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Positive Psychology at the Movies by Niemiec and Wedding (Book Review)

written by Derrick Carpenter October 22, 2008

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.

Derrick's articles are here.



Groundhog DayI often find there are certain themes or ideas that – although previously unexplored – all of a sudden come to my attention over and over again until they cannot be ignored. During the course of my positive psychology education, many such ideas crossed my path. And among them was the film Groundhog Day. I had never seen the film, but I kept hearing that the 1993 classic was an exemplar of positive psychology tenets. So a few weeks back I decided to give in to my curiosity. Bill Murray’s character, a sarcastic and surly local weatherman, keeps waking up to live the same day over again. As the film progresses and Murray’s character learns that he has ultimate control over how happy he will be in his never-ending purgatory, he transforms his attitude and eventually becomes the kind-hearted town hero. I loved the film so much I watched it again the next night.

BOOK REVIEW: Positive Psychology at the Movies by Ryan M. Niemiec and Danny Wedding (Hogrefe & Huber, 2008)

Positive Psychology at the Movies CoverBesides eliciting positive emotions in the viewer, Groundhog Day is a fantastic visual display of the character strength of gratitude. Films, which intrinsically revolve around the study and exploration of character, are a terrific medium for a journey through the VIA character strengths. A new book published this summer, Positive Psychology at the Movies: Using Films to Build Virtues and Character Strengths, by psychologists Ryan M. Niemiec and Danny Wedding perfectly lays the landscape for this wonderful journey of positive psychology in film. The well-structured text provides an endless selection of films with character strengths and virtues as dominant themes. It becomes clear at first glance that the authors have a thorough fundamental understanding of positive psychology, extensive experience in critiquing and evaluating films, and a true passion for uniting the two.

With an introductory chapter on the foundations and history of positive psychology, the book is appropriate for positive psychology novices, but the added perspective of film keeps everything fresh for experts. The bulk of the book is structured around the 24 VIA strengths. For each strength Niemiec and Wedding first discuss the key concepts and relevant research. While the authors inject opinion from time to time, these sections are great stand-alone summaries on the strengths. Each strength is then discussed in the context of relevant films and film characters, including a section on portrayals of the opposite of each strength and a section focusing solely on international film.

The major highlights of the book, besides the writing itself, which is both entertaining and academically rigorous, are found in special sections. Each section on a given strength includes a set of Practical Applications. While these lists of recommendations on how to cultivate a strength occasionally involve film references, they encompass a very general set of guidelines and interventions. Anyone who followed all of the suggestions for a given strength would certainly notice improvements. These lists are fantastic resources for positive psychology practitioners. Additionally, the set of appendices is a must read. The authors have cited a single best exemplar film for each of the 24 strengths, as well as fuller list of movies, ranging from 11 to 131 per strength, rated on a scale from good to excellent. These lists could fill your film-watching agenda for years. Suggested discussion questions for classrooms or therapy, a brief selection of suggested clips for presentations or lectures, and an example of a positive psychology syllabus incorporating film are all nice bonuses.

Niemiec and Wedding have put so much care and attention into their research and choices that I believe this book is a must for positive psychology instructors who intend to integrate film into their lectures. Anyone working as a coach, consultant, or professional using positive psychology can both use the book as a resource to incorporate film as necessary into their work and to refresh and revitalize their perspective on positive psychology through film. And for the casual PPND subscriber, Positive Psychology at the Movies can help guide you to films that will encourage discussion among family and friends about the presence of character strengths in your own lives.

As I thoughtfully added Groundhog Day to my select list of favorite films, Niemiec and Wedding’s wonderful volume has me adding new films to my must-see list by the dozens. I found it ironical that among their well-crafted practical applications, one of their recommendations for increasing vitality is to “spend less time watching television or in front of a computer monitor” (p. 78). I figure if we have any chance of succeeding, we ought to fill the television time we do have with substance that matters and encourages character evaluation. Positive Psychology at the Movies will immediately take you to the great films you should be watching.
 


 

References

Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2008). Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to build virtues and character strengths. Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe.

Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2013). Positive Psychology at the Movies: Using Films to Build Character Strengths and Well-Being Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe. (Added later)

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6 comments

Ryan M. Niemiec October 22, 2008 - 2:32 pm

Derrick,

I’m humbled by this terrific review. My hope is that this review will contribute to more people being inspired and “cinematically elevated” by films to make a difference in their lives and the world…all through the joy of movies! Thanks so much for taking the time to write it.

Ryan

Reply
Christine Duvivier October 22, 2008 - 4:37 pm

Hi Derrick– thanks for making a compelling case– I’m going to get the book and wouldn’t have without your review. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!
Best,
Christine

Reply
Kaori Uno October 23, 2008 - 1:29 am

Ditto to Christine. This is certainly a must-read book for many of us. Thanks for your article, Derrick!

Reply
sue popson October 24, 2008 - 3:21 pm

Derrick,

I just finished reading this wonderful book and I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m sure your keen insights will inspire others to find out for themselves what a masterful book this is. Thank you so much for your most enlightening article!

Sue

Reply
Kourosh Gharagozlou August 29, 2012 - 5:42 pm

Dear Sir/ Madam,

I am thinking if I can ask you a question please, and my question is:

Is a therapist able to use a film as a tool, in order to reduce PTSD?
I mean, can a therapist by showing a film to his/her client, person who suffers PTSD, in order to assist to treatment for his client?

I read an article which describes that a therapist can use a film as a tool, in order to help for treatment of his client. Are you agreeing with this article? In below, It is a link about the article, maybe, you can just read the abstract of the article and if you are agree or disagree with the article .
http://www.cinematherapy.com/pressclippings/Schulenberg-article.pdf

I really appreciate it, if you can give me your personal overview about my question.
Thank you in advance
Kind regards ,
Kourosh Gharagozlou

Reply
Ryan Niemiec August 30, 2012 - 9:57 am

Dear Kourash,

I am familiar with Stefan Schulenberg’s work as he and I have co-authored papers (see our paper on movies, positive psychology, death awareness/attitudes, and movie tips therein in the journal Death Studies last year…happy to send you this paper if you wish) and we co-present on these topics.

Therapists can use movies as an adjunct tool for many purposes – some might involve part of the treatment of a problem and others might involve helping to improve people already functioning well. The caution is that movies do not have enough research to be used as a stand-alone treatment thus movie should a.) Be used only as an adjunct to empirically-validated treatment and b.) Be used wisely and with caution. These guidelines will help the therapist make the most use of the movie which is likely to be a welcomed activity by the client.

Specific to PTSD, the empirically-validated treatment is exposure and response prevention (far too complicated, especially when it comes to trauma, to explain here). Movies can absolutely serve as a way to “expose” the person to what they are afraid of and to help them cope. If the person has the proper coping strategies – and under the care of a trained specialist in PTSD – movies could be used to help the person cope with the trauma. As you can see, movies would play an adjunct/supportive role in the treatment.

I hope that helps,

Ryan

Reply

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