Applied Positive Psychology: Integrated Positive Practice


Tim Lomas, Kate Hefferon & Itai Ivtzan

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    Praise for the Book

    ‘This textbook captures the best of the positive psychology initiative, and most importantly, translates it to practice. The authors bring remarkable depth and breadth to the subject matter and do so in a way that is fresh, engaging, relevant, and unusually thoughtful. Everyone who reads this book will derive useful insights about how to live. The closing chapter on ethical and reflective practice is a masterpiece.’

    Carol Ryff, University of Wisconsin-Madison

    ‘If you are interested in having a positive impact on people's lives then this book is for you. By firmly placing Positive Psychology in an applied and social context the authors identify its true purpose – to make life better. It does a brilliant job of showing readers how to apply the insights that research has uncovered. It will surely become one of the go-to text books for all students of Positive Psychology.’

    Nic Marks, creator of the Happy Planet Index, Five Ways to Wellbeing and Founder of Happiness Works

    ‘If you think you know what positive psychology is, think again! This book offers a new integrative vision for making life better that takes in the body and the brain, culture and society, and childhood and development. Written by the team who lead the Applied Positive Psychology programme at the University of East London you can be sure that the scholarship is cutting edge. A must read for students of positive psychology.’

    Professor Stephen Joseph, University of Nottingham, editor of Positive Psychology in Practice

    ‘It's hard to think of any discipline that could be more important in modern society than Positive Psychology – the science and practice of improving wellbeing. This book marks a significant coming-of-age for this exciting and rapidly developing field. It provides a grounded, compelling and comprehensive view of the many ways that Positive Psychology can help make life better – from individuals and families to schools, workplaces and communities; from birth and childhood to adult life and old age. If you want to understand what Positive Psychology really is, learn how it works in practice and discover its huge potential to transform our lives and our world then look no further than this superb book. I really can't recommend it highly enough.’

    Dr Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness

    About the Authors

    Dr Tim Lomas is a Lecturer and Deputy Programme Leader on the MSc in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of East London. Tim undertook an MA (Hons) and an MSc in Psychology at the University of Edinburgh, and completed his PhD at the University of Westminster in 2012. He has published numerous papers on meditation, Buddhism and masculinity. His first academic book, entitled Masculinity, Meditation and Mental Health, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in spring 2014.

    Dr Kate Hefferon is a Chartered Research Psychologist, Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader of the MSc in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of East London. Kate is the author of numerous peer-reviewed papers, books and book chapters, and has presented at conferences nationally and internationally on positive psychology. Her research interests include posttraumatic growth, resilience, physical activity and embodiment.

    Dr Itai Ivtzan is a Chartered Psychologist, Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader of the MSc in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of East London. Itai is also an Honorary Senior Research Associate at University College London. He has published many peer-reviewed journal papers and book chapters, and his main areas of research are spirituality, mindfulness, meaning and self-actualisation.


    The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways.

    The point, however, is to change it.

    Karl Marx

    Welcome to Applied Positive Psychology: Integrated Positive Practice! It certainly is an exciting time to be studying positive psychology (PP), a rapidly evolving field that is attracting an ever-increasing number of adherents within academia and beyond. It is currently a little over 16 years since Martin Seligman used his 1998 American Psychological Association (APA) presidential address to usher in the innovative new field of PP (Fowler et al., 1999). Of course, many of the concerns of PP – such as the nature of the good life and the pursuit of happiness – have been debated for centuries, millennia even. As such, PP has drawn heavily on antecedent schools of thought, from the perennial legacy of philosophers in classical Greece to twentieth-century humanistic psychology. And yet … PP does appear to have captured a spirit of excitement and innovation, a sense that age-old questions are being answered in new ways. Even if we are simply standing on the shoulders of giants, nonetheless PP seems to have brought a fresh perspective to bear on some of humanity's most enduring and important issues. Consequently, we have seen PP flourish within academia, drawing in both new students and established scholars, generating a proliferation of journal articles and international conferences, and attracting funding and interest from diverse sources, not to mention arousing considerable attention in the media and society at large (Biswas-Diener et al., 2011b). In that respect, PP can be regarded as a stunningly successful programme of inquiry, a veritable ‘movement’ that has addressed some unmet need of our current age (Rusk & Waters, 2013).

