There was much in this book that caused me to be more reflective and introspective. When you’re in a life-long relationship with someone else, that’s probably a good practice. Since it takes two to tango, couples may want to buy two copies of this ...

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Not a Partnership (Book Review)

By Lisa Sansom

By Lisa Sansom -

Walking together

Right from the title page, Not A Partnership¸ is provocative, thoughtful, inspired and, perhaps unintentionally, funny. This book by Tod Jacobs and Yosef (Peter) Lynn is about marriage and relationships. The authors are both married to the women to whom they dedicated the book. They dive into some areas of relationships where other authors may fear to tread, they take on some fundamental beliefs about what marriage is perceived to be, and they unabashedly look under all the rocks and unearth some true gems. Even if you don’t agree with them (and I had a few intense gut reactions myself), you will certainly come away thinking about things in a new way that you will not be able to unsee.


First though, a bit of background on the authors. Both Tod and Yosef currently live in Jerusalem with their respective families. Tod is Director of the David Robinson Institute for Jewish Heritage in Jerusalem. He formerly worked on Wall Street and has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. Peter Yosef lectures at Touro College in Jerusalem and is the Founder and Director of the Greatness Within Seminars, which takes the Jewish (and logical and positive psychology) approach of focusing on where you are going right in life. Both authors bring tremendous background and insight to this book.

The book then, is also very logical and based in practical and mystical Jewish wisdom with modern theory, research and techniques. It opens with Tod’s anecdote of how the book came to be, and the instigating question that if marriage is not a partnership, then what is it? That’s what this book explores through topics such as biology, emotion, soul, and the foundation of marriage: giving.

Tod Jacobs

Now, to be sure, I do not have a grounding in Jewish religion or philosophy, so I learned a lot reading this book on many different levels. As the authors write, “While some of the source material is ‘spiritual,’ the insights contained therein are by no means confined to religious adherents. Indeed, the power of the ideas lies in their universality and self-evident depth and truth. Whatever your background and beliefs may be, we believe that the ideas speak for themselves and have proven themselves unequivocally powerful and compelling across the centuries.”

The authors take us back to basics, defining what exactly marriage is, its roots starting from Adam and Eve, and why marriage is “the place for life’s ultimate goals to be fulfilled” (emphasis theirs). Further into the basics, the authors do a dive into male and female biology, and note that we are “separate but equal.” They write about the man’s contribution to baby-making: “How incredibly ‘male’ is his contribution — massive amounts of energy and potential, but no staying power and no reality!” which really made me laugh out loud. I’m not sure if the authors meant it to be that funny, but it’s not the only place where their humor and humanity comes through.

At some points, I admit I struggled with the apparent traditional roles and stereotypes: the man fighting urges to be unfaithful, the woman who is potentially emotionally smothering; the man who approaches marriage with a “childlike spirit,” and the woman who is “the adult in the relationship.” But I’m willing to push past that for the real heart of the book, which is “The road to marital happiness and perfection begins when I give.”

Gift of Bread

The authors make the claim that we have marriage all backwards. We don’t love someone when they give to us. Instead we love someone when we give to them. Why, for example, do parents love their children more than children love their parents? It’s because parents give more to their children than the other way around. People love their dogs because they take care of them. It’s the same with gardening, and many other relationships, hobbies, and activities. When we give more of ourselves, we love and enjoy that relationship or activity more. Therefore, the way to a successful marriage is to give more of yourself to the other person and to the relationship. This, according to the authors, is not a new insight. It is rooted in ancient Talmudic wisdom that still holds true today.

Interestingly, this also appears to hold up in positive psychology research. As the authors note, “Research by social psychologist Liz Dunn and her colleagues, published in the journal Science, shows that people’s sense of happiness is greater when they spend relatively more money on others than on themselves,” and “Americans who describe themselves as “very happy” volunteer an average of 5.8 hours per month.” They cite several other findings substantiating the premise that giving leads to happiness and improved relationships with other people.

Peter Yosef Lynn

Of course, there is much more to a happy marriage than simply giving, and the authors take us through the worlds of self-love, selfishness, what real giving is, and how this all relates to marriage and some ancient thinking. They also address why love doesn’t last, and they bust some prevalent myths of marriage.

