Sample Course Syllabus

I teach courses on happiness for both undergraduate and graduate students and would be happy to share my syllabi. Below is a sample syllabus or ‘reader’s guide’ for those of you who are interested in using my book for teaching or as part of a discussion group, as well as for those who simply wish to learn more about positive psychology.

WEEK 1 ‘ Foreword | Introduction to Positive Psychology
Supplemental Readings

 Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14.
 Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. Chapter 1 (‘What is positive psychology?’; pp. 3-24).
 McMahon, D. M. (2008). The pursuit of happiness in history. In M. Eid & R. J. Larsen (Eds.), The science of subjective well-being (pp. 80-93). New York: Guilford Press.

Class Discussion

What is positive psychology?
How has happiness been thought about and written about throughout history?

Class Exercises

Students talk about their greatest strength and provide an example of how they have practiced or showed that strength.

Students complete scales that measure their levels of well-being and related constructs — namely, happiness, life satisfaction, mood, gratitude, forgiveness, self-esteem, and depression.

Assignment for Next Week

Students track their positive and negative moods three times a day over the course of four days (two week-end days and two work/school days). They graph the results and write a response paper about the patterns they observe and their experience doing this exercise.

WEEK 2 ‘ Chapter 1 | What Is Happiness?
Supplemental Readings

Diener, E., Oishi, S.& Lucas, R. E. (2009). Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and life satisfaction. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (2nd ed.; pp. 187-194). New York: Oxford University Press.
 Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 276-302.
 Myers, D. G. (2000). The funds, friends, and faith of happy people. American Psychologist, 55, 56-67.
 Lyubomirsky, S. (2001). Why are some people happier than others?: The role of cognitive and motivational processes in well-being. American Psychologist, 56, 239-249.

Class Discussion

Introduction to happiness: What is it and how is it measured?.
Why are some people happier than others?

Assignment for Next Week

Students observe their participation in pleasurable (i.e., fun) versus philanthropic (i.e., helpful) activities and write a response paper about their experience doing these activities.

WEEK 3 ‘ Chapter 1 (continued) | Why Be Happy?
Supplemental Readings

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L. A., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803-855.
Jacobs Bao, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2012). The rewards of happiness. In I. Boniwell & S. David (Eds.), Oxford handbook of happiness (pp. 119-133). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Danner, D. D., Snowdon, D. A., & Friesen, W. V. (2001). Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the nun study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 804-813.
 Harker, L., & Keltner, D. (2001). Expressions of positive emotions in women’s college yearbook pictures and their relationship to personality and life outcomes across adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 112-124.
 Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13, 81-84.
 Judge, T. A., & Higgins, C. A. (1998). Affective disposition and the letter of reference. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 75, 207-221.
 Staw, B. M., Sutton, R. I., & Pelled, L. H. (1994). Employee positive emotion and favorable outcomes at the workplace. Organization Science, 5, 51-71.

Class Discussion

Is happiness a good thing or does it simply feel good?

Class Exercises

Students tell a story about their happiest day and describe what they did or were motivated to do that day.

Assignment for Next Three Weeks

Students spend three weeks practicing one of three happiness activities — writing gratitude letters, writing forgiveness letters, or visualizing their best possible selves — and writing a response paper about their experience.

WEEKS 4, 5, & 6 ‘ Chs 2, 3, and 10 | Is It Possible to Increase Happiness and If So, How?
Supplemental Readings

