Description: This book explains positive psychology, a new field of interest since the late 1990s. Since the focus of psychology has been on pathology for many years, Dr. Peterson attempts to balance the scales by introducing three main factors that characterize this movement: positive subjective experiences; positive individual traits; positive institutions. This comprehensive book gives clear direction to what positive psychology is and what it is not.
Purpose: In the preface, the author writes: "Positive psychology as an explicit perspective has existed only since 1998, but enough relevant theory and research now exist concerning what makes life most worth living to fill a book suitable for a semester-long college course. This is that book." Later, in chapter 1, he continues: "In this book, I describe positive psychology and what positive psychologists have learned about the good life and how it can be encouraged. Some of you are reading this book because it has been assigned for a college course. Others of you are reading it simply because you are curious and want to learn more. In either case, I will voice one more suspicion: You will find some food for thought here and an action plan that might make your own life a better one." The author meets his objectives.
Audience: According to the author, "I wrote with an audience of college students in mind. Perhaps they had previously studied psychology, perhaps not. Regardless, all the material here is accessible and I hope interesting and informative." He adds, "I also wrote with a more general audience in mind, given growing popular interest in positive psychology. Perhaps even more so than psychology students, for whom critical thinking is explicitly urged by their instructors. The general public needs a fair and balanced presentation of what psychologists know and what they do not. Positive psychology is plenty exciting without the need to run far ahead of what has already been established." The author has been at the University of Michigan since 1986 and is a consulting editor of the Journal of Positive Psychology and a Templeton Senior Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology.
Features: The book covers positive psychology, which is defined by the author as "the scientific study of what goes right in life, from birth to death and at all stops in between. It is s newly christened approach within psychology that takes seriously as a subject matter those things that make life most worth living." The chapters describe the pillars of positive psychology, which are: positive subjective experiences (chapters 3-4); positive individual traits (chapters 5-9); positive institutions (chapters 10-11). Most of the chapters have an exercise, glossary, and resources at the end. The author has done a marvelous job of articulating the elementary principles of positive psychology. This approach is so refreshing because it compels the reader to look for strengths, not just weaknesses. Positive psychologists do not ignore the impact of traumatic events, but seek to help the client incorporate them into a coherent self who finds meaning and fulfillment despite the suffering. The final chapter on the future of positive psychology (chapter 12), gives the reader a lot to think about. It ends with a quote from Lincoln's second inaugural address in 1865 about how the country needed to "bind up the nation's wounds and to care for him who shall have borne the battle." This is something we should take seriously today as well.
Assessment: This is a splendid book that presents the principles of positive psychology in a very understandable way. The exercises are well done and bring the material to life. This is a wonderful volume in the Oxford publishing tradition. It challenges the reader to see clients in a new way which will enhance psychological growth. As clinicians, we tend to focus on pathology, but positive psychology helps us to look beyond the obvious difficulties and see potential. Psychologists and psychology students need to be inspired; this book will do that and more.