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COURSE NAME: "Positive Psychology"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2021

INSTRUCTOR: Nicola Petrocchi
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 10:00 AM 11:15 AM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: PS 101

This course aims to provide a general introduction to the area of Positive Psychology, “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living”, and to scientific findings related to happiness, well-being, and the positive aspects of the human experience. We will review the history of Positive Psychology, and its contribution to more “traditional” areas of psychology. The course also incorporates experiential learning and exercises aimed at increasing personal well-being and at facilitating students’ understanding of the fundamental questions in the field.

Discussion will focus on the study of positive experiences (e.g., mindfulness, gratitude, hope), positive character traits (e.g., wisdom, compassion, self-efficacy, resilience), positive relationships, and positive institutions. Areas of controversy (e.g., what is Happiness and how do you measure it), as well as standard research methods adopted in the field will be critically examined.


Core Knowledge

-Understand and describe the key concepts, principles, and research findings in positive psychology using the appropriate terminology 

-Identify and understand the principal methods used and questions addressed in positive psychology 

-Demonstrate understanding of the aim and scope of the discipline, and its implications to well-being and flourishing 

-Articulate from the experience with class activities how positive psychology is relevant (or not) to personal life

Scientific Inquiry and Critical Thinking

-Use psychological concepts to explain personal experiences 

- Demonstrate information literacy in psychology by accurately summarizing and presenting information from psychological sources 

- Interpret psychological research, including quantitative data (e.g., statistics, graphs, tables) 


-Express ideas in writing that reflect basic psychological concepts and principles 

-Use standard English, and write using APA style

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Positive Psychology: The Scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths - 4° edition Shane J. Lopez, Jennifer Teramoto Pedrotti, Charles Richard SnyderSAGE Publications (USA); International edition ISBN-10: 1506389899 ISBN-13: 978-1506389899  

ExamsThere will be TWO midterms during the course of the semester, plus a FINAL exam during finals week. 60%
Brief individual Assignment Students will be required to write a reflection paper (max 500 words) on 2 of the experiential activities assigned in class 10%
Individual Paper Students will also be required to submit a more extensive reflection paper (max 2000 words) on their “Well-being Journey’. They will be asked to discuss their overall engagement with class activities, how their well-being has changed (or not) over the course of the semester, and what they have learned from the course. Students will be expect to refer to the readings assigned during the semester when discussing their personal experience. 20%
Participation in class activitiesThe success of the class depends heavily on attendance and participation in class activities. You will be expected to make regular contributions to class discussions.10%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


Attendance, although not mandatory, is essential to earn a good grade in this course. Each week will include a variety of readings, lectures, discussions, measures, and activities aimed at exploring the week’s topic. Students will get the most if they come to class prepared and ready to participate and engage with class activities and discussions.


Students cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. 

Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. 

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.



Session Focus



SESSION 1. Intro: looking at psychology from a positive perspective - Psychology's forgotten mission

SESSION 2. Core assumptions and misconceptions in Positive Psychology - which metaphors nudge the scientific study of positive human functioning?

Chapter 1 and 2 of the textbook; slides posted on Moodle; papers (on Moodle) 

Evidence based practice: Three Good Things  (on Moodle) 


SESSION 3. A very short history with a very long past - philosophical and psychological ancestors of PP

SESSION 4. The foundation of positivity: origins, functions and psychophysiology of sensory pleasure

Chapter 3 and 4 of the textbook; slides posted on Moodle; papers (on Moodle) 

Evidence based practice (on Moodle) : letter to my future self


SESSION 5. Understanding positive affect, positive emotions, happiness, and well-being - The work of Daniel Kahneman 

SESSION 6. Our "tricky" brain: the peak end effect, affective forecasting and the psychological immune system - The work of Dr. Daniel Gilbert

Chapter 6 and 7 of the textbook; slides posted on Moodle; papers (on Moodle) 

Evidence based practice (on Moodle) :
- Mental subtraction of positive event
- meaningful photos 



SESSION 7. Are positive emotions universal? the work of Paul Ekman and Izzard

SESSION 8. At the core of positive emotions - core prototype emotional states in mammalian brains - the work of Jaak Pankspepp

Chapter 8 of the textbook; slides posted on Moodle; papers (on Moodle) 


SESSION 9.       TEST 1

SESSION 10.     How positive affect influences decision making, creativity, altruism and problem solving. The work of Alice Isen

Chapter 9 of the textbook; slides posted on Moodle; papers (on Moodle) 


SESSION 11.    The broaden and build theory of positive emotions - the work of Barbara Fredrickson

SESSION 12.    Rethinking Love and positivity - Flourishing relationships: positive emotions, love and Love 2.0  

Chapter 10 of the textbook; slides posted on Moodle; papers (on Moodle) 


SESSION 13.    The science of compassion

SESSION 14.    Variety of Compassion Focused trainings and their efficacy

Chapter 11 of the textbook; slides posted on Moodle; papers (on Moodle) 


SESSION 15.    Mindfulness in Positive Psychology - Guest speaker

SESSION 16.    Forgiveness 

Chapter 11 of the textbook; slides posted on Moodle; papers (on Moodle) 


SESSION 17.   Flourishing relationships: attachment, love and Love 2.0  


Chapter 12 of the textbook; slides posted on Moodle; papers (on Moodle) 

WEEK 10 

SESSION 19.  Gratitude

SESSION 20.  Kindness

Chapter 13 and 14 of the textbook; slides posted on Moodle; papers (on Moodle) 

WEEK 11 

SESSION 21.    Balanced Conceptualizations of Mental Health and Behavior

SESSION 22.    Building a positive future: Preventing the Bad and Promoting the Good

Chapter 13 -14 of the textbook; slides posted on Moodle; papers (on Moodle) 

WEEK 12 

SESSION 23.  Positive Environments: Positive Schooling and Good Work  

SESSION 24.  Positive psychology Leadership coaching and organizations  

Chapter 15 of the textbook; slides posted on Moodle; papers (on Moodle) 

WEEK 13 

SESSION 25.   Values and choices in the pursuit of a good life

SESSION 26.   The complementary role of Eudaimonia and Hedonia – the paradox of choice 

Chapters 15 of the textbook; slides posted on Moodle; papers (on Moodle) 

WEEK 14 

SESSION 27.   Gratitude: it's psychological and physiological features - it's relationship with wellbeing and how to increase it  

SESSION 28.    Where do we go from here: The future of positive psychology

Chapter 16 of the textbook; slides posted on Moodle; papers (on Moodle) 

Evidence based practice: gratitude letter and self-gratitude letter