Course Syllabus

Positive Psychology

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Semester & Location:

Summer 2022 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Core Course - 3 credits

Major Disciplines:

Education/Educational Studies, Human Development, Psychology


One psychology course at university level.

Faculty Members:

Gitte Vonsild (current students please contact via the Canvas Inbox)

Program Director:

Suman Ambwani

Program Contact:  

Time & Place:

See Course Schedule

Location: V23-301

Description of Course

The course will be guided by the mission of Positive Psychology:  “to understand and foster the factors that allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish” (Seligman & Csikzentmihalyi, 2000) leading us to explore what psychology says about human flourishing and happiness and to investigate, how human flourishing can be facilitated.


Three pillars of Positive Psychology set the foundation for our study: Positive individual traits, positive emotions and positive institutions.  We consider the individual contributions of the field’s founding fathers (Christopher A. Peterson, Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) and enter into a lively and critical debate surrounding the field’s theoretical and philosophical underpinnings.

Ongoing questions permeate our study. They are (but not limited to):

·         What is happiness and well-being?

·         What makes a good life for individuals, for communities and for nations?

·         Does where people live affect their psychological well-being?

·         What might the reasons be for the Danes continuously being ranked at the very top and even number 1 in international surveys on happiness and life-satisfaction?

The students will examine extensive current research, assessments, and interventions primarily in the areas of positive individual traits and positive emotions to explore possible answers to these questions.  This course also emphasizes and integrates application of theory, coaching- and communication skills, critical reflection,  and hands on experience in order to apply Positive Psychology approaches to professional practices as well as everyday life situations.

Learning Objectives

Students in this class will:

Regarding Theory and Research:

  • Analyze different perspectives and values expressed in Positive Psychology via theory and research

  • Synthesize theoretical perspectives and practical approaches in order to cultivate new understanding

  • Examine well-being and the role of place and community in it

  • Explore the relationship between architecture and human flourishing

  • Discuss Positive Psychology research in an intercultural perspective

Regarding Application:

  • Use basic coaching listening- and questioning skills as well as competencies within goal setting and action planning

  • Perform Positive Psychology coaching and evaluate, how coaching and Positive Psychology interventions in conjunction can foster human florishing

  • Apply core concepts in Positive Psychology concept to everyday situations

  • Create student centered applications of positive psychology



Gitte Vonsild

Educational background: Master of Positive Psychology, and a minor in Psychology. MSc in Economics.  Gitte Vonsild is specialized in the field of Applied Positive Psychology and is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC) from the Coaches Training Institute, CTI. Professional background: 1997-2005 CFO at the Brewery Darguner Brauerei GmbH in Germany. Self-employed coach and workshop leader since 2005, and Lecturer at Metropolitan University College 2008-2012 in coaching & counseling, Positive Psychology, Positive Psychology coaching, change theory, and stress management. With DIS since 2011.


Required Textbooks (available at the DIS Library):

  • Boniwell, I. & Tunariu, A. (2019). Positive Psychology. Theory, Research, and Applications. UK: McGraw Hill.

  • Lyubomirsky, Sonja (2011). The How of Happiness. A Practical Guide to Getting the Life You Want. Piatkus.

  • Frankl, Victor E. (2006). Man’s Search for Meaning. Beacon Press

 Required Articles and Other Media on Canvas:

