Positive Psychology: Overview
Positive Psychology (PP) is the scientific study of optimal human functioning . The major objective is to understand what ‘good’ is, how it can be achieved or nurtured and how individuals may cope with challenges that risk their flourishing. Many psychologists argue that while some form of happiness is possible for all people, it will differ in degree. There is also a large body of evidence that indicates that, while there may be many routes to happiness and success in life , personal growth and development through positive psychological functioning should be one common goal.
PP has been defined as “the scientific study of what makes life worth living” (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000, p. 3 ), as “promoting the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) , as a science of human strengths with a focus on individuals’ talents and virtues (Biswas-Diener & Diener , 2008 ) or as a field whose mission is to engineer the best possible quality of life for all human beings (Huppert, 2009).
Positive psychology is a multidisciplinary field. The main disciplines are positive clinical psychology , positive developmental psychology , positive educational psychology and positive social psychology . These four areas are united by their common focus on maximizing human flourishing or well-being . Other disciplines that contribute to PP are positive management , positive organizational psychology , positive business psychology and positive economics .
Positive psychology has influenced the treatment of psychiatric disorders in several ways. Based on the belief that human well-being is composed of happiness, engagement, meaning and accomplishment (HELP theory) , many clinicians try to help their clients to adapt to their disorder, eliminate negative thoughts and feelings, increase positive emotions through pleasant activities or experiences, discover meaningful aspects of life or have a sense of accomplishment by finding productive ways to channel their energies.
Positive psychology also has influenced people ‘s understanding of what it means to lead healthy lives. Generally , this influence is manifested in the increasing wisdom that ‘less is more’ and that we should seek to lead a meaningful life, rather than a happy one. This often means shifting away from materialistic goals and embracing more spiritual goals .
Although PP has only existed as an academic discipline for little over a decade, it has had many theoretical and practical applications in diverse areas such as mental health , education, business, community psychology and international development .
علم النفس الإيجابي: نموذج PERMA للرفاهية
علم النفس الإيجابي: نموذج PERMA
أحد النماذج الأكثر تأثيرًا في أبحاث PP المعاصرة هو نموذج Martin Seligman’s PERMA الموضح في كتابه Authentic Happiness (2002). يعرّف سيليجمان الرفاهية بأنها تتكون من ثلاثة عناصر ، وهي المشاعر الإيجابية ، والمشاركة والعلاقات. النجاح الوظيفي هو عنصر رابع مهم للرفاهية ، والذي يرتبط بشكل غير مباشر بالمكونات الثلاثة الأخرى.
يقترح نموذج PERMA أنه يمكن تصنيف تدخلات وأبحاث علم النفس الإيجابي إلى أربع فئات: تلك التي تستهدف عنصرًا أو أكثر من مكونات الرفاهية ، وتلك التي تسعى إلى زيادة المشاعر الإيجابية أو الحفاظ عليها ، وتلك التي تركز على بناء نقاط القوة والفضائل الشخصية وتلك التي تهدف إلى تعزيز العلاقات الإيجابية ، مما يؤدي إلى زيادة الدعم الاجتماعي.
تم انتقاد نموذج سيليجمان لكونه ضيقًا للغاية لأنه يستبعد مفاهيم مثل الحكمة والأخلاق والإبداع ، والتي تعتبر جميعها بنيات مهمة في PP. يُقال أيضًا أن نموذج PERMA فشل في التقاط الترابط بين مكوناته (لا سيما بين المشاعر الممتعة والمشاركة والعلاقات). من المهم أيضًا ملاحظة أن نموذج PERMA يفترض وجود علاقات ارتباطية وليست سببية بين المكونات المختلفة للرفاهية. هذا يعني أنهم جميعًا مترابطون ولكنهم لا يحددون بعضهم البعض.
