Psychology 243

Syllabus for PSYCH 243:

<div class="MsoNormal">Dr. John A. Johnson </div>

Introduction to Well-Being and Positive Psychology

Office: 172 Smeal, 375-4774

Fall Semester, 2013

<div class="MsoNormal">Hours: T&Th 11:00-12:00 & by appt.</div>

146 Smeal Building, T&Th 9:25-10:40

<div class="MsoNormal">Email:</div>

Required Readings:


Course Objectives:

The overall objective of this course is to learn how to make your life more satisfying and meaningful. This general objective can be broken down into three more specific objectives, namely, learning how to:

(1) avoid and escape negative states such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, anger, and self-defeating behavior;
(2) deal effectively with the normal demands of everyday life (have good relationships with others, cope with stress, organize yourself, set and accomplish goals, etc.); and
(3) improve yourself beyond mere normality (become more creative, increase awareness, and develop a higher quality life).

The study of psychological well-being has undergone and interesting evolution over the past 60 years. Originally, the focus was on the first two objectives, that is, helping people to overcome emotional and behavioral problems and to cope effectively with the stresses and demands of everyday life. Courses dealing with this subject matter were often called "The Psychology of Adjustment," which gave the impression that there was one standard of mental health for everyone to live up to.

Over time, however, psychologists became dissatisfied with this focus on eliminating negatives and encouraging adjustment. An alternative approach, which began with humanistic psychology in the 1960s and developed into what is now called Positive Psychology, came to focus on each person's unique potential for positive growth and excellence. In the words of our textbook author, Chris Peterson, Positive Psychology is "The scientific study of what goes right in life" (p. 4).

This course promotes both the original goals of a psychology of well-being (getting rid of negatives and dealing with ordinary challenges), while emphasizing Positive Psychology's focus on growth and excellence.

Methods for Achieving Course Objectives:

Chapter 2 of Chris Peterson's textbook is titled "Learning About Positive Psychology: Not a Spectator Sport." This means that in our course we will be learning by doing. Prior to every class, everyone will be expected to complete a homework assignment in preparation for that class. The assignment usually includes reading from one or more of the textbooks. But in addition to any textbook reading, you are expected to engage in an activity related to the topic. Instructions for each activity are posted on ANGEL. The instructions will tell you how to write a short "activity report" for the activity.

You are to bring each activity report to class to help you discuss your experiences with the activity with members of your small group. In these discussions, students are meant to learn from one another. I will usually kick off the discussions with a short lecture. After groups discuss the topic of the day for a period of time, I may visit the various groups to see how things are going, or I may moderate a full-class discussion of the topics for that class period. You will turn in your activity report at the end of class.

Course Outline:

The following course outline charts when we will be covering the different topics. A blank box indicates a continuation of the previous topic. Any changes from this outline will be announced in class. For reading assignments and other activities in our books, I have used the following shorthand book titles:

Primer - A Primer in Positive Psychology, by Christopher Peterson

Taking Control - Thoughts & feelings: Taking Control of your moods and your life, by Mathew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning

Freedom - How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, by Harry Browne

Note: We will not be meeting for classes 21 & 22. Lectures for those classes are on ANGEL.




Reading Assignment 



1 T Aug 27

2 Th Aug 29 

What is Positive Psychology?

Active Learning and Learning Styles

Primer, Chapter 1 

Primer, Chapter 2


1. Begin activity Three Good Things which is due on class 4


3 T Sept 3


4 Th Sept 5 

Cooperative Learning


Instructions for Cooperative
Learning Activity

Primer, Chapter 3

2. Cooperative Learning


(Turn in Three Good Things)


5 T Sept 10

6 Th Sept 12 

Happiness: Survey of theories

Happiness: Freely choosing what you really want to do. Avoiding the Identity, Intellectual, and Emotional Traps

Primer, Chapter 4;
Freedom, Chapter 27

Freedom, Chapters 1-3


3. Happiness Profile

4. Identity, Intellect, Emotions


7 T Sept 17

8 Th Sept 19 

Happiness: Changing limiting thoughts

Happiness: Developing attitudes of acceptance

Taking Control, Chapters 2-4

Desire, Pain, and Suffering (on ANGEL)

5. Changing Limiting Thoughts

6. Desire, Pain, and Suffering


9 T Sept 24

10 Th Sept 26 



Compassion (on ANGEL)

Attention (on ANGEL)
Taking Control, Chapter 20

7. Compassion

8. Attention


11 T Oct 1

12 Th Oct 3 


Balancing self-interest with others' interests. Avoiding the Unselfishness and Group Traps.


