Positive psychologists

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Prominent positive psychologists in research or applied areas


Dr. Happiness and the Indiana Jones of positive psychology

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

“Dr. Happiness” is regarded as the world’s leading psychological researcher of human happiness. He’s also been called the “Jedi Master of Happiness.” His real name is Ed Diener, and he’s a professor at the University of Illinois. I said a little more about him when I talked about his Life Satisfaction Scale.

He’s written a book for the general public together with his son, Robert Biswas-Diener, a psychologist known for his ability to collect hard-to-get data. He studies subjective well-being in far flung places like Greenland, India, Israel, Spain, and Kenya, working with remote groups of people traditionally overlooked by researchers. Because of this he’s also acquired a nickname, the “Indiana Jones of positive psychology.”

Their book came out just a few days ago, but it’s already gotten quite a bit of attention, including reviews. There’s even one on Oprah.com.

It’s called Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Psychological wealth is “your true net worth, and includes your attitudes toward life, social support, spiritual development, material resources, health, and the activities in which you engage.”

The book is being widely praised:

“This is the most authoritative and informative book about happiness ever written. That’s not surprising, given that its authors are the world’s leading happiness researcher and his psychologist-son, whose vocation is coaching people toward happier lives.” -David G. Myers, Hope College, author, The Pursuit of Happiness: Discovering the Pathway to Fulfillment, Well-Being, and Enduring Personal Joy

“A great gift from the leading professional scientist of happiness in the world and his son, the ‘Indiana Jones’ of positive psychology.” -Martin E. P. Seligman, University of Pennsylvania and author, Authentic Happiness

“Want the key to happiness and success in life, choose the right advisor. On the subject of happiness, students, researchers, businesses, and governments have been turning to Ed Diener. Now, in this powerful, ground-breaking book, we have the opportunity to receive the coveted advice of Dr. Diener and his son Robert Biswas-Diener. This book is a must read if you want a practical, enjoyable, and uplifting science-based guide to achieving real psychological wealth.” -David J. Pollay, President, The Momentum Project, Syndicated Columnist

“The collaboration between the foremost authority on happiness research and the “Indiana Jones” of psychology makes for a great mix of interesting examples and solid research. I have never seen a book that does such a good job offering useful practical advice while basing this advice on completely sound empirical research.” -Richard E. Lucas, Michigan State University

“This is a happiness book by the world authority, the pre-eminent scholar in the field along with an in-the-trenches coach who teaches and adapts this material every day for practical use with his clients. These folks know happiness from the inside out. The authors separate the wheat from the chaff, and serve up a meal replete with tasty morsels of practical advice on how to live. A joy to read!” -Michael B. Frisch, Baylor University, author, Quality of Life Therapy

In the phone interview I mentioned in my last post (where I mostly talked about professor Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book on happiness), Ed Diener talked about some of the same things that are in his book.

True or False:

1. I’d be happier if I made more money, found the perfect mate, lost 10 pounds, or moved to a new house.

2. Happiness is genetic. You can’t change how happy you are any more than you can change how tall you are.

3. Success brings happiness.

Well, it’s clear that environmental factors can have an affect on how tall you are. (Have our genes suddenly become almost 10% different from our – shorter – grandparents’ generation?) And there is a genetic component to happiness. Also, money can make some difference, especially at levels of poverty where basic needs aren’t met. But for the rest of us money doesn’t have nearly the impact that people seem to assume. And reaching the other goals where you get something turns out not to make us anywhere as happy as we expect.

Basically, all 3 are false.

Popular book by top happiness researcher

So what does make a real difference?

First and foremost seems to be relationships. Close, supportive social relationships. We need people who we care about.

Second is attitudinal: being grateful, attending to good things/experiences and savoring them (vs. ruminating on the negative). Positive attitudes toward life in general.

Happiness is a process, not a destination.

Here’s the book: Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. I’ll be talking more about its contents in the future.

Sonja Lyubomirsky and the How of Happiness

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

“Dr. Happiness” Ed Diener and Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky are two of the leading researchers on happiness. A funny thing happened the day after I wrote my last post, where I introduced Dr. Diener and talked about his Life Satisfaction Scale. I got an email from Dr. Ben Dean (who I’ll talk about in a minute) saying Dr. Diener “is considered to be the world’s leading authority on research on happiness” and inviting me to a conference-call interview of Dr. Diener and Dr. Lyubomirsky that night.

Both Ed Diener and Sonja Lyubomirsky have written popular books about happiness. Sonja’s book has been out for awhile now. I just did a search for “happiness” in the “books” section of Amazon.com, and it came up second. It’s called: The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. It’s a how-to book. In the Foreword, she says “To my knowledge, this is the first how-to-become-happier book authored by someone who has actually conducted research revealing how people can achieve a greater sense of happiness in their lives.