    In spite of its success, however, or perhaps because of it, however, scholars are beginning to ask some soul-searching questions around what PP actually is. In one sense, such questions are simply a sign that PP is reaching a particular stage of maturity in its evolution as a discipline. In another sense, though, the nature of PP has always been a slightly grey area. Is it a separate discipline, a collection of practices, or just an ethos? Initially, some of the pioneering scholars who helped to establish PP, such as Linley and Joseph (2004, p. 4), suggested that PP is not a new speciality within psychology, but rather a ‘collective identity’ unifying researchers interested in ‘the brighter sides of human nature’. According to this view, the broad intention underlying the PP movement was to redress what was seen as a ‘negative bias’ within conventional psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). However, critics have pointed out that once this imbalance had been redressed – i.e., topics like happiness had been recognised as legitimate and worthy concerns in psychology – then PP would have ‘succeeded’ and would logically cease to exist. As Smith (2003, p. 162) argued: ‘Psychology in good balance would not need advocates for positive psychology.’ One might suggest that with the success of the PP movement, this ‘good balance’ had indeed been achieved. Thus, given the ever-growing influence and standing of PP, it is an apposite time for a reflective appraisal of what PP actually is, and where it might be going.

    In this spirit, our book offers one vision of the way forward for PP. We contend that the future lies in recognising PP as a form of applied psychology. There is already an applied aspect to PP (Donaldson et al., 2011), defined as ‘the application of positive psychology research to the facilitation of optimal human functioning’ (Linley & Joseph, 2004, p. 4). In this respect, there is a growing corpus of positive psychology interventions (PPIs), discussed throughout the book. However, our emphasis on application serves as a more fundamental statement of intent regarding the core ethos of PP, and where it sits in the wider terrain of human action and inquiry. In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle (2000 (350 BCE)) constructed a threefold classification of human activities: poiēsis, theōria and praxis. As elucidated in Carr and Kemmis (1986), poiēsis refers to productive and creative disciplines, which strive to generate artefacts. Theōria encompasses contemplative endeavours, which seek to attain knowledge for its own sake. Finally, praxis designates practical occupations which aim to act upon the world through the skilful application of ideas. We contend that PP is best viewed as a form of praxis. The importance of praxis has been emphasised by influential thinkers such as Heidegger (1927) and Arendt (1958). However, perhaps its most eloquent articulation was formulated by Marx (1977 (1845), p. 158), who said that ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it’. For us, this quote captures the spirit of PP.

    More specifically, applied positive psychology (APP) seeks to help change people's wellbeing for the better. What is particularly powerful about APP is how it marries Marx's revolutionary spirit of praxis to the empirical rigour of contemporary scientific enquiry. To this extent, we endorse the definition of praxis found in the social sciences, namely, ‘practical action informed by theory’ (Foster, 1986, p. 96). Thus, our definition of APP – and indeed of PP generally, as we are presenting PP as an intrinsically applied discipline – is ‘the science and practice of improving wellbeing’. The central aim of APP is to generate PPIs, which we define as ‘theoretically-grounded and empirically-validated interventions, activities, and recommendations to enhance wellbeing’. These PPIs are available to all. They can be adopted by practitioners working in other areas of psychology, like clinical psychology. They can be taken up by professionals in other fields, from education to social work. More universally, they can be used by the public generally as a form of scientifically-based self-help. More adventurously, looking to the future, we can even think of developing APP as a separate speciality within psychology: it is feasible that a process of professional accreditation could be developed for PP, leading to chartered status for PP practitioners in a manner comparable to clinical psychology. For now, though, the main concern in this book is to present a comprehensive system of tools and practices that can be used to promote wellbeing. Moreover, we shall do this by using an innovative multidimensional model that offers a genuinely integrated approach to the person and their wellbeing – hence the subtitle of the book, Integrated Positive Practice (IPP). We shall do this over eight chapters.