Gratitude (on ANGEL)

Freedom, Chapters 5-6; pp. 55-58 of Chapter 7 (markets, meetings, transactions, exchanges)

9. Gratitude

10. Balancing self-interest with the interests of others


13 T Oct 8

14 Th Oct 10 

Avoiding the Rights Trap. Freedom from Social Restrictions and Bad Relationships.

Mid-Semester Examination

Freedom, Chapters 9, 17, 18


11. Freedom for yourself and others


15 T Oct 15
16 Th Oct 17 

Positive Thinking; Visualization

Relaxation and Wellness

Primer, Chapter 5

Primer, Chapter 8
Taking Control, Chapter 5

12. Positive Thinking

13. Relaxation


17 T Oct 22

18 Th Oct 24 

Worry Control

Decreasing Depression

Taking Control, Chapters 6-7

Taking Control, Chapters 11-12
Freedom, Chapter 29




19 T Oct 29

20 Th Oct 31 

Increasing Self-Esteem

Your Morality

Taking Control, Chapter 15

Freedom, Chapters 4, 28

14. Your Morality


21 T Nov 5

22 Th Nov 7 

Managing Anger

Character Strengths

Taking Control, Chapter 17

Primer, Chapter 6


15. Using Signature Strengths in New Ways


23 T Nov 12

24 Th Nov 14 


Interests and Abilities

Primer, Chapter 7

Primer, Chapter 8

16. Values

17. Interests and Abilities


25 T Nov 19

26 Th Nov 21


Communication strategies for overcoming control dramas

Primer, Chapter 10

Communication and Control Dramas (on ANGEL)

18. Love Styles

19. Control Dramas


[T Nov 26]
[Th Nov 28]

NO CLASS! Thanksgiving vacation
NO CLASS! Thanksgiving vacation




27 T Dec 3

28 Th Dec 5 

Sex differences in interests, behavior, and communication

Marriage and Families

Sex Differences in Communication (on ANGEL)

Primer, Chapter 11,
Freedom, Chapters 19-21 & Afterword

20. Sex Differences in Communication

21. Marriage and Families


29 T Dec 10 

30 Th Dec 12 

A Good and Meaningful Life


Primer, Chapter 12

(no reading)

Finals Week


Final Examination


 22. Meaning in Life

Assignments and Grades:

Assignments have two completely separate purposes: (1) to allow students to achieve their own personal self-development goals; and (2) to allow grades to be assigned. I do not especially like assigning grades in this course. I am more concerned that the course assignments help students achieve their own self-development goals. However, I do realize that grades are important to many of you in your educational career; furthermore, the university requires that grades be assigned.

Grades are based totally on the number of points earned on activity reports you submit, your contribution to your group's discussions, the midterm and final exams, and the group writing assignment. Descriptions of these factors and the manner in which they determine the final grade are presented below.

Activity Reports

For 22 of our 30 classes, you are to bring to class a written description of your experience with the homework activity assigned for that class. The instructions for each activity tell you what to write. The reports are graded on quality. A high-quality report provides thoughtful, sincere, complete responses to the assignment according to the instructions. A low-quality report gives thoughtless, sketchy, incomplete, irrelevant, trite, or phony responses to the assigned activity, or does not conform to the instructions. Low-quality reports usually look like they were thrown together at the last minute The key to writing high-quality reports is to approach the activity with enthusiasm, and then to really put your heart into writing about it. Reports should be typed, but need not follow a particular, formal writing style.

Each activity report is worth 15 points. To earn the full point value, you must write with high quality and turn in the report on the day that it is due. Full credit for late reports can be earned only for a legitimate absence (normally only athletic participation, illness, emergency, or death in the family). I will be the judge of whether an absence is legitimate. A report turned in late will receive less than the full 15 points or no points at all. The sooner you turn in a late report, the fewer points you will lose, so if you know you will not be turning in a report in class, emailing it to me the same day would be your best option. Any student who develops a pattern of submitting late reports will have increasingly more points deducted for lateness. The total maximum number of points that can be earned for activity reports is 22 x 15 = 330.

Group Participation

To earn points for participation, you must demonstrate that you have prepared for each class by reading the textbooks, engaging in activities, making quality contributions to discussions in your group, and contributing in a substantial way to the group writing project. To judge how well you prepare, participate, and contribute, I will rely heavily on the assessment of the other members of your small group. Each member of each group will have a fixed number of points (= 10 x [number of persons - 1]) to distribute among all the other group members. If you think everyone contributes equally, you assign an equal number of points to everyone. If you think someone contributes more than the others, and another, less than the others, you can assign more points to the first person. Your participation score will be computed as 300 x (total points received)/(points distributed by one person).

