Introducing Positive Psychology

Introducing Positive Psychology

By: Marc Helgesen

Just over 15 years ago, I first heard about Positive Psychology. It was the topic of a cover story in TIME Magazine. They called it, “The Science of Happiness.” In the issue, there was a short article by University of California-Riverside psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky. It was called, “Eight Steps Toward a More Satisfying Life.” Those steps are shown in the pictures above.

As soon as I read them, I thought, “English teachers deal with a lot of these things all the time.” “Friends and family” and “staying healthy” are common topics in many textbooks. “Remember”–that’s grammar–past tense. Noticing good things as they happen is the present. “Thanking” and “forgiving” are language functions. If we are doing these things anyway, this gives us a chance to talk about topics so much deeper and more meaningful than, “What’s your favorite sport?” and “Who’s your favorite movie star?”

"This gives us a chance to talk about topics so much deeper and more meaningful than, “Who’s your favorite movie star?"
Marc Helgesen
TT Author

Almost immediately I started reading more and experimenting with activities that combined ideas from positive psychology with language learning goals.

Now, early on in the semester, I introduce the ideas and the concept of Positive Psychology. I usually do it with a peer dictation. The eight ideas are written on separate strips of paper. I keep the first one, “Remember good things in your life.” That will be the example. Each student gets one sentence, cut from Tasksheet 1.1(a). Each person also gets a copy of the main Tasksheet: 1.1(b). You can download them HERE and from the following pages.

I dictate the first one as an example. Students copy the words that are missing from their own sentence and throw the strip away–I want them to share the sentences by speaking, not just showing the strip to each other.

Students circulate, sharing their sentence and collecting the other sentences from classmates.

After the activity, we talk about the steps and ways people can carry out each one. Throughout the course, we regularly do activities that work on one of more of the steps.

Note: “Forgive” is usually the only word that is unknown. I reworded Lyubomirsky’s suggestions to make them more accessible for EFL learners.


The tasks sheets are from Marc’s English Teaching and the Science of Happiness: Positive Psychology communication activities for language learning. (2019). Tokyo: ABAX ELT.  

Marc’s Positive Psychology website is at

Photos are from Marc’s presentations. They are © and are used under license.

Marc Helgesen, Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University is author of English Teaching and the Science of Happiness (ABAX) and the English Firsthand series (Pearson). He’s author of 180 books, articles, and textbooks and has been an invited speaker at conferences on five continents. He teaches Positive Psychology in ELT in the MA TESOL program at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies.

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