Derrick Carpenter, MAPP '07, is a founder of Vive Training where he coaches individuals and corporate clients on creating high-engagement lifestyles through physical and psychological wellness. Full bio.
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Another workbook in the series presented by Robert Biswas-Diener’s Positive Psychology Services, Positively Happy: Routes to Sustainable Happiness is a superb workbook. Sonja Lyubomirsky and Jamie Kurtz have culled positive psychology’s best researched methods for creating a happier life. The workbook is structured in six chapters that are designed to take the reader through six weeks of reflection and application. The workbook material itself is fairly concise, but allowing one week per session provides time for experimentation with the practical tools—which are the focus—and room for additional readings which are liberally recommended at the end of each chapter.
The workbook closely follows Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness (PPND review here). Those have read the book will find similar and often overlapping information here, but this workbook can serve as either a more concise standalone or as a companion to the book allowing for directed reflection and experimentation with the suggested happiness-increasing strategies.
Book Review: Positively Happy: Routes to Sustainable Happiness. Sonja Lyubomirsky and Jamie Kurtz (2008).
Fresh, Relatable Tone and Examples
The first chapter provides a convincing background on the research-to-date on the importance of happiness and its effect on other areas in life. Lyubomirsky and Kurtz do a wonderful job of presenting their arguments in a fresh, relatable tone—they use HDTV to describe hedonic adaptation and provide web links for zen meditation. Although their evidence is convincing, ultimately, they allow us to choose if and how we want to apply the tools to our own lives.
Once we clearly understand why happiness matters, the workbook focuses on Lyubomirsky’s twelve concrete strategies for increasing happiness. I found this list to be an extraordinarily refreshing summary of positive psychology’s best tools which include expressing gratitude, increasing optimism, getting into flow, and savoring. Each topic includes a detailed description as well as written or practical exercises to encourage instantaneous uptake.
When appropriate, the workbook provides pre-assessments, followed by research, and then the exercises. It is a very crisp format that, accompanied by the encouragement of the authors to find strategies that best-fit the reader’s personality, allows for a highly interactive experience with the material. It is clear that the goal is to learn what works best for you, and the workbook simply serves as your guide through that journey of self-discovery.
Positive psychology veterans will be hard-pressed to find much that may not already be familiar on the research front. However, the clear packaging of the positive interventions throughout the course provides a great foundation for both newcomers eager to test the field out and practitioners looking for a well-structured view of positive psychology’s broad scope of application.
Simple Changes in Life Demand Hard Work
Above all, I appreciated the humility of the authors in noting that even simple changes in life demand hard work and attention to maintain, and that sustainability is the biggest piece of the puzzle. They write:
Although the twelve strategies may be simple to try for a short duration, it turns out that they are not so easy to sustain for the long haul – that is, for the time that it takes to witness real and sustainable changes in well-being.
An entire section at the end of the workbook is devoted to keeping up the momentum of positive change, a well-designed and necessary addition.
Overall, the workbook presents a beautiful balance of academic rigor and assessment, immediately applicable advice and tools, and warm encouragement to find your own true path to a happier and healthier life. It is a fantastic, brief introduction to the best of the positive psychology toolkit.
Lyubomirsky, S. & Kurtz, J. (2008). Positively Happy: Routes to Sustainable Happiness. The Positive Psychology Workbook Series.