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A sketch of the wider picture
Positive psychology is a recent branch of psychology. It deals with positive human functioning along with a scientific understanding of it and effective interventions to build thriving in individuals, families, and communities. "Included is also to "find and nurture genius and talent", and "to make normal life more fulfilling", not simply to treat mental illness.
Interest has been good. For example, in 2006 a course at Harvard University entitled "Positive Psychology" became the most popular course that semester.
At the back of much of it are Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Erich Fromm and other humanists. Some of them developed theories and practices that involved human happiness. Theories of human flourishing developed by these humanistic psychologists have now found empirical support from studies by positive psychologists. Positive psychology has also moved ahead in a number of new directions.
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, APA. The term originates with Maslow, in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality. Maslow writes in his preface to the second edition:
I have decided to omit the last chapter of the first edition of this book, "Toward a Positive Psychology"; what was 98 percent true in 1954 is only two-thirds true today. A positive psychology is at least available today though not very widely. The humanistic psychologies, the new transcendent psychologies, the existential, the Rogerian, the experiential, the holistic, the value-seeking psychologies, are all thriving and available, at least in the United States, though unfortunately not yet in most departments of psychology. [Pusb xxviii]
Thus, since the 1950s many psychologists have been more focused on promoting mental health than merely treating illness. Seligman as an APA president, echoing Maslow on vital issues, urged psychologists to continue the work of nurturing talent and improving normal life.
Positive psychology has its roots in the humanistic psychology of the 1900s, with its focus on happiness and fulfilment.
Humanism is a life stance that focuses on human values and concerns. The term is used to mean several things. Many medieval Muslim thinkers pursued humanistic, rational and scientific discourses in their search for knowledge, meaning and values. Today, the terms humanist, humanism, and humanistic encompass literary culture and cultural activity in general. Humanism supports reasonable benevolence and justice. In traditional religious circles, humanism is not yet seen as conflicting with religious dogma. Contemporary Humanism involves a qualified optimism about the capacity of people, but not a belief that human nature is purely good or that all people can live up to Humanist ideals without help. Rather, it holds that living up to one's potential is hard work and requires the help of others. The ultimate goal is human flourishing; making life better, and promoting welfare for other sentient beings and the planet itself. The focus is on doing good and living well in the here and now, and leaving the world a better place.
Earlier influences on Positive psychology from Western philosophical and religious quarters include:
Socrates advocated self-knowledge as the path to happiness. Aristotle believed that happiness, or eudaimonia is formed by rational activity in accordance with virtue over a complete life. Epicureans believed in reaching happiness through enjoying well chosen, fair and fit pleasures. Stoics believed man can remain happy by being objective and reasonable. During the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment, individualism also came to be valued. Thomas Jefferson and other supporters of democracy believed that "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are inalienable rights. Romantics valued individual emotional expression and sought their emotional "true selves" free from bondages of social norms, and love and intimacy became motivations for people to get married as well.
Stands by Buddha deserve notion too, especially the structural Gentle Middle Way, and the freedom of thought based on rational investigations that he allows. Ancient Egypt too shows positive thinking, for example in maxims of King Amenemope. And ancient China's Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu has some brilliant ideas for Humanism too.
Positive psychology investigates
There are many issues.
Strengths and virtues
The research community developed the Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) handbook in seeking to identify and classify the positive psychological traits of humans. The CSV provides a theoretical framework to assist in understanding strengths and virtues and for developing practical applications for positive psychology. The manual identifies six classes of virtue (i.e., "core virtues"), and they are made up of twenty-four measurable "character strengths" in all. It is suggested that these six virtues are considered good by most cultures and throughout history and that they lead to happiness when practiced. The CSV organises these claimed excellences and strong sides as follows:
This list is somewhat naive, for it is flawed by a faith that makes too rigorous claims on behalf of the non-universal qualities in it. We also need to count with some relativity of such as "time and place and mode" for many of these qualities. For example, if 'courage' is to be good and works well, factors such as propritety and measure get involved too. "Not too little, not too much, in some fit place, at a proper time." If conditions and modes follow suit and many things go well - including strong enough acceptance and not rejection - 'courage' may elevate you. However, if some of these needed, quite corollary factors are lacking, there may be nothing you can channel your courage into, and worse, you may wreck yourself through it.
Thus there may be some "right" (good, decent, rewarding, etc.) way to express the presumedly good qualities, many wrong ways too.
The same line of arguments holds good with 'love' and 'kindness' too, to name a few more. You can be kind to a fault, and love leads most persons into troubles - as the Holmes and Rahe scale of stressors amply shows. Out of fourteen dominant stressors in an average American's life, entering an intimate relationship is involved in about ten of them. This reminds of Ole's great remark "A wife is a person who helps you through all the troubles you wouldn't have had if you hadn't got married." As statistics reveal, at the back of many of the most pressing problems in a life is one form of love or another. There are several forms of love, or nuances. Thus, simply labelling 'love' a virtue is not quite good enough. More is needed to make it serve you well enough, and fit outlets count too.
Also, virtues of peace and those of war are different. Qualities that are given a bad name in times of peace, come in handy in times of war and may lead to honour and rank, for example. Someone with a burning desire to slay - it is rather opposed to love and kindness - may also find rather "peaceful" work as a butcher. And these suggestions are to highlight there should be room for some relativity into the reckonings.
Hence, we need to be realistic when it comes to up upheld virtues and strengths too, so as not to be led astray by "singleminded opportunism in high places". It may serve you to be positive and optimistic, but not to forgo realism for it.
El: Seligman, Martin E. P. Ekte lykke: Den nye positive psykologien [Authentic Happiness]. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 2009.
Epp: Shane J. Lopez, ed. The Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology. 2 Vols. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.
Pps: Brudal, Lisbeth E. Positiv psykologi: empati, flyt, kvinne og mann, humor. (Positive Psychology: Empathy, Flow, Woman and Man, Humour) Bergen: Fagbokforlaget, 2006.
Pusb: Maslow, Abraham H. Motivation and Personality. 3rd ed. Rev by Cynthia McReynolds. Added material by Ruth Cox. New York: HarperCollins, 1987.
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