Note: This course was formerly PSYC 450: The Science of Behavioral Change: A Community-Based Approach
This course will take you through the recent science of positive psychology, which aims to ‘understand, test, discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive’ (Sheldon et al., 2000). In particular, positive psychology comprises the scientific exploration of well-being, happiness, flow, personal strengths, compassion, creativity, and characteristics of positive groups and institutions that enable their development. In this sense, rather than focusing solely on the happiness of individuals and on a self-centered approach, positive psychology also concentrates on happiness and flourishing at a group level.
We will look at how individuals and groups flourish, and how increasing the well-being of one will have a positive effect on the other. The first part of this course reviews the theory and research on positive psychology, while the second part focuses on theoretical conflicts and real-world applications. Every session will incorporate experiential learning and exercises aimed at increasing personal well-being and at facilitating students’ understanding of the fundamental questions in the field. Ultimately, the students will be able to utilize a more accurate and objective (rather than intuitive) understanding of concepts of positive psychology such as happiness, well-being, and compassion.
This course helps students broaden their cultural perspectives by seeing what is/is not universal across cultures in a concrete way. In this process, students will understand that research can be of value to academics as well as non-academics.
The central course objective is for students to improve their ability to help design interventions that create positive impact – by improving individual and societal well-being. It accomplishes this by focusing on how to leverage insights about human decision-making to develop interventions.
There are two secondary objectives for this class. First, this course will help students better understand the science of how humans make judgments and decisions. The class will review research on human thinking from social psychology, cognitive psychology, political science, organizational behavior, decision science, and economics. Students will learn how randomized experiments work and why they are critical for making inferences about causal relationships. Second, this course will improve the quality of students’ own judgments and decisions. People typically “just think” about situations for which some data or casual observations exist. They tend to make serious inferential errors, and, in turn, these lead to systematically biased decisions. The class will study some errors that are particularly important for real world problems and look for easy-to-implement solutions.
By the end of the course, students will be able to:
Service Learning Project Description
Students will work as a team with a nonprofit organization – i.e., Fuori di Zucca, where the structure, mission, and goals of the nonprofit organization are studied, and then a plan is developed for how to advance the organization’s goals through the application of positive psychology. Like any service learning project, this project
gives students the opportunity to apply their learning to the real world and help non-profits benefit from applying cutting-edge research in the field to their particular context.
Books (selected chapters)
Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. Penguin Press.
Kashdan, T. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2014). The upside of your dark side: Why your whole self – not just your “good” self – drives success and fulfillment. Random House.
Frankl, V. E. (2014). Man’s search for meaning. Beacon Press.
Maslow, A. H. (2018). Toward a psychology of being. Wilder Publications.