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 Mindfulness and Character Strengths and co-author of Positive Psychology at the Movies and Movies And Mental Illness.
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Editor’s Note: Last year, Ryan Niemiec brought us the first annual Positive Psychology Oscars, and this year, we’re in for an even bigger treat with categories that include resilience, mindfulness, and imbalance of character strengths.
Have you seen any good movies lately? If not, you’re in luck! Announcing the second annual positive psychology movie awards!
Here are 10 of the best positive psychology films of 2010. Whether or not they are snubbed by the actual Academy Awards ceremony, each of these films has its merits from a specific positive psychology lens and is worthy of your viewing time.
Oscar for Best Positive Psychology Film: Alice in Wonderland
Here are a few reasons: The film explores and teaches positive identity formation, character transformation, character redemption, and goal-setting & attainment, while providing deep viewer engagement. Also, a close look reveals that Alice is teaching the viewer about empirically-validated interventions for working with character strengths (Niemiec, 2010). The viewer learns to practice divergent thinking to boost creativity (Scott, Leritz, & Mumford, 2004), to develop active curiosity (Kashdan, 2009), and to find ways to boost bravery/courage (Pury, 2008) by discovering one’s “muchness.” (trailer)
Oscar for Coaching/Counseling: The King’s Speech
While Geoffrey Rush’s character, Lionel, is neither a counselor nor a coach per se, this is merely a technicality, as he beautifully personifies the support and solution-focused mentality of a coach and the artful blend of direct challenge, empathy, and intervention of a psychologist. During the climactic speech of the king, Lionel’s unwavering attunement to the anxious king is the type of attention and care any client would dream for in a practitioner. (trailer)
Oscar for Friendship: How to Train Your Dragon
While there belie interesting metaphors of taming and showing compassion for one’s inner dragon or shadow side, the story unfolds beautifully around the “unlikely” friendship, teamwork, and bonding of a reluctant Viking and an elusive dragon. (trailer)
Oscar for Imbalance of Character Strengths: Black Swan
Sometimes our best teachers are situations in which we use too much or too little of our best capacities. Natalie Portman’s brilliant and raw portrayal of a competitive and troubled ballet dancer depicts an overuse of perseverance and self-regulation and underuse of judgment and perspective to create an imbalance that leads to her downfall. (trailer)
Oscar for Resilience: 127 Hours
When most individuals would have folded after a couple days of being trapped by a boulder away from civilization, Aron Ralston pushed forward. He perseveres over every painful emotion a human being can have, not to mention significant mental obstacles and unthinkable physical pain that he must self-inflict in order to survive. (trailer)
Oscar for Positive Relationships: The Kids are All Right
A close-knit, lesbian family is challenged when the mothers’ sperm donor visits. The film is honest, realistic, and engaging in its character interactions, portrayals of positive and negative emotions expressed, and is strong in portraying the importance of forgiveness, open communication, and family solidarity during tough times. (trailer)
Oscar for Authentic Happiness Theory: Eat, Pray, Love
It has been said that “the full life” is a life of pleasure, engagement, and meaning (Peterson et al., 2007). Following a painful divorce, a woman goes on a journey of self-discovery and learns important life lessons – she discovers the gift of pleasure (savoring food, expressing positive emotions and gratitude) in Italy, finds meaning (through meditation, prayer and deep conversation) in India, and realizes engagement (a loving relationship) in Bali. (trailer)
Oscar for Mindfulness: Tron: Legacy
Spiritual themes, religious symbology, an emphasis on humility, stillness, and selflessness, and portrayals of the protagonist using meditation to deal with problems indicate that this is more than your typical action film. At one point the protagonist refers to meditation as “knocking on the sky.” (trailer)
Oscar for Positive Intervention: Jack Goes Boating
An isolated and socially awkward limo driver is taught to use a visualization strategy in order to reach his goal of learning to swim. The approach taught to him is so methodical that he is able to apply this strategy to other areas of his life – the virtue of a great intervention. (trailer)
Oscar for Integration of Different Types of Strengths: Temple Grandin
Based on the real life of the famous professor with autism who revolutionized the cattle industry, Temple employs unique talents for spatial, mathematical, and visualization abilities, skills in building and construction, and resources in jobs working with animals and in people who support her. However, it is her core character strengths of creativity, perseverance, and kindness (to animals) that operationalize and maximize her talents, skills, and resources. (trailer)
Honorable Mentions of note include: Inception (love and creativity); Please Give (the multidimensional nature of kindness); The Social Network and The Infidel (identity and what it means to be human, the interplay of both human imperfection and virtue); True Grit and Winter’s Bone (extraordinary for one thing in particular – the portrayal of adolescent perseverance); Toy Story 3 (teamwork); Extraordinary Measures (fairness); The Fighter (perseverance); and The Book of Eli (religiousness/spirituality).
Oscar for Kon Tiki courtesy of rossgram
Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. New York: William Morrow.
Niemiec, R. M. (2010, August 4). A wonderland journey through positive psychology interventions. [Review of the motion picture Alice in wonderland]. PsycCRITIQUES, 55(31), Article 9.
Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2008). Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to build virtues and character strengths. Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe.
Peterson, C., Ruch, W., Beerman, U., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2007). Strengths of character, orientations to happiness, and life satisfaction. Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 149-156.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pury, C. (2008). Can courage be learned? In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), Positive psychology: Exploring human strengths (pp. 109–130). Westport, CT: Praeger.
Scott, G., Leritz, L. E., & Mumford, M. D. (2004). The effectiveness of creativity training: A quantitative review. Creativity Research Journal, 16, 361–388.