PSYC3303: Positive Psychology

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**Course Has Concluded – Thank you for your participation!**

Instructor: Dr. Peter MacIntyre

Schedule:  Jan. 4th – April 4th, 2017 (This course will be completely asynchronous and facilitated through a private Facebook Group)

Weekly Support Materials

Week One
Week Two
Week Three
Week Four
Week Five
Week Six
Week Seven
Week Eight
Week Nine
Week Ten
Week Eleven
Week Twelve

About the Course

Much of psychology is focused on disorders and problems in development while Positive psychology is the study of how human beings prosper and live well. This course is designed to explore the concepts and exercises that enhance well-being. The format of the course is inspired by major Psychology conferences. In order to participate in the Online Positive Psychology Conference (i.e., this course), you will be asked to view the video presentations of plenary speakers, participate in dialogue sessions (coffee break online forums), and document your reactions and ideas as we move through the conference.

Peter MacIntyre

About the Professor

Peter D. MacIntyre is a professor of psychology at Cape Breton University in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada.  Peter was born in O’Leary P.E.I. to parents from Cape Breton while the family was living there.  He grew up in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, where he currently resides. He attended St. John’s elementary and St. Michael’s Senior High school, graduating in 1982.  Peter received his undergraduate degree from UCCB (now Cape Breton University) before attending the University of Western Ontario (Ph.D., 1992) under the supervision of R. C. Gardner.  From 1992-1994 he held a position as a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Ottawa working with Richard Clément. In 1994, Peter joined the faculty at Cape Breton University and was appointed full professor in 2004.   He has received research support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust, the Canadian Volunteerism Initiative, and other sources.  He was the first recipient of the UCCB Alumni Award for Teaching Excellence in 1999 and received the Atlantic Association of Universities Distinguished Teaching Award in 2014.  His research paper, written with colleagues Richard Clement, Kim Noels and Zoltan Dornyei, on Willingness to Communicate was awarded the Mildenberger Prize from the Modem Language Association and has been cited over 1,000 times.  He has co-edited Positive Psychology in SLA (2016, Multilingual Matters) with Tammy Gregersen (University of Northern Iowa) and Sarah Mercer (University of Graz, Austria) that brings principles of positive psychology into the field of second language teaching and learning.

From the instructor: What the Course Can & Cannot Do

As an academic psychologist, I have plenty of experience in research and teaching. That is what this course is all about – the scientific study of what goes right. We will hear from guest speakers who will describe their research and what it means in positive psychology. We also will do activities that have been shown to build well being, and we will share our experiences in the Facebook group. Students who have taken this course in the past have said that they really enjoyed these activities.

However, there is a lot of trauma in the world and some people are genuinely suffering. I wanted to give you a message, from the outset, that this course is designed to help a person enjoy life a little more, to have relationships that are a little better, and to have experiences that help them learn about themselves. But it is not a form of therapy.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, if you are feeling like things are getting out of control, if you are in distress, this course is not a substitute for the attention and treatment that a professional can offer. If you are having severe difficulties, it is best to seek help from a doctor, clinical psychologist, social worker, or other trained professional that can do proper assessments and recommended appropriate treatment.

Week One Resources

An Intro to Positive Psychology: A narrated power point

What is Positive Psychology?
Christopher Peterson, one of the founders of the field, discusses Positive Psychology in his blog:

Founders and shapers of Positive Psychology
VIDEO (25 min): Martin Seligman describes what Positive Psychology is meant to be


What Is Positive Psychology & How It Differs from Positive Thinking
VIDEO (5 min): Dr. Dani gives a brief overview of the difference between positive psychology and simply thinking positively.

Week Two Resources

Doing Positive Psychology, Happiness and Simple Compliments

Sonja Lyubomirsky – The Myths of Happiness
Part 1 Link:
Part 2 Link:

Evaluation Sheet, Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic

Article, How to positive psychology activities increase well being?

