Early in my career I had learned that if you want your product or service to be successful, all you have to do is (ask and) listen and act on what you hear, or don’t hear. We asked. You all spoke. We acted on your suggestions, bringing you Positive ...

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Positive Psychology Toolkit Update (Sponsored)

By Seph Fontane Pennock

By Seph Fontane Pennock -

Editor’s note: We are proud to sponsor the Positive Psychology Toolkit introduced in 2015 and recently updated.

PPND has an affiliate relationship with the toolkit whereby we get a percentage of the subscription fees. We do this because we believe it is a valuable resource for applying the principles of positive psychology in the world.

Toolkit History

Two years ago, I posted the following question in our Facebook group:

The answers I got were unanimous and clear: Positive psychology exercises.

So I called Hugo Alberts. Hugo is the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to positive psychology. Maybe in general. He’s my friend, business partner, but above all a big source of energy and inspiration in my life.

His personal collection of coaching, research, and positive psychology resources is insane. Trust me, I’ve seen it. He has gigabytes of materials on his hard drive all sorted, labeled, everything. He’s like a squirrel saving up nuts for a positive psychology apocalypse.

During that phone call, we immediately decided that we were going to build an epic resource for practitioners, or ‘helping professionals’ as we call them, that would help them to apply all of positive psychology’s research findings.

The focus would be on exercises, sometimes called interventions, but it would also include all of the necessary measurement tools, such as the following scales:

So we pretty much dropped everything and focused on building The Positive Psychology Practitioner’s Toolkit as we used to call it. Right now we just call it ‘the toolkit’ or ‘our baby’.

It Was The Summer Of ‘15…

We finished and launched the toolkit after a summer of all-nighters, technical challenges, and victory moments.

Those were the best days of my life. O yea.

The response was overwhelming. We immediately got tons of signups (300-400 in the first week I believe) and a lot of positive feedback.

We were happy. Yes, we celebrated our success. For a moment. But we were far from satisfied. Our work had just begun.

The Positive Psychology Toolkit 2.0

As the year went by we added more and more tools and gathered a lot of feedback from our users.

Early in my career I had learned that if you want your product or service to be successful, all you have to do is (ask and) listen and act on what you hear, or don’t hear.

I won’t bore you with all of the details, but there were a lot of things that we could improve such as the speed of the site and its usability.

We solved all of this with the 2.0 version of the toolkit that we launched in the fall of 2016. We also added a community forum so that all of our toolkit users could request new tools and interact with each other.

Again, the relaunch was a success and we got feedback from our members like:

If you’re interested to see an example of how our members are applying these tools, be sure to check out Catherine Bell’s blogpost.

What’s in it for you?

By now you have an idea about what got us to develop this toolkit. In case you’ve never heard of it before you are probably wondering what it contains exactly.

The Positive Psychology Toolkit is an online resource platform filled with 135+ positive psychology interventions, exercises, assessments, scales, activities and questionnaires.

These tools are all based on positive psychology’s subfields such as compassion, forgiveness, goal-setting, mindset, motivation, resilience, gratitude, happiness, mindfulness, savoring, strengths, and values.

Together with our team of researchers (four Ph.D.’s and three people with coaching experience) with plenty of field experience, we are making sure the toolkit only contains high-quality tools that are backed up by science. If a tool is not science-based, it will explicitly say so. We believe it is important not to deal with hunches and best guesses.

We also collaborate with universities and organizations such as the VIA Institute to include some of the validated and well-known tools that are already out there.

People who subscribe to the toolkit can use these tools with their clients without worrying about intellectual property issues since we have take care of getting clearance.

Is the toolkit something for you?

The toolkit is for helping professionals who seek to improve the mental well-being of their clients, employees, students or peers.

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Psychologists
  • Therapists
  • (Life) coaches
  • Trainers
  • Teachers
  • (HR) managers and leaders
  • Health care professionals

The interventions and exercises in the toolkit are not specifically designed for adults or kids. You can take these tools and adapt them to make them suitable for specific situations. I say that with the following (boring) disclaimer:

Note that these tools are intended to be used within the boundaries of your professional expertise. For instance, if you are a certified clinician, you may use the tools within your field of clinical psychology. Likewise, a school teacher may use the tools in the classroom, but is not authorized to use the tools for clinical populations or in the place of clinical interventions. Positive Psychology Program B.V. is not responsible for unauthorized usage of the tools.

