Book Reviews

Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Positive Psychology: The Seven Foundations of Well-Being

Kashdan, T., & Ciarrochi, J. (2013) New Harbinger

Contextual Behavioural Science and Positive Psychology both have the aim of promoting human flourishing but there has been only limited cross pollination  between the two fields. This book attempts to start to rectify this and in my opinion, it achieves something extraordinary.

It is edited by two people who are Thought Leaders in this area – Professor Joseph Ciarrochi and Professor Todd Kashdan. The chapters are written by researchers and clinicians working at the cutting edge of this field.

Kashdan and Ciarrochi start with the question ‘Can we create a world where the best side of humanity finds expression’. They then invite experts in positive psychology and/or contextual behavioural science to explore how unifying these two fields could lead to ‘faster, more profound and enduring improvements to the human condition’. For me this is a ‘You got me at hello’ moment – if you were to describe in one sentence what I want a book to deliver, then this is it.

Because contextual behavioural science and positive psychology have developed separately, the contributors tend to come from one field or the other, not many of them are grounded in both. And sometimes there is an awkwardness as the writer tries to pull together the two fields. It is typical of Todd and Joseph to push people out of their comfort zone.  But it is this invitation to do something difficult that makes this book so much more important than many of the recent positive psychology or ACT books. The majority of the contributors pull this tricky task off brilliantly and, in the process, create something wonderful. For example:

  • Kirstin Neff and Dennis Tirch write beautifully about self-compassion.
  • Mairead Foody, Yvonne and Dermot Barnes-Holmes perform an incredible analysis of some common positive psychology interventions through the lens of relational frame theory. Even better, they then come up with some helpful suggestions about how to improve exercises such as the gratitude letter.
  • Russ Harris, Joseph Ciarrochi and Todd Kashdan suggest The ‘Seven Foundations of Wellbeing’ in the first chapter. This is an attempt to develop some basic building blocks from which interventions can be developed, it is the best model of the psychology of human flourishing I have seen.
  • Ian Stewart and Louise McHugh explore some impressive research into how humans develop qualities such as empathy and perspective taking and then offer an excellent process to use when working with clients to improve their social intelligence.
  • There are lots more clever, innovative and useful ideas in this book. I will leave you to discover them for yourself.

If you are a practitioner in either ACT/Contextual Behavioural Science or Positive Psychology then this book is a must read.

However, I do need to give fair warning that the book is aimed at people trained in psychology, so there is a fair amount of jargon, for example phrases like, ‘transformation of stimulus function’ and ‘deictic framing’ turn up regularly. I am not sure how accessible this book is for HR practitioners and leaders who don’t have a background in psychology.

This book explores the latest and best that science has to offer on the subject of supporting people to thrive. If you are willing to make sense of the jargon then you will find all manner of gems in this book.

In my opinion, this book is a small but important step forwards in the use of science to genuinely promote human flourishing. Fantastic!

(Full disclosure here: I count Joseph and Todd as friends. Joseph and I are writing a book together and New Harbinger gave me a free copy of the book. This was very cool as I would have bought it anyway! And…I think this is an important and wonderful book that makes me so proud to know Joseph and Todd.)

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