50 Evidence-based Positive Psychology Activities

Story, Love and the Cabbie by Art Buchwald

Weekly Activity: Random Acts of Compliments
To start this assignment, you should read “Love and the Cabbie” by Art Buchwald.  [By the way, Art Buchwald is an interesting character, an excellent writer and a very funny man, and you might want to check out how he reacted to his own end of life – he actually checked out of a hospice who does that?].

Your assignment is to do what Art Buchwald’s friend did, give a series of unexpected but genuine complements to another person or group. You must do it 5 times (or more) in one day or over 2 days, and write about your reaction to the experience under this pinned post.  If you like, you can tweet your experience using #CBUPosPsy, one tweet for each “random act of complementing.”

I’d like to see this sort of thing catch on. Imagine if everyone did this, we would be a trending topic on Twitter.  There are 2 key rules for this assignment:

Unexpected. The complement should be unexpected by the person receiving it. If you always say “thank you for the nice dinner” to the person who prepared it, it does not count for this assignment (because the cook expects it). Don’t get me wrong, you SHOULD thank the person who cooked you a nice meal, but this assignment requires 5 NEW unexpected complements.

Sincere. You must really believe what you are saying. No-BS! It might be something very small, like the way your kids give you a hug or the way your mom makes you bed for you even though you are old enough to do it yourself. It might be that you appreciate a co-worker’s filling in for you or the way she makes it a little easier to do your job. You might want to complement a shopkeeper or a tradesperson on the quality of their work. Even large companies might be thanked for the goods and services they provide (for example, you will see Letters to the Editor thanking the power crews for restoring power after a winter storm, or thanking a tourist operator for making a vacation better).

Report what you have done and how you felt doing it in a post here, under this pinned post.  Please be honest, if the your reaction (or the recipient’s) was unexpected, please describe it.  Think about the connections between what Sonja Lyubomirsky and Art Buchwald are saying, and how their ideas apply to the random act of complimenting.

Week Three Resources

Positive Emotions and Critics of Positive Psychology

  • Barbara Fredrickson – The Broaden and Build Theory

On Positivity Ratios:


Part 1 Link:

Part 2 Link:

Part 3 Link:

Summary of the Broaden and Build Theory

Article, The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology (2001)

Chapter, Positive Emotions Broaden and Build (2013)

Critique, Critical Positivity Ratio

Weekly Activity: Positive Emotional Experience

To start this week, look over the materials on the Broaden and Build theory to become familiar with the idea that positive and negative emotions are different in important ways, that positive emotion is thought to broaden our attention and build personal resources for the future, as well as undoing the effects of negative emotion.

Your activity this week is to allow yourself to be open to any one of the emotions listed below from the Modified Differential Emotions Scale; don’t force it but try to find a way to make a positive emotion more likely to happen. In your Facebook post, tell us (a) which emotion you targeted, (b) what you did to open up to experience that emotion this week, (c) was the emotion more complex than you might have thought at first (such as including positive and negative elements), and (d) comment on whether you consider your experience consistent with Fredrickson’s theory or not.

  1. Amused: amused, fun-loving, or silly
  2. In Awe: awe, wonder, or amazement
  3. Grateful: grateful, appreciative, or thankful
  4. Hope: hopeful, optimistic, or encouraged
  5. Inspired: inspired, uplifted, or elevated
  6. Interest: interested, alert, or curious
  7. Enjoyment: joyful, glad, or happy
  8. Love: love, closeness, or trust
  9. Pride: proud, confident, or self-assured
  10. Serenity: serene, content, or peaceful

Week Four Resources

Silver Linings and Synthesizing Happiness

Dan Gilbert  – Synthesizing Happiness

Barry Schwartz – The paradox of choice

Malcolm Gladwell – Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce

Weekly Activity
Finding Silver linings (from the Greater Good in Action web site )

