What is positive psychology?
Human preoccupation with good versus evil is so pronounced that a large bulk of our entertainment is devoted to it in one form or another. Our movies, our books, and even our news are glutted with good overcoming evil. In fact, even movies and television serials with supposed evil everywhere in the form of vampires, werewolves, or zombies, have good vampires, good werewolves or good zombie killers. We are a society obsessed with rooting out evil and overcoming it. Perhaps, it is our quest to overcome evil, right wrongs, and fix the broken that resulted in an imbalance of research towards the psychopathological, neglecting other idealized missions of psychology such as aiding individuals towards fulfillment or nurturing individuals to realize their ultimate potential (Gable & Haidt, 2005). Gable and Haidt (2005) suggest the imbalance may have resulted from humanity’s compassion to end others’ suffering, economic funding directed to healing those wounded during war, or because it is simply easier to attend to negative events, situational or otherwise. In any event, an imbalance occurred requiring a new direction or approach to regain balance. This new direction is positive psychology.
Positive psychology is quite simply a branch of psychology that focuses on the typical individual, specifically from a well-being perspective, inclusive of their strengths, morals, virtues (Friedman & Schustack, 2012; Gable & Haidt, 2005; Sheldon & King, 2001). As opposed to most other approaches, its focus is on the positive attributes of the person or community. “Psychology is not just the study of pathology, weakness, and damage; it is also the study of strength and virtue. Treatment is not just fixing what is broken; it is nurturing what is best. Psychology is not just a branch of medicine concerned with illness or health; it is …about work, education, insight, love, growth, and play” (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000, p. 7).
How does it differ from other approaches?
Many psychology approaches originated from studying readily accessible populations, i.e., those seeking help for mental disorders, pathologies, etc. such as Freud’s psychoanalysis patients. However, simply performing research and studying a specific population without a countermeasure neglects half of the puzzle. We have made tremendous strides in understanding various mental illnesses, however, we have not kept abreast of how positive attributes, traits, and situational contexts serve to improve an individual’s quality of life and/or buffer them against negative events (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Positive psychology does not intend to exclude any aspect of individuality; rather they seek to include all aspects, good and bad, in order to create a more complete picture of humanity.
This perspective had provided me with additional insight regarding one of my fields of interest: bereavement, with specific regard to parents who have lost a child. There is some bereavement research relating to coping mechanisms after the fact, support systems for the bereaved after the fact, and how each of these benefit or impact the bereaved. However, to my knowledge, there is no comparative research regarding resiliency factors pre- and post-bereavement and complexity of grief. It is possible research identifying different aspects of resiliency for those who successfully navigate through their grief versus those who do not, could have a significant impact in aiding therapists dealing with newly bereaved individuals.
Friedman, H. S., & Schustack, M. W. (2012). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Gable, S. L., & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and why) is positive psychology? Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 103-110. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/1089-26220.127.116.11
Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000, January). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037//0003-066X.55.1.5
Sheldon, K. M., & King, L. (2001, March). Why positive psychology is necessary. American Psychologist, 56(3), 216-217. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037//0003-066X.56.3.216