Home All (Book Review) Positive Psychology Workbook series by Biswas-Diener, Lyubomirsky, Kurtz, and Sheldon

(Book Review) Positive Psychology Workbook series by Biswas-Diener, Lyubomirsky, Kurtz, and Sheldon

written by Dana Arakawa 14 November 2009

Dana Arakawa, MAPP '06, has a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Hawaii. Before venturing into psychology, Dana graduated with honors from Georgetown University with a B.S. in International Economics, and spent a year in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. Her research has appeared in the Gallup Management Journal and International Coaching Psychology Review, as well as in publications in Latin America. Full bio. Dana's articles are here.

To describe how much I enjoyed and recommend the Positive Psychology Workbook series by Robert Biswas-Diener and colleagues, I thought of the positivity ratio proposed by Barbara Fredrickson: flourishing happens when positivity outweighs negativity by 3 to 1, but above 11:1, the effect disappears. I loved the series and would highly recommend it, so I offer 11 positives of the series and one dose of critique.

  1. Expert authors. Written by a stellar group of positive psychology experts, the three-part series includes: 1) Invitation to Positive Psychology: Research and Tools for the Professional, A six-week course by Robert Biswas-Diener 2) Positively Happy: Routes to Sustainable Happiness, A six-week course by Sonja Lyubomirsky and Jaime Kurtz and 3) Positive Motivation: A six week course by Kennon Sheldon.
  2. Something for everyone. The Positive Psychology workbook series offers something for every type of reader, from the novice interested in learning more about this new science to the manager or coach with an interest in motivation. Invitation to Positive Psychology and Positively Happy are written for the general audience, while Positive Motivation includes more advanced language and material.
  3. Reflections. Appropriately scattered throughout the workbooks, reflection pages give the reader time to think about a particular concept and the space to write down these thoughts.
  4. Exercises and Activities. Arguing that the tools and techniques of positive psychology must be experienced rather than viewed, Biswas-Diener quotes Christoper Peterson in A Primer in Positive Psychology—“learning about positive psychology is not a spectator sport.” Exercises and activities bring the reader into the game, so to speak, and also offer the physical (page) space to write down one’s experience.
  5. Review of main points. The workbooks are all easy to read and written in an engaging, conversational style, but who doesn’t appreciate the CliffsNotes version once in a while? A handy text box offered at the end of each chapter is useful when you’re looking for a summary.
  6. Reading. What “course” would be complete without assigned reading? Invitation to Positive Psychology assigns readings from Peterson’s Primer; Positively Happy from Lyubormirsky’s own The How of Happiness; and Positive Motivation from a variety of research articles available on the web.
  7. Key References. All workbooks strive to balance an education in the scientific underpinnings of positive psychology with activities and exercises that will help readers apply these concepts in their everyday lives. The Key References section of each chapter highlights these underpinnings, giving you just enough to be informed, without so much to be overwhelmed.
  8. Additional and Further Reading. For the ambitious.
  9. Something to lead into the next week. I liked how each chapter ended with a reflection, exercise, or activity to conclude the learning from the previous “week” and move the reader into the next topic.
  10. Appropriate for multiple learning styles. The series is designed to present a more engaging way to understand this new science and can appeal to a variety of different learning styles.
  11. Great for coaches. Personally, I found the workbooks to be a very useful and concise resource in my coaching and consulting practice. It’s been three years since I graduated from the MAPP program, and honestly, it really helps to review both the basics offered in Invitation to Positive Psychology and Positively Happy and the more specific motivational techniques in Positive Motivation.

To keep my review within the upper bounds of the positivity ratio for flourishing (11:1), I had to find one piece of critique to temper my enthusiastic recommendation of the series. In her review of Invitation to Positive Psychology, Aren Cohen suggested creating a weekly study session with a partner or group. I second that recommendation, finding that the language used about participating in the course seemed a bit foreign to me, reading the book on my own. That, and I was occasionally thrown off by the British spellings.



Biswas-Diener, R. (2009). Invitation to Positive Psychology. The Positive Psychology Workbook Series.

Lyubomirsky, S. & Kurtz, J. (2008). Positively Happy: Routes to Sustainable Happiness. The Positive Psychology Workbook Series.

Sheldon, K. (2008). Positive Motivation (The Positive Psychology Workbook Series). The Positive Psychology Workbook Series.

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