English: A table illustrating statistics menti...

English: A table illustrating statistics mentioned in the source’s journal article (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 101 Lessons are brief, simple tasks which can be completed in less than an hour or two. The purpose is to enable individuals to move away from anger, discouragement, and emptiness toward hope, optimism, and positive well being. They have been taken from the field of positive psychology and draw on nine themes: Altruism and Compassion, Gratitude, Happiness and Optimism, Forgiveness, Savoring the Natural World, Letting Go of Anger, Self Acceptance, Managing Fear and Anxiety, and Developing Positive Meaning in Life. They are ideal for psychotherapy patients but are uplifting and inspiring  for all people.  I have launched this blog in anticipation of eventually publishing the Lessons in book form.


For hundreds, if not thousands, of years, those of us in healthcare have been studying what makes people unhappy, despondent, lacking in enthusiasm for life.  The goal of psychology–a field that has existed for only about 100 years–has been to find the causes of anxiety and depression and to develop cures for these maladies.

Recently modern  science has taken a different approach.  We are now asking, What are the building blocks of happiness?  What makes some groups happier than others?  How important to happiness are things like money?  Religion?  Family?  What enables people to be not just free from depression but flourishing, feeling deeply satisfied with a life that is felt to be meaningful?

Some of the research findings have been surprising and go contrary to our most cherished notions.  For example, we have learned that there is a large genetic component to what makes up happy.   As much as 50% of what shapes our “set point” of happiness–our typical happiness rating on a scale of 1 to 10–is due to the genes we inherit from our parents and ancestors.  Only 10% is due to the events and  circum-stances in our lives–both good and bad.  These could be upside events such as getting married or inheriting money, or downside events such as divorce or job loss.  As much as 40% of what shapes our happiness is due to intentional activity–things we can change and can do to increase our happiness level.-

This field of research–now called Positive Psychology–has generated many research papers in scientific journals, international conferences where scientists are communicating their findings, as well as cover stories in newspapers and popular magazines.  Students in universities all over the country can take courses in Positive Psychology.  The course at Harvard has been the most popular course on campus for many years.

The idea for the 101 Lessons came from a conversation I had with Martin Seligman, Ph.d., the founder of Positive Psychology.  I heard him speak at a conference in Savannah, Georgia, in April of 2002 and was anxious to speak with him.  I joined him on a walking tour of the city that evening and we discussed the state of the research at that time.  “As a clinician,” I told him, “I cannot just read research and be enlightened.  I have to come up with practical applications that would benefit my patients.  We cannot give Positive Psychology to psychotherapy patients, or to the general public for that matter, until we convert what we’ve learned from ideas to action.”  Seligman agreed with me.  With his encouragement I began work on the 101 Lessons, reading the literature on Positive Psychology, getting ideas from newspapers and magazines, being inspired by great literature, and listening to my psychotherapy patients.


Lykken, David.  1999.  Happiness:  The nature and nurture of joy and contentment.  St. Martin’s Griffin.

Myers, David.  1992.  The Pursuit of Happiness.  Avon Books.

Lyubomirsky, Sonja.  2007.  The How of Happiness.  Penguin Books.

Peterson. Christopher.  2013.  Pursuing the Good Life.  Oxford U. Press.

Rubin, Gretchen.  2011.  The Happiness Project.  Harper Pubs.

Seligman, Martin.  2002.  Authentic Happiness.  Free Press.

Classic Journal Articles in the field of Positive Psychology.

Diener, E.  2000, August.  Subjective Well Being:  The science of happiness and a proposal for a national index.  American Psychologist.

Diener, Ed, et al.  2006, May-June.  Beyond the Hedonic Treadmill.  American Psychologist.

Emmons, Robert.  2003.  Counting Blessings Versus Burdens:  An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well being in daily life.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 84, no. 2.

Folkman, Susan & Judith Moskowitz.  2000, June. Positive Affect and the Other Side of Coping.   American Psychologist.

Fredrickson, Barbara.  2001, March.  The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology:  The broaden and build theory of positive emotions.  American Psychologist.

Fredrickson, Barbara & Marcial Losada.  2005, October.  Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing.  American Psychologist.

Levy, Becca, et al.  2012, August.  Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Lyubomirsky, Sonja.  2001, March.  Why Are Some People Happier than Others?  The role of cognitive and motivational processes in well being.  American Psychologist.

Masten, Ann.  2001, March.  Ordinary Magic:  Resilience processes in development.  American Psychologist.

Myers, David.  2000, January.  The Funds, Friends, and Faith of Happy People.  American Psychologist.

Peterson, Christopher.  2000, January.  The Future of Optimism.  American Psychologist,

Schneider, Sandra.  2001, March.  In Search of Realistic Optimism. American Psychologist.

Seligman, Martin.  2000, January.  Positive Psychology:  An introduction.  American Psychologist.

Seligman, Martin. , et al.  2006, November.  “Positive Psychotherapy.”  In association with the Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions given to Martin Seligman.  American Psychologist.

Vaillant, George.  2000, June.  Adaptive Mental Mechanisms:  Their Role in a Positive Psychology.  American Psychologist.



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