  • Baumeister, Roy F. et al., (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, Vol 5(4), Dec 2001, 323-370
  • Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Updated Thinking on Positivity Ratios (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. American Psychologist. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0033584. Pp 1-9
  • Grant, A. M., & Schwartz, B. (2011). Too much of a good thing: The challenge and opportunity of the inverted u. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 61-76.   
  • Helliwell, J. F., et al. (2018). Social capital and prosocial behavior as sources of well-being. Handbook of well-being. Salt Lake City, UT: DEF Publishers. DOI: 
  • Kauffman, C., et al. (2010). The Positive Psychology Approach to Coaching. In Cox, E. et al. (Eds.) The Complete Handbook of Coaching (pp. 158-171). Sage
  • Lyubomirsky, S. & Layous, K. (2013). How do simple positive activities increase well-being? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22, 57-62.
  • Maddux, J.E. (2009). Self-efficacy: The Power of Believing You Can.  In Snyder, C.R. & Lopez, S. (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. 335-343.
  • Martela, et al., (2020). The Nordic Exceptionalism: What Explains Why the Nordic Countries are Constantly Among the Happiest in the World. In Helliwell, J.F. et al. (Eds.). World Happiness Report 2020. New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network
  • Nakamura, J., and Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Flow Theory and Research in  Snyder, C.R. & Lopez, S. (eds.) Handbook of Positive Psychology. 195-206
  • Niemiec, R.M. (2014). Mindfulness & Character Strengths. A Practical Guide to Flourishing. Pp. 85-100. Hogrefe
  • Peterson C., & Park, N. (2011).Character Strengths and Virtues: Their Role in Well-Being. In Donaldson, S.I. (eds.) Applied Positive Psychology. Improving Everyday Life, Health, Schools, Work, and Society. Routledge. 49-62.
  • Ruch, W. and Hofmann, J. (2017). Fostering Humour. In Proctor, C. (ed.). Positive Psychology Interventions. Springer
  • Ryan, R. and Deci, E. (2000) Self-determination Theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development and wellbeing. American Psychologist, 55:68-78.
  • Seligman, M.E.P., (2011). Flourish. A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being – and How to Achieve Them. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. pp. 5-29
  • Seligman,  M.E.P., (2018): PERMA and the building blocks of well-being, The
    Journal of Positive Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2018.1437466
  • Sheldon, K. M. (2014). Becoming oneself: The central role of self-concordant goal selection. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18, 349-365. doi: 10.1177/1088868314538549
  • Simonton, D.K. (2005). Creativity.  In Snyder, C.R. & Lopez, S. (eds.) Handbook of Positive Psychology. 189-201
  • Wrezeniewski, A. & Dutton, J.E. (2001). Crafting a Job: Revisioning employees as active crafter of their work.Academy of Management Review. 2001. Vol. 26, No. 2. Pp. 179-201


Field Studies:

Theme: Chasing Tracks of Happiness: What might be the reasons for Denmark being ranked as the happiest country in the world?

The overall theme for this field study is to explore the reasons for Denmark being ranked as the happiest country in the world.  Does the ranking make sense? What might the reasons be? What do you observe?

This is an ethnographic inspired field trip. Get out there, mingle with the Danes, Take pictures, make interviews, and observe what it might be the reasons for Denmark being ranked as the happiest country in the world.

Theme: Hygge - Socializing the Danish Way. Exploring the concept of hygge

During this interactive social/cultural/academic activity we will learn about and experience the what and how of hygge.

Guest Lecturer, Simon Krohn:

Simon Krohn; Author, consultant and professional mindfulness instructor; MA in Philosophy and certified as E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance. He is specialized in Indian philosophy and studied one year at Banaras Hindu University in India. He has participated as a consultant on several research projects within the field of health science. For more:

Approach to Teaching

The teaching in this course is based on experiential learning, so I expect you to participate actively in class exercises, reflection, and discussion.  In so doing, you are requested to follow the following rules of exercises, written assignments, and discussions:

  • Any personal information revealed in this class is confidential. You may share ideas and experiences with people outside the class, but no information referring to personal identities should be revealed.  Any violation of this confidentiality will be dealt with severely.

  • Nobody is wrong! In discussion, you should not challenge someone else's opinions or experience. It is appropriate to acknowledge differences, but with the understanding that there is no correct experience or opinion.  Everyone should be treated with civility and respect.

  • Everyone has the right to challenge someone's factual statements on the accuracy of the facts.


Expectations of the Students

I expect you to have done the reading for each class and to participate actively and constructively in all aspects of this course including class sessions, field study sessions, and course-related field studies, as well as activities in class discussions, team work, and to contribute to the progress of the class.

In this course, each one of us has the equal and unique responsibility to facilitate the most optimal learning outcomes.

Students are expected to:

  • complete all reading assignments prior to coming to class

  • contribute to class discussions and group activities

  • draw upon your interactions and observations from daily life in Denmark to the theory, research, and practices of Positive Psychology in class

  • work independently and be active in group work

  • write down reflections throughout the course

  • be punctual and attend all classes; missing classes without a legitimate excuse will result in a lower final grade



Students will be evaluated on their participation in class, on individual papers, and on group presentations. Emphasis in evaluation is on active and constructive engagement with the subject and with the rest of the class. Creativity and critical academic reflection is highly valued in your written work as well as in class, where there will be a number of class discussions, open reflective questions related to class topics,  group work assignments and short presentations.

 In your papers I expect you to use high quality, credible and relevant sources and to cite all your sources in your text using APA style references. Please make sure that all statements and claims are supported by academic references.




Methods of Evaluation



Percentage of


Active participation




Chasing Tracks of Happiness. Discussion paper based on theory and your observations




Team Project: Research presentation

Main theme:  Factors that allow human flourishing

Graded as a team performance


Fostering Individual Flourishing: A Real Case Intervention Plan based on a Positive Psychology Peer Coaching Session

Individually graded







Your attendance and active participation are essential in all aspects of this course including class sessions, study tour sessions, and course-related field studies, as well as activities in class discussions, team work and general contribution to the progress of the class. Class meetings will involve lectures but also experiments, tests and exercises, movies, guest speakers, student presentations, and debates; questions and discussion are expected, in fact, required.  Furthermore, attendance is mandatory.