Ultimately, there are three underlying principles that they say must form the core of giving in marriage:

  1. Make your spouse the center of your concern in life.
  2. Focus on building the other.
  3. Marital happiness lies in intimacy – total connectivity.

Giving freshness

With this in mind, the authors posit four pillars:

  1. Keeping it fresh
  2. Gratitude: feeling it and showing it
  3. Respect in all its forms
  4. Responsibility: it all depends on me!

I won’t go into all the details. It’s a good idea to pick up the book and read through so you can highlight and make your own notes and reflect on your own marriage and other relationships. But here’s what I will share. Once I got to the end of the book, I did have to pause and reflect on my own marriage and my own relationships. While I won’t go into details here, I’ll just say that, if this book sets the standard, I have a lot of room to grow!

The work of Dr Adam Grant, notably in his book Give and Take, however did echo in my mind as I was reading Not A Partnership. In his research, Adam Grant discovered that people he labeled Givers can become exhausted and unfulfilled and perhaps burn out when they give and give and give without boundaries, especially to people he called Takers. I don’t believe that Jacobs and Lynn would ever advocate staying in any sort of relationships where one partner is abusive or all-consuming without ever giving, but it does seem that they also advocate giving without keeping track and without expectation of reciprocity. At some point, that may be a recipe for disaster, and not all relationships are worth staying in. That said, if both partners are Givers and make each other the central concern of their lives and work together on their relationship, then I can see how marriage can be reconstrued as “not a partnership.”

Having a discussion

There was much in this book that caused me to be more reflective and introspective. When you’re in a life-long relationship with someone else, that’s probably a good practice. Since it takes two to tango, couples may want to buy two copies of this book, one for each to read, make notes in, and reflect on. Then they might want to do a few date book club nights to share their ideas and move forward together.


Jacobs, T. & Lynn, P. (2019). Not A Partnership: Why We Keep Getting Marriage Wrong & How We Can Get It Right. Not a Partnership LLC.

Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319(5870), 1687-1688. DOI: 10.1126/science.1150952. Abstract.

Dunn, E. & Norton, M. (2013). Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. Simon Shuster.

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

Picture Credits

Couple walking Photo by Shea Rouda on Unsplash
Gift of bread Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
Giving strawberries Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash
Couple in a coffeeshop Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

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.


The Positive Psychology Movie Awards for 2018

By Ryan Niemiec

By Ryan Niemiec -

Now in its 10th year, I’m happy to offer you the best of the best positive psychology movies from the past year. I comb through popular, independent, and obscure films to select important films across some of the most important positive psychology themes.

You can use these movies to educate your students, catalyze strength in your clients, or for your own personal cinematic elevation. Cinematic elevation is a phrase I coined in 2008 to refer to one of the motivational pathways by which movies can make us better people and create a stronger society. In alignment with the emotion of elevation, which has very clear science on its benefits for altruism, here is the typical pathway for cinematic elevation:

You observe a movie character displaying virtue, strength, or goodness that is uplifting.

You feel physiologic sensations such as a warming in your chest and a tingling in your extremities.

You feel motivated to do good. You take actions that is altruistic and strengths-based.

So, don’t delay! Watch some of these movies and boost the well-being of yourself and others!

General Awards


Mary Poppins Returns: Award for Best Positive Psychology Film
If you listen to songs by actor and musical genius Lin-Manuel Miranda in this film or attend to the pockets of wisdom and central storylines, you’ll be hard-pressed not to discover a wide range of positive and uplifting messages. Core themes of the film, which are sometimes silly yet always meaningful, include the importance of having an optimistic mindset, trusting in children, looking for the light to guide you, taking a different view of problems by going upside-down, reminding yourself that everything is possible including the impossible, no better time to take action than the present, and the view of death as gone but not forgotten and nothing is gone forever.


Green Book: Award for Positive Relationships
Exemplary true story about Don Shirley, an African American virtuoso pianist, who connects with his “driver,” a working class Italian-American who takes him across the Deep South to deliver various concerts at a time period where racist, discriminatory, and violent behavior is dominant. As they travel, they indirectly teach and learn from one another. They grow as men and work together to challenges the bigotry and narrow-mindedness that surrounds them.


Roma: Award for Meaning
Despite the ineptitude and failures of the men around them, the women find a variety of ways to step up, support one another, and discover strength at times of trauma and routine in this slice of life, Mexican film. The film has won 184 awards, including Oscars for best director, cinematography, and foreign film. This film shows that meaning is found in moments – moments of care for others, moments of connection, moments of acceptance, and moments of courage.


