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Positive psychology is the scientific study of human happiness. The history of psychology as a science shows that the field has been primarily dedicated to addressing mental illness rather than mental wellness. Its research programs and application models have dealt mainly with how people are wrong rather than how they are right. The need to correct this bias was anticipated in psychological writings as early as those of the American psychologist and philosopher William James. In his 1902 book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, James argues that happiness is a chief concern of human life and those who pursue it should be regarded as "healthy-minded." Several humanistic psychologists—such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Erich Fromm—developed successful theories and practices that involved human happiness despite there being a lack of solid empirical evidence behind their work. However, it is the pioneering research of Martin Seligman, Ed Diener, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Christopher Peterson, and many others that promises to put the study of human happiness onto a firm scientific foundation and add some positivity to the predominantly negative discipline of psychology.

Research

Positive psychology can be delineating into three overlapping areas of research:

  1. 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.).
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

Application

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 so-called "Manual of the Sanities" identifies six classes of virtue (i.e. "core virtues") made up of twenty-four measurable character strengths.[1] The organization of these virtues and strengths is as follows:

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective
  2. Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality
  3. Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
  4. Justice: citizenship, fairness, leadership
  5. Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, humility and modesty, prudence, self-regulation
  6. 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 happiness. Therapists, counselors, coaches, and various other psychological professional 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.

See also

Endnotes

  1. There is a suggestion in the introductory portion of the CSV that these six virtues are so consistently identifiable across cultures and throughout history that they may, in theory, be universal in nature. Notwithstanding numerous cautions and caveats, this suggestion of universality hints that in addition to trying to broaden the scope psychological research to include mental wellness, the leaders of the positive psychology movement are challenging moral relativism and suggesting that virtue has both a biological and a cultural basis. This suggestion and others like it show some alignment between positive psychology and evolutionary psychology.

References & Bibliography

Key texts

Books

  • Argyle, Michael (2001). The Psychology of Happiness. Routledge.
  • Carr, A (2003). Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness and Human Strengths. Routledge. ISBN:1583919910
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2006). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. HarperCollins Publishers.
  • Gilbert, Daniel (2006). Stumbling on Happiness. Knopf.
  • Haidt, Jonathan (2005). The Happiness Hypothesis. Basic Books.
  • Kahneman, Daniel, Diener, Ed, Schwarz, Norbert (2003). Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology. Russell Sage Foundation Publications.
  • Linley, P.A. & Joseph, S (2004) (Eds). Positive Psychology in Practise. New Jersey. Wiley.
  • McMahon, Darrin M. (2006). Happiness: A History. Atlantic Monthly Press.
  • Peterson, C. and Seligman, Martin (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press.
  • Seligman, Martin (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. Free Press.

Papers

  • Fredrickson B.L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist 56, 218-226).
  • Seligman, M.E.P., Steen, T. Park, N. & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress. Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.

Additional material

Books

  • Boniwell, I. (2008).Positive Psychology in a Nutshell: A Balanced Introduction to the Science of Optimal Functioning. PWBC. ISBN 0954838785
  • Gillham, J.E. (Ed). (2000). The Science of Optimism and Hope: Research Essays in Honor of Martin E. P. Seligman. Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.
  • Peterson, Christopher & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues A Handbook and Classification. Washington, D.C.: APA Press and Oxford University Press.
  • Seligman, M.E.P. (1998). Learned Optimism. New York: Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster). ISBN 0671019112
  • Seligman, M.E.P., Reivich, K., Jaycox, L., & Gillham, J. (1996). The Optimistic Child. New York: Harper Collins.
  • Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.

Papers

  • Christopher, J.C., Campbell,R.L. (2008). An Interactivist-Hermeneutic Metatheory for Positive Psychology.Theory & Psychology, Vol. 18, No. 5, 675-697.

