Positive psychology is a recent branch of psychology whose purpose was summed up in 1998 by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: "We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise, which achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving individuals, families, and communities."1 Positive psychologists seek "to find and nurture genius and talent" and "to make normal life more fulfilling",2 rather than merely treating mental illness. Positive psychology is primarily concerned with using the psychological theory, research and intervention techniques to understand the positive, adaptive, creative and emotionally fulfilling aspects of human behavior.3
As the medical field begins to appreciate the value of positive psychosocial factors in the prevention and management of pathology, positive psychiatry is emerging in its own right.4
- 1 Overview
- 2 Background
- 3 Methods
- 4 General findings by topic
- 5 Theory
- 6 Application: How to increase happiness
- 7 Criticism
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Bibliography
- 11 External links
The "positive" branch complements, with no intention to replace or ignore, the traditional areas of psychology. By adding an important emphasis to use the scientific method to study and determine positive human development, this area of psychology fits well with the investigation of how human development can falter. This field brings attention to the possibility that focusing only on disorder could result in a partial, and limited, understanding of a person's condition.5
The words, "the good life" are derived from speculation about what holds the greatest value in life - the factors that contribute the most to a well-lived and fulfilling life. Martin Seligman referred to the good life as "using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification." 6
Topics of interest to researchers in the field are: states of pleasure or flow, values, strengths, virtues, talents, as well as the ways that these can be promoted by social systems and institutions.7 Positive psychologists are concerned with four topics: (1) positive experiences, (2) enduring psychological traits, (3) positive relationships and (4) positive institutions.8 Some thinkers and researchers, like Seligman, have collected data to support the development of guiding theories (e.g. "P.E.R.M.A.", or The Handbook on Character Strengths and Virtues).
Research from this branch of psychology has seen various practical applications. The basic premise of positive psychology is that human beings are often, perhaps more often, drawn by the future than they are driven by the past. Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi define positive psychology as "the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life." 9 L.M. Keyes and Shane Lopez illustrate the four typologies of mental health functioning: flourishing, struggling, floundering and languishing. However, complete mental health is a combination of high emotional well-being, high psychological well-being, and high social well-being, along with low mental illness.10
Most psychologists focus on human's most basic emotions. There are thought to be between seven and nine basic emotions. The number of basic positive emotions is less than the total number of basic emotions. The emotions can be combined in many ways to create more subtle variations of emotional experience. This suggests that any attempt to wholly eliminate negative emotions from our life would have the unintended consequence of losing the variety and subtlety of our most profound emotional experiences. Efforts to increase positive emotions will not automatically result in decreased negative emotions, nor will decreased negative emotions necessarily result in increased positive emotions.11 Russell and Feldman Barrett (1999) described emotional reactions as core affects, which are primitive emotional reactions that are consistently experienced but often not acknowledged; they blend pleasant and unpleasant as well as activated and deactivated dimensions that we carry with us at an almost unconscious level.12
From the time it originated in 1998, this field invested tens of millions of dollars in research, published numerous scientific papers, established several masters and Ph. D programs, and has been involved in many major news outlets. The International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) is a recently established association that has expanded to thousands of members from 80 different countries. The IPPA’s missions include: (1) “further the science of positive psychology across the globe and to ensure that the field continues to rest on this science” (2) “work for the effective and responsible application of positive psychology in diverse areas such as organizational psychology, counselling and clinical psychology, business, health, education, and coaching”,(3) “foster education and training in the field.”13
In cognitive therapy, the goal is to help people change negative styles of thinking as a way to change how they feel. This approach has been very successful, and changing how we think about other people, our future, and ourselves is partially responsible for this success. The thinking processes that impact our emotional states vary considerably from person to person. An ability to pull attention away from the chronic inner chatter of our thoughts can be quite advantageous to well-being. A change in our orientation to time can dramatically impact how we think about the nature of happiness. Seligman identified other possible goals: families and schools that allow children to grow, workplaces that aim for satisfaction and high productivity, and teaching others about positive psychology.14
Several humanistic psychologists—such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Erich Fromm—developed theories and practices pertaining to human happiness and flourishing. More recently, positive psychologists have found empirical support for the humanistic theories of flourishing. In addition, positive psychology has moved ahead in a variety 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,15 though the term originates with Maslow, in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality,16 and there have been indications that psychologists since the 1950s have been increasingly focused on the promotion of mental health rather than merely treating illness.1718 In the first sentence of his book Authentic Happiness, Seligman claimed: "for the last half century psychology has been consumed with a single topic only - mental illness",19:xi, expanding on Maslow’s comments.20 He urged psychologists to continue the earlier missions of psychology of nurturing talent and improving normal life.2