BlacKkKlansman: Award for Achievement
Spike Lee film that depicts the true story of the first Black police officer in the Colorado Springs police force. He and a White officer collaborate on an impressive achievement – infiltrate and dismantle a major, local KKK group with national ties to politician David Duke. Rather than forcing messages, the film holds a mirror up to the viewer to reflect on the issues.


A Quiet Place: Award for Mindfulness
In this post-apocalyptic film, a family of 5 tries to survive blind creatures that attack only by sound. Because the rule of thumb to survive is – stay silent, stay alive – the film is an interesting teacher of mindfulness. Most of the characters’ behaviors are done quietly and deliberately such as tiptoeing, carefully reaching over glass bottles on a table, using sign language, walking in bare feet, quiet game-play, and mindful listening. The two character strengths at the core of the operational definition of mindfulness – self-regulation and curiosity – are also central in the characters’ attentive listening and controlled emotions and behaviors.


Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Award for Happiness
This film is a documentary about Fred Rogers, the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which ran for 31 seasons (912 episodes), infusing joy, curiosity, and love in the hearts of countless children. Not only is the pleasurable type of happiness of smiles and laughter apparent but also the meaningful joy and openness that comes from inclusion of people with disabilities and races different from one’s own, and how to have meaningful conversations with children on topics of pet loss, divorce, and violence. As a positive role model, Mister Rogers famously said, “What is essential in life is invisible to the eye.”

A Vigilante: Signature Strengths Use
A young domestic violence survivor discovers resilience through her signature strengths of bravery, perseverance, creativity, and fairness. She lives with great suffering, confronts it, and tries to help others who are in similar circumstances. She is simultaneously deeply vulnerable and incredibly powerful in her strengths.


The Children Act: Award for Morality
An important film that offers a variety of moral dilemmas. One dilemma surrounds a judge (Emma Thompson) who must decide a court case surrounding a Jehovah Witness family that refuses to allow their sick son to undergo a blood transfusion due to religious beliefs. This decision leads to further dilemmas in regard to the interaction between the judge and adolescent. In addition, moral dilemmas about planned infidelity in a struggling marriage are addressed by the judge and her husband.


Operation Finale: Award for Teamwork
The true story of the capture of Adolf Eichmann, the only Holocaust mastermind criminal to escape alive and avoid the Nuremberg trials post-WW2. The film depicts the incredible capture of Eichmann by a team of secret agents who secretly kidnap him, keep him secure (and alive), and secretly fly him to Israel to stand trial. The teamwork and planning amidst great risk and pressure is central to the film.

Bird Box: Award for Resilience
Acclaimed Danish filmmaker, Susanne Bier, and starring actress, Sandra Bullock, team up in one of the most unique and artistic apocalyptic films you will see. The survival of a woman and two children in this dangerous world requires substantial bravery, perseverance, and creativity, driven by leadership, teamwork, and love.


The Burial of Kojo: Award for Positive Storytelling
African film (from Ghana) about a family that experiences a horrible loss yet the daughter finds a way, through oral storytelling tradition, positive reminiscence, the pursuit of the sacred, and positive reappraisal to keep the “magic” and memories of her loved one alive.


Searching: Award for Parenting
The entirety of this first-of-a-kind film is shown through the lens of social media platforms (from Facebook to chatting to Instagram to the cameras on the characters’ computers). The film’s messages reflect the dangers as well as benefits of these platforms. This film gets the award for parenting, not because of the parent’s drive for their child’s well-being, because of the important messages to parents to be savvy in social media, learn new technologies, and never quit on the journey of “trying to know” your child.


Welcome to Marwen: Award for Coping
Steve Carell portrays a man who uses extraordinary creativity along with slivers of curiosity to cope with debilitating PTSD following a brutal act of violence. He creates a symbolic world to cope with his intrusive thoughts, painful memories (and memory gaps), and to move forward on a path of healing and letting go. The film does not fall into the common cinematic traps of “love can conquer all mental illness” or superficial panaceas involving getting your mind right or fixed.


