Positive psychology

Positive psychology

Positive psychology is a recent branch of psychology that "studies the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive." Positive psychologists seek "to find and nurture genius and talent," and "to make normal life more fullfilling," not to cure mental illness. Martin Seligman is considered to be "the father of positive psychology." [Goldberg, Carey. "Harvard's crowded course to happiness." The Boston Globe. http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/03/10/harvards_crowded_course_to_happiness/] cite book|last=Seligman|first=Martin E.P.|title=Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment.|publisher=Simon and Schuster|location=New York|date=2002|pages=275|isbn=0-7432-2297-0]

Several humanistic psychologists—such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Erich Fromm—developed successful theories and practices that involved human happiness. Recently the theories of human flourishing developed by these humanistic psychologists have found empirical support from studies by humanistic and positive psychologists, especially in the area of self-determination theory. [cite journal|last=Patterson|first=T.G.|coauthors=Joseph, S.|date=2007|title=Person-centered personality theory: Support from self-determination theory and positive psychology|journal=Journal of Humanistic Psychology|volume=47|issue=1|pages=117–139|doi=10.1177/0022167806293008] Current empirical researchers in this sub-field include Martin Seligman,cite book|last=Compton|first=William C,|title=An Introduction to Positive Psychology|publisher=Wadsworth Publishing|date=2005|pages=1-22|chapter=1|isbn=0-534-64453-8] Ed Diener, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,, C. R. Snyder, Christopher Peterson, Barbara Fredrickson, Donald Clifton, Albert Bandura, Shelley Taylor, Charles S. Carver, Michael F. Scheier, Daniel Gilbert, and Jonathan Haidt.


Positive psychology began as a new area of psychology in 1998 when Martin Seligman chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association, [http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/images/TimeMagazine/Time-Happiness.pdf Time Magazine's cover story in the special issue on "The Science of Happiness," 2005] ] though the term originates with Maslow, in his 1954 book "Motivation and Personality". [The last chapter is entitled “Toward a Positive Psychology”.] Seligman pointed out how the last fifty years of psychology has been primarily dedicated to addressing mental illness rather than mental "wellness," echoing Maslow’s comments. [The science of psychology has been far more successful on the negative than on the positive side. It has revealed to us much about man’s shortcomings, his illness, his sins, but little about his potentialities, his virtues, his achievable aspirations, or his full psychological height. It is as if psychology has voluntarily restricted itself to only half its rightful jurisdiction, than the darker, meaner half. (Maslow, Motivation and Psychology, p. 354).] He urged psychologists to continue the earlier missions of psychology of nurturing talent and improving normal life.

Historical roots

Judaism promotes a divine command theory of happiness: happiness and rewards follow from following the commands of the divine.

The ancient Greeks had many schools of thought. Socrates advocated self-knowledge as the path to happiness. Plato's allegory of the cave influenced western thinkers who believe that happiness is found by finding deeper meaning. Aristotle believed that happiness, or eudaimonia is constituted by rational activity in accordance with virtue over a complete life. The Epicureans believed in reaching happiness through the enjoyment of simple pleasures. The Stoics believed they could remain happy by being objective and reasonable.

Christianity continued to follow the divine command theory of happiness. In the Middle Ages, Christianity taught that true happiness would not be found until the afterlife. The seven deadly sins are about earthly self-indulgence and narcissism. On the other hand, the Four Cardinal Virtues and Three Theological Virtues were supposed to keep one from sin.

During the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment, individualism came to be valued. Simultaneously, creative individuals gained prestige, as they were now considered to be artists, not just craftsmen. Utilitarian philosophers such as John Stuart Mill believed that moral actions are those actions that maximize happiness for the most number of people. Thus, an empirical science of happiness should be used to determine which actions are moral. Thomas Jefferson and other proponents of democracy believed that "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are inalienable rights, and that it justifies the overthrow of the government.

The Romantics valued individual emotional expression and sought their emotional "true selves," which were unhindered by social norms. At the same time, love and intimacy became the main motivations for people to get married.

In the twentieth century, psychologists began studying happiness. Freud's suggested that one's unconscious motivations could help make one happy or unhappy. In 1998, Martin Seligman made positive psychology the theme of his term as president of the American Psychological Association. The first positive psychology summit took place the next year. The First International Conference on Positive Psychology took place in 2002.


General overview

Some researchers in this field posit that positive psychology can be delineated into three overlapping areas of research:

# Research into the Pleasant Life or the "life of enjoyment" examines how people optimally experience, forecast, and savor the positive feelings and emotions that are part of normal and healthy living (e.g. relationships, hobbies, interests, entertainment, etc.).
# The study of the Good Life or the "life of engagement" investigates the beneficial affects of immersion, absorption, and flow that individuals feel when optimally engaged with their primary activities. These states are experienced when there is a positive match between a person's strength and the task they are doing, i.e. when they feel confident that they can accomplish the tasks they face.
# Inquiry into the Meaningful Life or "life of affiliation" questions how individuals derive a positive sense of well-being, belonging, meaning, and purpose from being part of and contributing back to something larger and more permanent than themselves (e.g. nature, social groups, organizations, movements, traditions, belief systems).

The undo effect

Barbara Fredrickson et al. hypothesize that positive emotions undo the cardiovascular effects of negative emotions. When people experience stress, they show increased heart rate, higher blood sugar, immune suppression, and other adaptations optimized for immediate action. If individuals do not regulate these changes once the stress is past, they can lead to illness, coronary heart disease, and heightened mortality. Both lab research and survey research indicate that positive emotions help people who were previously under stress relax back to their physiological baseline. [ [http://www.unc.edu/peplab/publications/undo_2000.pdf Fredrickson, B. L., Mancuso, R. A., Branigan, C., & Tugade, M. M. (2000). The undoing effect of positive emotions. Motivation and Emotion. 24, 237-258.] ]


After several years of researching disgust, University of Virginia professor Jonathan Haidt and others studied its opposite, and the term "elevation" was coined. Elevation is a moral emotion and is pleasant. It involves a desire to act morally and do "good"; as an emotion it has a basis in biology, and can sometimes be characterized by a feeling of expansion in the chest or a tingling feeling on the skin.