The first positive psychology summit took place in 1999. The First International Conference on Positive Psychology took place in 2002.2 More attention was given by the general public in 2006 when, using the same framework, a course at Harvard University became particularly popular.21 In June 2009, the First World Congress on Positive Psychology took place.22 Positive psychology is the latest effort by human beings to understand the nature of happiness and well-being, but it is by no means the first attempt to solve that particular puzzle. Different westerners have their own individual views of what positive psychology actually is. Hedonism focuses on pleasure as the basic component of the good life. The Early Hebrews believed in the divine command theory which finds happiness by living according to the commands or rules set down by a Supreme Being. The Greeks thought that happiness could be discovered through logic and rational analysis. Finally, Christianity was based on finding happiness in the message and life of Jesus, which is one of love and compassion. The field of positive psychology today is most advanced in the United States and Western Europe. Even though positive psychology offers a new approach to the study of positive emotions and behavior, the ideas, theories, research, and motivation to study the positive side of human behavior is as old as humanity.23
Positive psychology has roots in the humanistic psychology of the 20th century, which focused heavily on happiness and fulfillment. As scientific psychology did not take its modern form until the late 19th century, earlier influences on positive psychology came primarily from philosophical and religious sources. (See History of psychology)
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 believed that happiness is found by finding deeper meaning. Aristotle believed 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, and described many "spiritual exercises" comparable to the psychological exercises employed in cognitive behavioral therapy and positive psychology.224
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.2
During the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment, individualism was valued. Simultaneously, creative individuals gained prestige, as they were now considered artists, not just craftsmen. Utilitarian philosophers such as John Stuart Mill believed moral actions were actions that maximized happiness for the most number of people; they suggested an empirical science of happiness should be used to determine which actions are moral (a science of morality). Thomas Jefferson and other proponents of democracy believed "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are inalienable rights, and violation of these justifies the overthrow of the government.2
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 main motivations for marriage.2
In her detailed critique of positive psychology, Barbara Ehrenreich carefully outlined the history of its precursor, "positive thinking", which developed as a counterweight to Calvinism and was built on the New Thought movement of the nineteenth century.25:pp.72–96 The New Thought movement originated in the United States as a challenge to Hobbes' fatalistic philosophy of life as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.".26 Calvinism held that a brutal Hobbsian reality could only be coped with by immersing oneself in hard work. Proponents of New Thought countered the world was more benign, and individuals had the agency to improve their lives and health through positive thoughts. Ehrenreich noted Phineas Parkhurst Quimby is "usually considered the founder of the New Thought movement and hence grandfather of 'positive thinking'".25:p.85 Quimby promoted a "talking cure"25:p.85 by means of which individuals would discuss their anxieties and guilt and envision an alternatively benevolent universe by contrast to Calvinism's malevolently antagonistic and competitive social world. The New Thought movement's focus on curing ills, such as neurasthenia, through positive thinking, was soon adopted by Mary Baker Eddy who incorporated this philosophy into her new religion, Christian Science25:p.86. New Thought was further developed by William James and Henry David Thoreau who questioned the science behind Quimby and Eddy's theories, but agreed with New Thought's focus on agency and reason, as methods to perceive and experience a more fulfilling life. Ehrenreich further explained how "positive thinking" was spread to a mainstream audience by Norman Vincent Peale's extremely popular The Power of Positive Thinking27 with its simple self-help rules for overcoming self-defeating inferiority complexes and negativity.25:p.92
Positive Psychology is concerned with three issues: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Positive emotions are concerned with being content with one's past, being happy in the present and having hope for the future. Positive individual traits focus on one's strengths and virtues. Finally, positive institutions are based on strengths to better a community of people.14 "Happiness" encompasses different emotional and mental phenomena (see below). One method of assessment is Ed Diener's Satisfaction with Life Scale. According to Diener, this 5-question survey corresponds well with impressions from friends and family, and low incidence of depression.28
Rather than long-term, big picture appraisals, some methods attempt to identify the amount of positive affect from one activity to the next. Scientists use beepers to remind volunteers to write down the details of their current situation. Alternatively, volunteers complete detailed diary entries each morning about the day before.28 An interesting discrepancy arises when researchers compare the results of these short-term "experience sampling" methods, with long-term appraisals. Namely, the latter may not be very accurate; people may not know what makes their life pleasant from one moment to the next. For instance, parents' appraisals mention their children as sources of pleasure, while 'experience sampling' indicates parents were not enjoying caring for their children, compared to other activities.2829
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains this discrepancy by differentiating between happiness according to the 'Experiencing Self' compared to the 'Remembering Self': when asked to reflect on experiences, memory biases like the Peak-End effect (e.g. we mostly remember the dramatic parts of a vacation, and how it was at the end) play a large role. A striking finding was in a study of colonoscopy patients. Adding 60 seconds to this invasive procedure, Kahneman found participants reported the colonoscopy as more pleasant. This was attributed to making sure the colonoscopy instrument was not moved during the extra 60 seconds - movement is the source of the most discomfort. Thus, Kahneman was appealing to the Remembering Self's tendency to focus on the end of the experience. Such findings help explain human error in Affective forecasting - people's ability to predict their future emotional states.29
Michael Argyle developed the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire30 as a broad measure of psychological well-being. The approach was criticized for lacking a theoretical model of happiness and for overlapping too much with related concepts such as self-esteem, sense of purpose, social interest, kindness, sense of humor and aesthetic appreciation.31
Neuroscience and brain imaging have shown increasing potential for helping science understand happiness and sadness. Though it may be impossible to achieve any comprehensive objective measure of happiness, some physiological correlates to happiness can be measured. Stefan Klein, in his book The Science of Happiness, links the dynamics of neurobiological systems (i.e., dopaminergic, opiate) to the concepts and findings of positive psychology and social psychology.32