Bad Times at the El Royale: Award for Redemption
In this well-paced, story-driven film that is sometimes violent and always engaging, each character is on a path of redemption. Some make choices that are for the good to help others, while others do not. In life and in death, each character has a redemptive moment.


Can You Ever Forgive Me? Misuse of Strengths
Melissa McCarthy portrays a lonely, struggling writer with a limited capacity to connect with others but a high capacity for consuming whiskey. She misuses strengths (as opposed to overusing or underusing strengths) of creativity and social intelligence to lie and steal; this is because she uses strengths for negative or malevolent purposes, in this case, for the purpose of manipulating others to steal their money.

The Virtue Awards


Prodigy: Award for Wisdom
A brilliant, institutionalized young girl is such a danger to others that the evaluating team has decided she must be euthanized. Her last hope is a psychologist who tries to truly “see” her and her suffering. Despite tremendous adversity and gamesmanship by the prodigy, the psychologist has to deploy great wisdom to save her. He is driven by curiosity in their interactions, creative planning, and upholding of the wider perspective.


Solo: A Star Wars Story: Award for Courage
Each of the central characters must bring forth substantial bravery, perseverance, zest, and honesty and struggle to maintain these courage strengths on their journey.


Pope Francis: A Man of His Word: Award for Humanity
Documentary by legendary German director Wim Wenders which highlights the humanity, virtues, and strengths-based messages of Pope Francis. The film is about pursuing the best of the human condition and highlights peace activism, poverty as the central spiritual teaching, the art of listening, zero tolerance for pedophilia, offering compassionate silence to people after a tragedy, and the adage that the more powerful a leader is the more humility is required. In the snippets of his speeches, a viewer can spot the majority of the 24 character strengths, especially humanity, temperance, and transcendence strengths. The viewer can see that these strengths can be the antidote to what the pope refers to as the spiritual “deafness” of most people, including religious leaders.


Ready Player One: Award for Justice
Central messages in this Steven Spielberg film are the strengths/themes of teamwork, fairness/unfairness, and leadership/bad leadership. The film is set in a futuristic society where most people live in a virtual reality called the oasis designed by a trillionaire who has died and left his fortune to whomever can figure out three hidden clues.


Crazy Rich Asians: Award for Temperance
Characters display strong levels of humility, self-regulation, and prudence and are contrasted with characters who show a blatant underuse of these strengths.


Alpha: Award for Transcendence
The transcendence strengths of appreciation of beauty and hope catalyze resilience in Keda, a coming-of-age boy in tribal Europe 20,000 years ago. After Keda is left for dead in a remote and wild terrain, his hope and appreciation of beauty strength comes full force as he preserves and nurtures an injured wolf. They form a bond that manifests patience and perseverance to help them survive.

Honorable Mention

Editor’s Note: This is the tenth year that Ryan has provided positive psychology movie awards. Check the reference list below for links to his previous movie award articles as well as his book on positive psychology at the movies.

We provide Amazon or IMDB links for most movies. We know there are many ways to gain access to these movies, but the reviews may be helpful even so.



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

Niemiec, R. M. (2007). What is a positive psychology film? [Review of The pursuit of happyness]. PsycCRITIQUES, 52(38). DOI:10.1037/a0008960. Available for download from ResearchGate.

Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2013). Positive Psychology at the Movies: Using Films to Build Character Strengths and Well-Being Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe.

Smithikrai, C. (2016). Effectiveness of teaching with movies to promote positive characteristics and behaviors. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 217, 522-530.

Earlier Positive Psychology Movie Awards by Ryan Niemiec:

Image credit
Trophies Photo by Ariel Besagar on Unsplash

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

Ryan Niemiec, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist, coach, and Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character. He's an international presenter on character strengths, mindfulness, and positive psychology. Ryan is author of many books including Character Strengths Interventions and Mindfulness and Character Strengths and co-author of The Power of Character Strengths and Positive Psychology at the Movies. Longer bio. Articles by Ryan are here.


Conversations Worth Having (Book Review)

By Lisa Sansom

By Lisa Sansom -


In his gracious and thoughtful introduction to this book, Appreciative Inquiry (AI) creator and founder Dr. David Cooperrider writes, “[t]his book is built on the authors’ relentless optimism.” This book is also built upon the deep expertise of the authors, Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres, internationally recognized for their research and consulting. It also demonstrates the growing application and infiltration of Appreciative Inquiry into individuals, dyads, and small groups, moving well beyond its original scope of systemic organizational change. It has been truly wonderful to see the principles of Appreciative Inquiry grow into so many different domains, including, now, the area that is often referred to as “difficult conversations.”

