5 recent Positive Psychology Books taking a very special Angle on the Subject

By now, there are hundreds (or probably thousands…) of books on Positive Psychology. Most of them are general introductions to the subject or books focusing on the use of Positive Psychology in organizations (please see the general and organizational book lists on Mappalicious).

So today, I compiled a list of recent publications that looks a little different. All the books look at Positive Psychology from a very distinct and special angle. Enjoy!

 

Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener look at the positive value of our negative emotions, thereby challenging the assumption that Positive Psychology is all about seeing the world through rose-colored glasses.

http://www.amazon.com/Upside-Your-Dark-Side-Self–Drives/dp/1594631735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1422713137&sr=1-1

 

Kate Hefferon sheds light on the role of the body in Positive Psychology, thereby filling a gap in the extant literature that mostly focuses on the psychological side of things.

http://www.amazon.com/Positive-Psychology-Body-Somatopsychic-Flourishing/dp/0335247717/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

Rafael Calvo and Dorian Peters show us the (near) future of technology, where smartphones and wearables, together with the appropriate applications, will help to foster and sustain human well-being.

http://www.amazon.com/Positive-Computing-Technology-Wellbeing-Potential/dp/0262028158/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

Michael Bishop aims at integrating philosophical and psychological theories of well-being and proposes a new theory for understanding flourishing.

http://www.amazon.com/Good-Life-Philosophy-Psychology-Well-Being/dp/0199923116/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1422714230&sr=1-1

 

Finally, Stephen Joseph takes on one of my most favorite subjects: post-traumatic growth. He explains how we can navigate (traumatic) change and adversity to find new meaning and direction in life.

http://www.amazon.com/What-Doesnt-Kill-Psychology-Posttraumatic/dp/0465032338/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1422714146&sr=1-3

Mappsterview No. 5: Margaret Greenberg on how Companies can Profit from the Positive

I was in the ninth cohort of the Master of Applied Positive Program at Penn. Consequently, there are tons of brilliant MAPP Alumni out there that have very fascinating stories to tell: about their experience with the program, about Positive Psychology in general – and about themselves of course. I really want to hear those stories. That´s why I started to do Mappsterviews with my predecessors.

Today, you are going to meet Margaret Greenberg from MAPP 1, the very first group of Mappsters to be taught at Penn. She co-authored a very successful book that I also included in my Positive Psychology at Work Book List.  

Profit from the PositivePlease introduce yourself briefly:

Like all of us, I wear many hats. I’m a wife to my sweet husband Neal of 30 years. I’m a mother to our two bright and beautiful twenty-something daughters. I’m an entrepreneur, having started my consulting/coaching practice, The Greenberg Group, in 1997 after spending the first 15 years of my career in corporate HR/Learning & Development. I’m a certified executive coach, speaker, and co-author of Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business with fellow MAPPster Senia Maymin, and positive business columnist for Live Happy Magazine. I also do fundraising for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in honor of both my mother and mother-in-law. Finally, I enjoy being outside in nature, as well as inside baking, as you can probably tell from all the photos I post on Facebook!

What did you do before MAPP?

I’m doing after MAPP the same thing I did before MAPP – coaching business leaders and their teams to achieve more than they ever thought possible. The only difference is that I now have more research and resources to draw upon, and I’m writing a heck of a lot more. We all entered MAPP with our own set of experiences and education. To prevent positive psychology from becoming just another fad (I don’t even like to use the term “movement”) I believe it’s prudent for us practitioners to view positive psychology as just one more body of knowledge that we bring to our professions and lives.

What got you interested in Positive Psychology in the first place?

I had been in practice for 8 years as an executive coach when I learned of MAPP. What was missing from my coaching certification was the science behind what we do as coaches. I’ll never forget the day an email popped up in my inbox about this new graduate program in positive psychology. I ran, yes ran, outside to share my excitement with my husband who was gardening. “Go for it,” he said. “Yeah, but what if I get in, then what?” The rest is history as they say.

I´ve noticed that you´ve written your MAPP thesis on optimistic managers. Shouldn´t managers be more the critical, discerning type of person?

Most certainly managers need to think critically to come up with innovative solutions to business challenges. The trouble arises when managers apply this same critical thinking to the people they lead. Case in point: If all I do is look for things you are not doing right, and skip over the things you’re doing well, that can be pretty discouraging. In our book  we offer several practical tools to combat this tendency. We call them “Capitalize on What’s Right”, “Find Solutions Not Faults”, and “Obsess Over Strengths, but Don’t Ignore Weaknesses”.