Nobel prize winner Eric Kandel and researcher Cynthia Fu described very accurate diagnoses of depression just by looking at fMRI brain scans.33 By identifying neural correlates for emotions, scientists may be able to use methods like brain scans to tell us more about the different ways of being "happy". Richard Davidson has conducted research to determine which parts of the brain are involved in positive emotions. He found that the left prefrontal cortex is more activated when we are happy and is also associated with greater ability to recover from negative emotions as well as enhanced ability to suppress negative emotions. Interestingly, Davidson found that people can train themselves to increase activation in this area of their brains.34 It is thought that our brains can change throughout our lives as a result of our experiences; this is known as neuroplasticity. Determining whether emotions have a genetic trait or not were studied by David Lykken and Auke Tellegen. They found that up to 80% of a long-term sense of well-being is due to heredity. Basically, our families are important to our eventual emotional lives as adults because they provide us with genetic material that largely determines our base emotional responsiveness to the world. Therefore, genetic makeup is far more important to the long-term quality of our emotional lives than is learned behavior or the quality of our early childhood environment.35
The evolutionary perspective offers an alternative approach to understanding happiness and quality of life. Key guiding questions: What features are included in the brain that allow humans to distinguish between positive and negative states of mind? How do these features improve humans' ability to survive and reproduce? The evolutionary perspective claims that the answers to these questions point towards an understanding of what happiness is about and how to best exploit the capacities of the brain with which humans are endowed. This perspective is presented formally and in detail by the evolutionary biologist Bjørn Grinde in his book Darwinian Happiness.36
Happiness has become a common discussion topic in popular culture, especially in the Western world. Many studies have undertaken to demystify the factors involved in happiness. The following describes related research.
The Midlife crisis may mark the first reliable drop in happiness during an average human's life. Evidence suggests most people generally become happier with age, with the exception of the years 40 - 50, which is the typical age at which a crisis might occur. Researchers specify people in both their 20s and 70s are happier than during midlife, although the extent of happiness changes at different rates. For example, feelings of stress and anger tend to decline after age 20, worrying drops after age 50, and enjoyment very slowly declines in adulthood but finally starts to rise after age 50, etc.283738 These findings are based on decades of data, and control for cohort groups; the data avoids the risk that the drops in happiness during midlife are due to populations' unique midlife experiences, like a war. The studies have also controlled for income, job status and parenting (as opposed to childlessness) to try to isolate the effects of age. Researchers found support for the notion of age changes inside the individual that affect happiness.
This could be for any number of reasons. Psychological factors could include: greater awareness of one's self and preferences; an ability to control desires and have more realistic expectations - unrealistic expectations tend to foster unhappiness; moving closer to death may motivate people to pursue personal goals; improved social skills, like forgiveness, may take years to develop - the practice of forgiveness seems linked to higher levels of happiness; or happier people may live longer and are slightly overrepresented in the elderly population. Age related chemical changes might also play a role.37383940
Other studies have found older individuals reported more health problems, but fewer problems overall. Young adults reported more anger, anxiety, depression, financial problems, troubled relationships and career stress. Researchers also suggest depression in the elderly is often due largely to passivity and inaction - they recommend people continue to undertake activities that bring happiness, even in old age.41
The activity restriction model of depressed affect suggests that stressors that disrupt traditional activities of daily life can lead to a decrease in mental health. The elderly population is vulnerable to activity restriction because of the disabling factors related to age. Increases in scheduled activity as well as social support can decrease the chances of activity restriction.42
Determining the effect of gender upon happiness is actually more difficult than one may think. Over the last 33 years, a significant decrease in women's happiness leads researchers to believe that men are happier than women.43 Part of these findings could be due to the way men and women differ in calculating their happiness. Women calculate the positive self-esteem, closeness in their relationships and religion. Men on the other hand calculate positive self-esteem, active leisure and mental control.44 Therefore, neither men nor women are at greater risk for being less happy than the other. Earlier in life, women are more likely than men to fulfill their goals (material goals and family life aspirations), thereby increasing their life satisfaction and overall happiness. However, it is later in life that men fulfill their goals, are more satisfied with their family life and financial situation and, as a result, their overall happiness surpasses that of women.45 Possible explanations include: women experience more variance (more extremes) in emotion, although women are generally happier.40 Effects of gender on well-being are paradoxical: men report feeling less happy than women,citation needed, however, women are more susceptible to depression.46
A study was conducted by Siamak Khodarahimi to determine the roles of gender and age on positive psychology constructs - psychological hardiness, emotional intelligence, self-efficacy and happiness - among 200 Iranian adolescents and 200 young adults who were questioned through various tests. The study found that the males of the sample showed significantly higher rates in psychological hardiness, emotional intelligence, self-efficacy and happiness than females, regardless of age.47
In his book Stumbling on Happiness, psychologist Daniel Gilbert described research suggesting money makes a significant difference to the poor (where basic needs are not yet met), but has a greatly diminished effect once one reaches middle class (i.e. the Easterlin paradox).48 One study found money ceased to aid level of happiness after a person makes over $US75,000 a year, and people overestimate the influence of wealth by 100%.49 Professor of Economics Richard Easterlin noted job satisfaction does not depend on salary. In other words, having extra money for luxuries does not increase happiness as much as enjoying one's job or social network.50 Gilbert is thus adamant, people should go to great lengths to figure out which jobs they would enjoy, and to find a way to do one of those jobs for a living (that is, provided one is also attentive to social ties).
