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.
Articles by Ryan are here.
Editor’s note: This is the third year that Ryan Niemiec has prepared us for the Oscar award celebration — this Sunday, February 26 — by nominating movies for positive psychology awards.As co-author of Positive Psychology at the Movies and scientist at the VIA Institute on Character, Ryan is perfectly placed to suggest positive psychology movie awards. This is part 1 of the 2011 positive psychology Oscars. Come back tomorrow for the awards for character strengths—and the best picture award.
If you are looking for ideas of movies to watch, we recommend Ryan’s earlier nominations: Positive Psychology Oscars of 2010, Positive Psychology Oscars Countdown (2009), and Positive Psychology Oscars – Honorable Mention (2009).
Positive psychology movies are not only the lighthearted films that inspire and elevate us, but also the movies that teach us something about the human condition, help us face suffering, and shine a light on pain and tragedy. You’ll see a mixture of both types of films in my offering of the Positive Psychology Movie Awards for 2011.
[Disclaimer: This selection includes some but not all of the best films of the year. Note that access to certain independent and international films is limited in the United States.]
Oscar for Positive Relationships: A Better Life
Extraordinary film about a father who is an illegal immigrant to the United States and a single parent struggling to find work. His adolescent son is looking for outlets and is slowly getting taken into the gang world of Los Angeles. The father makes conscious shifts in his life to connect more with his son and express his love more clearly.
This shift makes all the difference. The movie shows how a positive relationship can save a life.
Oscar for Resilience: The Help
Depiction of the poor treatment and resilience of African American maids in Mississippi during the time of the Jim Crow laws, when Mississippi was considered the worst state in the nation with respect to the treatment and segregation of African-Americans.
The film is about having a mindset of fairness and kindness that drives the expression of bravery and perseverance.
Oscar for Happiness: Happy
Roko Belic directs this positive psychology documentary that brings the science of happiness to life with engaging stories, interviews, and keen insights from cross-cultural perspectives.
Oscar for Mindfulness: Crazy Stupid Love
Mindlessness pervades two male protagonists. One (Ryan Gosling) is locked in routines of womanizing, while the other (Steve Carell) is mindless and lacks spontaneity in his marriage.
Each man has a wake-up call to become more mindful about what really matters and what it means to be in relationship with another.
Oscar for Engagement (of viewer): Carnage
Four of the world’s top actors (Jodi Foster, Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly) collide in this highly engrossing exhibition of conflict. It is viewer engagement at its fullest. Multi-layered tensions emerge between each dyad, exposing vulnerability and the raw fact about humanity that we each have a breaking point. This Roman Polanski film exhibits ways that positive psychology can learn from that which is negative.
As a viewer, where you see conflict, consider where forgiveness might be better played; where there is blame, consider kindness; and where there is hostility, look for fairness.
This award goes to two directors (Terrence Malick and Lars von Trier, respectfully) for accomplishing memorable works of art.
Both films integrate breathtaking, surrealistic images with tragic, painful plot lines. Unlike the directors, both films exhibit characters that fail in achievement due to inherent deficits. Whereas Victor Frankl spoke of a tragic optimism where individuals are able to turn suffering into accomplishment, these characters wither in their suffering.
Come back tomorrow for movie selections that exemplify character strengths and for my nomination for the 2011 best picture.
Frankl, V. (1959). Man’s Search For Meaning. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Niemiec, R. M. (2011). Positive psychology cinemeducation: A review of Happy. International Journal of Wellbeing, 1(3), 326-332.
Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2008). Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to build virtues and character strengths. Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.
The movie images are from Amazon and serve as links to Amazon to order the movies.
Movie camera courtesy of Shazeen Samad