Home All What is Positive Psychology? An Animation

What is Positive Psychology? An Animation

written by Nick Standlea 31 October 2012

Nick Standlea holds a BA in Media Studies from Pitzer College and an MBA from the Peter F. Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. He is a former research associate of the Quality of Life Research Center where he studied creativity, flow, positive psychology, and venture philanthropy. Nick has since founded several companies, including Test Prep Gurus. Nick's articles for PositivePsychologyNews.com are here.

Editor’s note: If you’ve ever struggled to explain positive psychology to a friend or colleague, you are ready to appreciate this short animation by Nick Standlea, a former research associate for Mike Csikszentmihalyi at the Quality of Life Research Center. It’s food for the eyes and ears.

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Halelly 1 November 2012 - 1:09 pm

Thanks for putting this together! Very cool. I’ll definitely share – makes for a very nice summary to watch.

One critique: I must say I find the voice (especially the intonation) VERY grading, not sure why. It’s almost too hard to listen to it! I’m sure it’s a personal taste… For what it’s worth, though.

A question: what’s the last part of the last frame (under Politics) all about – Prosperity Sharing. Is this something that Positive Psychology actually prescribes somewhere? Could you point me to the source, please?
Thanks again!

Cris Popp 1 November 2012 - 5:40 pm

Thank you. Especially for making the distinction with the secret, and “shortcuts”.

Kathleen Bleyaert 1 November 2012 - 8:16 pm

Great summary! When something is so well done and looks so simple, I know so much time, effort, and work went into its production. Thank you.

(Voice was a detractor for me also.) With such a good presentation, I truly hate to even mention it.

Claus Hellmann 2 November 2012 - 3:28 am

Thanks for the initiative. I was also distracted by the voice, which reminded me of a soap commercial from the 1950s. I wonder if you used that type of voice intentionally in order to provoke?

Emma 2 November 2012 - 3:47 am

What a wonderful video! I also thought it was a good summary and have to agree with the comments on the voice.

Elodia Thomas 2 November 2012 - 1:37 pm

A fun, cool approach to explaining the basic tenets of positive psychology but why the radio announcer voice that sounds like it’s from the 50’s and why so many male figures vs. very few female figures or androgynous figures? What’s the message in that?

Then again, perhaps it’s all tongue-in-cheek.

Clive Leach 3 November 2012 - 1:03 am

Great resource well done. The content is excellent but I have to agree re the commentary – I’d be loathe to use it as it comes over a bit patronising and I think it would put people off. It needs a voice over which is fresh, enthusiastic and engaging!

Kenny E. Williams 4 November 2012 - 12:26 am

All in all, I believe this video to be a great resource for the novice as well as those savvy in the tenets of PS. The artistic frames provide us with nifty pictures and appropriate word scaffolding to remember PS’s concepts and purpose. Upon hearing the narrator initially, I found the narrative tone to be somewhat “unusual”, but I must say upon listening to the post/video twice more that the message took precedence. The narrator’s voice became the messenger and not the message and faded into the background; the visuals jumped to the forefront in my second and third viewings.

I do think,indeed, a more balanced approach regarding the gender and ethnic character portraits would add to an already memorable depiction of PS. Both author and artist positively excelled in simplifying PS to both laymen and expert. I applaud their efforts!

Kenny E. Williams

Nick Standlea 8 November 2012 - 4:57 pm

First let me say that my team and I are flattered and overwhelmed by the positive response this animation is receiving. Thank you so much for taking the time to watch it and to post your feedback!

(Also, I apologize for any typos or syntax errors in advance as my wife just gave birth to our second child and I’m running on very little sleep.)

The Voiceover:
We never anticipated such a strong response to the voice (some people love it while others clearly don’t care for it). I take 100% responsibility for the tone and style of the voiceover. The work was done by a professional voice-over artist, David Compton, who was an absolute professional throughout the entire process. When he offered his “take on the character” we thought it was fresh, provocative and fun (it reminded us of an old, wise, funky professor) and he delivered exactly what I approved. But looking back, had I known the voice would prove such a distraction I would have gone in a different direction. We very much appreciate all the constructive criticism (it’s all about improving!) and we plan to go with a much more neutral tone for our next project.

Next Steps:
We just received a request from the University of Pennsylvania to use the animation in the lobby of the Positive Psychology department. I can’t tell you how pleased we are that people we respect and admire want to use the animation to help communicate such important ideas!

We have also received a number of inquiries and requests for future projects as a result of this animation –- which is very flattering as this project was just something we worked on for fun during our free time. We’re weighing our options carefully as we decide how best to move forward from here.

Some outside parties have floated the idea of approaching various foundations and/or universities about grants or another form of funding to support the dissemination of positive psychology research or related research topics. This would clearly be a dream come true. Can you imagine an office with half a dozen writers and animators cranking out animations for the public on an array of positive psychology research topics?

Just the thought that this might be possible has us dreaming about a website similar to TED.com, but instead of cursory 10-minute discussions on an endless number of topics we envision a series of animations that would concentrate on achieving depth and breadth on a range of positive psychology topics. Ideally, we would work side by side with the actual creators of the research in order to ensure accuracy and to help them reach the public. We have no idea if funding for such a project is even possible…does anyone have any possible insights regarding this?

Either way, more than anything we’re just glad people liked the animation. Thank you again for all the feedback, compliments and support!

Kara Ayers 9 November 2012 - 7:43 pm

Just a note of appreciation. I’m using this video to guide my Psychology Career Seminar this week. It’s a great introduction and I’m challenging them to write a blog-style entry in response. Thanks for your hard work. I’ll be using this in the future as well.