    Chapter 1 sets out the theoretical framework that underpins the book, a multidimensional conceptual model of wellbeing – and indeed of the person – which we call the ‘Layered Integrated Framework Example’ (LIFE) model. This model is adapted from the Integral Framework, formulated by the philosopher Ken Wilber (1995, 2000). Wilber's original framework conceptualises the person as comprising four distinct, yet interrelated, ontological dimensions. These dimensions are produced by juxtaposing two binaries: subjective versus objective and individual versus collective. This juxtaposition creates four ‘quadrants’: individual-subjective (the mind), individual-objective (the body/brain), collective-subjective (culture) and collective-objective (society). We then adapt Wilber's framework by arguing that each quadrant can be ‘layered’ or ‘stratified’ into various levels. For example, we use Bronfenbrenner's (1977) experimental ecology to deconstruct the two collective quadrants according to levels of scale, from micro to macro. As such, by referring to our adapted model using the acronym LIFE, we acknowledge our debt to Wilber, while emphasising our departure from his original model. Finally, we introduce a guiding teleological (i.e., goal-oriented) statement which serves as the motto of the book, namely that the aim of PP is ‘to make life better’. The four quadrants are used to structure subsequent chapters, thus providing the overall framework for the book.

    In the second chapter, we begin by focusing on the individual-subjective quadrant, i.e., the mind. Allied to the guiding motif of the book, the theme for this chapter is ‘working with the mind to make life better’. In keeping with the applied perspective of the book, the focus is on interventions that ‘work on the mind’ – i.e., at an individual psychological level – to enhance wellbeing. Using the stratification of the LIFE model introduced in Chapter 1, we examine the five ‘layers’ of this domain (although, in separating the levels, we remain conscious that this separation is just a heuristic device, i.e., a way of helping us think about the mind, and does not reflect the complexity of the domain). We begin with consciousness, exploring PPIs related to the development of awareness and attention. To this end we focus on meditation, a pre-eminent topic of interest in PP, looking at practices that have been adopted and adapted in psychology, like mindfulness. As with the book generally, the emphasis is on how meditation is used in real-life practical contexts, from education to healthcare, and how readers can use it themselves. We then consider the other ‘levels’ of the LIFE model in turn, exploring PPIs related to embodiment (e.g., body awareness therapies), emotions (e.g., emotional intelligence interventions) and cognition (e.g., narrative restructuring exercises), before briefly touching on the idea of cultivating ‘higher’ levels of consciousness (which we tentatively refer to as ‘awareness+’).

    In the third chapter, we switch our attention to the ‘individual-objective’ domain, i.e., the body/brain. Thus the guiding question becomes ‘What can we do with the body and the brain to make life better?’ While Chapter 2 covered the subjective pole of the mind–body dichotomy, here we investigate the role of physiological functioning and behaviour in wellbeing. Again, we structure our enquiry using the stratified layers of the LIFE model. We begin with sub-cellular biochemistry, focusing on the impact of molecular genetics on psychological outcomes, and considering applied interventions like gene therapy. Moving ‘up’ levels, we explore the neural correlates of wellbeing (Urry et al., 2004) – including neurotransmitters, neural networks, and paradigms such as electroencephalography – and practices designed to engage directly with the brain, from neuropharmacology (e.g., psychoactive drugs) to neurofeedback. We then turn to the broader nervous system, where we highlight the value of exercise in promoting wellbeing. Finally, we consider the body ‘as a whole’, reflecting on what it means for us to have/be a body, and exploring the ways we can use our bodies to find wellbeing. Here we focus on modes of artistic self-expression – concentrating in particular on dance, art and music – examining how these have been harnessed to improve mental health and to help people flourish.