Jackie Stavros, DM

In the world of Appreciative Inquiry, we recognize that our words create worlds, so it is fitting that Stavros and Torres have included “difficult conversations” in with  “conversations worth having.” To underscore this notion, the book’s preface begins with the observation that “Conversations lie at the heart of how we interact.” Ponder that for a moment. If conversations truly do lie at the heart of interpersonal interactions, then what becomes possible? What becomes important and meaningful? What conversations become worth having, rather than shying away from them?

Cheri Torres, Ph.D.

Conversations worth having are those that add value through appreciative questions and dialogue. They are meaningful and engaging. They increase the mutual pie of knowledge and understanding. They are strengths-based and productive. They are conversations that increase our energy, enhance our connections with others, improve collaboration and problem-solving, and make us feel valued, even loved.

Appropriately, this book is filled with stories and case studies, narratives of possibility, affirmation, and positive shifts. These stories not only illustrate and highlight the potential of Appreciative Inquiry in different situations, but they also provide inspiration for the new practitioner, the struggling individual, or the curious leader who might want more of the good stuff to move into a more positive future with others.


Overall, this book brings illuminates two key practices that allow you to “consistently turn any conversation into a conversation worth having,” and five principles to guide your successful practice. Honestly, these are techniques and principles that anyone can follow, regardless of your experience or expertise with Positive Psychology or Appreciative Inquiry. For those who are deeply familiar with Appreciative Inquiry (beyond the basic 4-D model of holding a summit), there will be some great overlaps here that you will enjoy.

Close to Home

Reading through this book, refreshing my understanding of Appreciative Inquiry, and taking it into the world of dyadic interpersonal conversations made me reflect on an upcoming “difficult conversation” that I need to have with a family member, namely, my teenage son. There are several things that we need to “discuss,” and I won’t bore the reader by listing them here, but needless to say, they are important, and this is definitely a conversation worth having.


This book reminds me that I need to have a positive frame to start with, and I need to reflect on the meaning I am bringing to this interaction. I need to hold my viewpoint lightly (which is oh so hard!) and I should choose my words carefully to allow for new meaning and understanding. I know from my own failures in the past, that this is where I often stumble. As the parent, with a definite idea of what my son should be doing (basically the opposite of what he is doing right now), I’ve bashed my head against this brick wall before.

Right now, one of the biggest obstacles I am facing is that I am expecting negative outcomes, especially as I have crashed and burned on similar conversations before. It is important that I change my mindset to one that is anticipatory and opportunity-focused. I have choices here, and even if my son doesn’t follow my lead, I can at least set the example and perhaps the next conversation will be a better one with eventual mutually positive outcomes. Wish me luck!

Here’s to many more conversations worth having!


Stravos, J. & Torres, C. (2018). Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement. San Francisco: Berrett Kohler.

Photo credits

Conversation photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash
Canyonlands conversation photo by Natalie Acheatel on Unsplash

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.


Emotional Intelligence Masterclass (Sponsored)

By Seph Fontane Pennock and Hugo Alberts

By Seph Fontane Pennock and Hugo Alberts -

The Emotional Intelligence Masterclass© is a complete, 6-module emotional intelligence training template for helping professionals.

Notice: The early bird 40% savings expires in on Friday, April 5. Price statement is here.

Course Materials

All the materials you need to confidently apply emotional intelligence in a 2019-proof-way are at your disposal. This makes the Emotional Intelligence Masterclass a practitioner’s ultimate shortcut. The EQ training sessions are science-based, with all claims backed up by research and references.

These materials include


  • Live recordings of the Emotional Intelligence Masterclass
  • Practitioner handbook
  • Workbook including 17 exercises for your participants
  • Train-the-Trainer videos for each lesson (20 videos)
  • Community-section to interact with fellow practitioners
  • 20 PowerPoint presentations for teaching and workshops
  • Recommended books, articles, movies, videos and quotes
  • Lifetime updates, dedicated support

With your purchase, you will gain the rights to use all of these materials under your own brand.


