Aren Cohen, MBA, MAPP '07 is a learning specialist working with academically, motivationally and emotionally challenged students in the leading private schools in New York City. As shown in her website and blog, Strengths for Students, Aren uses the tenets of positive psychology to teach her students to use their strengths of character to change educational challenges into educational triumphs. Full bio. Aren's articles are here.
Invitation to Positive Psychology: Research and Tool for the Professional by Robert-Biswas-Diener is a workbook that allows a student to study a six-week self-directed course that touches on the main themes of positive psychology.
Pairing Invitation with Christopher Peterson’s A Primer in Positive Psychology (weekly homework reading assignments are all from the Primer), a novice can get a basic understanding of positive psychology, the importance of positive emotions, the usefulness of positive psychology interventions, the impact of using strengths, and the significance of hope and optimism. Each of these topics is the lesson of the week, and the sixth week is spent integrating all the pieces together.
Book Review: Invitation to Positive Psychology: Research and Tool for the Professional, Robert Biswas-Diener (2008).
Showing the Parts that We Can See
The term “iceberg” in positive psychology has been made famous by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté, who, in their book The Resilience Factor, coin the term “iceberg beliefs” to explain underlying beliefs that may affect our thoughts and behaviors.
In reading Invitation to Positive Psychology, I realized that positive psychology itself is an iceberg. Icebergs, as you may remember, show only the top ten to twelve percent of their mass above the surface of the water, hence the expression, “the tip of the iceberg.” Since its inception in 1998, positive psychology has grown into a large and flourishing social science. It is hard to know where to begin these days.
In Biswas-Diener’s workbook, he has done an excellent job of identifying four main themes as an introduction to positive psychology—positive emotions, interventions, strengths, and hope/optimism—and as we students of positive psychology know, these are only the tip of the iceberg. At the same time, the ship’s captain needs to be able to see the beautiful tip of the iceberg in order to have a sense of what else lies below. Biswas-Diener does just that: he gives the reader a clear sense of how to navigate around the concepts at the tip of the iceberg, and how the main concepts fit together. Additionally, he imbues in the reader an energy for discovering what lies below. Fortunately, Biswas-Diener has other books in the series (and the PPND wide range of links is another good place to start for further exploration).
The material in the workbook is neatly and clearly presented, and it is scattered with many useful exercises that will make students stop and think about the importance of what they are learning and how this information can have a real impact on both their own and clients lives. Also, I was very impressed by all the additional resources Biswas-Diener gives his students to explore positive psychology, including not only Positive Psychology News Daily (positivepsychologynews.com), but also the Center for Applied Positive Psychology (www.cappeu.com), the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania (www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu), IPPA (www.ippanetwork.org) and ENPP (www.enpp.eu). For a self-directed learner curious about learning more about positive psychology, this whets the appetite and offers all the tools to do more exploration independently.
A Suggestion to the Reader
I may have a proclivity towards this advice because I learned positive psychology at MAPP with 30+ other colleagues brainstorming ideas daily, contradicting, pushing, challenging, agreeing, and supporting lively discussion.
What would make Invitation to Positive Psychology even more compelling is if a person did not feel that he were studying positive psychology in a vacuum. We have all learned that relationships matter in positive psychology. When I found myself reading the exercise pages, I thought, “These are great, but I would want to share my answers with some else and have a dialogue. I need to bounce these ideas off of someone else.” I suspect that alumni of a graduate program in positive psychology will feel the same way. Part of what makes positive psychology infectious is sharing it and enjoying all its wonderful information.
So I have a final recommendation for first-time positive psychology students using Invitation to Positive Psychology. The workbook is an excellent resource that will teach you the basic principles of positive psychology. If you really want to have fun and learn it in meaningful and truly thoughtful ways, set up a weekly study session with a partner or group to review the exercises and material in each chapter. I assure you it will make all the teachings more meaningful as they come to life in your discussion group.
Biswas-Diener, R. (2009). Invitation to Positive Psychology. The Positive Psychology Workbook Series.
Peterson, C., (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Reivich, K, & Shattẻ, A. (2002). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. New York: Broadway Books.
Group study session courtesy of Aren Cohen
Iceberg courtesy of Rita Willaert