  1. To start, list five things that make you feel like your life is enjoyable, enriching, and/or worthwhile at this moment. These things can be as general as “being in good health” or as specific as “drinking a delicious cup of coffee this morning.” The purpose of this first step is to help you shift into a positive state of mind about your life in general.
  1. Next, think about the most recent time when something didn’t go your way, or when you felt frustrated, irritated, or upset.
  1. In a few sentences, briefly describe the situation in writing.
  1. Then, list three things that can help you see the bright side of this situation. For example, perhaps you missed your bus this morning. Three ways to look on the bright side of this situation might be:
  • Even though you missed the bus, you got some good exercise when you were running to catch it.
  • You’re fortunate to live in a city where there was another bus just 10 minutes later, or where buses run reliably at all.
  • Ten years from now, you likely won’t remember what happened this morning.


Week Five Resources

According to the classic question, optimists and pessimists are sorted into categories by the question, “is the glass half full or half empty?” Well, the answer is YES! When you think about it, of course a half full glass is also half empty, that’s what “half” means. Or as my friend recently pointed out, half is full of water and half is full of air – so the question itself is incorrect.

So let’s forget about sorting the world into optimists and pessimists.  Let’s also forget about the idea that optimism is good and pessimism is bad. Modern theory suggests that there are benefits to both optimism and pessimism, as well as significant costs to each way of thinking.


Instructor Podcast: HERE

Summary of Optimism Theory

  1. Videos:
    Author Robert Wright (who is not known to be an optimistic guy) was asked to give an uplifting TED talk on “non-zero-sumness” which is an important concept. The talk is from 2006 but is probably as relevant today as it was then. If you replace the references to of George Bush with ideas from Donald Trump, the message is just as powerful.
  1. Psychologist Stephen Pinker (one of the most influential current psychologists) addresses the idea that violence is rampant in the modern world.
  1. Neuroscientist Tali Sharot gives an interesting talk linking optimism to brain activity and specifically how her lab can temporarily undo the optimism bias.

Weekly Social Activity:

Fun vs Philanthropy – we can all think of activities that are widely considered enjoyable – watching a movie, playing sports, reading, relaxing, hanging out, and so on. One half of this week’s task is to choose one item from this list (or a comparable item) and simply enjoy it; have fun for an hour or two! The second half of the task is to perform an act of altruism or philanthropy (give your time to a worthy cause, help a neighbour, be an unusually good “teammate” this week if that is relevant to you, and so on).  Try to give equal time to fun and philanthropy; do them in any order you like.  In your post this week you do not have to report exactly what you did for fun or philanthropy (unless you want to tell the story). Rather I am asking that you simply compare and contrast how you felt doing each type of activity. What are the effects of fun vs philanthropy for you?

Week 6 Resources


Instructor Podcast

Take the VIA test of strengths


From what is wrong to what is strong

Is it a good idea to build on signature strengths?

Martin Seligman discusses the idea of signature strengths

Philosophy teacher Brian Johnson outlines what signature strengths are and how they might be used.

Robert Biswas-Diener, History and universality of Strengths

Week 6 Social Activity:

Identify your signature strengths and use them in a new way. The activity this week has three steps:

  1. take the VIA survey to identify your own top strengths, specifically look for signature strengths of your own (the readings posted on the CBU web site for the course will help with this). Link:
  1. find new ways to use your signature strengths. Consider the situations in which you use the strength currently and try to think of new ways to expand on the strength, develop new applications of it.
  1. let us know how the exercise worked for you, and specifically do you think that working on your top strengths or your weakest ones is more likely to lead you to more positive outcomes?

Week Seven Resources


Instructor Podcast  


Summary of Frankl’s Life and theory

 Finding Meaning in a Lottery Win


Viktor Frankl in Toronto

 Viktor Frankl Interview

Richard Tedeschi – Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG)

Website: Viktor Frankl Institute

 Week 7 Social Activity

 Meaningful Photos
from the Greater Good in Action website) 

  1. Over the next week, take photographs of things that make your life feel meaningful or full of purpose. These can be people, places, objects, pets. If you are not able to take photos of these things—like if they’re not nearby—you can take photos of souvenirs, reminders, websites, or even other photos. Try to take at least nine photographs. 
  2.  At the end of the week: If you used a digital camera, upload your photos to a computer. If you used a non-digital camera, have your photos developed. 
  3.  Then, once you have collected all of your photos and items, take time to look at and reflect on each one. For each photo or item, write down a response to the following question: “What does this photo represent, and why is it meaningful?” 