A more recent study has challenged the Easterlin paradox. Using recent data from a broader collection of countries, a positive link was found between GDP and well-being; and there was no point at which wealthier countries' subjective well-being ceased to increase. It was concluded economic growth does indeed increase happiness.51
Wealth is strongly correlated with life satisfaction but the correlation between money and emotional well-being was weak.52 The pursuit of money may lead people to ignore leisure time and relationships, both of which may cause and contribute to happiness.49 The pursuit of money at the risk of jeopardizing one's personal relationships and sacrificing enjoyment from one's leisure activities seems an unwise approach to finding happiness.
Money, or its hectic pursuit, has been shown to hinder people's ability to savor everyday experiences. In a study looking at working adults, wealthy individuals reported lower levels of savoring ability (the ability to prolong positive emotion) relative to their poorer peers.53
Studies have routinely shown that nations are happier when people's needs are met.54 Some studies suggest, however, people are happier after spending money on experiences, rather than physical things.55
Lottery winners report higher levels of happiness immediately following the event. But research shows winner's happiness levels drop and return to normal baseline rates within months to years. This finding suggests money does not cause long term happiness.56
English poet Thomas Gray said "Where ignorance is bliss, ’Tis folly to be wise."57 Research suggests neither a good education nor a high IQ reliably increase happiness.28 Anders Ericsson argued an IQ above 120 has a decreasing influence on success. Presumably, IQs above 120 do not additionally cause other happiness indicators like success (with the exception of careers like Theoretical physics, where high IQs are more predictive of success). Above that IQ level, other factors, like social skills or a good mentor, matter more.58 As these relate to happiness, intelligence and education may simply allow one to reach a middle-class level of need satisfaction (as mentioned above, being richer than this seems to impact little on happiness).59
Martin Seligman has said: "As a professor, I don't like this, but the cerebral virtues — curiosity, love of learning — are less strongly tied to happiness than interpersonal virtues like kindness, gratitude and capacity for love."28
While the mantle of parenting is sometimes held as the necessary path of adulthood, study findings are actually mixed as to whether parents report higher levels of happiness relative to non-parents. Folk wisdom suggests a child brings partners closer; research has found couples actually become less satisfied after the birth of the first child.60 The joys of having a child are overshadowed by the responsibilities of parenthood.61 Based on quantitative self-reports, researchers found parents prefer doing almost anything else to looking after their children. By contrast, parents' self-report levels of happiness are higher than those of non-parents. This may be due to already happy people having more children than unhappy people. In addition, it might also be that, in the long-term, having children gives more meaning to life.62 63 One study found having up to three children increased happiness among married couples, but not among other groups with children.64 Proponents of Childfreedom maintain this is because one can enjoy a happy, productive life without the trouble of ever being a parent.
By contrast, many studies found having children makes parents less happy. Compared with non-parents, parents with children have lower levels of well-being and life satisfaction.65 In addition, parents report more feelings of depression61 and anxiety66 than non-parents. However, when adults without children are compared to empty nest parents, parenthood is positively associated with emotional well being.61 People found parenthood to be more stressful in the 1970s than they did in the 1950s. This is thought to be because of social changes in regards to employment and marital status.66
Males apparently become less happy after the birth of a child due to added economic pressure and taking on the role of being a parent.60 A conflict between partners can arise when the couple does not desire traditional roles, or has an increasing number of roles.60 Unequal responsibilities of child-rearing between men and women account for this difference in satisfaction. Fathers who worked and shared an equal part in child-raising responsibilities were found to be the least satisfied.67 Research shows that single parents have higher levels of distress and report more mental health problems than married persons.61
Martin Seligman writes: "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 married people are happier than unmarried people." (pp. 55–5619). Married persons report higher levels of happiness and well being than single folks.68 Other data has shown a spouse’s happiness depends on the happiness of their partner. When asked, spouses reported similar happiness levels to each other. The data also shows the spouses’ happiness level fluctuates similarly to one another. If the husband is having a bad week, the wife will similarly report she had a bad week.69 There is also little data on alternatives like Polyamory, although one study stated wife order in polygyny did not have a substantial effect on life or marital satisfaction over all.70 This study also found younger wives were happier than older wives. On the other hand, at least one large study in Germany found no difference in happiness between married and unmarried people.71 Studies have shown that married couples are consistently happier and more satisfied with their life than those who are single.72 Some researching findings have indicated that marriage is the only real significant bottom-up predictor of life satisfaction for men and women and those people who have a higher life satisfaction prior to marriage, tend to have a happier marriage.73 Surprisingly, there has been a steady decline in the positive relationship between marriage and well-being in the United States since the 1970s. This decline is due to women reporting being less happy than previously before and single men reporting being happier than previously before.74 A two-factor theory of love was developed by Barnes and Sternberg. This theory is composed of two components: passionate love and companionate love. Passionate love is considered to be an intense longing for a loved one. This love is often experienced through joy and sexual fulfillment, or even through rejection. On the other hand, companionate love is associated with affection, friendship and commitment. Both passionate and companionate love are the foundations for every variety of love that one may experience.75
Ed Diener et al. (1999) suggested this equation: positive emotion - negative emotion = subjective well-being. Since tendency to positive emotion has a correlation of 0.8 with extroversion and tendency towards negative emotion is indistinguishable from neuroticism, the above equation could also be written as extroversion - neuroticism = happiness. These two traits could account for between 50% to 75% of happiness.76 These are all referring to the Big Five personality traits model of personality.