Dr. Hugo Alberts, presenting

The masterclass instructor is Dr. Hugo Alberts, who has been exploring the scientific side of positive psychology for the past 10 years. He has 20+ academic publications on this topic, including emotions. As a practitioner, positive psychology is at the heart of his work with a diverse range of clients.

His aim is to give people both the psychological perspective and the hands-on tools that have proven to increase mental well-being through the practice of positive psychology.

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 solo articles are here. Articles with Lisa Sansom are here.

Dr. Hugo Alberts is co-founder of Positive Psychology Program, an online positive psychology resource centre. A professor of psychology at the University of Maastricht, Hugo completed his doctorate on the theme of self-control and has made mindfulness a major focus of his research, teaching, and coaching. Hugo's articles with Seph are here.


Nature and Spirit

By Cordele Glass

By Cordele Glass -

Positive psychology can bridge ecopsychology and transpersonal psychology.

Bridging nature

Development within natural ecosystems and a strong sense of identification with something larger and more expansive than the self have gained enough research and attention to lead to the fields of ecopsychology and transpersonal psychology respectively. Each of these fields is currently on the periphery of mainstream psychology, but each focuses on aspects of development that are crucial to well-being and a life of peace, contentment, and connection. This article helps to outline their overlap with each other and their relationship to positive psychology in the hopes of promoting further psychological research, application, and interest in the under-represented realms of nature and spirit. It concludes with several practices that people can use to benefit from the convergence of these three aspects of psychology.

Transpersonal Psychology

Transpersonal psychology is a western scientific attempt to explore the cross-cultural and cross-generational phenomenology of self transcendence, altered states of consciousness, and mystical experiences. It is not a set of beliefs, a dogma, or a religion. It is an attempt to bring a full range of human experience into the discourse of psychology.

Time lapsed photo of stars

Just like other subfields of psychology (cognitive, social, psychotherapy), the sense of separate self is seen as a product of one’s personal history and is characterized by a sense of autonomy and separation from surroundings. The transpersonal approach explores the psychological realm beyond these awareness constraints by researching and describing states in which the self transcends the narrow identifications of the body, one’s roles, and one’s personal history or social groups.

Self-transcendence refers to states of consciousness in which the sense of self is expanded beyond the ordinary boundaries, identifications, and self-images of the individual personality and reflects a fundamental harmonious unity with others and the world. This is a phenomenon that has occurred for thousands of people from every culture on the planet and throughout all recorded history.

Transpersonal psychology is concerned with the study of humanity’s highest conscious potential, a goal perfectly aligned with the field of positive psychology.


Ecopsychology operates under the notion that human experience, development, and well-being are inextricably linked with the natural environment. Human development takes place within the processes and systems of our natural ecosystems in a deeply bonded and reciprocal communion. The denial of this bond is a source of suffering both for the physical environment and for the human psyche. The realization of the connection between humans and nature is healing for both.

Girl in nature

Proponents of this field are bringing the contributions of ecological thinking, the values of the natural world, and responses to environmental destruction to psychotherapy and personal growth by fostering lifestyles that are both ecologically and psychologically healthy. Recognizing the systems in which humans are embedded is currently the cutting edge of theoretical approaches in positive and developmental psychology, but typically the emphasis is on social, cultural, or economic systems rather than ecological or natural systems.

Nature, Transcendence, and Flow

Ecopsychology is based on the recognition of a fundamental nonduality between humans and nature, and on the insight that the failure to experience and act from this nonduality creates suffering for both humans and the environment.

Nonduality is equally at the foundation of transpersonal psychology in the sense that the duality between self and world can be transcended through altered states of consciousness. Transpersonal psychologists and ecopsychologists (and even Buddhist psychologists and many other Eastern philosophies) argue that our ordinary experience of ourselves as separate autonomous beings is incomplete and inaccurate.

Admittedly, many of these claims and concepts run dangerously close to the domain of religion. According to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, one of the founders of the field of positive psychology, “…there is a distinction between religiosity and spirituality. The latter is a non-denominational way of speaking about what religions sometimes do. So for instance, meditation, mindfulness, gratitude, respect and love of nature – all of these things are very much part of Positive Psychology.” All of these things are clearly vital aspects of ecopsychology and transpersonal psychology as well.