What our users are saying

In addition to the glowing reviews by Ilona Boniwell, Ryan Niemiec, and Emiliya Zhivotovskaya that we featured in an earlier article on Positive Psychology News, here is some of the feedback we have been getting from another user:

“The Positive Psychology Toolkit is a brilliant place for practitioners to learn exactly – step by step – how to apply interventions for their clients. The tools build on positive psychology research and principles and are very practical and easy to use.
This is a real treasure chest of ideas and application.”

Lisa Sansom | Speaker, Coach and President at MAPP Alumni

How the toolkit is going to save you time and money

  • You no longer have to spend hours and hours Googling for the right tools and formatting them nicely. We have done the work for you.
  • The tools are categorized and easily accessible online in a printable PDF-format, which makes them a breeze to use in your own therapy sessions, workshops, trainings, coaching, or classroom.
  • References and credits are always included. You can be sure that you’re backed up by science in your work.
  • You can build courses and programs around these tools without worrying about the intellectual property rights as long as you don’t republish them.
  • New tools are added every month!
  • Besides having access to all the tools, you also get access to our online community of experienced positive psychology practitioners where you can ask for advice, share your thoughts, and discuss the tools.

I think it’s safe to say that all these benefits combined make this toolkit an all-in-one resource for practitioners.

Ralph Waldo Emerson beautifully sums how we feel about our mission, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” We can to help you help other people be more fulfilled, experience more meaning and to breathe easier.

So what do you say? Will you join us on this mission?

Join us here if you’re ready to put a dent in the universe, even if it’s in a small way.

Sign up for the Positive Psychology Toolkit.

There are monthly, annual, and enterprise payment options.

Thanks to your support, we can develop more tools that help professionals in different fields to change lives by applying positive psychology, contribute to research projects all over the world and grow a sustainable business in the process.

So thank you.

Oh, by the way, I’m always here and happy to help if you have any questions.

You can reach me personally at: seph@positivepsychologyprogram.com

Thanks again,




Photo Credit: Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons license
Squirrel with nut courtesy of ali eminov

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

Seph Fontane Pennock is a Netherlands-based positive psychology practitioner. He founded the Positive Psychology Program, which aims to facilitate integration of the scientific and practical sides of positive psychology. Full bio.

Seph's articles are here.


Thriving at Work: An Outcome of Positive Leadership

By Robert Rosales

By Robert Rosales -

Should companies concern themselves with the psychological well-being of their employees? After all, the prevalent assumption is that business organizations should be focusing on maximizing profits. In a landmark article, the Nobel laureate Milton Friedman famously argued that, “There is one and only one responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.” This economic perspective elevates profit to the top of all organizational priorities, sometimes at the expense of employee well-being. Interestingly, recent Gallup studies show that employee engagement is a key predictor of a company performance. So how do you reconcile economic profit and human thriving?

Employee Flourishing Matters

Empirical research in organizations makes a strong business case for thriving workplaces. For example, Diener and Seligman argue that work can be highly rewarding and lead to stronger performance, greater health, and higher overall well-being. In their annual meta-analyses reports, Gallup researchers find that the most engaged units outperformed in terms of profitability, productivity, turnover, absenteeism, or customer ratings. Satisfied workers are engaged by their work, have positive relationships and even friends in the workplace, more autonomy to apply their natural talents, and supportive managers. They usually feel they can learn and develop into the best versions of themselves and that their work is important.

The relationship between thriving and success is reciprocal: success can contribute to thriving and thriving leads to more success in multiple life domains such as health, relationships, and work performance, as summarized in the paper by Lyubomirsky, King, and Diener. In other words, thriving is a worthwhile pursuit, both as an end in itself and as a means toward other ends.

