11 Top Positive Psychology Courses You Can Take Online

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Boost your happiness IQ from the comfort of your own computer.

What brings a sense of purpose to our lives? Why is gratitude such an important factor in well-being? How can I be happier and bring a sense of authentic joy to those around me?

Positive psychology is a fascinating field, but most of us aren’t able to set aside the time and money necessary to study for a masters or Ph.D. in the subject. Luckily technology has made it easier than ever to learn about the science of happiness since the days when Tal Ben-Shahar taught one of the first courses on the subject—and one of the most popular ever—at Harvard University, along with Shawn Achor. Information about positive psychology and well-being has now become much more widely available.

Below are some of the best courses and certificate programs on positive psychology that you can access without having to leave the comfort of your own desk.

1. UPenn Positive Psychology Center

Martin Seligman and the University of Pennsylvania's acclaimed Positive Psychology Center have coordinated with Coursera to create a five-course online certificate program called Foundations of Positive Psychology. The five courses offer an overview of the field, with insights into such topics as grit and charater. They will be taught by regular UPenn MAPP (Masters in Applied Positive Psychology) professors including Angela Duckworth, Ph.D., and James Pawelski, Ph.D. For more information, click here.

2. Barbara Fredrickson

Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., a psychology professor at North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Director of the PEP (Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology) Lab, and one of the founders of positive psychology, is an expert in the area of love and connection. You can get a taste of her research from her books, Positivity and Love 2.0, and articles, and now by taking her six-week MOOC (massive open online course) “Positive Psychology” on Coursera. The course includes discussion of concepts such as loving kindness and “positivity resonance,” as well as “practical applications of this science that you can put to use immediately to help you live a full and meaningful life.” For more information, click here.

3. Greater Good Science Center

The Greater Good Science Center is a nonprofit research institute that provides excellent information and cutting-edge research on the psychology of well-being through its website, newsletter and books. They also offer a free online course called “The Science of Happiness” taught by University of California, Berkeley’s psychology professor Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., and Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., the center’s science director. These two experts lead students through the fundamentals of positive psychology, such as why social ties are so important to well-being, the benefits of daily happiness practices and the new science of awe. You must register for the course, and it begins on a specific date (September 6, 2016), but you can take it at your leisure—as long as you finish within six months. The course (also a MOOC), taught on the EdX platform, is open to everyone, but for undergraduates, there is a midterm, final exam and class credits. Everyone else gets quizzes, polls and “emotional check-ins.” For more information, click here.

4. The Big Know

The Big Know, which partners with Life Reimagined—an AARP company, is a fantastic resource for free and low-cost online courses taught by some of the most respected experts in the mindfulness and happiness realms (many of whom have been featured in Live Happy). You can study “Brain Power: How to Improve Brain Health” with Wendy Suzuki, Ph.D., “Mindfulness and Meditation” with Richard Davidson, Ph.D., “How to Bring More Joy to Your Life” with Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., and the list goes on. Other instructors include Blue Zones' founder Dan Buettner and stress expert Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. It is truly a gold mine of quick and easy access to expert teachings on happiness—done through video—available at your fingertips. For more information, click here.

5. Profit from the Positive

If you are a business owner, coach or executive who would like to bring the power of positive psychology into your workplace, this is a great place to start. Margaret Greenberg and Senia Maymin, Ph.D., co-authors of the book Profit from the Positive (and Live Happy columnists), have put together a 10-week online certificate program of the same name that teaches leaders and executive coaches how to harness the science of happiness in order to increase team productivity, decrease turnover, put employees’ strengths to work at the office and increase the bottom line. The class unfolds over the course of ten 90-minute live video sessions with Margaret and Senia and includes chats and many extras. For more information, click here.

6. Pursuit of Happiness

Pursuit of Happiness is a nonprofit organization led by prominent psychologists and educators such as Paul Desan, Ph.D., director of psychiatric services at Yale New Haven Hospital, and Todd Kashdan, Ph.D., professor at George Mason University and co-author of The Upside of Your Dark Side. They promote positive psychology by disseminating information and offering an online certificate course called “The Psychology of Happiness,” which is taught by Desan and other experts, including Dan Tomasulo, Ph.D., who created the positive psychology curriculum at Columbia University Teacher’s College. The course, which comprises two live webinars, emphasizes practical implementation of the latest scientific findings in the happiness realm. For more information, click here.

7. Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan

Happiness expert, best-selling author and Live Happy columnist Shawn Achor has teamed up with Oprah Winfrey to create two 21-day courses on happiness. The first is called “21 Days to a Happier Life,” and the second is “21 Days to Inspire Happiness Around You.” The first class includes a happiness assessment, a discussion of daily happiness habits and creating a personal happiness formula. In the second class, students expand their happiness reach by learning about acts of kindness, increasing social bonds, inspiring positive change in others and sharing that happiness to the wider world. Michelle Gielan, Shawn’s wife, business partner at GoodThink Inc. and the author of Broadcasting Happiness, teaches a quick and inexpensive online course to help you improve positive communication and leadership called “Broadcasting Happiness.” For more information, click here.
 

8. Harvard University Extension

Courses in the extension school are generally not taught by Harvard professors. They are, however interesting online courses that cost a whole lot less than enrolling at Harvard. The course catalog changes, but as of 2016, you could sign up to take “The Science and Application of Positive Psychology,” taught by Stephanie Peabody, Psy.D., Executive Director of the International Mind, Body, Health and Education Initiative. This is a general introduction to the concept of positive psychology, including "its implications for physical health and well-being." For more information, click here.

9. Via Institute on Character

The nonprofit Via Institute on Character was created 15 years ago under the guidance of clinical psychologist Neal Mayerson, Ph.D., and positive psychology founding father Martin Seligman, Ph.D., in order to bring the benefits of “strengths theory” to as wide an audience as possible. Known primarily for its incredibly useful strengths survey, the institute also offers online courses, webinars and personalized coaching on such topics as “Character Strengths at Work,” “Positive Relationships and Character Strengths” and “Creating a Strengths-Based Life.” Courses are taught by Ryan Niemiec, Ph.D., education director at VIA and a licensed psychologist, and Donna Mayerson, Ph.D., lead consultant for applied practice at VIA and a licensed psychologist. For more information, click here.

10. Wholebeing Institute

Run by happiness scholar and expert Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., the Wholebeing Institute is devoted to educating the public about positive psychology, mindfulness, spirituality and the happiness movement. Taking a page from Martin Seligman's PERMA model for well-being, Tal has developed the acronym SPIRE to describe the mission of the Wholebeing Institute: Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Relational and Emotional. The Institute offers a certificate program at two-day in-person retreats with a changing roster of locations, as well as a variety of courses that you can access online. Self-directed courses are taught over five weeks and include video lectures from Tal. Subjects range from “Introduction to Positive Psychology” to “Mind-Body Connection,” “Relationships” and “Positive Psychology in Coaching.” For more information, click here.

11. University of Missouri

Some universities—such as the University of Pennsylvania in particular—are well-known for their masters programs in positive psychology. The University of Missouri, however, offers a certificate in pos. psych of 15 class credits that is done completely online. The program entails a core course plus several electives. It is important to point out that this is a certificate, not a terminal or “higher” degree. It may be a good choice for someone who would like to further an existing career or perhaps become a life coach. For more information, click here.
 

Emily Wise Miller is the web editor at Livehappy.com.