    In Chapter 4 we broaden our horizons by considering how socio-cultural factors influence individual wellbeing. We draw on the useful distinction in the LIFE model between the intersubjective domain (culture, i.e., shared meanings) and the interobjective domain (society, i.e., material processes such as income). Moreover, we see that both of these domains can be stratified according to Bronfenbrenner's (1977) experimental ecology, which identifies different socio-cultural levels, from micro to macro. From an APP perspective, we then consider interventions to improve wellbeing that are specific to each of these levels. We start with the microsystem (i.e., one's immediate social situation, such as one's family), examining PPIs to enhance this, both from an intersubjective perspective (e.g., using PP in couples therapy) and from an interobjective perspective (e.g., enhancing the aesthetics of the environment). We then move up to the mesosystem (i.e., the interaction between microsystems), exploring interventions for children that encompass home and school. Next we address the exosystem (i.e., the wider community), outlining some community-level interventions. Above this is the macrosystem (i.e., more encompassing social structures); here we touch upon top–down initiatives, such as governmental policies, to enhance wellbeing. Finally, we augment Bronfenbrenner's model by considering the eco-system, and the importance of the environment to wellbeing.

    Having outlined the four domains of the LIFE model, Chapter 5 takes a more dynamic diachronic perspective (i.e., analysing changes over time), focusing on development throughout the lifespan. The chapter examines the various developmental stages in turn, from birth to old age, thus offering a sense of the existential unfolding of the entire life course. Moreover, in considering development, we of course do so from a positive perspective, exploring factors that enable people to flourish at each life stage, and moreover suggesting PPIs/recommendations to promote such flourishing. We begin before life starts, exploring pregnancy and childbirth. A key thread through these early sections is the idea of positive parenting, i.e., the role that parents/caregivers play in engendering wellbeing in children. As we move into infancy, we focus on the relations between children and parents/caregivers, looking in particular at attachment theory and parenting styles. Progressing further, we then follow the child into school, exploring the flourishing field of positive education (Seligman et al., 2009), and then on to the broader notion of positive youth development (Larson, 2000). From there, we examine development across the lifespan (Beck & Cowan, 1996). Finally, as we reach the culmination of the life journey, we reflect upon the possibility of positive aging (Tornstam, 2005).

    So, we have covered the domains of the LIFE model, and moreover considered the development of the person over time. In Chapter 6 we then apply the LIFE model, and the idea of APP, to the sphere of activity that dominates much of human existence: work. However, our concern is not only with paid employment. As indicated by its title (Occupations and Organisations), this chapter encompasses any of the ways people substantively and productively occupy their time (from studying or working to volunteering or raising a family), and pertains to any functional group of people (from families and social groups to companies and large organisations). As such, whether ‘in work’ or not, this chapter is intended to be relevant to all people, outlining ways to enhance wellbeing ‘at work’ using the four domains of the LIFE model. Focusing on the mind, we look at how to promote the psychological drivers of work engagement, including using one's strengths, developing Psychological Capital (self-efficacy, hope, optimism and resilience), and cultivating meaning at work. Addressing the body, we look at ameliorating work stressors, including ensuring health and safety, reducing workload and enhancing job control. From an intersubjective perspective, we address the importance of organisational culture, with interventions including promoting positive relationships, effective leadership and value-driven inquiry. Finally, in interobjective terms, we reflect on the importance of taking the structural context of work, including its wider political/economic context, into account.

    In the penultimate chapter, we turn our attention to a sphere of human activity which is perhaps less concrete and more nebulous than work, but is no less important to many people, namely religion and spirituality. We consider the close connection between religion/spirituality and wellbeing, and look at what PP can learn from the great religious traditions. These traditions have spent centuries developing comprehensive systems of ideas and practices relating to happiness and the nature of the good life; as such, they constitute a deep ocean of wisdom that PP, and psychology generally, has barely begun to appreciate and draw on. As ever, from our applied focus, the emphasis here is on practical lessons that religion/spirituality may have to offer, and activities and interventions we might derive from these. We focus in particular on two spiritual practices: meditation and yoga. Furthermore, we look at the broader religious/spiritual traditions in which these practices were originally developed, namely Buddhism and Hinduism. From Buddhism, we examine teachings around wisdom (e.g., cultivating acceptance of impermanence), universal values (e.g., compassion) and ethics. In terms of Hinduism, we present yoga as a comprehensive system of psycho-spiritual development, paying close attention to Patañjali's eight ‘limbs’ of yoga. However, although the chapter focuses on meditation and yoga, and on their Buddhist and Hindu roots, we also emphasise that all religious/spiritual traditions may have something to offer PP, and that PP can usefully engage with these in future.