Layous, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (in press). The how, why, what, when, and who of happiness: Mechanisms underlying the success of positive interventions. In J. Gruber & J. Moscowitz (Eds.), The light and dark side of positive emotions. New York: Oxford University Press.
 Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111-131.
 Lykken, D., & Tellegen, A. (1996). Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon. Psychological Science, 7, 186-189.
 Fredrickson, B. L. (2008). Promoting positive affect. In M. Eid & R. J. Larsen (Eds.), The science of subjective well-being (pp. 449-468). New York: Guilford Press.
 Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.
 Kahneman, D., Krueger, A. B., Schkade, D., Schwarz, N., & Stone, A. A. (2006). Would you be happier if you were richer? A focusing illusion. Science, 312, 1908-1910.
 Lucas, R. E., Clark, A. E., Georgellis, Y., & Diener, E. (2003). Reexamining adaptation and the set point model of happiness: Reactions to changes in marital status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 527-539.
 Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 917-927.
 Riis, J., Loewenstein, G., Baron, J., Jepson, C., Fagerlin, A., & Ubel, P. A. (2005). Ignorance of hedonic adaptation to hemodialysis: A study using ecological momentary assessment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 134, 3-9.
 Caspi, A., Sugden, K., Moffitt, T. E., Taylor, A., Craig, I. W., Harrington, H. L., McClay, J., Mill, J., Martin, J., Braithwaite, A., & Poulton, R. (2003). Influence of life stress on depression: Moderation by a polymorphism in the 5-HTT gene. Science, 301, 386-389.
 Urry, H. L., Nitschke, J. B., Dolski, I., Jackson, D. C., Dalton, K. M., Mueller, C. J., Rosenkranz, M. A., Ryff, C. D., Singer, B. H., & Davidson, R. J. (2004). Making a life worth living: Neural correlates of well-being. Psychological Science, 15, 367-372.
 Mroczek, D. K., & Spiro, A., III. (2005). Change in life satisfaction during adulthood: Findings from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 189-202.
 Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006a). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 73-82.
 Sheldon, K. M., & Houser-Marko, L. (2001). Self-concordance, goal-attainment, and the pursuit of happiness: Can there be an upward spiral? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 152-165.
Lyubomirsky, S., Dickerhoof, R., Boehm, J. K., & Sheldon, K. M. (2011). Becoming happier takes both a will and a proper way: An experimental longitudinal intervention to boost well-being. Emotion, 11, 391-402.

Class Discussion

What are the most important determinants of happiness?
What is the happiness set point?
How does hedonic adaptation present a barrier to achieving happiness?
Is it possible to sustainably increase happiness?

WEEKS 7 & 8 ‘ Chapters 7 and 10 | Positive Emotions and Living in the Present
Supplemental Readings

Fredrickson, B. L., & Cohn, M. A. (2008). Positive emotions. In Lewis, M., Haviland-Jones, J. M., & Barrett, L. F. (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (3rd ed., pp. 777-796). New York: Guilford Press .
 Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M., Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. R. (2003). What good are positive emotions in crises?: A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 11, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 365-376.
 Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological Science, 13, 172-175.
 King, L. A., Hicks, J. A., Krull, J. L., & Del Gaiso, A. K. (2006). Positive affect and the experience of meaning in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 179-196.
 Van Boven, L. (2005). Experientialism, materialism, and the pursuit of happiness. Review of General Psychology, 9, 132-142.
 Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1999). If we are so rich, why aren’t we happy? American Psychologist, 54, 821-827.
 Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Flow theory and research. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (2nd ed., pp. 195-206). New York: Oxford University Press.
 Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26, 179-201.
 Bryant, F. B., Smart, C. M., & King, S. P. (2005). Using the past to enhance the present: Boosting happiness through positive reminiscence. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 227-260.
Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-848.

Class Discussion

Introduction to emotions and their measurement
Introduction to the broaden-and-build model
Introduction to flow

Class Exercise

Students complete and discuss measures of positive emotions.

Assignment for Next Two Weeks

Students spend two weeks practicing one of two happiness-increasing strategies involving flow — microflow and flow in conversation — and writing a response paper about their experience.

WEEK 9 ‘ Chapter 4 | Gratitude and Positive Thinking
Supplemental Readings

 Emmons, R. A. (2008). Gratitude, subjective well-being, and the brain. In M. Eid & R. J. Larsen (Eds.), The science of subjective well-being (pp. 469-489). New York: Guilford Press.
 Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.
 Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1993). On the power of positive thinking: The benefits of being optimistic. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2, 26-30.
 Peterson, C. (2000). The future of optimism. American Psychologist, 55, 44-55.
 King, L. A. (2001). The health benefits of writing about life goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 798-807.
 Lyubomirsky, S., & Tkach, C. (2003). The consequences of dysphoric rumination. In C. Papageorgiou & A. Wells (Eds.), Rumination: Nature, theory, and treatment of negative thinking in depression (pp. 21-41). Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons.
 Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2003). Women who think too much. New York: Henry Holt.
 Lyubomirsky, S., Tucker, K. L., Caldwell, N. D., & Berg, K. (1999). Why ruminators are poor problem solvers: Clues from the phenomenology of dysphoric rumination. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1041-1060.

Class Discussion

Introduction to optimism
Introduction to gratitude
What are the consequences of rumination?

Class Exercise

Students complete and discuss optimism, gratitude, and rumination scales.