The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions suggests that positive emotions (e.g. happiness, interest, anticipation)cite book|last=Compton|first=William C,|title=An Introduction to Positive Psychology|publisher=Wadsworth Publishing|date=2005|pages=23-40|chapter=2|isbn=0-534-64453-8] broaden one's awareness and encourage novel, varied, and exploratory thoughts and actions. Over time, this broadened behavioral repertoire builds skills and resources. For example, curiosity about a landscape becomes valuable navigational knowledge; pleasant interactions with a stranger become a supportive friendship; aimless physical play becomes exercise and physical excellence.

This is in contrast to negative emotions, which prompt narrow survival-oriented behaviors. For example, the negative emotion of anxiety leads to the specific fight-or-flight response for immediate survival.

Other findings

* “A systematic study of 22 people who won major lotteries found that they reverted to their baseline level of happiness over time, winding up no happier than 22 matched controls” (p. 48)
* “Within a few years, paraplegics wind up only slightly less happy on average than individuals who are not paralyzed” (p. 48)
* “ [83 percent] of Americans report positive life satisfaction” (p. 50)
* “In wealthier nations ... increases in wealth have negligible effects on personal happiness” (p. 54)
* “Unlike money, which has at most a small effect, marriage is robustly related to happiness.... In my opinion, the jury is still out on what causes the proven fact that married people are happier than unmarried people.” (pp. 55-56)


The development of the Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) handbook represents the first attempt on the part of the research community to identify and classify the positive psychological traits of human beings. Much like the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM) of general psychology, the CSV provides a theoretical framework to assist in developing practical applications for positive psychology. This manual identifies six classes of virtue (i.e. "core virtues"), made up of twenty-four measurable character strengths.cite book
coauthors=Seligman, Martin
title=Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification.
publisher=Oxford University Press

The introduction of CSV suggests that these six virtues are considered good by the vast majority of cultures and throughout history and that these traits lead to increased happiness when practiced. Notwithstanding numerous cautions and caveats, this suggestion of universality hints that in addition to trying to broaden the scope of psychological research to include mental wellness, the leaders of the positive psychology movement are challenging moral relativism and suggesting that virtue has a biological basis.

The organization of these virtues and strengths is as follows:

# Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective
# Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality
# Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
# Justice: citizenship, fairness, leadership
# Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, humility, prudence, self control
# Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality

Practical applications of positive psychology include helping individuals and organizations correctly identify their strengths and use them to increase and sustain their respective levels of well-being. Therapists, counselors, coaches, and various other psychological professionals can use the new methods and techniques to build and broaden the lives of individuals who are not necessarily suffering from mental illness or disorder.

ee also

* Affective forecasting
* Happiness
* Emotional intelligence
* Eudaimonia
* Humanistic psychology
* Positivity effect
* Psychological resilience
* Needs & Motives Henry Murray
* Theory of humor



*Argyle, Michael (2001). "The Psychology of Happiness". Routledge.
*Benard, Bonnie (2004) Resiliency: What We Have Learned San Francisco, WestEd
*Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience". HarperCollins Publishers.
*Haidt, Jonathan (2005). "The Happiness Hypothesis". Basic Books.
*Haidt, J. (2003). [http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/articles/haidt.elevation-and-positive-psychology.manuscript.html Elevation and the positive psychology of morality] . In C. L. M. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.) Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well-lived. Washington DC: American Psychological Association. (pp. 275-289).
*Kahneman, Daniel, Diener, Ed, Schwarz, Norbert (2003). "Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology". Russell Sage Foundation Publications.
*Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.) Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well-lived. Washington DC: American Psychological Association. (pp. 275-289).
*McMahon, Darrin M. (2006). "Happiness: A History". Atlantic Monthly Press.
*Robbins, B.D (2008). [http://mythosandlogos.com/Goodlife.pdf What is the good life? Positive psychology and the renaissance of humanistic psychology] . "The Humanistic Psychologist, 36"(2), 96-112.
*Seligman, Martin (1990). "Learned Optimism: How to change your mind and your life". Free Press.
*Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). "Can Happiness be Taught?". Daedalus journal, Spring 2004.
*Snyder, C.R., and Lopez, Shane J. (2001) "Handbook of Positive Psychology." Oxford University Press.

External links

* [http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k14790&pageid=icb.page69189 Positive Psychology Lectures at Harvard] - taught by Tal Ben-Shahar
* [http://www.slate.com/id/2072079/entry/2072402 Debating Human Happiness] - a conversation between Martin Seligman, Robert Wright, and Steven Pinker
* [http://www.onpointradio.org/shows/2007/01/20070108_a_main.asp On Point] - Hour-long discussion about positive psychology and college courses that teach it
* [http://newyorkmetro.com/news/features/17573/index.html Some Dark Thoughts On Happiness] - investigating Positive Psychology's supporters and antagonists
* [http://www.newyorker.com/critics/content/articles/060227crbo_books Pursuing Happiness] - New Yorker book review (2006) that critically discusses the psychological study of happiness
* [http://people.virginia.edu/~jdh6n/publications.html Publications on elevation and other subjects within positive psychology]
* [http://www.centreforconfidence.co.uk/pp/ Centre for Confidence] Resources for positive psychology including information on Professor Carol Dweck's work on 'mindsets'

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