The Importance of Employee Morale and Motivation

In today’s information age, only people can make organizations great. That’s why we hear ad nauseam that human capital is a company’s most important asset.

That is really nothing new. In the early 1930s, as a consequence of the stock market crash, the needs of workers made their appearance in the management literature. The famous Hawthorne studies by Roethlisberger and Dickson in 1939 showed for the first time that when workers received increased attention they worked harder.

This research also highlighted that simply eliminating the negative aspects in the workplace may prevent dissatisfaction but did not necessarily produce positive outcomes such as satisfaction, motivation, and performance.

Many employers are still applying management practices which belong to a business model inherited from the late nineteenth century that is negatively biased toward finding and fixing problems and employee weaknesses, as Seligman argues in his book, Flourish.

The Dismal State of Employee Engagement

Interestingly, according to Gallup’s 2015 report, one in four American workers feels ignored by their managers. Undoubtedly, this undercuts employees’ abilities, as they feel repressed by negative contexts. Experiential studies by Kahneman and colleagues confirmed that the time of day when people are least happy is when they are in interacting with their line manager. These dismal results suggest that too many managers are out of touch with their workers. Helliwell and colleagues suggest that they rely on mechanical incentives and command. Perhaps not coincidentally, for most people in organizations, thriving and work are mutually exclusive. As the consistently low employee engagement figures show, only 32% of U.S. employees show passion and a profound connection to their work. The others are checked out or, worse, acting out their unhappiness.

More than three in four (83%) persons age fifteen and over In America spend the majority of their waking hours in a work-related activity, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Inevitably, their experience at work will greatly impact the quality of their lives. Indeed, work provides not just an income, but perhaps more importantly, work affects self-esteem, and creates opportunities for engagement, meaning, and relationships, the qualities that Seligman believes contribute to flourishing.

Positive Leaders

The latest science shows us how to improve the way we work and build better workplaces. Since the early 2000’s the science of Positive Organizational Scholarship recognizes that organizations can reach their bottom-line goals by enhancing people’s experience at work. According to Kim Cameron at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, positive leaders and organizations promote outcomes such as “thriving at work, interpersonal flourishing, virtuous behaviors, positive emotions, and energizing networks.” He points out four behaviors of positive leaders:

  1. Fostering a positive climate: Studies by Fredrickson demonstrate that positive emotions signal safety, broaden our mindset and allow us to discover and build new skills, social ties, knowledge, and behaviors. Consequently, Cameron points out that organizations that enable positive climates through high levels of compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, integrity, trust, and optimism perform better. Positive leaders cultivate a positive emotional climate that spreads across teams and the organization as a whole. The positive climate improves employee quality of life, engagement, and performance.
  2. Reinforcing positive meaning: People want to feel that what they do matters. Employees are becoming increasingly diverse and want to be empowered and engaged by meaningful work and supportive managers. Their need for meaningful work and positive relationships is more than what traditional command-and-control employers usually provide.
  3. Building positive relationships: We know that people join a good organization and leave a bad boss. More generally, whether organizations as well as their employees flourish or languish largely depends on the quality of the social connections they nurture. The quality of the workplace connections can be defined as life giving (high quality) or life depleting (low quality). Positive relationships increase trust, mutual support, collaboration, learning and thriving.
  4. Engaging in positive communication: Communication that conveys affirmation and openness improves the connection between two people. In contrast, unsupportive communication such as sarcasm, negative comparisons, threats, or win-lose interactions hinder the other person’s ability to tune in and understand the message. As Stephens and colleagues explain, what we say and how we say it should denote respect, appreciation, and dignity. Therefore, words and questions should be engaging, affirmative, and positive as much as possible because they orient the direction of the communication.

Arguably, business organizations do many things well. Creating work environments that allow employees to thrive is not among them. Work and well-being can be mutually supportive if the orientation of the organization is on strengths rather than weaknesses, if the workplace offers more autonomy and opportunities for flow experiences, and if employee thriving is a corporate objective, in addition to efficiency and profits. In sum, complementing the traditional organizational pursuit of economic success with a focus on the ways to nurture life-giving work environments is essential to individual and organizational thriving. That is a message that should resonate with more organizations, especially those interested in optimizing efficiency and profits.



BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics). (2013). Charts from the American time use survey.

Cameron, K. (2008, 2012). Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance. Edition 2. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.

Cameron, K. (2010). Five Keys to Flourishing in Trying Times. Executive Forum. Winter 2010, 45-51.

Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5(1): 1-31.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.

Friedman, M. (1970, September 13). The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. New York Times Magazine, 32(3), 122, 126.

Gallup. (2015). Employee engagement.

Gallup (2016). Gallup Q12 Meta Analysis Report.

Helliwell, J. F., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2013). World happiness report.

Kahneman, D., Krueger, A., Schkade, D., Schwarz, N., & Stone, A. (2004). A survey method for characterizing daily life experience: The day reconstruction method (DRM). Science, 306, 1776-1780.

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?. Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803–855.

Michaelson, C., Pratt, M. G., Grant, A. M., & Dunn, C. P. (2014). Meaningful work: Connecting business ethics and organization studies. Journal of Business Ethics, 121(1), 77-90. Abstract.

Roethlisberger, F. J., & Dickson, W. K. (1939). Management and the Worker: An Account of a Research Program Conducted by the Western Electric Company, Hawthorne Works, Chicago. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.

Stephens. J. P., Heaphy, E. D, & Dutton, E. J. (2012). High-quality connections. In K. Cameron & G. Spreitzer (Eds.), Handbook of positive organizational scholarship< ?em> (pp.385-399). New York: Oxford University Press.

Photo Credits: from Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Workplace team courtesy of pttgogofish

Working together courtesy of Jirka Matousek
Unhappy at work? courtesy of Amarand Agasi
Comic courtesy of fedzcomic
Millenials at work courtesy of tedeytan

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

Robert Rosales, MAPP '15, is dedicated to working with organizations to develop the positive leadership skills that are required to address the needs of our time in the workplace. He is the founder of LEAD ACADEMY, a business consultancy that advises clients on science-based positive workplace practices that support performance and people. He leverages over twenty years of management experience at leading financial institutions with extensive education in positive psychology. Robert's articles are here.


The Achoo! Effect: An Interview with Executive Coach Margaret H. Greenberg

By Kathryn Britton

By Kathryn Britton -

Margaret Greenberg is a frequent contributor to Positive Psychology News, an executive coach, a co-author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business (McGraw-Hill), and co-instructor of the Profit from the Positive Certificate Program. Margaret graduated from the MAPP program at Penn in 2016. She is also a 2015 Happiness Hall of Fame Inductee.

Positive Psychology News: You have been contributing to Positive Psychology News since we first launched the site 10 years ago. Here’s a link to your solo articles and another link to the articles you wrote with Senia Maymin. Since then you and Senia Maymin have published a bestselling book, Profit from the Positive. You are also the positive work columnists for Live Happy magazine, and have been speaking to businesses, organizations, and universities around the world about how they can create more positive work environments. What have you learned over the last decade?

Senia and Margaret

Instructors in the Profit from the Positive online course:
Margaret Greenberg (right) with her co-author, Senia Maymin

Margaret: Wow, the last decade. Where do I begin? First, I want to acknowledge that your site, Positive Psychology News, gave me my start as an author. Those early articles that were published here built my confidence as a writer and practitioner of positive psychology. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s inaugural Master of Applied Positive Psychology program, you gave me a forum to share how I was experimenting and applying positive psychology to the workplace. I will be forever grateful for that, and I encourage other aspiring authors to practice their craft here.

Second, what I have learned over the last ten years, from employees and managers alike, is that even a decade later few have ever heard of positive psychology, and strengths is still a new concept for many. I have also learned to drop our positive psychology lingo and speak their language. For example, few business leaders care about Fredrickson’s broaden and build theory. However, if you explain how getting a meeting off to a positive start will encourage more participation and better thinking and then cite her research, leaders tend to perk up. You can draw on the research without getting mired in it.