نموذج التآزر في المملكة المتحدة للرفاهية
من النماذج المؤثرة في أبحاث PP البريطانية نموذج التآزر للرفاهية المبين في كتاب مارتن سيليجمان The Science of Well-Being (2011). يتبنى هذا النموذج منظورًا أكثر شمولاً من PERMA من خلال تضمين الحكمة والأخلاق والإبداع كمكونات مهمة للازدهار النفسي. بينما يرتبط نموذج التآزر في المملكة المتحدة ارتباطًا وثيقًا بنموذج Seligman’s PERMA ، فإنه يضيف أيضًا مكونًا سادسًا: الروحانية أو التدين. لذلك يتكون نموذج التآزر في المملكة المتحدة للرفاهية من خمسة عناصر: المشاعر الإيجابية ، والمشاركة ، والعلاقة ، والقوى الشخصية ، والروحانية.
أحد أهم جوانب هذا النموذج هو أنه يتضمن علاقات سببية بين مكوناته (أي أن كل عنصر يؤثر على العناصر الأخرى). على سبيل المثال ، قد تؤدي روحانية الشخص إلى زيادة التفاؤل وتقليل الميول العصبية ، والتي بدورها تعزز التزامًا تنظيميًا أكبر ومستويات أعلى من الرضا الوظيفي.
يناقش سيليجمان في كتابه “السعادة الحقيقية” السمات الشخصية الرئيسية الثلاث التي تؤثر على رفاهية الناس. تمت مناقشة عوامل الشخصية هذه أيضًا بواسطة David W.Renolds و Brian G.Rook في مقالهم “التفاؤل وعلم النفس الإيجابي والرفاهية النفسية” المنشور في عام 2005. يجادلون بأن التفاؤل هو سمة مركزية لـ PP لأنه الأكثر دراسة من بين جميع السمات النفسية.
وفقًا لسليجمان ، فإن الأفراد الذين يتميزون بمستويات عالية من التفاؤل يميلون إلى أن يكونوا أكثر نجاحًا ورضا عن حياتهم من أولئك الذين هم أقل تفاؤلا. يعني الأسلوب التوضيحي السلبي ، وهو عنصر مركزي في نموذج سيليجمان ، أن هؤلاء الأفراد يميلون إلى عزو سبب كل من النتائج الإيجابية والسلبية إلى العوامل الشخصية (مثل المهارات والجهود) بدلاً من العوامل الخارجية أو العالمية (على سبيل المثال. والحظ والقدر). يُعرف هذا الرأي بنظرية أسلوب الإسناد (كوكس ، 1990). يميل المتفائلون أيضًا إلى رؤية الأحداث الإيجابية على أنها دائمة (وليست مؤقتة) ، بينما ينظرون إلى الأحداث السلبية على أنها عابرة.
يحمل التفاؤل بعض الفوائد للمنظمات لأنه يساعد الناس على التغلب على المحن ، مثل البطالة أو التكرار ، وبالتالي التأقلم بشكل أفضل مع التغيير. من المهم ملاحظة أن التفاؤل لا يديم التوقعات غير الواقعية أو ينفي وجود نتائج سلبية. بدلاً من ذلك ، فهو يدعم الأفراد في التغلب على المصاعب ، مما يسهل بدوره تكيفًا أكبر مع هذه المواقف.
Research suggests that positive emotions are vital for optimum psychological health because they increase the chances of being both physically and psychologically healthy . In addition, positive emotions enhance people ‘s experiences of pleasure and success , which in turn motivates them to pursue further achievement.
“The strength of one’s belief system is the glue that holds together both the person’s everyday life and his or her destiny.” (Seligman, 2011)
Positive psychology also views engagement as an outcome of positive emotions. Positive emotions inspire people to act, improve interpersonal relationships and nurture personal strengths . On the other hand, negative emotions tend to create feelings of distress , which in turn reduce people ‘s sense of well-being.
Positive psychology’s view on career success is closely related to that presented by Maslow (1954) in his hierarchy of needs theory . This theory states that once lower-level needs (e.g., physiological and security) are satisfied, people will try to satisfy higher-level psychological needs (e.g., self-actualization). Spiritually motivated individuals typically fulfill their need for affiliation by helping other people, which in turn increases their satisfaction with life .
