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Positive Psychology

American Psychological Association via edX


What do you want out of life? If you are like the vast majority of people who have been asked this question, your answer probably includes a desire to be happy. Often, though, we do not have a clear sense of what would make us happy. For more than thirty years, psychologists studying positive psychology have asked this very question: What makes people happy? And the research they have undertaken has provided clear answers.

In this course, you will learn about the field of study known as positive psychology, which is the scientific study of “valued subjective experiences” such as happiness, well-being, satisfaction, hope, and optimism, as well as positive traits such as creativity, courage, and wisdom that contribute to meaning in life. Positive psychology focuses on the psychological states – contentment, happiness, and hope – individual traits – intimacy, creativity, integrity, altruism, and wisdom – and social institutions — schools and places of worship – that enable us to live our best life.

In this course, you will learn about the history of positive psychology, beginning with the work of William James, continuing through the theory and research of contemporary positive psychologists. There is extensive coverage of the factors that determine our happiness, subjective well-being, and life satisfaction. Learners are given ample opportunities to engage in the activities that research has shown provide valuable self-care, including expressing gratitude, helping others, engaging in mindfulness, and finding meaning.

Later in the course, we present cross-cultural research on how well-being is measured across different societies and countries, cultural differences in desired levels of happiness, and how policy informs these factors. Last, research has demonstrated that helping others contributes to our levels of happiness. This course explains the factors that influence why we help, when we help, and how to increase helping behavior.

The course has a dual focus; in addition to learning about the field of positive psychology and its research findings, you will learn what proactive steps you can take to boost our own levels of happiness, well-being, and life satisfaction.


Editorial Advisors

Dr. Susan A. Nolan, Seton Hall University

Dr. Denée Mwendwa, Howard University

Content Developer

Dr. Alan Strathman, American Psychological Association

Instructional Designer

Dr. Sharon Gan, American Psychological Association



The Positive Psychology Hall of Fame: Founders

The Roots of Positive Psychology

Laying a Foundation for Positive Psychology

The Positive Psychology Hall of Fame: Flag Bearers

Contemporary Positive Psychology

Critiques of Positive Psychology

Factors in Subjective Well-Being

The PERMA Theory of Well-Being

Beyond PERMA

Positive Psychology Interventions

Happiness as a Policy Issue

Measuring Happiness Globally

Policies to Increase Happiness

Prosocial Behavior

Introduction to Helping Others in Need

Why We Help Others in Need

Psychological Factors Directing Helping Behavior

Understanding Altruism and Egoism

When We Help Others in Need

Increasing Helping Behavior

Taught by

Alan Strathman


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