An emotionally stable (the opposite of Neurotic) personality correlates well with happiness. Not only does emotional stability make one less prone to negative emotions, it also predicts higher social intelligence - which helps to manage relationships with others (an important part of being happy, discussed below).40
Cultivating an extroverted temperament may correlate with happiness for the same reason: it builds relationships and support groups. Some people may be fortunate, from the standpoint of personality theories that suggest individuals have control over their long term behaviors and cognitions. Genetic studies indicate genes for personality (specifically extroversion, neuroticism and conscientiousness), and a general factor linking all 5 traits, account for the heritability of subjective well-being.77 Recent research suggests there is a happiness gene, the 5-HTT gene.78
In the article " Finding Happiness after Harvard" George Vaillant concluded a study on what aspects of life are important for "successful living". In the 1940s, Arlie Bock, while in charge of the Harvard Health Services, started a study, selecting 268 Harvard students from graduating classes of 1942, '43, and '44. He sought to identify the aspects of life contributing to "successful living". In 1967, the psychiatrist George Vaillant continued the study, undertaking follow-up interviews to gauge the lives of many of the students. In 2000, Vaillant again interviewed these students as to their progress in life. Vaillant observed: health, close relationships, and how participants dealt with their troubles. Vaillant found a key aspect to successful living is healthy and strong relationships.79
A widely publicized study from 2008 in the British Medical Journal reported happiness in social networks may spread from person to person.80 Researchers followed nearly 5000 individuals for 20 years in the long-standing Framingham Heart Study and found clusters of happiness and unhappiness that spread up to 3 degrees of separation on average. Happiness tended to spread through close relationships like friends, siblings, spouses, and next-door neighbors; researchers reported happiness spread more consistently than unhappiness through the network. Moreover, the structure of the social network appeared to have an impact on happiness, as people who were very central (with many friends, and friends of friends) were significantly happier than those on the network periphery. People closer with others are more likely to be happy themselves.80 Overall, the results suggest happiness can spread through a population like a virus.8182 Having a best friend buffers one's negative life experiences. When one's best friend is present Cortisol levels are decreased and feelings of self-worth increase.83
Neuroeconomist Paul Zak studies morality, oxytocin, and trust, among other variables. Based on research findings, Zak recommends: people hug others more often to get into the habit of feeling trust. He explains "eight hugs a day, you'll be happier, and the world will be a better place".84
Recently, Anderson et al. found that sociometric status (the amount of respect one has from face-to-face peer group) is significantly and causally related to happiness as measured by subjective well-being.85
Some evidence suggests sunnier climates do not predict happiness. In one study both Californians and Midwesterners expected the former's happiness ratings to be higher due to a sunnier environment. In fact, the Californian and Midwestern happiness ratings did not show a significant difference.28 Other researchers say the necessary minimum daily dose of sunlight is as little as 30 minutes.86
That is not to say weather is never a factor for happiness. Perhaps the changing norms of sunlight cause Seasonal affective disorder, which undermines level of happiness.
