Ever been interested in topics such as happiness, hope, strengths, or resilience?
Ever wondered about the science behind these concepts and the popular trend toward wellbeing?
In this article, we share some of the best positive psychology courses and programs out there, what they can offer, and how they can be used to further careers and enrich lives.
We appreciate that there are so many people who would like to know where to study positive psychology, and we love sharing information on where you can learn positive psychology the right way.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.
But there are many more options, and we elaborate on these below. Ultimately, we wish to help you make an informed decision about where and how to study positive psychology.
Free Online Positive Psychology Course From Coursera
The Foundations of Positive Psychology Specialization is an excellent starting point for anyone looking to dip their toes into the proverbial positive psychology waters – and better yet, it’s free.
The course is hosted through Coursera and the University of Pennsylvania, and is led by some heavyweights in the positive psychology arena, including Dr. Martin Seligman (one of the founding fathers of positive psychology), Dr. James Pawelski, Dr. Angela Duckworth, Dr. Claire Robertson-Kraft, and Dr. Karen Reivich.
The course is designed to take around five months to complete based on four hours of work per week. Readers will also be pleased to know that the course is self-paced, which means individuals can fit the learning in around their own busy schedule.
During this foundational course, students are introduced to many key concepts and ideas that lie at the heart of positive psychology and learn how to apply this knowledge to the real world, whether it be within their own personal life or the workplace.
Topics covered include:
An overview of the history of positive psychology
Positive psychology interventions and applications
Character strengths, grit, and research methods
Specialization: Design your life for wellbeing
Students even get to do their own mini project.
Advantages: This course is an absolute must for an initial grounding in the science of wellbeing (emphasis here on “science”). Students get access to content created by renowned researchers in the field, and it’s free.
Caveat: To receive a certificate for completing the course, Coursera will make individuals pay for it.
For individuals who are interested in going a little deeper into positive psychology in terms of theoretical and empirical knowledge and achieving a certificate on completion of the work, the online applied positive psychology course is appealing.
This course is an accelerated eight-week program led by Dr. Martin Seligman and faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. It is a four-course credit program, meaning that students must complete any four of the positive psychology modules offered to receive the certificate.
Modules are subject to change, but currently include:
Introduction to Positive Psychology
Human Flourishing: Strengths & Resilience
Positive Psychology at Work
Flourishing With Others: Building Thriving Relationships
Understanding the Science of Positive Psychology
Flourishing Through Creativity and the Arts
Once the initial modules are completed, students can achieve an advanced certificate by completing a further two modules. Modules can be counted toward a Bachelor of Arts.
Primarily, content is learned asynchronously; however, there are some synchronous (live online sessions) scheduled with instructors from the course, which is an added bonus.
Advantages: The University of Pennsylvania is a world-class university, and students get actual contact time with some excellent teachers and researchers in the field.
Caveat: This course does not come cheap, currently coming in at over $10,000.
Our Recommendation on Where to Study Positive Psychology
Harvard might seem like the best place to study psychology (and there might be a kernel of truth in that idea), but when it comes to positive psychology, there are scores of globally accessible universities and institutes that offer specialized training in wellbeing.
For example, the number one university in the world associated with positive psychology (admittedly according to our somewhat biased opinion) is the University of Pennsylvania, simply because this is where Dr. Seligman is based.
However, there are even more options available to individuals beyond Ivy League schools in the United States. Given that positive psychology should be accessible to all individuals from diverse walks of life, we strongly recommend exploring all alternative options.
Beyond the expanding number of universities around the globe offering degrees and certificates in positive psychology, there are also professional training institutes that offer yet another route into positive psychology, and these tend to be cheaper and available online.
As such, it is worth dedicating time researching what type of course will be best for you in terms of cost, location, learning format (i.e., in-person vs. online), and potential outcomes, be that a degree, accreditation, or future job prospects.
How to Earn a Diploma in Positive Psychology
Some individuals are more interested in simply gaining knowledge of positive psychology for their personal development and do not necessarily desire a certificate to show course completion.
On the other hand, some individuals may seek a career in positive psychology and are therefore more inclined to pursue a full degree.
But for those who are perhaps unsure of whether to go straight for a degree, there is a middle ground, such as in professional accreditation or academic training.
There are several positive psychology certificates and training on offer that provide individuals with accreditation and continued professional development points.
Below we outline three popular options.
The Langley Group Institute – Positive Psychology & Wellbeing Diploma
The Langley Group Institute is a registered training organization and was one of the first to offer a fully recognized and accredited diploma in positive psychology.