 When you are done, tell us about what this activity reveals to you about how you find meaning in life. If you like, you can describe the photo(s) or upload one to this Facebook page if you choose, but it is not expected.  Give some consideration to the points made by Viktor Frankl if you can. 


Week 8: Creativity, Flow and Education


Creativity and Brain Connections

Teaching and Positive Psychology

The science of Creativity

Emotions that make us more creative


Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?

Sir Ken Robinson: Education’s death valley

Csikszentmihalyi on creativity and flow

Week 8 Social Activity

Three Good Things

Each day for at least one week, write down three things that went well for you that day, and provide an explanation for why they went well. It is important to create a physical record of your items by writing them down; it is not enough simply to do this exercise in your head. The items can be relatively small in importance (e.g., “my co-worker made the coffee today”) or relatively large (e.g., “I earned a big promotion”). To make this exercise part of your daily routine, some find that writing before bed is helpful.

As you write, follow these instructions:

  1. Give the event a title (e.g., “co-worker complimented my work on a project”)
  2. Write down exactly what happened in as much detail as possible, including what you did or said and, if others were involved, what they did or said.
  3. Include how this event made you feel at the time and how this event made you feel later (including now, as you remember it).
  4. Explain what you think caused this event—why it came to pass.
  5. Use whatever writing style you please, and do not worry about perfect grammar and spelling. Use as much detail as you’d like.
  6. If you find yourself focusing on negative feelings, refocus your mind on the good event and the positive feelings that came with it. This can take effort but gets easier with practice and can make a real difference in how you feel.

Week 9: Positive Psychology and the Local Economy


Instructor Podcast


Silver Donald Cameron – Bhutan: The Pursuit of Gross National Happiness

Hans Rosling 200 years, 200 countries (4 min)

In more detail: Hans Rosling, The best stats you’ve ever seen (TED talk)

On the Web:

  1. Canadian Index of Wellbeing
  1. USA: Gallup Healthways
  1. Angus MacIntyre, Excerpt from Jobs are not the Answer
  1. In more detail: Angus MacIntyre’s e-book, Jobs are not the Answer: But then what is?

Week 9 Social Activity:

Think Globally, Act Locally

Advocate for change.

In this activity, I am hoping that you will find a way to live out the wisdom in the phrase “think globally but act locally.” We are remarkably social creatures. We live and work in pairs and groups of every size (e.g., from the loving couples who are pair-bonded, families, groups, organizations, and through to large institutions). We experience every possible level of organization, from the unique rules of our friends (e.g., if you mention the Toronto Maple Leafs to him you get an hour lecture on what’s wrong with hockey) to the broadly-impactful rules of a globalizing economy, literally billions of people in coordinated action.

With this activity, we look at those institutions and their rules. We will consider whether or not the institutions are set up in ways that are consistent with positive psychology. Ironically, long ago behaviorism gave us a very positive message: if you set up good conditions, you will get good behavior. Of course if our organizations and institutions are set up to encourage bad behavior, well that’s what we get.

So in this assignment, you are asked to find and report on a rule from an organization or institution that you think should be changed. It might be a major rule or minor one. Then, your job will be to advocate change in the rule. I am asking you to attempt to change an organization, even in a very small way, one that is consistent with Positive Psychological Principles.

You can advocate for a change in an organization – any organization. You do not have to make the change yourself (unless you can!), often it requires commitment from other people in the organization. All I am asking is that you provide a description of how you are advocating for a change that is consistent with the principles of positive psychology.