According to Seligman (2011) , the five elements of PP all impact each other. For instance, spirituality enhances optimism because it increases individuals’ resources and capacity to cope with adversity. In turn, positive emotions influence positive relationships between family members, friends and colleagues. These relationships increase individuals’ satisfaction with their lives and consequently motivate them to pursue further career success .
Positive Psychology: Character Strengths, Virtues, and Values
Visser (2012) discusses different conceptions of positive emotions in positive psychology. First, she argues that most researchers study individual differences in the frequency of experiencing certain emotions (e.g., happiness). Second, some scholars focus on the subjective quality of these emotions (i.e., whether they are pleasant or unpleasant). Based on this, she suggests three elements of PP:
People who experience more positive than negative emotions are generally judged as being happier and healthier . In addition, they have a greater capacity to elicit these responses from others. Positive affectivity refers to the propensity to experience pleasant emotions such as joy , excitement and enthusiasm. People who experience more positive emotions are generally thought to possess greater personal resources.
This refers to the continuity of people ‘s good moods . Individuals with higher levels of positive affectivity report experiencing fewer bad days than others. Their daily life is also reported as being more pleasant and fulfilling. Positive moods include emotional responses such as serenity and hope.
Positive states of mind
People who spend more time in positive than negative mental states generally feel fulfilled and satisfied with their lives . They also face less often the risk of developing psychological disorders such as depression or anxiety. Seligman (2011) refers to these four factors as “the pleasant life” because they allow individuals to create a good quality of life.
People who experience more positive emotions, moods and states of mind tend to be more sociable , creative and successful in their personal and professional lives . In other words, they possess greater psychological wellbeing. Positive traits refer to characteristic patterns of thought , feeling or behavior . For instance, empathy can be regarded as positive trait that facilitates social interactions. Other examples include courage , honesty and diligence .
Another element of PP is the concept of “the good life.” This refers to people ‘s prioritization of certain virtues (e.g., generosity, gratitude) over other values (e.g., material success, status). Spiritually motivated individuals tend to be more concerned with living according to their values than being successful in the eyes of others.
Relationship between Positive Psychology and Religion
Visser (2012) notes that some scholars have linked PP to spirituality . For instance, Fowler’s (1992) stages of faith are similar to Seligman’ s (2002) five elements of PP. Fowler’s first stage, ” a feeling that the self is in a state of innocence , or unluckiness,” reflects Seligman ‘s positive emotions. The second stage, “a sense of opposition between the forces of good an d evil ,” corresponds to Seligman’ s optimism and pessimism. In the third stage, “a sense of [oneself ] as both guilty and polluted,” Fowler’s concept of self-hate is similar to Seligman’ s negative emotions. Seligman’s fourth element, “an acceptance of fate ,” is largely related to Fowler’s next stage, which refers to finding meaning in life . Spirituality is also associated with Seligman’s fifth element, which refers to the pursuit of personal growth and “maturity.”
For his part, Seligman (2011) suggests that religions can promote PP through their concepts of virtues. He proposes a list of positive psychological virtues based on common themes in world religions . Among others, these include gratitude , love, compassion and forgiveness . Seligman also includes wisdom as a virtue that promotes PP. Many religions emphasize the need to develop this trait because it facilitates moral behavior .
Relationship between Positive Psychology and Social Sciences
Several scholars have found a connection between PP and sociology . For example, Peterson (2006) suggests that PP is a social science that studies how individuals can flourish. Carl Rogers’ (1959) “actualizing tendency” is related to Seligman’s concept of PP. The actualizing tendency refers to people ‘s innate motivation to grow and realize their potential as human beings . In developmental psychology , Mahler, Pine & Bergman (1975) have studied the conditions that foster healthy personality development. Their “separation-individuation theory” is also relevant to PP because successful individuation requires positive self-regard and a secure sense of identity.
Positive Psychology: Flow & The Flow-Mood Scale
Flow is a mental state in which you’re completely engrossed in an activity. When you’re flow , time seems to fly by, and it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening around you . It usually occurs when you’re doing something that challenges your skills just the right amount .
