If you have wanted to teach an introductory course in Positive Psychology but did not know what textbooks to include on your syllabus, here is a brand new one to consider. It is entitled simply Positive Psychology. Authors Steve Baumgardner and Marie Crothers from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire have integrated well-researched traditional psychology with newer work in the expanding field of positive psychology.
AudienceThe book is intended for undergrads who may have little or no experience reading professional journals but would benefit from a substantial research base in understanding how major areas of psychology have developed into what is now called “positive psychology”. Some other texts are edited volumes of chapters written by the researchers themselves. While this would have primary source value, it is perhaps less accessible to many undergrads. Positive Psychology is written for this audience, with good use of transitions to ease the flow from idea to idea, and with attention to important topics and details.
Unlike some textbook treatments of positive psychology, this one uses the actual research and puts it in context, telling both how studies were conducted and with whom. Grounding positive psychology on the many psychology subfields from which it has grown makes it seem somehow less new and rather an extension of the solid work of a still-developing field. Still, some of the authors’ insights seem fresh and even controversial because they are clearly seeking to engage the student reader by choosing topics likely to be of interest to that population, such as sex, money, and relationships.
The book is organized into twelve chapters. The first half of the book focuses on hedonic views of happiness. It shows what the research says about measuring happiness, applying these findings, and understanding the value of well-being. The second half of the book transitions from goal-setting and self-regulation to more eudaimonic studies, including positive traits, character, and relationships. It ends with a quick look at positive psychology’s three pillars (pleasure, engagement and meaning), as well as applications of the positive to therapy, and mindfulness (both the Ellen Langer kind and the Jon Kabat-Zinn kind). Depending on the activities you want your students to conduct as part of the syllabus, you might want them to read the chapters in a different order than presented, since some of the topics we love here at PPND such as optimism and strengths are in the later portions of the book.
Each chapter ends with a set of summary questions that do more than ask for content regurgitation. As the book progresses, students are asked to challenge both conventional and newer wisdom in areas from self-esteem to optimism research referred to in the preface as “methodological issues and theoretical controversies.” Greats such as Carl Rogers, Martin Seligman, and Sonja Lyubomirsky are not immune from the authors’ critical analyses, whereas Ed Diener, Corey Keyes and David Myers seem to be cited with less edge.
Though there were no pictures in the black-and-white paperback copy of the book I reviewed, you will find very useful visuals in every chapter, including bulleted lists, tables, and graphs. Should you wish to have students read the actual studies, each chapter includes web resources and suggested readings. Thirty pages of references occur at the end of the book.
Notable by omission is Jonathan Haidt, who with Corey Keyes edited Flourishing and whose social intuitionist model would likely be very interesting to undergrads. Other positive psychology pioneers are cited but given relatively little coverage, including Barbara Fredrickson and George Vaillant. Having said this, I think every undergrad should read a book like this, perhaps instead of the usual intro text to general psychology because Positive Psychology ushers in the new through the traditional.
Reviewer’s Notes: I suggest supplementing this book with Pursuing Human Strengths: A Positive Psychology Guide by Martin Bolt, which includes assessments in each chapter as well as research-based activities for building each strength. (In this book happiness and friendship are considered strengths.)
There is an international version of this book available from the publisher (Pearson), as well as an instructor’s manual and chapter-by-chapter Power Point slides for those who adopt Positive Psychology for use in the classroom.
Baumgardner, S. and Crothers, M. (2009). Positive Psychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson Education, Inc.
Bolt, M. (2004). Pursuing Human Strengths: A Positive Psychology Guide. Worth Publishers.