"Spirituality" refers to a personal or group search for the sacred in life.87 "Religion" refers to a search for the sacred within a traditional context such as a formal religious institution.88 It is commonly believed that people who are more religious in their behavior show better emotional well-being and lower rates of delinquency, alcoholism, drug abuse, and other social problems.89 Religion is thought to be related to well-being because of six separate factors: (1) religion provides social support, (2) religion supports healthy lifestyles, (3) religion promotes personality integration, (4) religion promotes generativity and altruism, (5) religion provides unique coping strategies, and (6) religion provides a sense of meaning and purpose.90 Emmons realized that many religious individuals experience emotions that create positive connections among people and allow us to express our highest values and potential. These four emotions are known as "sacred emotions." The four sacred emotions are: (1) gratitude and appreciation, (2) forgiveness, (3) compassion and empathy, and (4) humility.91
Many people describe themselves as religious and spiritual, but spirituality represents a particular operation of religion. Spirituality as related to positive psychology can be defined as “a search for the sacred”. 92 What is defined as sacred can be related to God, life itself, or almost any other facet of life. It simply must be viewed upon by the individual as having spiritual implications, which is derived from personal experiences. 93 Spiritual well-being addresses the human need for transcendence and involves religious as well as existential well-being. Spiritual well-being is associated with various positive outcomes such as better physical and psychological well-being, lower anxiety, less depression, self-actualization, positive relationships with parents, higher rates of positive personality traits and acceptance.94
Reaching the sacred as a personal goal, also called spiritual striving, has been found to correlate highest with well-being compared to other forms or striving. 95 This type of striving can improve a sense of self and relationships and creates a connection to the transcendent 96 Additionally, multiple studies have shown that self reported spirituality is related to lower rates of mortality and depression and higher rates of happiness.97 98 99
Currently, most research examines ways in which spirituality can help in times of crisis. Spirituality has been found to remain constant when experiencing traumatic events and/or life stressors such as accidents, war, sickness, and death of a loved one. When confronted with an obstacle, people might turn to prayer or meditation. Coping mechanisms involving spirituality include meditative meditation, creating boundaries to preserve the sacred, spiritual purification to return to the righteous path, and spiritual reframing which focuses on maintaining belief. These coping mechanisms that aim to preserve the sacred have been found by researchers to increase well being and return the individual back to the sacred. 100
Overall, spirituality is a process that occurs over a lifetime and includes searching, conserving, and redefining what is sacred in an extremely individualized manner. It does not always have a positive effect and in fact has been associated with very negative events and life changes. (Handbook of Positive Psychology). Research is lacking in spirituality but it is necessary because spirituality can assist in enhancing the experiences of the uncontrollable parts of life. One clinical application of spirituality and positive psychology research is “psychospiritual interventions” which represents the potential that spirituality has to increase well-being. 101
Culture and positive psychology Eunkook M. Suh (University of California) and Shigehiro Oishi (University of Minnesota; now at University of Virginia) examined the differences of happiness on an international level and different cultures' views on what creates well-being and happiness. In a study, of over 6,000 students from 43 nations, to identify mean life satisfaction, on a scale of 1-7, the Chinese ranked lowest at 3.3; and Dutch scored the highest at 5.4. When asked how much subjective well-being was ideal, Chinese ranked lowest at 4.5, and Brazilians highest at 6.2, on a scale of 1-7. The study had three main findings: (1) People living in individualistic, rather than collectivist, societies are happier; (2) Psychological attributes referencing the individual are more relevant to Westerners; (3) Self-evaluating happiness levels depend on different cues, and experiences, from one’s culture.102
The results of a study by Chang E. C. showed that Asian Americans and Caucasian Americans have similar levels of optimism but Asian Americans are far more pessimistic than Caucasian Americans. However, there were no major differences in depression across cultures. On the other hand, pessimism was positively linked to problem solving behaviors for Asian Americans, but was negatively linked for Caucasian Americans.103
Psychologists in the happiness community feel politics should promote population happiness. Politics should also consider level of human happiness among future generations, concern itself with life expectancy, and focus on the reduction of suffering.104 Based on political affiliation, some studies argue conservatives, on average, are happier than liberals. A potential explanation is greater acceptance of income inequalities in society leads to a less worried nature.105 Luke Galen, Associate Professor of Psychology at Grand Valley State University, mentioned political commitments as important because they are a sort of secular world view that, like religion, can be generally beneficial to coping with death anxiety (see also Terror management theory and religion and happiness).106107108
Arguably, some people pursue ineffective shortcuts to feeling good. These shortcuts create positive feelings, but are problematic, in part because of the lack of effort involved. Some examples of these shortcuts include shopping, drugs, chocolate, loveless sex, and TV. These are problematic pursuits because all of these examples have the ability to become addictive. When happiness comes to us so easily, it comes with a price we may not realize. This price comes when taking these shortcuts is the only way to become happy, otherwise viewed as an addiction.109 A review by Amy Krentzman on the Application of Positive Psychology to Substance Use, Addiction, and Recovery Research, identified, in the field of positive psychology, three domains that allow an individual to thrive and contribute to society.
One of these: A Pleasant Life, involves good feelings about the past, present, and future. To tie this with addiction, they chose an example of alcoholism. Research on positive affect and alcohol showed a majority of the population associates drinking with pleasure. The pleasure one feels from alcohol is known as somatic pleasure, which is immediate but a short lived sensory delight. The researchers wanted to make clear pleasure alone does not amount to a life well lived; there is more to life than pleasure. Secondly, the Engaged Life is associated with positive traits such as strength of character. A few examples of character strength according to Character Strength and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification by Seligman and Peterson (2004) are bravery, integrity, citizenship, humility, prudence, gratitude, and hope, all of which are shown in the rise to recovery. To descend into an addiction shows a lack of character strength, however rising to recovery shows the reinstatement of character strengths, including the examples mentioned above. Thirdly, the Meaningful Life is service and membership to positive organizations. Examples of positive organizations include family, workplace, social groups, and society in general. Organizations, like Alcoholics Anonymous, can be viewed as a positive organization. Membership fosters positive affect, while also promoting character strengths, which as seen in the Engaged Life, can aid in beating addiction.109
Suffering can indicate behavior worthy of change, as well as ideas that require a person's careful attention and consideration.111 Generally, psychology acknowledges suffering can not be completely eliminated, but it is possible to successfully manage and reduce suffering. The University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center explains: "Psychology’s concern with remedying human problems is understandable and should certainly not be abandoned. Human suffering demands scientifically informed solutions. Suffering and well being, however, are both part of the human condition, and psychologists should be concerned with both."110 Positive psychology, inspired by empirical evidence, focuses on productive approaches to pain and suffering, as well the importance of cultivating strengths and virtues to keep suffering to a minimum110112 (see also Character strengths and virtues (book)).