    In the final chapter, we turn our attention more directly towards you, the reader, as we consider what it might mean to be a PP practitioner. Throughout the book we will have introduced PPIs and activities that we can use to make life better and enhance wellbeing. Here, we explore what precautions might be necessary for people to actually use these interventions in practice, in order to safeguard the wellbeing of both clients/participants and practitioners themselves. The chapter focuses on two main concepts that we feel are important for practitioners to take on board: ethical practice and reflective practice. First, we ask what it means to practise ethically. We learn from other applied psychological fields that have already put considerable thought into this issue, especially counselling and psychotherapy. Using the ethical framework developed by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, we make recommendations for how PP practitioners can develop an ethical practice. Secondly, we explore the importance of reflective practice, introducing Schön (1983), who argued that professionals should develop reflexive self-awareness about their practice, and about their professional development more generally. At a deeper level, the chapter also encourages you to reflect on your own personal journey. We hope that this final chapter will enhance the sense that learning and practising PP can really touch the core of our being, and is an invitation to a personal adventure of development and transformation.

    Before we start, though, we want to say a little about the format of the book. Its chapter structure has been taken from the MSc in Applied Positive Psychology programme at the University of East London, which is run by the authors. The book reflects the content of the second year double module of this course, entitled ‘Advanced Positive Psychology: Theory and Practice’. This double module is run over the course of eight weekends. Each weekend is centred around a particular theme, and involves between five and seven separate lectures on that particular theme. As you will perhaps have guessed, each of these weekends is represented by a chapter in the book. So, in terms of using the book as a teaching resource, one could think of each chapter as constituting a whole weekend, or, alternatively, as representing five separate lectures (and so the book as a whole could be presented as around 40 lectures over the course of an entire semester or year). In addition, each chapter comprises various pedagogical features; these are designed to enhance the learning experience of students, and indeed are recommended to all readers generally as a way of getting the most out of the book. These features are captured in boxes that stand apart from the main text, sprinkled throughout each chapter, in the following order:

    Learning Objectives – At the End of the Chapter You Will Be Able To…

    Each chapter begins with a statement of the learning objectives for that chapter. These help orient you to the material contained in the chapter, and describe what you should know after reading it.

    List of Topics…

    At the outset of each chapter we also provide a list of the main topics that will be covered within it.

    Practice Essay Questions …

    After introducing the chapter, we set two practice essay questions. Often, one of these will ask you to discuss a controversial idea, in order to stimulate debate around a topic. As you read the chapter, you can be thinking of how you might answer these questions in light of the material presented.

    Try Me! …

    The book generally is full of PPIs and recommendations designed to enhance wellbeing. However, we will sometimes also include brief wellbeing activities for you to try out yourself as you are reading!

    Summary – This Chapter Has…

    At the end of each chapter, we summarise the material that we have covered within it. Bookended with the learning outcomes, these boxes provide a concise overview of the chapter.


    We also round off each chapter with a quick quiz, featuring 10 questions relating to the material in the chapter, just to check that you've been paying attention! The answers are at the back of the book.

    Resources and Suggestions…

    Finally, each chapter ends with a list of resources – such as websites – that will help you explore the material in more depth, and enable you to pursue your learning further.