Nick Standlea 10 November 2012 - 11:54 am

Hi Kara,
That sounds great. We would love to see the blog entries if you want to post a link. Thanks!


Jeanine Broderick 10 November 2012 - 7:32 pm

I also enjoyed this animation.

I would love to see an answer to the Halely posted on 11/1 regarding Prosperity Sharing. I have read a great many PS books and research studies and have not seen anything about prosperity sharing.

I have seen research that speaks to the detrimental impact of disparate incomes on health — to summarize (from memory) – people making $60,000 in an area where most make about $60,000 live longer and are healthier than someone making $60,000 in an area where incomes vary more (say 50 – 150,000 or even wider). The cost of living was the same in both situations.

Although the research has not been done (or I have not found it if it has) – it is pretty clear to me that it is not the disparity of income that is the result – the standard of living was not different because the cost of living was not different. I am firmly convinced that it was a tendency of individuals to compare themselves to others – which then results in more negative comparisons in the less homogenous income area than in the one where everyone is relatively the same level.

One reason it is so detrimental is we compare our bloopers to the other people’s highlight reels.

Income equalization is demotivating and it is not the answer. Nor is taking income from those who work hard and giving it to those who make other choices. The solution is to help individuals understand, from a young age (and backfill those who are already beyond a young age) that comparisons with others are not a good way to judge self.

I found a Hindu proverb that, in my opinion, sums it up perfectly:

There is nothing noble about being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.
– Hindu proverb

I am not Hindi (or religious at all) but this proverb contains so much wisdom I use it in my programs.

Income equalization de-motivates both sides. Why should I work hard to support someone who chooses not to? On the flip side, giving often comes with the disempowering message of “we give because you are incapable.” I believe in some instances it leads to a tendency toward learned helplessness.

Teaching that others opinions of us is really a reflection of them (if they are happy they are probably going to notice something they appreciate about us – if they are unhappy they are more likely to find something to complain about relating to us) and that we should just strive for continuous self-improvement — not in a perfectionist way but in a way that understands that is what humans do. We learn, grow, become more, then we desire new things and learn and grow some more. It is a life long process. Setting a standard of being better than we were is achievable. Setting a standard of being better than we were removes so much of the competition. Setting a standard of being better than we were raises our bar. If we look at others and set our bar by what it will take to do better than them we may be setting our bar far too low. I had a peer ask me to stop working so hard many years ago because he had apparently been compared negatively to me in his performance evaluation. It was shocking to me – I never felt in competition with him – I was just striving to do my best. If I had set my bar by what was required to do better than him I would not have achieved nearly as much.

When you help children understand that others opinions should not matter more than their own the impact of peer pressure is reduced – they look at it a different way. We teach children to look at others to validate their worthiness when they could form their own opinion If we teach them that their own opinion is valid and that they are good we would go a long way to helping generations of people thrive in better ways.

I also found it funny that you state that PS is based on solid science but that there are no short cuts since that conclusion is not supported by hard science. PS has not researched all the programs available. I agree there are many that do not work for a lot of people but that does not mean there are not good ones. I know of one where many thousands of people are thriving far greater than ever before (and no, it is not my own program which is relatively new). I know many of the people personally, their stories and successes.

I also know of some research that is going to take it to a whole new level – research on the emotional guidance system. Information that I believe takes us many years ahead of where we are and paves the way for programs that are not hard word. Becoming more positive is not like a diet – you don’t have to feel you are suffering as you progress because you feel better as you progress and you are not hungry.

We also need to spend more time going to the root. PS is often doing the same thing medical science has done — focus on symptoms. For example, they teach people to help others in order to feel better. Yes, that works. But why? The root cause is that they are taking their focus off their own situation and putting it on something that feels better when they think about it. If you would teach the root cause then someone who is in a situation where they cannot help someone (perhaps they are bedridden or incarcerated) they could still find something else to focus on. Every time I see the one taught without the other I suspect a social agenda behind it. I can’t believe that scientists do not know the root cause.

Yes, it can and does feel awesome to help others – when that is what you want to do. When you are acting, however, from an ought, should, must, or other such perspective it is not nearly as enjoyable and can result in guilt if you don’t do it – and we all know that increasing guilt is counter productive.

The research I mentioned on the emotional guidance system is available free on a friend of mine’s website — IMO, her research is brilliant http://www.emotionalsentience.com She is not selling anything on the site – just making the information available.

I love the idea of getting the message out but don’t just give out the surface message – help people understand the root cause.

Since the research came out from Harvard in April (the meta-analysis that shows positivity and optimism reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 50% and that the absence of negative emotions is not the same as positive emotions I have been lobbying for public service messages and wrote every Senator in the country and many governors requesting this. I was so disappointed the National Prevention Strategy completely ignored the now proven benefits of positivity and optimism in the strategy they released earlier this year. Obviously, education is needed to help people get the benefits that are now known – not just from PS but other branches of science that are looking into human thriving and all pointing to the many benefits of increased positivity and optimism.

Just the health benefits of PS alone (not to mention relationship, resilience, cognitive, etc.) deserve public service messages. The Nun study and the Harvard meta-analysis are pretty solid evidence that PS has a more beneficial impact on longevity and health than quitting smoking/not smoking. The Harvard meta-analysis also concluded that better lifestyle choices are made when individuals are more positively focused – so the non-smoking agenda could even benefit from increased awareness and knowledge. If the funds currently going to non-smoking ads were channeled into ads that taught PS — Oh can you hear Louis Armstrong singing “It’s a Wonderful World?” I can – every time I imagine the consequences of such a move.


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