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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