Some links to explore
Follow these links for the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center information pages about resilience research with adults (here) and children (here).

Take a look at the introductory video here from Action For Happiness, a movement for positive social change bringing people together to create a happier society.

Positive Change
Here's a list of 'The Best of Positive Change Web Sites' from the Appreciative Inquiry Commons.

Positive Psychology for the Planet

article by Chris Johnstone published in Caduceus, (n. 86, Summer 2013)

If everyone lived as the average European, we’d require three planets like Earth to supply the materials and cope with the waste. To live as the average North American, we’d need five planets. Already our world’s forests, fisheries and freshwater resources are being used up at an alarming rate, our mineral and energy reserves dwindling. To protect ecosystems and have a viable future, we need to radically reduce our levels of consumption. Yet the call to scale back our consumerism often meets resistance. Would that be different if we found out that shifting to simpler lifestyles could also make us happier? The new science of positive psychology helps us recognise that rich and satisfying lives don’t have to cost the Earth. Indeed, living sustainably can be better for our mood and mental health.

Dismantling toxic beliefs about happiness

At the heart of our industrial society lies the assumption that happiness is increased by material wealth. Yet if that were true, why do surveys show people in Britain are less happy today than fifty years ago, even though they have, on average, more wealth and consumer goods?(1) Research studies around the world show that once our basic needs are met, being able to buy more stuff doesn’t make us happier.(2) Research also shows that the more materialistic people are, the less satisfied they tend to be with their lives and relationships.(3).

Advertising shapes our view about what’s needed for a happy life. Each year, over £260 billion is spent on a global industry that aims to persuade us our lives are incomplete unless we get the product they promote. “If people are happy with how they look,” writes Jerry Bader, a marketing specialist, “they’re not going to buy cosmetics or diet books.” The key, he argues, is to make audiences unhappy with how they are, so that they’ll be motivated to buy into the promise of change.

By reinforcing the cultural myth that happiness comes from having things, high levels of advertising increase the pain of relative poverty. It is no surprise that countries that spend more on advertising, such as the US and UK, have higher levels of depression than countries like Denmark that spend less. If we’re to protect ourselves from the toxic belief that happiness depends on how much we have, we need a more accurate understanding of what positive emotions are based on. Fortunately, findings from the new science of Positive Psychology point us to steps we can take on the path to a more satisfying life.

Introducing Positive Psychology
Throughout the 20th century, psychology focussed more on studying human defects and difficulties than our strengths and positive potential. For example, a hundred research articles were published about sadness and depression for each one on happiness. The last fifteen years has seen that ratio change, as Positive Psychology has emerged both as an academic discipline and an international movement.

Positive Psychology is quite different from positive thinking. It is about applying scientific method to the quest of drawing out the best in people. Martin Seligman, one of the founders of this approach, uses the acronym PERMA to map out five dimensions of wellbeing it seeks to promote: Positive emotions, Engagement in life, Relationships that nourish us, Meaningfulness and Accomplishment in the areas that matter to us.(4) So how does this help us develop lifestyles that are both satisfying and sustainable? A key concept here is what Seligman calls ‘the hedonic treadmill’.

The hedonic treadmill
A pay increase tends to give our mood a short-lived boost. But three months later, that effect has usually worn off. We get used to changing circumstances, we adapt to them. That’s why lottery winners are unlikely to be much happier a year after their win. If we earn more money, we soon get used to that increased income, in a way that leaves us still wanting more. This is what has happened over the last fifty years. Incomes of those in employment have gone up; people, on average, are able to buy many more things and with this our appetite for resources has shot upwards. But like being on a treadmill, in spite of all the effort, often with people working harder and under greater pressure, we’re not moving forwards in terms of increasing life satisfaction.

Strategies to Boost our Mood
The findings of Positive Psychology help us see a different pathway to life satisfaction – one that comes through increasing our understanding of the factors and practices that help us flourish. By recognising how we can teach ourselves to experience more satisfaction in life, we counter the feelings of insecurity and incompleteness that drive consumerism. Here are four strategies shown by research to have a positive impact on mood.(5)

1) Savour favourite memories
Our choices about where we place our attention have a powerful influence on the way we feel. By spending a few moments each day savouring our favourite moments of the last 24 hours, we remind ourselves of what we’ve appreciated. Research shows that keeping a ‘gratitude diary’ of three things each day we’re pleased about and thankful for increases happiness and can help protect against depression.(5)

2) Exercise in nature
The mental health charity MIND recently published a report recommending ‘Green Exercise,’ as the combination of physical exercise and time outside in nature improves both mental and physical wellbeing.(6) The research linking contact with nature and positive health outcomes is so strong that access to the countryside is becoming recognised as an important public health resource.(7)

3) Feed our relationships
The quality of our relationships has a big influence on our state of mind; we can feed relationships simply by giving them time and attention. Research shows this is especially important when someone shares good news and tells us about something they’re pleased about.(8) If we’re too busy to be interested, or are dismissive, we miss an opportunity. Trust and affection are boosted when we visibly share in their delight.

4) Use our strengths for purposes bigger than ourselves
Research shows that the meaningfulness of what we do, and our level of engagement in this, are more important than pleasure as contributors to happiness. We can increase our engagement by operating from our strengths more often; this increases our likelihood of going into the ‘flow states’ of absorption associated with life satisfaction. Meaningfulness is linked to our sense of purpose; as Seligman writes “the meaningful life is one that joins with something larger than we are – and the larger that something is, the more meaning our lives have”.(9) Could this be why people living lives of voluntary simplicity tend to be happier than those who are more materialistic?

Personal growth and planetary concerns used to be seen as separate, even conflicting, pulls on our attention. Positive Psychology points instead to what philosopher Immanuel Kant described as ‘the beautiful life’, where our actions benefit both ourselves and the world. By taking steps towards sustainable happiness we change the culture we’re part of towards one that is better for people and the planet too.

For more information see
Dr Chris Johnstone is an author and coach specialising in resilience, happiness and positive change. His books include Find Your Power and Active Hope (co-authored with Joanna Macy), as well as The Happiness Training Plan CD (co-presented with Miriam Akhtar). For more details see


1 – See

2 Quoted by Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness, p.53, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London, 2003.

3 Reviewed in Emily Polak and Michael McCullough (2006), “Is Gratitude an Alternative to Materialism?” Journal of Happiness Studies 7 , no. 3 : 343 –60

4 Martin Seligman, Flourish, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London, 2011.

5 See Martin Seligman et al (2005) “Positive Psychology Progress”, American Psychologist, Vol 60, No 5, 410 – 421.

6 Mind: (2007) Ecotherapy: The green agenda for mental health. Mind week report. Mind: London.

7. Maller, C. et al (2005) Healthy Nature, Healthy People,
Health Promotion International, Vol. 21 No. 1, p.45 – 54.

8. Gable, S. L. et al (2004). What do you do when things go right? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 228-245.

9. Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness, p.260, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London, 2003.