  • Can we increase creativity, character strength, hope and resilience?
  • Are there things in an organization that prevent people from flourishing, and can they be changed for the better?
  • Are there patterns of negative thinking that can be altered in ways that are consistent with some of the exercises you are doing?

Some examples might include:

– A letter the editor of the newspaper advocating for a change in a public policy,

– A letter to the chair of an organization advocating a change in the group’s policy or procedures,

– Call a meeting to discuss an issue (e.g., reacting to a loss of volunteers, increasing the fairness of an organization, the group showing it’s members that they are valued, and so on),

– Make a contribution to a web site,

– Offer commentary that supports another person’s change initiative (eg., supporting a petition, initiating or joining a rally in support of something you’d like to see changed)

– Write a letter to a politician – federal, provincial or municipal – advocating a change in policy, regulations, a law, or by-law,

– Write a contribution to a newsletter or church bulletin where you advocate change in an organization,

– Change in the ‘rules’ for your family,

– Make a presentation to the school board,

– other ideas?

IMPORTANT: Your request for change should describe the rationale for making the change and ideally how it relates to principles of positive psychology. If you can, post information on the change you are advocating:  a letter, a link on the web, a poster for a meeting, an email, and so on.

In summary:

  1. Find a rule (policies, laws, procedures, etc) that you think should be changed to create more positive outcomes,
  2. Advocate for change & explain why you think the change should happen.

Some quotes to keep in mind as you venture into the world:

“Today I’m gonna try and change the world” – Johnny Reid (from the song)

“If it exists, it is possible” – Silver Donald Cameron

“We are now capable of measuring progress in a better way that accords itself with our shared values and lets us know we are moving toward the society we want to create.” – Angus MacIntyre

“My experience from 20 years of Africa is that the seemingly impossible is possible.” – Hans Rosling

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

“Positive Psychology is not a spectator sport” – Christopher Peterson

Week 10: Love


Instructor Podcast

Introduction to Love Theory


Love 1.0
Leo Buscaglia -Speaking of Love PBS Special (sections 9 min. each)
Link (Part 1):
Link (Part 2):
Link (Part 3):
Link (Part 4):
Link (Part 5):
Link (Part 6):

Love 2.0

Barbara Fredrickson – Remaking love (12 min)

Barbara Fredrickson – A new lens on love (27 min)

Loving Kindness Meditations

Bonus Instructor Podcast

Love as identity and Positivity Resonance (Buscaglia meets Fredrickson)

Week 11: Grit


Quiz:  How Gritty Are You?

Readings: True Grit

Angela Lee Duckworth and Lauren Eskreis-Winkler

Criticism: Ten concerns about ‘let’s teach them grit’ (Washington Post)


Angela Duckworth: Power of passion and perseverance (6 min)

Amy Cuddy Interviews Angela Duckworth: Interview plus Q&A (58 min)

Bonus Video, Amy Cuddy: Power of Body Language (18 min)

Week 12: Awe

The study of “awe” is making something of a comeback. Perceptual psychologist J.J. Gibson (1988) wrote: “Psychology or at least American psychology is a second rate discipline. The main reason is that it does not stand in awe of its subject matter” (in Schneider’s paper entitled “The resurgence of Awe,” a link appears below)


Reading 1
The Resurgence of Awe in Psychology: Promise, Hope, and Perils
by Kirk Schneider (Published in 2017, link is to author’s copy)

Reading 2 (from Psychology Today)
The Power of Awe: A Sense of Wonder Promotes Loving-Kindness

Reading 3 (from Huffington Post)
How Awe-Inspiring Experiences Can Make You Happier, Less Stressed And More Creative


“An Awe Video:  Yosemite in HD” (4 minutes, full screen view recommended)

Carl Sagan: The pale blue dot (3.5 min)

Awe at breathtaking speed: Jason Silva’s Shots of Awe and Wonder

Weekly Social Activities

Awe Walk (from Greater Good in Action)

Awe Narrative (also from Greater Good in Action)

(next week, final topic: Taking Stock)