Positive Psychology News: How do businesses typically respond when you introduce them to positive psychology?

Margaret: Most people are eager to learn how they can take a more positive approach to running their business, solving problems, and engaging employees. While fixing problems and shoring up weaknesses are important to the success of any business, if that’s all you focus on it can be energy draining. Focusing on what’s right and leveraging people’s strengths is a big shift for most people and organizations, but once you introduce them to the concepts and some practical tools, such as FRE, people generally get curious and want to learn more.

Positive Psychology News: What is FRE?

Margaret: FRE is just one of the 31 tools in our book, Profit from the Positive. It stands for Frequent Recognition and Encouragement. It’s based on the research study I conducted with another Positive Psychology News author, Dana Arakawa, when we were studying together at Penn. In this research study, we found that managers who gave more frequent recognition and encouragement had teams that were more than 40% more productive compared to teams with managers that gave little or no feedback. There’s interest out there for this subject: our capstone has been downloaded more than 12,000 times.

If you want to know more about FRE, Senia and I wrote an article about it for Positive Psychology News in 2008. It’s only one of the 31 tools in the book.

Positive Psychology News: What’s another entry point into talking about positive psychology to business people?


Margaret: There have been many articles written here about positive and negative emotions and the role they play in broadening or limiting our thinking. So what’s the connection to business? Most of us have worked on a team or for a boss whose negativity really dragged us down. Dr. Sigal Barsade from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business has found that it only takes one person out of five to “infect” a group with a positive or negative mood.

We need to be mindful of the mood we are projecting when we walk into work or return home at the end of the day. Psychologists call this contagion theory. We drop the academic lingo and call it the Achoo! Effect. I’d like to share with your readers a free e-chapter called The Contagious Leader from our book where we explain this research, along with 4 practical ways to tame your Oscar the Grouch.

Positive Psychology News: What are you working on now?

Margaret: We have turned our book into a 10-week, live, web-based Certificate Program which was recently included in a list of the Top 10 Positive Psychology Courses You Can Take Online. The Profit from the Positive Certificate Program teaches coaches, consultants, and learning and development professionals how to apply the 31 tools in our book to their clients or organizations. It has been great fun to coach other talented professionals on how they can bring positive psychology to businesses around the world. Today we have certified practitioners from four continents and we were recently accredited and approved by the International Coach Federation for ten continuing coach education credits.

Positive Psychology News: How can people learn more about your online course?

Margaret: Just visit the Profit from the Positive website or email us at book@ProfitFromThePositive.com. We are offering Positive Psychology News readers a 50% registration discount for the next cohort that starts on April 18, 2017. On the registration page, just enter the promotional code PPN50. The discount ends April 12. We are eager to meet the next cohort.



Greenberg, M. & Maymin, S. (2013). Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business. McGraw Hill.

Barsade. S. (no date). What is group affect and why does it matter in organizations? Youtube video.

Barsade, S. & Knight, A. P. (2015). Group Affect. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 2, pp. 21-46.

Greenberg, M. & Maymin, S. (2008). Increase Your Team’s Productivity – It’s FRE(E). Positive Psychology News.

Greenberg, M. & Arakawa, D. (2006). Optimistic managers & their influence on productivity & employee engagement in a technology organization. MAPP capstone, University of Pennsylvania.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.

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 on using 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.


Optimistic Explanatory Style Supports Good Health

By Jorge Luis Aurich Cornejo

By Jorge Luis Aurich Cornejo -

Although many studies show that it is possible to be happy even in the disease, it is clear that good health is a very important goal for our well-being and personal development.

Optimistic View

Optimistic View

Psychoneuroimmunology is the science that studies the relationship between the thoughts, emotions, and immune system. Persistent thoughts about stressful situations affect the immune system. Thinking and believing that one cannot have a positive effect on one’s life can have a negative impact on health. This shows up in studies by Madelon Visintainer that are mentioned Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. La Rosa more recently found similar results, including

  • Pessimists tend to have higher blood pressure.
  • Positive emotions decrease the heart rate and blood pressure and the level of cortisol in the circulatory system.
  • Couples with marital conflicts have greater difficulty with wound healing and an overall weaker immune response.
  • Experimentation shows that positive emotions and positive thinking habits can have a protective effect on our health.