For example, let's say four people are in your group, including you. Each person will have 30 points to distribute among the other three members. If everyone distributes their points equally, you would receive 30 points (10 from each of your group members). Your participation score will be 300 x (30/30) = 300. If someone is judged to be a slacker and receives only 5 points from each of the other three group members, his or her score would be 300 x (15/30) = 150. Note that if your group members believe you contributed more than an average amount, you could actually end up with more than 300 points for participation, but there is a limit of 30 extra points or 330 total participation points that can be earned for extraordinary contribution. We will conduct an informal assessment of participation (assigning points as per the formula above—but it won't count toward your grade) at mid-semester just to see how things are going. At the end of the course, if any individual's participation score seems to me too high or too low due to bias, I may adjust the score.

Midterm and Final Examinations

The midterm and final exams each consist of 40 multiple-choice questions, worth two points each, based on the readings and lectures. The midterm covers material from the first half of the course and the final covers material from the second half of the course. Readings covered by each exam are as follows:



Taking Control



Midterm Exam

Chapters 1-4

Chapters 2-4; 20

Chapters 1-3;
5-7; 9, 17, 18

All handouts

Final Exam

Chapters 5-12

Chapters 5-7;
13-15; 17

Chapters 4;
19-21; 28

All handouts


Group Writing Project

The Four Agreements is a very short book (138 9x14cm pages) that nonetheless manages to capture many of the most important concepts from this course. The language and style of the book differ from books written by professional psychologists. Although the author, don Miguel Ruiz, attended medical school and became a surgeon, he says that the philosophy of life described in the book reflects the wisdom of his ancestral Toltec culture. The goal of your group writing project is to describe how Ruiz talks about a number of concepts in the course, including mental maps, life scripts, self-talk, limiting beliefs, the identity trap, and nonjudgmental attention. All members of the group are expected to contribute to the paper, and one score will be assigned for everyone in the group. Another document, Instructions for The Four Agreements Group Writing Project, provides specific instructions for writing and submitting this paper, as well as the criteria that will be used to grade the paper. This assignment is worth 210 points.

Letter Grades

The maximum possible number of points you can earn in the course is 1000 (330 for activity reports + 300 for group participation + 160 for the midterm and final examinations + 210 for the group writing project). Grades will be assigned on point totals as follows:

Point Total


960-1000 points

920-959 points


910-919 points


850-909 points

840-849 points


830-839 points


700-829 points

600-699 points

< 600 points

Note to Students with Disabilities:

Penn State DuBois welcomes students with disabilities into the University’s educational programs.  If you have a disability-related need for modifications and/or reasonable accommodations in this course, please contact The Office for Disability Services, Diana Kreydt, 142 Smeal Building, at 372-3037 or 

For further information regarding the Office of Disability Services, visit their web site at .  Instructors should be notified as early in the semester as possible regarding the need for modification and/or reasonable accommodations.


Attendance is Good—Unless You Are Sick


Attending class is essential to doing well in the course. When you attend class, you have an opportunity to learn from both the instructor and from other students. If you often miss class, you will miss information, and your participation rating from members of your group will suffer. However, if you are ill, especially if you have flu-like symptoms, please send me an email describing your illness as soon as possible and do not come to class. Public health considerations are more important than missed work, which can be made up.


Statement of Academic Integrity:

All students are expected to act with civility, personal integrity; respect other students' dignity, rights and property; and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their own efforts. An environment of academic integrity is requisite to respect for self and others and a civil community.

Academic integrity includes a commitment to not engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation or deception. Violation of academic integrity includes (but is not limited to) cheating on exams, having unauthorized possession of exams, "ghosting" (taking or having another student take an exam), plagiarizing, submitting another persons' work as your own, using Internet sources without citation, fabricating field data or citations, tampering with the academic work of another student, and facilitating other students' acts of academic dishonesty.

Students charged with a breach of academic integrity will receive due process and, if the charge is judged to be valid, academic sanctions may range, depending on the severity of the offense, from no credit for the assignment to an F for the course. More detailed information can be found in University Faculty Senate Policy 49-20, Academic Administrative Policies and Procedure G9, Academic Integrity, and the Sanctioning Guidelines for Academic Integrity Violations.