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Mapping the International and Measurement Landscapes of Positive Psychological Science (Commentary)

Stewart I. Donaldson, Claremont Graduate University, USA

Corresponding Author: Stewart I. Donaldson, Claremont Graduate University, USA,
Email: stewart.donaldson@cgu.edu


Introductory Statement: 

The following is a general review of several articles emanating from the Claremont Graduate University laboratory of Dr. Stewart Donaldson, each of which cites a primary conclusion from numerous studies on a few selected topics. These include the scientific basis of positive psychological research, lack of research inclusiveness for females and gender orientation, the developing international generalization of positive psychological research, use and limitation of few scales within positive psychology research, and a meta-analysis of positive psychology interventions delivered at work.

Mapping the International and Measurement Landscapes of Positive Psychological Science

As we prepared for the exciting 6th World Congress of Positive Psychology, it seemed to be a good time to reflect and celebrate what had been accomplished over the past two decades. This brief article will limit its focus to understanding and celebrating the most rigorous peer-reviewed scientific research, which I refer to as positive psychological science (Donaldson, Csiksentmihalyi, & Nakamura, forthcoming, 2020), that has been conducted since the positive psychology perspective was introduced in 1998. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the graduate students in my labs for joining me on this journey and spending countless hours finding, coding, and analyzing thousands of positive psychological science articles.

The systematic review and synthesis of peer-reviewed empirical research, the best of our science to date, is one of the most important methods for learning about what we know cumulatively about positive psychological science. Donaldson, Dollwet, and Rao (2015) illustrated the value of the systematic review of positive psychological science studies in their highly cited paper in the Journal of Positive Psychology titled “Happiness, Excellence, and Optimal Human Functioning Revisited: Examining the Peer-reviewed Literature linked to Positive Psychology. Analysis was conducted upon 1,336 peer-reviewed articles linked to positive psychology, with more than 750 of these articles demonstrating empirical tests positive psychology theories, principles, and interventions. The following conclusion was reached: In pursuit of understanding well-being, excellence, and optimal human functioning, positive psychological science is a growing and vibrant sub-area within the broader discipline of psychology, and is equally committed to using the same rigorous scientific methods. 

One of the important questions that emerged after this synthesis was how diverse and inclusive is positive psychological science? A new study was then launched that systematically reviewed 1,628 peer-review positive psychological science articles. A salient finding was that discussions of issues relevant to women and gender are relatively scarce, with empirical research based largely upon White samples. Furthermore, very little research was focused upon race and ethnicity or upon individuals at the intersections of gender, race, and ethnicity (Rao & Donaldson, 2015).  These findings stimulated more in depth analysis and discussion of diversity and inclusion issues in “Scientific Advances in Positive Psychology” (Warren & Donaldson, 2017), “Toward a Positive Psychology of Relationships” (Warren & Donaldson, 2018), and a systematic review of 859 peer-reviewed articles in Reinvigorating Research on Gender in the Workplace Using a Positive Work and Organizations Perspective” (Warren, Donaldson, Lee, & Donaldson, 2019).

International Landscape of Positive Psychological Science

Another important question that has been asked is in what parts of the world is the empirical research in our field being conducted? The students in my lab took on this new challenge and have provided us detailed answers to this important question. I hope you find these answers helpful for framing your own research. In this systematic review of the international landscape you will discover that positive psychological science has a large and growing global presence and visibility. No longer is it just a United States and Western phenomenon as much as a psychological science in general. Detailed analysis of the prevalence, characteristics, and influence of empirical research in positive psychology across the world reveals that it is time to celebrate the international nature of our science.

The International Landscape of Positive Psychology Research: A Systematic Review 

International Journal of Wellbeing, 8(1), 50-70. 

Heejin Kim · Kathryn Doiron · Meg A. Warren · Stewart I. Donaldson 

Claremont Graduate University

Full article available here: https://www.internationaljournalofwellbeing.org/index.php/ijow/article/view/651

Abstract: Since positive psychology originated in 1998 as an organized stream of

inquiry in the United States, it has inspired new theory and research on human flourishing across the world. The current systematic review presents an overview of (a) the prevalence of scientific research in positive psychology across five continents and 63 countries, (b) the characteristics of the research, including methodology and topics, and (c) the influence of positive psychology in expanding established lines of research in new ways. Through an analysis of 863 peer-reviewed positive psychology articles, this review attempts to map the international landscape of positive psychology research. Further, it responds to relevant critiques of the field, confirming some and dispelling others. Finally, recommendations are shared for future directions to build a more culturally responsive field of positive psychology that is committed to the advancement of flourishing and wellbeing in the global context.

The Scientific Backbone of Positive Psychological Science

Perhaps the harshest critiques of positive psychology have been wagered against its scientific foundation. Despite the rapid growth in research and scholarship, the perceptions of positive psychology as unscientific self-help, and popular press psychology have persisted over time.  This inspired the team to review systematically how constructs in positive psychology have been operationalized, measured, validated, cited, and used to build the science.