In reference to the Buddhist saying "Life is suffering", researcher and clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson suggested this view as realistic, not pessimistic, where acceptance of the reality life is harsh, provides a freedom from the expectation one should always be happy. This realization can assist in the management of inevitable suffering. To Peterson, virtues are important because they provide people with essential tools to escape suffering (e.g., the strength to admit dissonant truths to themselves). Peterson maintained suffering is made worse by false philosophy (i.e., denial that natural suffering is inevitable).113
Similarly, Seligman believes positive psychology is "not a luxury", saying "most of Positive Psychology is for all of us, troubled or untroubled, privileged or in privation, suffering or carefree. The pleasures of a good conversation, the strength of gratitude, the benefits of kindness or wisdom or spirituality or humility, the search for meaning and the antidote to "fidgeting until we die" are the birthrights of us all."114
Positive coping is defined as "a response aimed at diminishing the physical, emotional, and psychological burden that is linked to stressful life events and daily hassles" 115 It is found that proper coping strategies will reduce the burden of short-term stress and will help relieve long-term stress. Stress can be reduced by building resources that inhibit or buffer future challenges. For some people, these effective resources could be physiological, psychological or social.115
Humans exhibit a variety of abilities. This includes an ability of emotional Hedonic Adaptation, an idea suggesting that beauty, fame and money do not generally have lasting effects on happiness (this effect has also been called the Hedonic treadmill). In this vein, some research has suggested that only recent events, meaning those that occurred within the last 3 months, affect happiness levels.116
The tendency to adapt, and therefore return to an earlier level of happiness, is illustrated by studies showing lottery winners are no happier in the years after they've won.28 Other studies have shown paraplegics are nearly as happy as control groups that are not paralyzed (p. 4819), after equally few years. Daniel Kahneman explains: "they are not paraplegic full time...It has to do with allocation of attention". Thus, contrary to our impact biases, lotteries and paraplegia do not change experiences to as great a degree as we would believe.
Adaptation can be very slow and incomplete process. Distracting life changes such as the death of a spouse or losing one's job can show measurable changes in happiness levels for several years.28 Even the "adapted" paraplegics mentioned above did ultimately report lower levels of pleasure (again, they were happier than one would expect, but not fully adapted).117 Thus, adaptation is a complex process, and while it does mitigate the emotional effects of many life events it cannot mitigate them entirely.
The happiness set point idea is that most people return to an average level of happiness - or a set point - after temporary highs and lows in emotionality. People whose set points lean toward positive emotionality tend to be cheerful most of the time and those whose set points tend to be more negative emotionality tend to gravitate toward pessimism and anxiety. Lykken found that we can influence our level of well-being by creating environments more conductive to feelings of happiness and by working with our genetic makeup.35 A reason why subjective well being is for the most part stable is because of the great influence genetics have. Although the events of life have some effect on subjective well being, the general population returns to their set point 118
Fujita and Diener found that 24% of people changed significantly between the first five years of the study and the last five years. Almost one in four people showed changes in their well-being over the years; indeed sometimes those changes were quite dramatic.119 Bruce Headey found that 5-6% of people dramatically increased their life satisfaction over a 15 to 20 year period and that the goals people pursued had a major impact on their life satisfaction.120
Two different goals on the continuum are known as nonzero-sum goals and zero-sum goals. Nonzero sum goals are associated with greater life satisfaction consisted of commitments to family and friends, social or political involvement, and altruism. This term implies that the person involved and others can both benefit. Zero-sum goals are associated with a person who gains advantage at the expense of others, did not promote life satisfaction.
In her book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky similarly argued people's happiness varies around a genetic set point. Diener warns, however, that it is nonsensical to claim that "happiness is influenced 30–50% by genetics". Diener explains that the recipe for happiness for an individual always requires genetics, environment, and behaviour too, so it is nonsensical to claim that an individual's happiness is due to only one ingredient.
Only differences in happiness can be attributed to differences in factors. In other words, Lyubomirsky's research does not discuss happiness in one individual: it discusses differences in happiness between two or more people. Specifically, Lyubomirsky suggests that 30-40% of the difference in happiness levels is due to genetics (i.e. heritable). In other words still, Diener says it makes no sense to say one person's happiness is "due 50% to genetics", but it does make sense to say one person's difference in happiness is 50% due to differences in their genetics (and the rest is due to behaviour and environment).117121
Findings from twin studies support the findings just mentioned. Twins reared apart had nearly the same levels of happiness thereby suggesting the environment is not entirely responsible for differences in people's happiness.122 Importantly, an individual's baseline happiness is not entirely determined by genetics, and not even by early life influences on one's genetics. Whether or not a person manages to elevate their baseline to the heights of their genetic possibilities depends partly on several factors, including actions and habits. Some happiness-boosting habits seem to include gratitude, appreciation, and even altruistic behavior.28 Other research based habits and techniques for increasing happiness are discussed on this page.