    However, I don’t believe enough people know that they can take care of their health by caring for their habits of thought.

    My Experiments with Executives

    A few months ago I explored the relationship between health outcomes and explanatory style in the same group of 200 executives that I described in an earlier article. The group included 119 men and 81 women from the main companies in Peru. I divided the executives into two groups based on the Seligman’s Attributional Style Questionnaire, using the short version with 32 items that does not include the personalization factor. One group had predominately optimistic and hopeful explanatory styles while the other group had predominately pessimistic and hopeless explanatory styles.

    I looked at the way their explanatory styles related to two variables of health:

  • Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • State of health in the three months prior to the research, in particular whether they had suffered problems such as flu, fever, sore throat, pharyngitis, or infection in that time period

BMI is a measure which is very popular in the field of nutrition precisely because of it is easy to estimate and it correlates with predisposition to suffer cardiovascular problems, diabetes, arterial hypertension, and other ills.

Here are the results of our study (also shown in the figure below):

    Condition     Optimistic Executives Pessimistic Executives
    BMI in the overweight range     36% 52%
    Infection in last 3 months     41% 76%

Thus we found that the executives with an optimistic style were more likely to be within the normal weight range according to their size and age, allowing them to enjoy better health. Those with a pessimistic style tended not to believe they had direct control over their weight and were more likely to be overweight with a greater risk of disease.

With respect to infection, those with an optimistic style seemed to have immune systems that coped better with the exposure to viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens, since they seem better able to resist disease.

How does the style of thought affect our health?

According to Seligman, there are four ways that the pessimistic style impacts health.

The first way is basic biology. For example, glucocorticoids have a depressive effect on the defensive role of T cells and NK or natural killer cells. These mechanisms have been studied by Robert Sapolsky from the point of view of stress and its relationship with depression. Stress and depression are both related to a pessimistic style of thinking.

The second way concerns habits. The individuals who are pessimistic and hopeless on average have less healthy habits because they tend to consider that their actions have little effect on the circumstances, they have a greater predisposition to abandon the medical treatments, and they tend not to follow healthy guidelines.

A third way is the increasing number of difficult situations that the pessimistic people face as a result of their own decisions and behaviors.

Finally a fourth way is related to the lowered quality of relationships and social support that comes from the passive role that pessimistic people tend to choose.

It appears that the optimistic style of thinking becomes a protective shield against illness. This is a very important element in a work context, because work requires sustained energy and physical and mental resources to deal with the daily challenges, stress, and the goals of business. The costs of disease affect companies in terms of loss of productivity and absenteeism. Society faces the use of economic resources to treat illnesses, and individuals face a lower quality of life with the increased risk of disease.

I believe that it is very important for people to be aware that managing thinking patterns can affect health and wellness.




Aurich Cornejo, J. L. (2016) Hope and optimism in Peruvian executives. Positive Psychology News.

La Rosa Rodríguez, E. (2014). De la felicidad a la salud. Cómo ser feliz para tener buena salud. Lima, Peru: FCE. More information.

Peterson, C. (1988). Explanatory style as a risk factor for illness. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 12, 117-130. Abstract.

Peterson, C., Semmel, A., von Baeyer, C., Abramson, L. T., Metalsky, G. I., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1982). The Attributional Style Questionnaire. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 6, 287-300.

Sweeney, P.D., Anderson, K, & Bailey, S. (1986). Attributional style in depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 974-991. Abstract.

Sapolsky, R. M. (2004). Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Third Edition. New York: Holt.

Schneider, S. (2001). In search of realistic optimism. Meaning, knowledge, and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist, 56(3): 250-63. Abstract.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. 2nd Edition. New York: Vintage.

Seligman, M. E. P. (no date) Attributional Style Questionnaire. Questionnaires for researchers at the Penn Positive Psychology Center.

Visintainer, M. & Seligman, M. E. P. (1983). Fighting cancer: The hope factor. American Health, 2 (4), 58-62.

