Britton, K. H. (2011). What about passion? Positive Psychology News.

Duckworth, A. (2013). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. TED Talk.

Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Scribner.

Vallerand, R. (2015). The Psychology of Passion: A Dualistic Model (Series in Positive Psychology). Oxford University Press.

Photo Credit:
Book cover and picture of Caroline Adams Miller from the Getting Grit site
Others from Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses

This article first appeared on Positive Psychology News. To see the original article, click here. To comment on this article, click here.

Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06, former software engineer, is a coach working with professionals to increase well-being, energy, and meaning in their work lives(Theano Coaching LLC). She is also a writing coach, facilitator of writing workshops, and teacher of positive workplace concepts at the University of Maryland. Her own books include Smarts and Stamina onusing positive psychology principles to build strong health habits and Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life. Full bio.Kathryn's articles are here.


What’s Love Got to Do With It?

By Marie-Josée Shaar

By Marie-Josée Shaar -

Can love affect our health? Answering this question is no small undertaking, but I think the Grant study has managed it.

1918 wedding

This remarkable longitudinal medical study started in 1939 at Harvard Medical School with 724 men in their twenties. These participants agreed to grant access to their medical records, give blood samples, undergo brain imaging, and participate in interviews every two years. Whenever possible, the men’s parents, wives and children were also interviewed. The goal of the study was to identify predictors of healthy aging. The project is still going on today, with a diminishing sample of men who are now in their nineties.

Here are some of the most interesting conclusions, drawn by George Vaillant, who directed the study for the longest period in the 75+ years that it’s been going on:

  • Love reduces basal metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate and muscle tension, all of which lead to better health.
  • Love can literally heal and strengthen our hearts.
  • Having had a loving and stable marriage at 50 predicted mental and physical health at 80 better than did either exercise, weight, or cholesterol levels.
  • Enjoying a securely attached relationship in the 80s is protective to the brain. Those who aren’t in warm, supportive relationships at that age see their memory decline more dramatically.
  • Fifty Years later

  • People who are more socially connected to friends, family and community are not only happier, but also physically healthier, and they tend to live longer.

The most amazing thing to me about this study is that Vaillant didn’t set out to study love, but he found it to be most relevant to healthy aging nonetheless. Having had the pleasure of hearing Vaillant lecture roughly 10 years ago, I vividly remember him saying “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people… Full stop.”

Author’s Note: It is clear to me that love is a complex and important piece of the bigger wellness picture and that it belongs in organizational wellness programs. Curious? I’m giving a keynote address titled All You Need is Love at the WELCOA Summit on August 30, 2017.



Vaillant, G. E. (2009). Yes, I stand by my words: Happiness equals Love, full stop. Positive Psychology News. Also appears in Character Strengths Matter.

Vaillant, G. E. (2003). Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development. New York: Little Brown.

Vaillant, G. E. (2012). Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press.

Sheryl Sandberg from Wikimedia
Adam Grant courtesy of Wikimedia: July 31, 2012, Wharton School of Business, U. Penn, Philadelphia, Pa, Adam M. Grant, PhD, an associate professor of management, seen at Wharton this morning. Photo by Michael Kamber/Bloomberg

This article first appeared on Positive Psychology News. To see the original article, click here. To comment on this article, click here.

Lisa Sansom, MAPP '10, is the owner of LVS Consulting, an independent consulting firm that helps to build positive organizations. Lisa provide services such as individual and leadership coaching, team facilitation, effective communications training, Appreciative Inquiry and change management consulting. Full Bio.

Articles by Lisa are here.

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