The title of your book is “Profit from the Positive”. Please tell us a bit more about that!

Writing PFTP with a fellow MAPPster has been one of the most rewarding experiences. Senia and I each brought different strengths to the virtual table (Senia is on the west coast of the US and I’m on the east). We really wanted to bring what we were learning from applying positive psychology with our coaching clients to a much broader audience. The book is written for business leaders, HR professionals, and coaches in particular, but we have had readers tell us they found one or more of our 31 tools helpful in their own personal life. I’m happy to report that it will be translated into Chinese next month, and Korean and Japanese early next year. People can see what we’re up to by visiting our website, Facebook page, or connect with us on our LinkedIn Pulse blogs or @profitbook on Twitter.

OK, in my day job, I´m a manager myself. Which three things should I (personally) start doing right away?

First, recognize what we call the “Achoo! Effect”. Our emotions are contagious. Be sure you are spreading cheer, not fear at work (or at home). Second, if you do performance reviews at your company, be sure to preview, don’t just review Performance. Finally, I’d also recommend that you give FRE, which stands for frequent recognition and encouragement, to your employees, peers, and even your Boss. This was one of the key research findings from my Capstone that I collaborated on with another MAPPster, Dana Arakawa. Chris Peterson was our advisor and I will be forever be grateful for his guidance on this study, which is available on the University of Pennsylvania’s Scholarly Commons, and has been downloaded over 7,000 times.

And what kind of initiatives would you recommend on the organizational level?

I think there are lots of opportunities to be what Senia and I call a “positive deviant”. We’ve worked with companies large and small at the individual, team and organizational levels. Here are a few practical applications of positive psychology at the org level. To improve:

  • Strategy and Planning: Use the S.O.A.R. analysis (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results) rather than the traditional S.P.O.T. analysis (Strengths, Problems, Opportunities, and Threats).
  • Recruiting: Revamp hiring practices to include “Hiring for What’s Not on the Resume” to get at the more intangible social and emotional intelligence skills that are most predictive of success and higher Retention. In fact, there are many HR practices that need to be revamped to focus more on what’s going right, such as performance reviews that I mentioned earlier.
  • Meetings: Start and end meetings on a positive note.
  • Leadership and Talent Development Programs: That’s a topic for a whole other interview!

Margaret Greenberg and Senja Maymin

Thanks a lot, Margaret (on the left), for this Mappsterview!

Positive Psychology at Work: A Book List for the Layman [updated]

Here, I´ve compiled a list of books that apply Positive Psychology to the realm of “the organization”, leadership, management etc. As always, I see the list as work in progress and will be happy to include your suggestions. When making suggestions, please stick to books that have a clear link to Positive Psychology and are (by and large) backed by research.

Positive Leadership Books

Bibliophilia: How Reading and Writing can Save our Soul

MAPP is a fulltime program – but combines onsite classes with long-distance learning periods. Part of the distance learning comprises a lot of reading (…who would have thought of that…) and writing essays about a wide array of positive psychology topics. I´ve decided to post some of those essays here on Mappalicious. Surely, they´re not the be-all and end-all of academic writing. But then again, it would also be a pity to bury them in the depths of my laptop…

Library - Mind - Hospital

I´ve visited the center of the earth. I´ve travelled 20.000 leagues under the sea. And I´ve toured around the world in 80 days. Three times, actually. And most of that journeying happened while sitting in the bathtub of my parent´s home. When I was a kid, I used to be a semi-professional tennis player. Upon returning home after long weekends of tournaments, I would head straight to my parent´s bathroom and into the bathtub – to stay there for hours and hours, until my skin would be all shriveled. Most of the times, my companion (and therefore, first literary love) would be Jules Verne, or rather, those heavy editions with linen covers of Verne´s most famous novels that my grandpa gave to my father – and my father to me. Ever since that time, I have been an enthusiastic reader. My taste in books changed, obviously. In came Stephen King, Jostein Gaarder, Nick Hornby, Douglas Adams, and even Joanne K. Rowlings Harry Potter, among others. And out they went again. For several years now, I have been reading non-fiction for the most part. But the pleasure of reading remains. For me, it is an act of uttermost hedonic value. But that is not what this essay is all about. Instead, I will try to convey how literature informs our understanding of (psychological) well-being, and how reading and writing can have a therapeutic effect and build psychological acumen and resiliency.

