Positive candle psychology as taught by The Sims: Can video games teach us happiness and wellbeing?

So I recently finished a book about positive psychology written by Martin Seligman, entitled “Flourish”.

Seligman espouses that the crucial elements for increased well-being in one’s life are:

Positive emotion,



Positive accomplishment, and

Good relationships https://ateacherislikeacandle.wordpress.com/2020/07/15/the-candles-you-surround-yourself-with/

Seems like sound advice.

When a child in your class is sad or you yourself get down in the dumps, perhaps it’s because of some neglected friendships with people who are important to you, or you don’t have enough in your life that truly engages you, or makes you feel like you’re lighting the way for others.

Maybe your inner monologue needs an upheaval. (For more on this, read my post on self-talk here)

But, you see, when I read these life elements, I also couldn’t help but think of a computer game that I was addicted to in my teenage years (and perhaps later…), “The Sims”.

The Sims freeplay Image supplied by author of site

For those of you who may not have heard of this game before, it is basically a life simulation game that gives you the power to create and control people.

You design your own little town full of little people who you dress, accommodate, buy pets for, and entertain.

There is a certain allure in its escapism; the opportunity it provides to freely be the architect of  lives, as similar or different to your own as you so choose.

As the characteristics and destiny of your characters, as well as the extent to which you interact with other players of the game, is completely in your control, the game is a distinct breath of fresh air in comparison to the sexism and bullying that has become a feature of far too many of the video games available today.


I’m a sim, you’re a sim by Nina Helmer on Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Now the part of this game that Seligman’s well-being principles remind me of is how you make your Sims happy.

In order for them to be “in the green”; performing well at work, making friends with ease, and effectively being a popular and contributory citizen of your town, there are certain aspects of their life that must be in balance.

In order to attain the positive emotion that is first on Seligman’s list, you have to balance your Sims’ time each day between

  1. Hobbies- gardening, cooking, martial arts and swimming, just to name a few.
  2. Their job- candle, real estate agent, musician, Scientist, chef, athlete etc. For kids, this would be their career aspirations and plans for the future. 
  3. Fun, such as reading, playing with a pet, and dancing, as well as game challenges/ missions such as searching for clues to unlock a castle. And, lastly,
  4. Social activities- calling your Grandma, emailing an acquaintance, even dating, “woohoo”ing, getting engaged and getting married.

Of course, you need to also feed them, bathe them, poop them and allow them to sleep (or give them lots of coffee) but let’s not get into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs while we’re so focused on Seligman and flourishing.

Am I the only one who sees the remarkable parallels? Who said that pop culture and games never taught us anything worth learning!?


Ladley, P. (2015). games-based-learning and g-Learning blog. Games-based-learning.com. Retrieved 19 October 2015, from http://www.games-based-learning.com

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  1. I remember playing the Sims! A great series of games, and one that I agree we could afford to learn from. The games always acknowledged the multifaceted nature of wellbeing; more than just about “having time off”, humans (or in this case, Sims) need balance. If we aren’t working towards a goal, it’s easy for us to feel bored and dissatisfied. And in reverse, if all we ever do is work towards a goal, we can burn out pretty badly.

    I would be interested to see how The Sims could be used in the classroom. I think there’s an important lesson to learn about the importance of balance in life, and I think it could be valuable to give students an object lesson in achieving that balance. The entertainingly over-dramatic ways that Sims break down when their needs aren’t being met would definitely serve to drive the point home – I think it’d be a lesson the kids wouldn’t forget!


  2. I was *obsessed* with The Sims when they first came out! Mind you, I was also equally enamoured by the SimCity games which allowed me to create my own cities. It definitely has quite a bit of value as it does show teens (or anyone really!) the complexity of life and of being an adult. Subconscious automated responses and actions – even something simple such as remembering to eat and go to the bathroom are things most people take forgranted day to day – and yet people still forget to do them from time to time. This is all on top of maintaining a healthy “life” which should equate to 8hrs sleep/rest – leisure and work. A few rounds of this game though is enough to get the point across as I found myself way too immersed in a fictional life that I wish I had. That’s when I realised that instead of playing someone else’s life well I really should be concentrating on my own and unplugged!

    On a side note – I would LOVE to see more games based on tackling climate change, current/future world problems and local community issues – I have been searching high and low for these. There are some available, however they are not easily available in app form for mobile users. The closest I have seen is a game called “Homeless” which is a simulation of how challenging it can be for someone who is homeless to get themselves back up to be a proud contributing member of society without first dying in the first 30 days from starvation and hypothermia! I also found something from the UN called “The Refugee” where it follows the stories of three characters and you decided what they would do at certain circumstances. A great way to increase awareness of global social issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Olivercmj, thank you for visiting and for commenting. Pleased to hear that I’m not alone on the Sims obsession front!
      It’s an interesting conundrum that we want there to be games that help teach values, but we’re often unwilling to let kids play enough in order to learn how to design such games. Particularly as they’re the ones with the knowledge of how to make said games engaging and motivating for future players. I’ll have to look into those ones you mentioned, it sounds like they have so much teaching potential.


  3. It’s interesting to reflect on Seligman’s four areas;

    Positive emotion,
    Positive accomplishment, and
    Good relationships,

    And think about the way all five potentially have a place in the classroom – and the potential impact on students.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Sims is a great analogy! Without positive emotions/ experiences and good relationships, it would be very difficult for students to feel engaged and achieve.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Julia! Engagement is the key to achievement, as you’ve pointed out. I love that on the Sims you only have to read a novel for a short amount of time to have your “fun” gauge in the green. Or cuddle a cat to get your “social” full. I can relate to that!


  5. I love Seligman’s book Flourish. However I feel cheated to have never met The Sims having been born about 30 years too early! What joy to manage a whole group of virtual people and be the architect of their flourishing development.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Freckle, it is never too late to acquaint yourselves with the Sims! It’s even available as an app for your smartphone (the Sims free play). I warn you though- it is addictive! It speaks to the control freak in me… ☺️


  6. This is a great post! I am a huge Positive Psychology fan and use it as the basis for my pastoral care program for my Year 10 cohort. I love the “Sims” analogy. It gives perspective and connection. Well done – I may have done a sneaky reblog!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Wow, my first reblog! A wonderful compliment, thank you! Are you a Sims fan yourself? I can envisage pastoral care classes of kids around devices creating the perfect home environments for their Sims 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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