When Dr. Csikszentmihalyi started studying altered states of consciousness and optimal experiences in artists and musicians, the literature on ecstasy (from Greek ekstasis, literally ‘standing outside oneself’) resonated with his findings, specifically the feeling of losing oneself in something larger and the way one’s sense of time disappears. He suggests that peak altered states of ecstasy can be achieved through very long periods of training like in Hindu mystical practices, yogic techniques, or deep flow experiences. He says if you achieve the ecstatic experience, through meditation for example, you are actively connected to a larger experience.

“Nonduality encompasses those states of being and consciousness in which the sense of separate individuality and autonomy has been metabolized or dissolved into the flow of experience. Self-identity becomes integrated into a qualitatively higher (or deeper) perspective in which personal identity and the world are not separate. The world does not melt into non-differentiation, perception continues, and actions flow.” – Davis, J. (1998)

So far, the studies that have been done on flow and the brain are few, but they suggest that what is happening is transient hypo-frontality: the frontal part of the brain (executive functioning and conceptualization) is not interfering with the rest of the brain. This pattern is consistent with brain scans done on master meditators that enter deep transpersonal states of trance. In yet another convergence, ecopsychologists Kaplan and Kaplan contrast the concept of flow with the concept of compatibility, i.e., a fit between one’s needs and capacities and what the environment offers. Compatibility is a necessary part of any flourishing natural ecosystem, and it maps almost directly onto a central aspect of flow often conceptualized as a balance between challenge and skill. These are but a few examples of the overlapping and corroborative results found in the fields of transpersonal, eco, and positive psychology.

Applications of Positive, Eco, and Transpersonal Psychologies

There are a number of practices to elicit ecopsychological awareness and insights. They can also be used as part of a transpersonal or spiritual practice. They all lead to enhanced well-being, connection, and flourishing as espoused by the field of positive psychology.

    Clouds, trees, mountains

  • Awareness and mindfulness practices: Sensory awareness exercises which include awareness of the natural world are useful for both being aware of ecological systems themselves, and for revealing your connection to them. For example, spend an hour in a quiet green space and treat your awareness as if you are the eyes of nature perceiving itself. This has been shown to create a significant shift in how we relate to our environment. 
  • Place-bonding: Relate to a particular place over a period of time (e.g., a semester or a year). Preferably alone in nearby nature that is easily accessible from home. During this time get to know it in as many ways as possible. Listen for ways to take care of it, and let it listen to you. Enter the place in deep silence and observe your concepts, idealizations, and judgments about it. Most discover how their “use” of the place and the filtering of their perceptions of it are tied to a sense of their own separate selves and their projections, fears, and hopes. 
  • Environmental Action Projects: Work on a specific environmental project. For the purposes of this exercise, some kind of direct action, such as cleaning up a section of a stream or a vacant city lot or digging a hole to plant a tree, works better than a more abstract or intellectual project. In addition to improving the physical environment, attempt to reflect on your perspective and motivations. You may even use it as a mindfulness exercise or meditation-in-action. 
  • Wilderness Expedition: Spend several days deep in a wild natural area with a small group, possibly with a wilderness guide, with the goal of connecting to the natural environment at large. You can use the surroundings as a tool to interpret your current life situation for deeper understanding of yourself in a naturalistic and more ecologically aware state of mind.

I invite you to apply these practices with your clients or try them for yourself.


Bynum, E. (1997). A brief overview of Transpersonal Psychology. The Humanistic Psychologist, 20 (2 and 3), 301-306. Abstract.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on flow, ecstasy and the spirituality of Positive Psychology. Interview on Philosopy for Life Web site.

Davis, J. (1998). The transpersonal dimensions of ecopsychology: Nature, nonduality, and spiritual practice. The Humanistic Psychologist, 26(1-3), 69-100. Abstract.

Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Image Credits
Waterfall Photo by Blake Richard Verdoorn on Unsplash
TIme lapsed photograph of stars by Christian Nielsen on Unsplash
Girl in forest photo by Andraz Lazic on Unsplash
Clouds over the mountains photo by Sasha • Stories on Unsplash

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

Cordele Glass, M.A. 2018 holds a graduate degree in Positive Developmental Psychology and Evaluation from Claremont Graduate University. He works as an outdoor adventure guide, teambuilding facilitator, and positive psychology coach in Southern California. You can read more on his website, Upward Acts. Full bio. Cordele's articles are here..


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