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

Jorge Luis Aurich Cornejo, MBA University of Piura - IESE Business School, Coach, specialist in Positive Psychology and candidate for Master degree in Nutrition. Senior executive with 17 years of experience. University professor. Dedicated at present to coaching and lecturing on personal development and leadership and to showing how they can boost our health, vitality and our effectiveness. Web Site. Jorge's articles for PositivePsychologyNews.com are here.


Positive Psychology is Not Equivalent to Positive Thinking

By Dwayne Thomas

By Dwayne Thomas -

Last year, I officially completed the requirements of Penn’s Master of Applied Positive Psychology program. Recently, I read Morgan Mitchell’s Newsweek article, The ‘Tyranny’ of Positive Thinking can Threaten Your Health and Happiness. This article makes a fundamental error concerning the definition of positive psychology, and I wish to correct that error.

Before World War II, psychology focused on three areas: curing mental illness, cultivating high talent, and making people’s lives more fulfilling and productive. Post WWII, economic incentives shifted psychology’s focus solely to pathology. Chief among these incentives were the decisions of grant-making bodies to fund research related to pathology and the realization among psychologists that they could earn a living treating mental illness.

Seligman and others (circa 1998) first conceived of positive psychology as a “science of human strengths,” seeking to prevent mental illness by cultivating human strengths. By 2006, positive psychology was also described as “seeking to promote human potential.” Today, positive psychology uses the scientific method to study the factors that contribute to human well-being.

The belief that humans can increase their well-being is not new. It can be traced back through the centuries and across cultures. Aristotle pondered a state of “being happy” (as opposed to “feeling happy”) he called eudaemonia. William James argued that our actions could lead to a state of happiness distinct from feeling happy. Seligman expressed the view that the absence of mental illness does not imply the presence of mental wellness.

The focus on using the scientific method, testing ideas and obtaining evidence before drawing conclusions, is what differentiates positive psychology from many books in the self-help section. As a result, Mitchell’s claim that a simplified form of positive psychology exists is incorrect.

Furthermore, research suggests that positive results are not limited to positive stimuli. For example, fear and anger have been shown to narrow selective attention. This effect is useful when a situation demands that we focus on a task or particular set of instructions. Additionally, the concept of post-traumatic growth is defined as a positive change which stems from a traumatic life event, generally an experience that nobody would choose.

Too much of a bad thing can be bad for you. But too much of a good thing can also be bad for you. Too much confidence can beget arrogance. Too much optimism can cause you to miss signs of danger. An overemphasis on autonomy can prevent you from seeking much needed help. None of these outcomes would be in line with Seligman’s original vision or with positive psychology as it stands today.

Researchers and practitioners of positive psychology do not consider approaches without grounding in scientific evidence to be part of positive psychology. Neither would they consider an approach that involves only positive thinking tp be part of positive psychology. Just as overcoming mental illness takes work on the part of a patient, so too does increasing one’s well-being.

It is unfortunate that Mitchell conflates self-help and positive psychology. However, positive psychology has sometimes been misunderstood as being happiology, the study of a hedonic superficial form of happiness, since at least 2006. Unfortunately, some authors who disregard positive psychology’s focus on the scientific method claim their work to be positive psychology in order to cash in on its popularity. I hope clarifying this distinction helps others differentiate between what might be positive psychology and what is not.



Mitchell, M. (2016, Sept 15). The ‘tyranny’ of positive thinking can threaten your health and happiness. Newsweek.

Peterson, C. (2008). What is positive psychology and what is it not? Psychology Today.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). What is well-being? An excerpt from Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being.

Image credits:
William James from Wikimedia, photo dated 1902
Psychology Poster courtesy of Oglethorpe University, Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons License

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

Dwayne Allen Thomas, MAPP '16, is an attorney and a 2016 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Master of Applied Positive Psychology program. He was awarded the Chris Peterson Memorial Fellowship by the MAPP Alumni Association. See his Facebook page for information about his writing. LinkedIn profile with posts. Dwayne's articles can be found here.



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