In the Beginning was the Word

There are many descriptions and analogies for the unique quality of the human race. Common wisdom from biology holds that we are “homo sapiens (sapiens)”, the knowing (or discerning) man (Semino, Passarino, Oefner, Lin, Arbuzova, Beckman, …, & Underhill, 2000). But that is by far not the only description for the “pride of creation”. There are researchers who argue the most important feature that distinguishes man from his mammalian ancestors is our ability to create, remember, and narrate stories – that we are “homo narrans”: the story-telling men (Niles, 1999). Through the narration of stories, man used to recollect and still does recollect his own history, interprets it, and transfers it to the future generation(s), thereby shaping Hegel´s “world spirit” that strives to recognize itself (Hegel, 1822).

But storytelling is almost never done for sheer fun of it, or for objectively reporting was has been before. Telling stories, be it in traditional oral style, in print, or some audio-visual presentation mode, almost always has some instructive, some prescriptive quality to it. Whoever creates or narrates the story oftentimes wants to instill a change in the recipient, wants him to know or even be something else when the story is over. This educational facet of storytelling can be traced all the way through the literary history, from Homer´s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” and Aesop´s fables, to early religious accounts such as the “Upanishads” and the Bible, to medieval works such as Dante´s “Divine Comedy”, Shakespeare´s works of drama (e.g., “Hamlet”), to the early (e.g. Goethe´s “Wilhelm Meister´s Apprenticeship”) and later (e.g. Dickens´s “Great Expectations”) “Bildungsroman” – all the way up to 20th century masterpieces such as de Saint-Exupéry “Little Prince” and New Age classics along the lines of Bach´s “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” or Coelho´s “Alchemist”.

Oftentimes, this educational element is conveyed by carefully depicting the protagonists´ lifestyles – in order to then confront the recipient with the outcomes of these modes of existence. By way of example, both Leo Tolstoy´s “The Death of Ivan Ilych” (1886/2010) and Willa Cather´s “Neighbour Rosicky” (1932/2010) try to educate the reader (among other things) on the value of and human need for close relationships. While Cather portrays the distinctly positive outcomes of understanding that “no man is an island”, Tolstoy´s narrative describes Ivan Ilyich as a human being that literally dies of social and emotional isolation. So, while both stories do not contain any “how-to advice” such as modern self-help books, it remains unequivocal that they try to convey some underlying and implicit understanding of human well-being, that they represent a prescription for “a life well-lived”.

It´s never too late to have a good Childhood*

A special and utmost important kind of story is the story that we tell about ourselves – to ourselves and other people. On that note, psychotherapy has long since discovered the importance of stories and story-telling. It´s not for nothing Freud´s Psychoanalysis is frequently referred to as a “talking cure”. More and more evidence emerges for the notion that being able to convey a coherent and meaningful account of one´s life is a fundamental building block of psychological well-being (Baerger & McAdams 1999). This idea is not only part of the academic literature, but also an important element of pop culture such as the “connecting the dots” element in Steve Jobs´ hugely popular Stanford Commencement Address (2005).

By now, there exists a multitude of ways that stories and storytelling are consciously imbedded into the psychotherapeutic process. By way of example, the branch of “Narrative Therapy” (Monk, Winslade, Crockett, & Epston, 1997) distinctly focuses on those (life) stories that a client brings into the therapeutic setting. Taking on another angle, Cinematherapy (Sharp, Smith, & Cole, 2002) and Bibliotherapy (Cuijpers, 1997) use the potential healing power of existing works of literature, poetry, and film to sow the seed for desirable changes in clients´ mental models and, subsequently, behavioral patterns. Taking on a more active approach, Writing Therapy (Pizarro, 2004) offers relief for patients suffering from severe stress and psychological trauma through the act of writing one´s own account of those stressful events. While the raw facts, the objective events that happened in the past, cannot be altered any more, it is very much possible to change once rational and emotional perception of that same past. It is absolutely possible to “come to terms” with one´s life history, e.g., by consciously creating mental distance to it, by altering its emotional valence, or retroactively finding a deeper meaning in what happened to us earlier (Pennebaker, 1997). Especially the act of discovering a heightened sense of meaning and purpose in life – which is a sign of post-traumatic growth (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004) – seems to have very beneficial on our psychological well-being (Singer, 2004).