This systematic review of 972 peer-reviewed empirical articles suggests that, as a budding area of scholarship, positive psychology has made promising strides. The most fundamental positive constructs and the scales used to measure them seem to be well-established. There is evidence of high generativity in terms of the recent development of a range of constructs and measures, and prolific growth in their application (e.g., via adaptations of scales in new contexts). Interestingly, the most frequently measured and studied topics in positive psychology are not those of stereotypical happiness and positivity, but rather, topics such as meaning, purpose, character strengths, values, positive relationships, social support, gratitude, spirituality, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. While we found some reliability analyses and validations occurring within the field, the creation of new measures far outpaced the validation of existing measures. This, couple, with the fact that 78% of the studies used self-report measures, opens up positive psychology research to the threats of mono-method and self-report bias (see Donaldson & Grant-Vallone, 2002), and suggests a strong need for more validation studies in the future. 

Scaling the Heights of Positive Psychology: A Systematic Review of Measurement Scales 

Courtney E. Ackerman · Meg A. Warren · Stewart I. Donaldson 

Claremont Graduate University

International Journal of Wellbeing, 8(2), 1-21. 

Full article available here: 


Abstract: The volume of empirical research on positive psychology topics has grown substantially over the past two decades. This review examines how constructs in positive psychology have been operationalized, measured, validated, cited, and applied to build the science. Based on an archive of 972 empirical articles linked to positive psychology, this review found that 762 articles used at least one measurement scale; 312 measures were created or adapted. Findings reveal a wide range of scales being used to measure a variety of constructs, including scales on both life-enhancing and life-depleting constructs. Key characteristics such as journals, constructs, and scale development and validation information are discussed. There are some reliability analyses and validations occurring within the field. However, the creation of new measures far outpaces the validation of existing measures. Weaknesses such as multiple operationalizations may be rooted in inadequate discourse and synthesis. We call for further cross-pollination for a more scientifically robust scholarship in positive psychology.

Future Directions

We were thrilled by the reactions to our presentations on our latest synthesis and scientific measurement work at the Work Congress this year. We shared the results of a systematic review and meta-analysis of the most rigorous experimental studies to date on theory-based positive psychology interventions at work (Donaldson, Lee, & Donaldson, 2019ab).  We also shared the results of our new validation work on innovative measures of well-being and human flourishing. I will look forward to learning more about the psychological science being supported by this highly important division of IPPA in the year ahead. Until we meet in Vancouver in 2021…


Ackerman, C., Warren, M. A., & Donaldson, S. I. (2018). Scaling the heights of positive 

psychology: A systematic review of measurement scales. International Journal of Wellbeing, 8(2), 1-21.

Donaldson, S. I., Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Nakamura, J. (forthcoming, 2020).  Positive psychological science: Improving everyday life, health, schools, work, and society.  New York, NY: Routledge Academic.

Donaldson, S. I., Dollwet, M., and Rao, M. (2015). Happiness, excellence, and optimal human functioning revisited: Examining the peer-reviewed literature linked to positive psychology. Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(6), 1–11. (This article with former students already has more than 130 citations)

Donaldson, S. I., & Grant-Vallone, E. J. (2002). Understanding self-report bias in

organizational behavior research.  Journal of Business and Psychology, 17(2), 245-


Donaldson, S. I., Lee, J. Y, & Donaldson, S. I. (2019a).  The effectiveness of positive

psychology interventions in the workplace: A theory-driven evaluation perspective.  In S. Rothman and L. E. van Zyl & I. Rothman (Eds.), Theoretical approaches to multi-cultural positive psychology interventions. New York: Springer.

Donaldson, S. I., Lee, J. Y., & Donaldson, S. I. (2019b).  Evaluating positive psychology interventions at work: A systematic review and meta-analysis.  International Journal of 

            Applied Positive Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41042-019-00021-8

Kim, H., Doiron, K, Warren, M. A., & Donaldson, S. I. (2018). The international landscape of positive psychology research: A systematic review. International Journal of Well-Being, 8(1), 50-70.

Rao, M., and Donaldson, S. I. (2015). Expanding opportunities for diverse populations in positive psychology: An examination of gender, race, and ethnicity. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie, 56(3), 271–282. (Special issue on Positive Psychology)

Warren, M. A., & Donaldson, S. I., (2017). Scientific advances in positive psychology. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.

Warren, M. A., & Donaldson, S.  I. (2018).  Toward a positive psychology of relationships: New directions in theory and research.  Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.

Warren, M. A., Donaldson, S. I., Lee, J. Y., & Donaldson, S. I. (2019). Reinvigorating research

on gender in the workplace using a positive work and organizations perspective. International Management Reviews.  https://doi.org/10.1111/ijmr.12206

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