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.
I have several hopes in maintaining this annual PPND tradition of giving Positive Psychology Awards to movies made the previous year:
Editor’s Note: You might also be interested in earlier positive psychology movie awards:
- The Positive Psychology Movie Awards of 2011: Character Strengths and Best Picture
- The Positive Psychology Movie Awards of 2011: Elements of Flourishing,
- The Positive Psychology Movie Awards of 2010
- The Positive Psychology Movie Awards for 2009: Countdown
- The Positive Psychology Movie Awards for 2009: Honorable Mention
- That you will consider taking a different approach to viewing movies, an approach that involves consciously looking for strengths (strengths-spotting) and watching for other positive phenomena being modeled, such as mindfulness, resilience, and PERMA.
- That when you watch a movie you will experience more of the trifecta of authentic happiness, greater pleasure, engagement, and meaning, both because of the movie itself and because of your approach to watching it.
- That you will add to your film library as well as build a good set of resources to recommend to your clients or family and friends.
Here are some of the best films that offer substance and meaning from 2012.Life of Pi: Award for Best Positive Psychology Film
This film marks one of those rare instances in which the film is probably better than the book. While it might be unfair to compare media, the public does this routinely and films almost always are inferior to books. Life of Pi, the film, is a visual feast in which virtually any theory, strength, or topic in positive psychology can be found. Viewers who have appreciation of beauty/excellence as a signature strength are destined to love this film. The film is a parable on goodness, spirituality, and meaning.
Argo : Award for Achievement
There can be a fine line between achievement and tragedy. Without the full expression of the strengths constellation of creativity, bravery, and perseverance, the CIA operation to create a “fake movie” in order to help hostages escape from Iran decades ago would have ended horribly for the hostages.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Award for Acceptance
If you are looking for themes of self-acceptance (being true to oneself), being and feeling accepted by others, or compassion/self-compassion, check out this heartfelt film.The Sessions: Award for Vulnerability
Vulnerability and transparency are key factors in healing and in the therapeutic and coaching relationship. See the qualitative research of Brene Brown on the benefits of being vulnerable. Helen Hunt is not only nakedly vulnerable but her character and a man living in an iron lung take enormous risks, emotionally and psychologically.
Hope Springs: Award for Best Practitioner
There is a dearth of healthy portrayals of mental health professionals in films because the cinema loves to accentuate stereotypes of psychologists and psychotherapy. It’s no exaggeration to note that Steve Carell’s character is one of the best, most balanced portrayals of a psychologist, in this case a marital therapist, in film history.
Silver Linings Playbook: Award for Transformation
Change is difficult, especially for Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who attempts to adjust to his new life after being released from a psychiatric hospital and must cope with his bipolar illness, unemployment, medication regimen, and the reality that his ex-wife will not take him back. This is a recipe for either another deteriorating mishap or a personal transformation.Beasts of the Southern Wild: Award for Resilience
A six-year-old girl, Hushpuppy, faces enormous obstacles: the loss of her mother, the abuse and alcoholism of her medically ill father, extreme poverty, a lack of resources, food, clothes, and quality housing, and living in an environment suffering from post-Hurricane Katrina. Nevertheless, Hushpuppy is a survivor, coping with these beastly conditions and facing all the “beasts” around her.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Award for Strengths-Spotting.
This film offers a breadth of opportunities for those who want to practice the skill of strengths-spotting. All 24 character strengths can be spotted in this hodge-podge of interesting characters who travel to India to escape, find themselves, find someone else, rekindle a marriage, or rekindle their purpose in life.
Moonrise Kingdom: Award for Positive Relationships (adolescents)
In this whimsical Wes Anderson film, two adolescents form a close relationship despite their quirky, isolative tendencies. They express love, creativity, and bravery as their new bond melts the suffering of years of being the outcast.
The Intouchables: Award for Positive Relationships (adults)
A wealthy paralyzed man and a thief form an unlikely friendship as the former expresses perspective, love of learning, and perseverance while the latter exudes humor, honesty, and creativity. The result of this strengths concoction is love.Holy Motors: Award for Mindfulness
This refers not to the depiction of mindfulness or meditation but to how the film keeps the viewer on his or her toes; the viewer is always present that he or she is watching a film which is at times mysterious and surreal, touching and empathic, and disturbing and disgusting. This interesting film helps the viewer practice mindfulness of personal emotions.
- Amour for positive coping
- Zero Dark Thirty for exemplary strength use
- Act of Valor also for exemplary strengths use
- Safe House for integrity – adult
- Brave for integrity – children
- The Master for character strengths misuse
- Searching for Sugar Man for perseverance
- The Avengers for teamwork – adults
- The Hunger Games for teamwork – adolescents
- The Dark Knight Rises for psycho-spiritual recovery
- Lincoln for signature strengths use
Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.
Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2008). Positive Psychology at the Movies: Using Films to Build Character Strengths and Well-Being. 2nd ed. Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe.
Seligman, Martin (2003). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.