While we don’t know for sure what causes flow, Csíkszentmihályi (1990) has developed a Flow-Mood Scale , which is designed to measure the degree to which people experience flow during different activities.
19. Positive Psychology: What You Can Do To Be More Optimistic
I’ve talked about some of the things that make people more likely to be optimistic. But what can you do if you’re not ?
One the most important factors is your locus of control , which refers to the degree to which you think events are influenced by your own behavior . People with an internal locus of control tend to be more optimistic than those with an external one .In addition , you can try to frame things in a more positive light . One study found that participants who read fake newspaper articles with an optimistic bias felt better than those who read ones that were neutral or pessimistic .
Another way to increase your optimism is by practicing gratitude exercises, such as writing down three things you’re grateful for every day.
Positive Psychology: Resilience and Competence
According to Park, Langer and Rodin (1977), resilient people are capable of recovering from trauma in a short time . They argue that resilience is largely due to cognitive processes related to meaning-making . That is, in the aftermath of stressful experiences, resilient people are likely to think about their lives in “a more constructive fashion.”
Park et al.’s (1977) study of “senior citizens” provides an early illustration of the centrality of meaning-making to mental health. Their results revealed that elderly men and women who valued their “life review” (i.e., retrospective interpretation ) were happier and less depressed than those who did not . Another early study showed that seniors who were able to talk about their relationship with their deceased spouse tended to show reduced symptoms of depression .
Another line of research suggests that people ‘s interpretations of stressful events can affect their physical health . In a study on bereavement , people who believed that the death of a loved one was “God’s will” were more likely to develop physical symptoms . In another early study , Lazarus (1966) showed that people who thought their heart attacks were “part of the normal ageing process” took longer to recover from the illness .
Positive Psychology: Optimism and Success
In a classic experiment , Seligman, Nolen-Hoeksema, Thornton & Thornton (1987) investigated the effects of interpreting the 1988 presidential election in a positive or negative way . They found that Democrats tended to think about the election more positively than Republicans , and that this difference was partly due to their beliefs about what would happen in the future.
In another study, Seligman et al. (1991) taught half of a group of recently unemployed people a technique called “attenuation” . The technique involves looking for positive aspects of negative events. When they reinterviewed the workers three months later, Seligman et al. found that those who had been taught the attenuation technique were more optimistic and felt better about their future prospects than a control group .
Positive Psychology: Optimistic Expectations & Achievement
Many studies have supported the idea that optimistic people tend to be more successful than their pessimistic counterparts. An early study by Snyder and Fromkim (1977) showed that students who were more inclined to expect positive outcomes in relationships tended to like their partners better .
Another study found that senior citizens who viewed their final years more positively tended to show better health than those who were less optimistic . Finally , Seligman (1991) found that one reason why some people are able to cope with the death of a spouse is because they expect positive events in the future.
Positive Psychology: Building Positive Organisations
Seligman (2002) argues that there are three main ways in which organisations can be more positive or optimistic :
1. By encouraging employees to view the future more positively ;
2. By decreasing “the emphasis on negative events” ; and,
3 . By increasing social support systems , i . e., by helping employees feel better about themselves .
Seligman found that the second of these three strategies was particularly effective, at least in his sample of university personnel. He also showed that the same techniques work with young children, using a school setting as his experimental context.
Positive Psychology: The Role of Mindfulness
According to Kuyken et al., (2009), mindfulness has two components: “acting with awareness” and “accepting without judgment.” Although it’s not quite clear which of these components is the most important, mindfulness seems to help people interpret events more positively . In a study on mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, Kuyken et al. found that participants who had been taught mindfulness felt better about their lives than those who hadn’t.
Positive Psychology: Optimism & Physical Health
As I mentioned above, there’s some evidence that optimistic people are healthier than pessimistic ones . There’s also evidence to suggest that optimists can help protect themselves against the harmful effects of stressful events . For example , Taylor et al. (2000) found that students who coped better with their final grades in high school were more likely to stay healthy later in life.