  • Glossary of terms


    Anterior Cingulate Cortex


    Appreciative Inquiry


    Action, Looking back, Awareness, Creating, Trial


    American Psychological Association


    Applied Positive Psychology


    Awareness Training Program


    Body Awareness


    British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy


    Body Awareness Therapy


    Basic Body Awareness Therapy


    Before Common Era


    Buddhist-Derived Intervention


    Body Mass Index


    Common Era


    Dance/Movement Therapy


    Deoxyribonucleic Acid




    Equality and Human Rights Commission


    Emotional Intelligence


    Focused Attention


    Family-Centred Positive Psychology


    Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging


    Family Wellbeing Programme


    Gross Domestic Product


    Gross National Happiness




    Heart Rate Variability


    Integrated Positive Practice


    International Positive Psychology Association

    J D-R

    Job Demands-Resources


    Layered Integrated Framework Example


    Loving-Kindness Meditation


    MSc in Applied Positive Psychology


    Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy


    Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction


    Mindfulness Based Well-Being


    Mindfulness Meditation Practices


    Master Resilience Training


    Mayer Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test


    Multidimensional Students’ Life Satisfaction Scale


    Music Therapy


    Negative Affect


    Neural Correlates of Consciousness


    New Economics Foundation


    National Health Service




    Open Monitoring


    Office for National Statistics


    Positive Affect


    Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement


    Prefrontal Cortex


    Personal Growth Initiative


    Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program


    Positive Organizational Behaviour


    Positive Organizational Scholarship


    Positive Psychology


    Positive Psychology Intervention


    Penn Resilience Program


    Psychological Capital


    Posttraumatic Stress Disorder


    Psychological Wellbeing


    Positive Youth Development


    Social and Emotional Learning


    Socio-Economic Status


    Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor


    Subjective Wellbeing


    World Health Organisation


    University of East London


    United Kingdom


    United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy


    United Nations


    United States




    Inventory of Strengths

    Quiz answers

    Chapter 1
    • 1948
    • Neural Correlates of Consciousness (NCC)
    • David Bakan
    • Intersubjective
    • Arthur Koestler
    • The ecosystem
    • Karl Marx
    • Participatory research, collaborative inquiry, or emancipatory research
    • Mesosystem
    • Phineas Quimby
    Chapter 2
    • Sustained, executive, selective, and switching
    • Focused Attention and Open Monitoring
    • Molecular biology
    • Massachusetts Medical Center
    • MMPs, ATPs, and BDIs
    • Emotions as embodied and transient
    • Emotional management
    • Coherence and purpose
    • Vienna
    • Personal projects and possible selves
    Chapter 3
    • 23
    • Short
    • 100
    • Prefrontal cortex
    • Theta
    • The sympathetic
    • The hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal axis
    • Edmund Husserl
    • Aesthetics
    • Pythagoras
    Chapter 4
    • Close relationships
    • Wil Gesler
    • Home and school
    • 120
    • New York
    • Australia
    • 1972
    • Nudge
    • Mary Wollstonecraft
    • Rachel Carson
    Chapter 5
    • Five months pre-birth to one month post-birth
    • The sensorimotor stage
    • John Bowlby, and Mary Ainsworth
    • Secure, anxious-avoidant, anxious-resistant, and disorganised
    • Warmth versus hostility, and restrictiveness versus permissiveness
    • Australia
    • Penn Resilience Program
    • Competence, confidence, connection, character and caring
    • Beck and Cowan
    • Choose from: not smoking, adaptive coping styles, absence of alcohol abuse, healthy weight, stable marriage, exercise, and years of education
    Chapter 6
    • Vigour, dedication and absorption
    • 24
    • Self-efficacy, optimism, hope, resilience
    • ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie
    • Activating event, beliefs, consequences, disputation, energisation
    • 48 hours
    • Google
    • Discovery, dream, design, delivery/destiny
    • 40
    • 6.5 million
    Chapter 7
    • 90
    • High religious involvement and low spirituality
    • Siddhartha Gautama
    • 480 BCE
    • Correct answers include: right vision, conception, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration
    • Benevolence, compassion, joy and equanimity
    • 16 million
    • Bhakti yoga
    • Second century BCE
    • Samadhi
    Chapter 8
    • The Ten Commandments
    • 2007
    • 1970
    • Values, principles, and personal moral qualities
    • Ten
    • Non-maleficence
    • Positivist and/or constructivist
    • Action, looking back, awareness, creating, and trial
    • Environment, behaviours, competence, beliefs, identity, and mission
    • Robitschek (1998)


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