Book Review: Positive Psychology in a Nutshell

The book reviewed here is ‘Positive Psychology in a Nutshell’ by Ilona Boniwell – 2nd Edition’. The books runs to 145 pages, has a soft glossy cover and makes generous use of pictures and tables to break up the text. The book is also indexed, contains 252 references to academic papers and books as well as recommended reading material including internet resources. The author Ilona Boniwell is a founder of the European Network of Positive Psychology and has a web page here. The book is designed for use by a reader who ‘is not necessarily a psychologist’ and serves as a concise introduction to the subject compared to the 829-page ‘Handbook of Positive Psychology’ and the 770-page ‘Positive Psychology in Practice’! The book is divided into 15 sections. From a practical perspective I thought the most relevant sections were those that considered happiness and subjective well-being, a number of sections covering different values including strengths and interventions. The section on happiness and subjective well-being plays out a central argument about some central values of importance – is it important to seek happiness or to fulfill potential. The discussion of happiness includes a look at some of Seligman’s writings on the subject. The concept of Eudaimonic well-being as proposed by Aristotle is also discussed as are some of the works of the humanistic psychologists such as Rogers and Maslow. In these sections we see the groundwork for some of the later sections. There is a look at the value of strengths and included here are courage, love and wisdom. This leads onto positive psychology interventions some of which are evidence-based and others not. The evidence-based approaches include random acts of kindness, savouring and identifying signature strengths. I found Boniwell’s book to be an enjoyable read giving an easy to understand overview of what appears to be a significantly value-based domain within psychology. Boniwell considers criticisms of the positive psychology approach giving a counterbalance to the other sections. Positive psychology does in effect provide a useful framework for secular cultures. How might this relate to psychiatry. Positive psychology could be argued to be one (evidence-based) approach to maintaining mental health when used in conjunction with other approaches depending on policy. However another more subtle area is that of transcultural psychiatry. Usually this is meant to apply to situations in which knowledge of significant cultural differences is needed in order to manage care effectively from diagnosis through to treatment. Positive psychology may become increasingly popular and as more people adopt these values there may come a point at which a ‘positive psychology culture’ plays a significant role in wider society and specialised mental health services may need to be adapted for such a culture. It will be interesting to follow progress in this area.


Ilona Boniwell. Positive Psychology in a Nutshell. Second Edition, Revised and Expanded. 2nd Edition. PWBC.


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The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.


  1. […] There was one part which I disagreed with and that is his brief discussion of happiness and disability. I disagre with his assertion that disability must impact on happiness. Here the answer is to go on and speak to people with disabilities and find out what their experiences of happiness or satisfaction is. Various people have already done this and found that the relationship between disability and satisfaction with life is a complex one that is dependent on many factors (e.g. (van Campen and Cardol, 2009)). There are numerous examples of people with significant disabilities living fulfilling lives and indeed challenging prejudices in society has been important in this regards. This also shows the importance of evidence in challenging prejudices and the risks associated with reasoning dissociated from empiricism (at least as stated in this case). While Eagleton doesn’t draw any firm conclusions about meaning he does move towards the values of agape and happiness as reasonable values of choice and here I thought that this fitted with positive psychology (see reviews here and here). […]


  2. […] The second approach is a proportional hazards model. This produces some interesting results. Thus those with a high score on the purpose in life test were 1.5 x and 2.5 x more likely to remain free of MCI and AD respectively than those with a low score. Thirdly the researchers have also demonstrated that the rate of decline is slower in the group with higher score on the purpose in life test. What’s also interesting is that the researchers controlled for depressive symptoms in their analysis thus reasonbly excluding one obvious confounder. With a good sample size, thorough workup and confidence in caseness, the support of previous research for their purpose in life measure – the researchers have produced some very significant results and it will be very interesting to see further work in this area considering the potential implications. This also relates well to the emerging discipline of positive psychology (see here, here and here). […]


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