Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
This is an impressive book for a number of reasons. First, Fredrickson cites 228 footnotes in 192 pages of text--more than one per page. These are not lightweight sources. Most are from scholarly journals such as the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the Journal of Marriage and Family, Cognition and Emotion, or American Psychologist---you get the picture.
A second reason why this is an impressive book has to do with the author's credentials. Fredrickson is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned her undergraduate degree from Carleton College and her Ph.D. from Stanford University. She is a leading scholar within social psychology, affective science, and positive psychology and has received more than 10 consecutive years of research funding from the National Institute of Mental Health. Her research and teaching have been recognized with numerous honors, including, in 2000, the American Psychological Association's Templeton Prize in Positive Psychology, and in 2008, the Society for Experimental Social Psychology's Career Trajectory Award. It is a very impressive vita and adds tremendous credibility to her ideas.
The third reason why this is an impressive book is the fact that you really get a close-up and personal look at the kind of research she and her colleagues do. If you enjoy reading books that are deeply entrenched in significant, worthwhile, and results-oriented research, this is an excellent one. Of course, when your book depends on research from your own lab, this would be a natural and expected outcome.
The fourth reason why this is an impressive book is Fredrickson's writing. She uses the language effectively, and writing for the general public, it is accessible and enjoyable. I will cite just one sentence (one that I just love!) to give you an example: "Through the mere act of ranking others [she is talking here about making social comparisons], greed slithers in to create a false social topography that utterly denies the inherent sameness and oneness across all people" (p. 140). Not just any author can put words together so effectively.
The fifth reason why I found this book impressive is her list of "Recommended Readings." Although there are only thirteen books listed, the choices are truly outstanding. I wish the list had been much longer. To suggest that readers read Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (NY: Metropolitan Books, 2009) is an excellent one. I loved Ehrenreich's book, and you can read my review of it at Amazon.com.
There is a sixth reason I liked this book, too. It is the practical nature of her work. Many of the ideas Fredrickson writes about are subjective--often ephemeral--in nature. But she concretizes them for readers by providing specific, well-described, tangible methods to experience them, get in touch with them, analyze them, and evaluate them. At times, this book almost becomes as much a workbook as an idea book. Also, the numerous examples she uses throughout the book have the same effect; they bring her ideas down to reality and allow readers to relate directly to them.
A seventh reason why I liked this book may not relate at all to many who read this review. I am always on the lookout for information I can use (after gettsing permission, of course) in my college textbook, Communicating Effectively, 10e (McGraw-Hill, 2012). Let me offer you two examples of material I located in Fredrickson's book. The first has to do with the relationship of love to nonverbal communication:
"Love . . . is characterized by four distinct nonverbal cues. The first cue, not surprisingly, is how often you and the other person each smile at each other, in the genuine, eye-crinkling mannter. A second cue is the frequency with which you each use open and friendly hand gestures to refer to each other, like your outstretched palm. . . . A third cue is how often you each lean in toward each other, literally bringing your hearts closer together. The fourth cue is how often you each nod your head, a sign that you affirm and accept each other" (p. 69).
The second example of material I located in Fredrickson's book that I may use in the new edition of my college textbook is a description of what it means to be wise. Now I cannot write out the entire description because it is fairly lengthy for this review, but here are the first two sentences: "Imagine having at your fingertips all the knowledge and experience to allow you to properly discern which of the many paths ahead of you to take. Imagine how it would feel to so readily grasp just the right thing to do and the right way to do it" (p. 81). If you think of beginning college students reading this, you can see its relevancy.
There are other reasons why I liked this book, but you get the point. I have not read her previous book, Positivity (Three Rivers Press, 2009), but based on what I found here--the great treasure I discovered--I will look forward to reading it.