It’s worth mentioning that optimism can affect our physical appearance . Specifically , there’s evidence to suggest that optimists tend to be healthier and more attractive than pessimists. For example, Brunet et al. (2009) found that optimistic people were perceived as healthier by others. In addition, Tay et al. (2010) found that optimistic people were more physically attractive , which might be related to the fact that they’re healthier .
Positive Psychology: Optimism & Mental Health
There’s good evidence to suggest that optimism protects against depression . For example, Alloy et al. (1988) found that depressed people tended to think about the causes of negative events more globally , e . g., they’d attribute their poor exam grades to “everything” rather than just the problems with one part of the test .
The same study also showed that this effect was amplified by rumination – thinking about things excessively, without doing anything constructive. Thus , there’s reason to believe that optimists are more likely to recover from a depressive episode, because they’re able to think about negative events in a more concrete and manageable way.
In addition to protecting against depression , optimism also seems to protect against the harmful effects of stressful events . In one study , Almeida et al . (2003) asked participants how much stress they’d experienced in the past two years . Those with high levels of stress didn’t experience any greater depressive symptoms than their less stressed counterparts, but they were more likely to develop health problems .
Positive Psychology: Optimism & Social Emotions
Optimistic people are also better at regulating certain social emotions , e . g., guilt . For example , Talbot et al . (2008) found that people who were better at regulating their guilt tended to be happier than those who weren’t. Talbot et al. also showed that the relationship between guilt and happiness was mediated by optimism, suggesting that optimistic people are better at regulating these emotions because they’re less likely to experience them in the first place .
Positive Psychology: Optimism & Work Performance
As I mentioned above, there’s some evidence to suggest that optimism can affect work performance . In a study on salespeople , Weinstein et al. (1995) found that those participants who had been taught to think more positively about their jobs were able to make more sales .
In addition, there’s reason to believe that the link between optimism and work performance might be mediated by self-efficacy. In a study of athletes , Luterek et al. (2008) found that optimistic people had more confidence in their abilities, which was ultimately what made them perform better .
Applied Positive Psychology: The Optimal Personality
As I mentioned in my TED talk , it’s hard to say what the “optimal” personality is like, but there are some features that seem to appear across different studies .
A few of these are listed below . Optimists are more likely to : – Take the time to experience pleasure – Savor life’s positive events – See problems as challenges rather than threats – Think about negative situations in a solution-oriented way
Positive Psychology: The Downside of Optimism & Other Factors That Contribute to Happiness
In principle, optimism is a good thing. However , there are some potential downsides . For example , optimistic people might be less likely to take preventative health measures, because they think that nothing bad will happen to them . In addition , optimism can lead people to take more risks, which isn’t always a good thing.
Optimistic people might also be less likely to take advantage of social support . In a study of women with breast cancer , Butler et al. (2003) found that those who were more pessimistic tended to rely more on their friends and family for emotional support, although this relationship was partially mediated by self-efficacy .
One other factor that’s been associated with happiness is humanitarianism , which refers to a desire to help others . In one study , Grant et al. (2010) found that participants who reported being more committed to humanitarian goals were also happier, but this relationship was mediated by optimism .
Positive Psychology Measures: Brief Review
For any scientific discipline to advance it is necessary to measure things (e.g., traits, behaviours or emotions) in order to make progress. The same is true for PP; however, since this area of research has only recently started to develop , there are still limited numbers of valid positive psychological measures .
An important aspect of measuring positive events is that different cultures may have very different conceptualizations of what a good life entails. Therefore, it is important for any measure to consider these differences and ensure that the meaning of ‘good’ across countries is comparable. The next section reviews many of the most widely used measures in PP.
Values In Action Classification System (VICS)
The VICS is a 240-item self-report questionnaire that aims to measure 24 character strengths including six positive emotions: appreciation of beauty and excellence, love , hope , gratitude, zest and awe (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Participants respond to items using a 5-point Likert scale.
The VICS was developed using the Delphi method , an iterative process in which experts are asked to reach consensus about issues or questions. The aim is for this group of experts to be as representative of the general population as possible. Following the development of the first version of the questionnaire , a second group was asked to complete it and provide feedback. This process continued until consensus was achieved.
