A positive update on the science of well-being

27 May 2020

In the late 1990s Martin Seligman and Mihaly ‘Flow’ Csikszentmihalyi met by chance on a beach in Hawaii and a new domain in psychology came into being – Positive Psychology. As President of the American Psychological Association in 1998, Seligman chose to focus on the study and understanding of eudaimonia – human flourishing – rather than what can (and does) go wrong. Whilst much research predates this chance encounter, the aggregation of this with a focus on the positive experience of life was innovative and created the Positive Psychology movement.

John Zelenski, a Psychology Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, has created a current and comprehensive account of thinking and research since that time. This book is his contribution to the teaching of Positive Psychology today. 

In those 20 odd years, our understanding of human well-being and our ability to flourish has evolved. We may never have been so aware of our own well-being. It would be easy to glance at the cover of this book and think it is yet another self-help book. Thankfully it is not.

The author has provided a comprehensive guide to the current science, covering work in the past 20 years and beyond, plenty for the student to consider.

The book starts with consideration of what Positive Psychology actually means. This is followed by chapters addressing happiness, emotions, environments and the future – for us as psychologists and the science. I particularly liked the highlighting of areas of deficiency in research so far, signposting areas where today’s students can innovate and explore. 

Beyond the facts and research are things to try, further reading and web links. Sage provide an online resource for teachers (including tests and teaching aids) and for students there are flashcards and multiple-choice tests. As a teaching (and learning) aid I thought the book served its audience well.

There seem to be relatively few current books for teaching positive psychology. Most recommendations from teachers focus on Seligman’s books; and Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘Flow’; and Christopher Peterson’s ‘Primer in Positive Psychology’ which is part of the ‘Oxford Positive Psychology’ series and is now 14 years old. It would seem the time is right for a more current teaching text and I found this book to be insightful and inspiring. 

- Reviewed by Stuart Hillston, Coach and Counsellor, The Mindful Entrepreneur Ltd.