Chasing Tracks of Happiness. Discussion paper  (Maximum 4 pages)

Due: at 12:00 noon. Please hand in one hard copy 

Based on theory and your own observations made during core class week including the short study tour you respond to the question “What might be the reasons for Denmark being ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world?”

Your response should include a discussion of both points listed below:

(1)   Discuss your observations from a positive psychology theoretical perspective with reference to literature from class as well as literature from outside of class. Be sure to cite all your references in your text and to include minimum one photo illustrating one or more of your observations.

(2)    Discuss your own reactions to the observations you have made taking your own personal values into consideration.


Fostering Individual Flourishing: A Real Case Intervention Plan based on a Positive Psychology Peer Coaching Session (4 pages) 

“Where coaching interventions are primarily used to enhance goal attainment, Positive Psychology interventions are primarily used as means of enhancing well-being. However, despite the clear synergies between coaching and Positive Psychology there has been little work done on developing models that integrate these two separate but highly complementary change methodologies” (Grant, A. M. and Spence, G. B., 2010).

In this assignment you will practice Positive Psychology coaching, explore what coaching can do for Positive Psychology, and develop an evidence based intervention plan tailored to this real case and based on Positive Psychology theory and research.

“Fostering Individual Flourishing”’ is a combined group and individual assignment. In groups of three you will carry out, and reflect on a Positive Psychology coaching session with a peer client and an observer.  After the session you will receive feedback on your coaching from the observer and the client. You will use your experience from this session as point of departure to write an individual assignment, in which you reflect on your coaching experience, elaborate on the synergies between coaching and Positive Psychology, and develop an theory- and research based intervention plan.


The “Fostering Individual Flourishing” assignment consists of two parts:

Part 1: Practice Positive Psychology coaching applying basic coaching skills and Positive Psychology.

The session takes place in groups of three students: one coach, one client and one observer. Each student will be coach, client and observer. Each session takes approximately 30 minutes. After the session the coach receives feedback from the observer and the client.

Part 2: An individually written assignment, which must include:

A short presentation of the client’s issue/ goal

  • A short summary of the coaching session, including mentioning the main skills and interventions applied

  • Your reflections on the coaching experience

  • An elaboration on the synergies between coaching and Positive Psychology

  • An evidence based positive psychology intervention plan

  • Arguments and reflections for your intervention plan. What are the theoretical oriented arguments behind your intervention plan? You should use theory to be the foundation behind your intervention plan. Also you are supposed to find and include research results supporting your intervention plan.

  • Critical reflections about your intervention plan: What might the pitfalls be?


Team Project: Research presentation 

In a team with fellow classmates (teams of 3-4 students) you investigate and present on factors that allow human flourishing in different settings.


Teams of 3-4 students

Create a documentary video (Approximately 7 minutes)

Submit a written paper explaining the theoretical framework and the research evidence upon which you build your documentary. (Three pages. 1 1/2 spaced and excluding cover & reference page)

The assignment:

The assignment is to create a response to this question:

How can people make use of positive psychology theory and established research findings to build wellbeing?

Your job is to:

1. Identify a positive psychology topic that you would like to focus on (e.g. meaning, hope, mindfulness, positive emotions, gratitude, relationships, individual strengths, flow, physical activity).

2. Find a relevant research article to use as your source of evidence.

3. Create a short and serious educational documentary (in the form of a video) that can inspire and teach lay people why and how they can benefit from positive psychology not only in their normal everyday lives, but also when the going gets tough (or threatens to do so).

The video documentary must include:

· Introduction to the topic

· Presentation of the research and the findings

· Specific instructions on how people can put theory and established research findings into action

· Each documentary will be approximately 7 minutes

The written paper must include:

· An explanation of the topic and the theory which you presented on in the documentary

· Summary of research and findings

· Discussion about the findings and their implications



· Find, analyze, and apply a relevant research article to module topics and discussions

· Demonstrate your ability to make use of theory and research findings in real life situations

· Create a concrete and engaging review of material

· Develop and refine teamwork skills


To be eligible for a passing grade in this class you must complete all of the assigned work. 

Disability and Resource Statement  

Any student who has a need for accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact the Office of Academic Support ( to coordinate this.  In order to receive accommodations, students should inform the instructor of approved DIS accommodations within the first two weeks of classes.

Academic Regulations  

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on:

Course Summary:

Date Details Due