She’s certainly qualified to talk about happiness: she was awarded a Templeton Positive Psychology Prize in 2002, she’s an associate editor of the Journal of Positive Psychology, and she and Ken Sheldon have a 5-year million-dollar grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct research on the possibility of permanently increasing happiness.

Just looking at the table of contents gives you an idea how much she has to offer:

Part One: How to Attain Real and Lasting Happiness

1. Is It Possible to Become Happier?

2. How Happy Are You and Why?

3. How to Find Happiness Activities That Fit Your Interests, Your Values, and Your Needs

Part Two: Happiness Activities

Foreword to Part Two: Before You Begin

4. Practicing Gratitude and Positive Thinking

5. Investing in Social Connections

6. Managing Stress, Hardship, and Trauma

7. Living in the Present

8. Happiness Activity No.10: Committing to Your Goals

9. Taking Care of Your Body and Your Soul

Part Three: Secrets to Abiding Happiness

10. The Five Hows Behind Sustainable Happiness

The Promise of Abiding Happiness: An Afterword

Postscript: If You Are Depressed

Appendix: Additional Happiness Activities That May Fit

Dr. Lyubomirsky has found that happy people tend to perceive and interpret the world in ways that reinforce their happiness, and unhappy people do the reverse. Happy people respond in a more positive and adaptive way, while unhappy people tend to dwell or “ruminate” on negative or ambiguous events, draining cognitive resources and creating negative consequences.

She and her colleagues are investigating ways that happiness can be reliably and durably increased. They believe it can be done through intentional activities, but that these require “daily and concerted effort and commitment.” They are testing the effectiveness of gratitude exercises, “self-regulatory” and positive thinking about oneself (such as reflecting, writing, and talking about one’s happiest and unhappiest life events, or about one’s goals for the future), and practicing acts of kindness and altruism.

Popular how-to book on happiness by leading researcher

She talked about some of these things in the interview, and deals with how to apply some of them in practical ways in her book.

I want to talk about Ed Diener’s new book too, a bit more about the interview, and about Ben Dean’s work. But I think I’m going to have to break this up into several posts. In the meantime, take a look at Sonja’s book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want.

Life Satisfaction – measure yours

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

Can “life satisfaction” be measured? How can a few questions be any kind of scientific measure of happiness, in the sense of my satisfaction with life?

Well, the “Satisfaction with Life Scale” below was developed by the man some call “Dr. Happiness,” who has studied this subject more than 25 years, who TIME magazine featured first among researchers in its January 17, 2005 special issue on happiness research. Dr. Ed Diener from the University of Illinois didn’t just make up five questions off the top of his head and call it a scientific instrument. There are a variety of ways to test such scales, and this one has been found to be valid (internally consistent, distinct) and reliable (stable) for both young and old.

Satisfaction with Life Scale

Try it yourself. Here are Dr. Diener’s instructions for taking the short survey questionnaire:

Below are five statements that you may agree or disagree with. Using the 1 – 7 scale below indicate your agreement with each item by placing the appropriate number on the line preceding that item. Please be open and honest in your responding.

7 – Strongly agree
6 – Agree
5 – Slightly agree
4 – Neither agree nor disgree
3 – Slightly disagree
2 – Disgree
1 – Strongly disgree

____ In most ways my life is close to my ideal.

____ The conditions of my life are excellent.

____ I am satisfied with my life.

____ So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.

____ If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.

Add the numbers you wrote beside each of the five questions to get a total. See below.

  • 31 – 35 Extremely satisfied
  • 26 – 30 Satisfied
  • 21 – 25 Slightly satisfied
  • 20 Neutral
  • 15 – 19 Slightly dissatisfied
  • 10 – 14 Dissatisfied
  • 5 – 9 Extremely dissatisfied


We’ll be talking about the important issue of life satisfaction more in future posts. For now, make a list of things you are grateful for, if you haven’t already in conjunction with my “Gratitude leads to psychological and physical well-being” post. Think about your major activities and how they contribute to life satisfaction. For example, is there some improvement you could make to your work situation that would allow you to create more value? use your personal strengths more? help you get more involved in your work, get in the zone (find “flow”), and be more creative? or help you have a richer, fuller experience?

If on the other hand you are depressed or think you might be depressed, please pay it proper attention and get help. Among other benefits, overcoming depression is a key to life satisfaction; in a recent study, anxiety or anger had very little impact on life satisfaction compared to depression. Depression is a serious condition and should not be ignored.


Pavot, W., & Diener, E. (1993). Review of the Satisfaction with Life Scale. Psychological Assessment, 5, 164-172.

Schimmack, U., Oishi, S., Furr, B M., & Funder, D. C. (2004). Personality and life satisfaction: A facet level analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 1062-1075.

*The Satisfaction with Life Scale is in the public domain (not copyrighted) and so can be used without permission and free of charge.