The VICS is available in six different language versions: English, Spanish, French, Italian, German and Japanese. It has been used to assess character strengths in many different countries such as Bulgaria, China, Colombia , Guatemala , Lithuania and Tunisia .
The VICS has been found to have high internal consistency (.93−.98), test-retest reliability ( r = 0.79) and convergent validity with various measures of well-being including positive affect, neuroticism , self-esteem, hope and purpose in life .
Values in Action Inventory of Strengths ( VIA-IS)
The VIA-IS is a 240-item self – report questionnaire for adults to assess 24 character strengths , including six positive emotions (Hewitt et al., 2010). Participants respond to items using a 5-point Likert scale.
The VIA-IS was developed using a similar process to that of the VICS, and contains 24 character strengths , five higher order factors (e.g., zest and love ) and six positive emotions . The VIA-IS has been translated into more than 40 languages. It is also available as an online version for people who suffer from physical disabilities that prevent them from completing the questionnaire.
The VIA-IS has high internal consistency ( r = 0.93−0.96), test – retest reliability ( r = 0 .92) and convergent validity with measures of well-being including life satisfaction, depression , optimism , self-esteem, positive affect and subjective happiness .
Character Strengths Measure (CSM)
The CSM is a 24-item self – report questionnaire for people between the ages of 13 and 30 years to assess 12 character strengths including four positive emotions: appreciation of beauty and excellence, love , hope , gratitude (Park & Peterson, 2009). Participants respond to items using a 5-point Likert scale.
The CSM was developed following the same process as the VIA-IS with experts asked to reach consensus about different character strengths . The scale has been translated into 25 languages and is available on an online platform for people who are unable to complete it on paper.
The CSM has high internal consistency ( r = 0.74 − 0 .94), convergent validity ( r = 0.18 − 0.53) and construct validity with measures of life satisfaction, happiness , gratitude , positive affect, meaning in life , optimism, self-esteem and depression .
Values in Action Inventory (VIA)
The VIA is a 240-item self – report questionnaire for adults to assess 24 character strengths , including six positive emotions (Peterson & Park, 2011). Participants respond to items using a 5-point Likert scale.
The VIA was developed following the same process as the VICS and CSM with experts asked to reach consensus about different character strengths . The scale has been translated into 25 languages and is available on an online platform for people who are unable to complete it on paper.
The VIA has high internal consistency ( r = 0.75 − 0 .93), test – retest reliability ( r = 0.72) and convergent validity with measures of well-being including life satisfaction, positive affect, depression and subjective happiness .
Character Strengths Scales (CSS)
The CSS is a five-item self – report questionnaire for children between the ages of 10 and 17 years to assess four character strengths: hope, zest, gratitude and curiosity (Park & Peterson, 2010). Participants respond to items on a 5-point Likert scale.
The CSS was developed following the same process as the VIA with experts asked to reach consensus about different character strengths . The scale has been translated into 25 languages and is available on an online platform for people who are unable to complete it on paper.
Positive Thinking vs Positive Psychology
Note, however, that these character strengths are often used in positive psychology research and clinical practice. But it may be important to note the differences between character strengths and positive thinking . Positive thinking is a method of changing one’s negative thoughts into positive ones in order to increase positive emotions such as happiness and improve life satisfaction (Seligman et al., 2006). It is possible to be positive without having character strengths . For example, someone who has low self-esteem may feel motivated to make herself feel better by lying to herself about her problems. This person will then experience only temporary happiness until the lie is discovered or she realizes that she has made a mistake, at which point her happiness will decrease. On the other hand, someone who has character strengths will not be motivated to lie to herself because she wants to develop her real self.
Positive emotions are strengths when they are connected with human flourishing and psychological health (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Positive thinking is beneficial when it helps individuals achieve their goals, but it may come at the cost of authenticity and psychological health . For example, a student who lies to herself and tells herself that she is very smart may be able to get good grades in school. But if getting good grades is the only reason why she studies, she will not enjoy learning and will be at risk of developing negative emotions such as anxiety when tests become more difficult. She will also develop a feeling of dissonance and psychological distress because her self-esteem does not align with her performance. On the other hand, if this student has character strengths such as zest, she will be motivated to study because she loves learning and school is rewarding for her.