But the favorable outcomes of writing are not limited to the stories of our past. Some psychologists, especially in the emerging field of Positive Psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), stress the importance of (possible) future events for our well-being. Seligman, Railton, Baumeister, and Sripada (2013) describe the human species as beings that are drawn by the future rather than being driven by the past. As such, actively engaging in the creation of a desirable future is a sign of optimal psychological functioning. On that note, positive psychologists have tried to create interventions that help to consciously facilitate the process of optimistic prospection. One of these interventions is based on visualizing and writing about one´s “best possible self” – where subjects are instructed to “imagine yourself in the future, after everything has gone as well as it possibly could” (Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006, p. 77). Doing this regularly has shown to boost satisfaction with life and an optimistic mindset, among other things – even beyond the time of actively carrying out the exercise.

To draw to a close, I´d like to cite Joseph Campbell, the famous mythologist who discovered that most well-known stories follow a very similar pattern, the so-called “Monomyth” (“The Hero´s Journey” in the pop culture). Campbell once said in an interview: “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” Campbell´s monomyth theory posits that compelling stories can typically be structured into twelve different stages (Lang & Trimble, 1988). In stage eight, the hero is supposed to find a magic elixir that will help him to overcome his enemies and bring long-desired changes to the world from which he originally came. Personally, I hope that Positive Psychology will be mine…

References

Andrews, D. H., Hull, T. D., & Donahue, J. A. (2009). Storytelling as an instructional method: Definitions and research questions. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 3(2), 6-23.

Sharp, C., Smith, J. V., & Cole, A. (2002). Cinematherapy: Metaphorically promoting therapeutic change. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 15(3), 269-276.

Baerger, D. R., & McAdams, D. P. (1999). Life story coherence and its relation to psychological well-being. Narrative Inquiry, 9(1), 69-96.

Cather, W. (2010). Neighbor Rosicky. In Obscure destinies (pp. 1-38). Oxford, UK: Oxford City Press. (Original work published in 1932).

Cuijpers, P. (1997). Bibliotherapy in unipolar depression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 28(2), 139-147.

Hegel, G. W. F. (1822). The philosophy of history. New York: Dover Publications.

Jobs, S. (2005). Stanford Commencement Address, retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc

Lang, J. S., & Trimble, P. (1988). Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow? An examination of the American monomyth and the comic book superhero. Journal of Popular Culture, 22(3), 157-173.

Monk, G.,Winslade, J., Crockett, K., & Epston, D. (Eds.). (1997). Narrative therapy in practice: The archaeology of hope. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Niles, J. D. (1999). Homo narrans. The poetics and anthropology of oral literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science, 8(3), 162-166.

Pizarro, J. (2004). The efficacy of art and writing therapy: Increasing positive mental health outcomes and participant retention after exposure to traumatic experience. Art Therapy, 21(1), 5-12.

Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.

Seligman, M. E., Railton, P., Baumeister, R. F., & Sripada, C. (2013). Navigating into the future or driven by the past. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(2), 119-141.

Semino, O., Passarino, G., Oefner, P. J., Lin, A. A., Arbuzova, S., Beckman, L. E., … & Underhill, P. A. (2000). The genetic legacy of paleolithic homo sapiens sapiens in extant Europeans: AY chromosome perspective. Science, 290(5494), 1155-1159.

Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(2), 73-82.

Singer, J. A. (2004). Narrative identity and meaning making across the adult lifespan: An introduction. Journal of Personality, 72(3), 437-460.

Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (2004). Posttraumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence. Psychological Inquiry, 15(1), 1-18.

Tolstoy, L. (2010). The death of Ivan Ilych. New York: SoHo Books. (Original work published in 1886).

Vaughan, S. C. (1997). The talking cure: the science behind psychotherapy. New York: Putnam and Sons.

*That phrase is most commonly attributed to Novelist Tom Robbins.

Header picture taken from the Facebook fan page of Random House, Inc.

License for Satisfaction: German Book Trailer with English Subtitles

If you are a regular visitor of Mappalicious you may know by now that I´ve written a German book on positive psychology by the name of Lizenz zur Zufriedenheit (License for Satisfaction). Unfortunately, the book is still not available in English. But yesterday, I took some time to create English subtitles for the book trailer that we shot in 2012. I hope you´ll have as much fun watching it as we had while creating it. If you like the film, please share!

2013: Top 10 Book List on Positive Psychology

Grant: Give and TakeJust a quick note: This link leads to a great book list issued by the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley, one of the finest institutions in the science and business of positive psychology.* A couple of the authors also teach in the MAPP program.

*Of course, nothing can compare to the Positive Psychology Center at Penn… 😉