Assignment for Next Week

Students spend one week either practicing one of their signature strengths or developing a ‘low’ strength and writing a response paper about their experience.

WEEK 10 ‘ Chapter 5 | Love and Kindness
Supplemental Readings

 Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. Chapter 10 (‘Positive interpersonal relationships’; pp. 249-274)
Batson, C. D., Ahmad, N., & Lishner, D. A. (2009). Empathy and altruism. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (2nd ed.; only pp. 417-419 are required). New York: Oxford University Press.
 De Waal, F. (2006). Kindness. In F. De Waal, Our inner ape (pp. 169-214). NY: Riverhead Books.
 Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529.
 Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.
 Gable, S. L., Reis, H. T., Asher, E. R. & Impett, E. A. (2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 228-245.
 Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., & Griffin, D. W. (1996). The self-fulfilling nature of positive illusions in romantic relationships: Love is not blind, but prescient. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 1155-1180.

Class Discussion

Introduction to love, attachment, and close relationships
Introduction to prosocial behavior

Class Exercise

Students complete and discuss measures of attachment, passionate love, and companionate love.

WEEK 11 ‘ Chapter 6 | Coping and Forgiveness
Supplemental Readings

 Taylor, S. E. (1983). Adjustment to threatening events. American Psychologist, 38, 1161-1173.
 Davis, C. G., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Larson, J. (1998). Making sense of loss and benefiting from the experience: Two construals of meaning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 561-574.
 Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1995). Trauma and transformation: Growing in the aftermath of suffering. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
 Spiegel, D., Bloom, J. R., Kraemer, H. C., & Gottheil, E. (1989). Effect of psychosocial treatment on survival of patients with metastatic breast cancer. Lancet, 2, 888-891.
 Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science, 8, 162-166.
 McCullough, M. E. (2001). Forgiveness: Who does it and how do they do it? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10, 194-197.
 Witvliet, C. V., Ludwig, T. E., & Vander Laan, K. L. (2001). Granting forgiveness or harboring grudges: Implications for emotion, physiology, and health. Psychological Science, 12, 117-123.

Class Discussion

Introduction to coping with stress and trauma
Introduction on expressive writing
Introduction to forgiveness

Class Exercise

Students complete and discuss coping and forgiveness scales.

WEEK 12 ‘ Chapters 8 and 9 | Goals and Religion
Supplemental Readings

 Sheldon, K. M., & Elliot, A. J. (1999). Goal striving, need-satisfaction, and longitudinal well-being: The Self-Concordance Model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 482-497.
 Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.
 Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006b). Achieving sustainable gains in happiness: Change your actions, not your circumstances. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 55-86.
 Dube’, M., Lapierre, S., Bouffard, L., & Alain, M. (2007). Impact of a personal goals management program on the subjective well-being of young retirees. European Review of Applied Psychology, 57, 183-192.
 Ellison, C. G., & Levin, J. S. (1998). The religion-health connection: Evidence, theory, and future directions. Health Education and Behavior, 25, 700-720.
 McIntosh, D. N., Silver, R. C., & Wortman, C. B. (1993). Religion’s role in adjustment to a negative life event: Coping with the loss of a child. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 812-821.

Class Discussion

Introduction to goals
What is self-determination theory?
The benefits of spirituality and religion

WEEK 13 ‘ Chapter 9 (continued) | Taking Care of Your Body
Supplemental Readings

 Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., Urbanowaki, F., Harrington, A., Bonus, K., & Sheridan, J. F. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 564-570.
Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1045-1062.
 Blumenthal, J. A., Babyak, M. A., Moore, K. A., Craighead, E., Herman, S., Khatri, P., Waugh, R., Napolitano, M. A., Forman, L. M., Appelbaum, M., Doraiswamy, P. M., & Krishnan, K. R. (1999). Effects of exercise training on older patients with major depression. Archives of Internal Medicine, 159, 2349-2356.
 Strack, F., Martin, L. L., & Stepper, S. (1988). Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: A nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 768-777.
 Keltner, D., & Bonanno, G. A. (1997). A study of laughter and dissociation: Distinct correlates of laughter and smiling during bereavement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 687-702.
 Finzi, E., & Wasserman, E. (2006). Treatment of depression with botulinum toxin A: A case series. Dermatologic Surgery, 32, 645-650.

Class Discussion

Research on meditation
Introduction to physical activity
The benefits of acting happy