Positive thinking works for positive emotions but not all positive emotions are strengths . For example, happiness is a positive emotion but it may not lead to flourishing. Individuals with bipolar disorder have extreme mood swings that can be classified as either depression or mania, and these individuals experience very intense feelings of happiness . But the strength model allows us to understand why these individuals might feel depressed when their heightened sense of happiness diminishes.
Psychological health and character strengths go hand in hand because human beings have a unique need to invest energy into maintaining their psychological well-being . Individuals who have experienced traumatic events may not be able to recover from those events without developing positive emotions such as hope, gratitude and zest (Fredrickson, 2001).
Positive Psychology can be Applied to Developmental Problems
PP can be used to understand how people develop their personality, identify what helps them flourish and illustrate how PP can influence policy.
More specifically , some scholars have investigated the ways in which parents ‘ behaviour influences children’s positive development . For instance, some research has focused on identifying “protective” factors that help children avoid negative outcomes (e.g., delinquency) . Other researchers have tried to identify risk factors (e.g., divorce or depression of parents).
Some PP studies have focused on how older people can cope with negative life events. For example, some scholars have investigated how personality traits affect the way adults react to stressful situations .
From a policy perspective , Seligman has argued that PP can improve the way individuals and organizations deal with important issues such as mental illness, education and organizational development.
For instance, Seligman has suggested that positive psychology could provide new insights on how to reduce depression . In addition , he also argued that school systems should help students focus on their strengths in order to motivate them to achieve better results .
In conclusion, PP is a relatively new academic field that emerged from the need to focus on positive aspects of human behaviour. In spite of some drawbacks , this approach has been useful in understanding how individuals develop their personality and learning how it can influence policy.
Some Critiques of Positive Psychology:
Although PP has been the subject of several scientific studies, it has not escaped criticism . Many scholars have expressed concern that it overemphasises the positive aspects of human experience at the expense of its darker side.
On a related note, some people accuse PP of being altrustic. For instance , critics have argued that Seligman’s “character strengths” are simply euphemisms for virtues .
Positive psychology research has also attracted criticism for its methodology . For instance, some scholars have criticized the use of self-report instruments (e.g., personality tests and questionnaires) to measure people ‘s subjective experience. Another common criticism is that PP researchers tend to focus on individuals who are psychologically healthy and successful. Critics argue that this approach neglects “humanity’s dark side.”
People have also discussed whether PP is culturally specific. In the past, scholars wondered whether American psychologists could study “positive” topics such as happiness and optimism without being accused of ethnocentrism . As a result, many positive psychology researchers have been careful not to assume that Western values are universally desirable .
In addition, some academics have criticized Seligman for being too ambitious. For example , some scholars have argued that it is unrealistic to try to reduce human suffering without also addressing its causes . From this perspective , positive psychology should not ignore negative emotions or social problems .
Positive Psychologists’ Response to Criticisms
Positive psychologists have responded to several criticisms against PP. For example , Peterson and his collaborators (2011) argued that focusing on positive experiences could reduce the incidence of negative ones . In other words , they suggested that pleasant events and thoughts can help people avoid unpleasant ones and thoughts because focusing on something makes it more likely to happen .
Positive psychologists are also aware that PP should not ignore negative emotions or social problems. For instance, Baltes & Smith (2008) defined positive interventions as interventions that are meant to enhance human welfare via the promotion of well-being , wisdom and/or personal growth .
Finally, Seligman has also responded to criticism by stating that he is interested in studying both the causes and consequences of positive emotions . For example , he suggested that some negative events (e.g., divorce or loss of a job) trigger positive emotions such as creativity and courage (Peterson, Park & Seligman, 2005).
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.
Baltes, P. B., & Smith , J . (2008). Towards a psychology of wisdom and its ontogenesis . In M. de Haan & S. Valsiner (Eds.), The social genesis of knowledge . New York: Cambridge University Press.
Peterson, C., Park , N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.