DOI: 10.1177/0959354308093401

  • Duckworth, A.L. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2006). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological Science, 16(12), 939-944.
  • Duckworth, A.L. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2006). Self-discipline gives girls the edge: Gender in self-discipline, grades, and achievement test scores. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 198-208.
  • Peterson, C., Park, N. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2006). Greater strengths of character and recovery from illness. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(1), 17-26.
  • Seligman, M.E.P., Parks, A.C. & Steen, T. (2006). A balanced psychology and a full life. In F. Huppert, B. Keverne & N. Baylis, (Eds.), The science of well-being (pp. 275-283), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Dahlsgaard, K., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2005). Shared virtue: The convergence of valued human strengths across culture and history. Review of General Psychology, 9, 203-213.
  • Duckworth, A.L., Steen, T.A., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2005). Positive psychology in clinical practice. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 629-651.
  • Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life, Journal of Happiness Studies, 6(1), 25 – 41.
  • Reivich, K.J., Gillham, J.E., Chaplin, T. M., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2005). From helplessness to optimism: The role of resilience in treating and preventing depression in youth. In S. Goldstein & R.B. Brooks (Eds.) Handbook of Resilience in Children. (pp. 223-237). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
  • Seligman, M. E. P., Berkowitz, M. W., Catalano, R. F., Damon, W., Eccles, J.S., Gillham, J. E., Moore, K. A., Nicholson, H. J., Park, N., Penn, D. L., Peterson, C., Shih, M., Steen, T. A., Sternberg, R. J., Tierney, J. P., Weissberg, R. P., & Zaff, J. F. (2005). The positive perspective on youth development. In D. L. Evans, E. Foa, R. Gur, H. Hendrin, C. O'Brien, M. E. P. Seligman, & B. T. Walsh (Eds), Treating and preventing adolescent mental health disorders: What we know and what we don’t know (pp. 499-529). New York: Oxford University Press, The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, and The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Seligman, M. E. P. & Steen, T. (submitted) Making people happier: A randomized controlled study of exercises that build positive emotion, engagement, and meaning. American Psychologist.
  • Seligman, M. E P, Steen, T., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.
  • Diener, E. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Beyond Money: Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5(1), 1-31.
  • Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Reply: Strengths of character and well-being: A closer look at hope and modesty. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology. 23(5), 628-634
  • Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 603-619.
  • Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Can happiness be taught? Daedalus.
  • Seligman, M. E. P., Parks, A., & Steen, T. (2004). A balanced psychology and a full life. The Royal Society, Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, 359, 1379-1381.
  • Seligman, M.E P, Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2004). The Values In Action (VIA) classification of character strengths. Ricerche di Psicologia. Special Positive Psychology, 27(1), 63-78.
  • Dahlsgaard, K., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2005). Shared virtue: The convergence of valued human strengths across culture and history. Review of General Psychology, 9, 203-213.
  • Isaacowitz, D.M., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2003). Cognitive styles and psychological well-being in adulthood and old age. In M. Bornstein, L. Davidson, C.L.M. Keyes, K. Moore & The Center for Child Well-Being (Eds.), Well-Being: Positive development across the lifespan. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Isaacowitz, D.M., Vaillant, G.E., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2003). Strengths and satisfaction across the adult lifespan. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 57(2), 181-201.
  • Peterson, C., Lee, F., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2003). Assessment of optimism and hope. In R. Fernández Ballesteros (Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychological assessment. (pp. 646-649). London: Sage Publications.
  • Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (in press). Character strengths before and after 9/11. Psychological Science.
  • Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2003). Positive organizational studies: Thirteen lessons from positive psychology. In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton, & R.E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
  • Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2003). The Values in Action (VIA) classification of strengths. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Seligman, M.E.P. (2003). Positive Psychology: Fundamental Assumptions. Psychologist, 126-127.
  • Seligman, M.E.P. (2003). The past and future of positive psychology. In C.L.M. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well-lived (pp. xi - xx). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Seligman, M.E.P. & Pawelski, J.O. (2003). Positive Psychology: FAQs. Psychological Inquiry, 159-163.
  • Seligman, M.E.P., & Peterson, C. (2003). Positive clinical psychology. In L.G. Aspinwall & U.M. Staudinger (Eds.). A psychology of human strengths: Fundamental questions and future directions for a positive psychology. (pp. 305-317) Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Shatte, A.J., Seligman, M.E.P., Gillham, J.E., & Reivich, K. (2003). The role of positive psychology in child, adolescent, and family development. In Lerner, R.E., Jacobs, F., & Wertlieb, D. (Eds.). Handbook of applied developmental science: promoting positive child, adolescent, and family development through research, policies, and programs. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Diener, E., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13 (1), 81-84.
  • Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Positive psychology, positive prevention, and positive therapy. In C. R. Snyder & S.J. Lopez (Eds.), The handbook of positive psychology (pp. 3-12). New York: Oxford Press.


  • Seligman, M.E.P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14.
  • Seligman, M.E.P. (2000). The positive perspective. The Gallup Review, 3 (1), 2-7).
  • Shatte, A.J., Reivich, K., Seligman, M.E.P. (2000). Promoting human strengths and corporate competencies. Psychologist, 4(2), 183-196.
  • Gillham, J.E. & Seligman, M.E.P. (1999). Footsteps on the road to positive psychology. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 37, S163-S173.

See also

External links


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