Designed by CEO Sue Langley, the approach of this course is to provide students with an immersive and synchronous learning experience, with options to study both in person in Australia and New Zealand or online (self-paced over 12 months).
The course comprises eight modules, with six core modules covering key theories, research, and interventions in positive psychology, and two elective modules that are more specialized, such as positive parenting interventions.
This diploma is a little more on the expensive side; however, payment plans and government subsidies for those over 45 are available.
The Behaviour Institute – Positive Psychology Diploma
At the Behaviour Institute, their Positive Psychology Diploma comprises six modules, and individuals can expect to cover some of the most popular positive psychology concepts, such as models of wellbeing (e.g., PERMA), resilience, strengths, and mindfulness.
The course is led by Dr. John Crimmins (a Cognitive-Behavioral Therapist) and is delivered online, asynchronously. Individuals can expect to complete the course in around six months, with two to three hours of study a week.
On completion, students can expect to receive a globally recognized accreditation. This is an affordable and accessible entry-level course in positive psychology.
Centre of Excellence – Positive Psychology Diploma
At the Centre of Excellence (a training organization), individuals can enroll in a nine-module Positive Psychology Diploma. Much like other diploma options, this course covers key topics in positive psychology, including positive emotions, PERMA, and mindfulness.
Delivered online, students can expect to complete the course in 150 hours, and individuals will receive 150 continued professional development points on completion. This diploma is currently one of the cheapest on the market, making it a highly accessible (if somewhat basic) course.
Getting a Positive Psychology Master’s or Bachelor’s Degree
Studying positive psychology more formally and getting an undergraduate or postgraduate degree can be a preferred pathway for those who want to work in academia or apply their extensive knowledge and training outside academia.
Many psychology bachelor’s degrees now offer modules on wellbeing and/or positive psychology, and this can be a great introduction into the science of wellbeing.
On the other hand, for those who already have a bachelor’s degree and want to further their education, several master’s courses in positive psychology are available. These courses are more specialized and provide a thorough and well-rounded education in the theory, research, and applications of positive psychology.
On receipt of a master’s degree in positive psychology, individuals will be well placed to pursue a career in the field.
To find out more, the following articles are particularly useful:
Master’s in Happiness Studies – A Fresh Alternative
As we can see from the lists above, positive psychology courses are plentiful and offered by a wide array of institutions.
A fresh alternative to studying positive psychology could be to consider the Master of Arts in Happiness Studies, a course that recently emerged.
Master of Arts in Happiness Studies
The Master of Arts in Happiness Studies at Centenary University in New Jersey is the first of its kind.
Under the direction of Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar — a prominent scholar in positive psychology — students enrolled in this course can expect to learn about the science of happiness and evidence-based interventions that can be applied across a variety of different disciplines.
The aim of the course is to nurture future leaders and help propel individuals into supervisory and management positions in any chosen field.
The course takes around 20 months to complete, and students can expect to put in upward of 1,300 hours of study over the duration of the course. Students can, however, expect to pay a premium for the degree.
If you are earnestly considering studying positive psychology and building a career based on helping others flourish, you may be overwhelmed with the options available to you.
In the last 10 years, the number of universities and institutions offering positive psychology courses have exploded, so much so that we can no longer list them all.
However, if we could offer you a piece of sage career advice, it would be to start with why.
Why do you want to study positive psychology, and what do you hope to get out of it?
Do you want to help people improve their relationships? Do you want to teach teens resilience, equipping them with positive psychology skills that will benefit them their whole life? Do you want to be a coach and help people be motivated and reach their full potential and goals?
One final recommendation: Have a look at this On Becoming a Therapist guide. It will save you hours of research and data overwhelm, as all the information you need to become a therapist is collected in one handy guide.
A Take-Home Message
There is no shortage of online and in-person courses for those interested in positive psychology. In fact, there are now so many options available, it can be hard to discern which courses are going to offer the best value.
Those who are unsure of which type of course is best should start by exploring some of the short, free online courses that provide good insight into the world of positive psychology.
Be mindful, however, that shorter courses likely come with a trade-off in terms of the depth of content offered. Individuals yearning for more in-depth knowledge should consider some of the excellent comprehensive courses out there.
Those that come with a certificate, diploma, or degree can set you up for a successful and fulfilling career. Just be prepared to invest significant time and money into it.
Kirsty Gardiner, Ph.D. is a Social Psychologist with a passion for using research to power social change. She holds a doctorate in Psychology, a masters in Applied Positive Psychology, and is a registered chartered Psychologist with the BPS. On completing her Ph.D. she taught on the MAPPCP programme for several years. Currently, she is based in the UK as the Research Director at Ardent - a DEI consultancy.