Besides the development of new habits, the use of antidepressants, effective exercise, and a healthier diet have proven to strongly impact mood. In fact, exercise is sometimes called the "miracle" or "wonder" drug - alluding to the wide variety of proven benefits it provides.123124
Some positive psychology researchers19:275 posit three overlapping areas of investigation:
- 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.). Despite the attention given, Martin Seligman says this most transient element of happiness may be the least important.28
- Investigation of the beneficial effects of immersion, absorption, and flow, felt by individuals when optimally engaged with their primary activities, is the study of the Good Life, or the "life of engagement". Flow is experienced when there is a positive match between a person's strength and their current task, i.e. when one feels confident of accomplishing a chosen or assigned task. (See related concepts, Self-efficacy and play)
- 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).
These categories appear neither widely disputed nor adopted by researchers across the 12 years that this academic area has been in existence. Although Seligman originally proposed these 3 categories, he has since suggested the last category, "meaningful life", be considered as 3 different categories. The resulting acronym is PERMA (Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishments).125
The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions suggests positive emotions (e.g. happiness, interest, anticipation)126 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. Positive emotions are contrasted with 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.126
Professor Philip Zimbardo suggests we might also analyze happiness from a "Time Perspective". Zimbardo suggested the sorting of people's focus in life by valence (positive or negative) and also by their time perspective (past, present, or future orientation). Doing so may reveal some individual conflicts, not over whether an activity is enjoyed, but whether one prefers to risk delaying gratification further. Zimbardo also believes research reveals an optimal balance of perspectives for a happy life; commenting, our focus on reliving positive aspects of our past should be high, followed by time spent believing in a positive future, and finally spending a moderate (but not excessive) amount of time in enjoyment of the present.127
Although Seligman's categorizations are still fuzzy classifications, the research presented below is sorted according to which of Seligman's categories may be most (but not strictly) related (i.e. the "pleasant", "good", or "meaningful" life). Research mentioned in one section may be quite relevant in another.
Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs. Foremost, primitive needs must be met (basic physiological, and sense of safety) before social needs can be met (e.g., intimacy). Subsequently, one can pursue more conceptual needs (e.g. morality and self-actualization).
Evidence suggests negative emotions can be damaging. In an article titled "The undoing effect of positive emotions", Barbara Fredrickson et al. hypothesized 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 unregulated, the prolonged physiological activation can lead to illness, coronary heart disease, and heightened mortality. Both lab and survey research substantiate that positive emotions help people under stress to return to a preferable, healthier physiological baseline.129 Other research shows that improved mood is one of the various benefits of physical exercise.128
Self-efficacy refers to a belief that one's ability to accomplish a task is a function of personal effort. Low self-efficacy, or a disconnect between ability and personal effort, is associated with depression; by comparison, high self-efficacy is associated with positive change, including overcoming abuse, overcoming eating disorders, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. High self-efficacy also has positive benefits for one's immune system, aids in stress management, and decreases pain.130 A related concept, Personal effectiveness, is primarily concerned with planning and the implementation of methods of accomplishment.
Flow refers to a state of absorption where one's abilities are well-matched to the demands at-hand. Flow is characterized by intense concentration, loss of self-awareness, a feeling of being perfectly challenged (neither bored nor overwhelmed), and a sense "time is flying." Flow is intrinsically rewarding; it can also assist in the achievement of goals (e.g., winning a game) or improving skills (e.g., becoming a better chess player).131 Anyone can experience flow, in different domains, such as play, creativity, and work. Flow is achieved when the challenge of the situation meets one's personal abilities. Therefore, someone very skilled requires a suitable challenge, while someone unskilled requires much less of a challenge. A mismatch of challenge for someone of low skills results in a state of anxiety; insufficient challenge for someone highly skilled results in boredom.131 The impact of challenging situations means that flow is often temporarily exciting and variously stressful, but this is considered Eustress, which is also known as "good" stress. Eustress is arguably less harmful than chronic stress, although the pathways of stress related systems are similar. Both can create a "wear and tear" effect, however, the differing physiological elements and added psychological benefits of eustress might well balance any wear and tear experienced.
Csikszentmihalyi identified nine indicator elements of flow: 1. Clear goals exist every step of the way, 2. Immediate feedback guides one's action, 3. There is a balance between challenges and abilities, 4. Action and awareness are merged, 5. Distractions are excluded from consciousness, 6. Failure is not worrisome, 7. Self-consciousness disappears, 8. Sense of time is distorted, and 9. The activity becomes "autotelic" (an end in itself, done for its own sake)132 His studies also show that flow is greater during work while happiness is greater during leisure activities.133
Flourishing, in positive psychology, refers to optimal human functioning. It comprises four parts: goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience (Fredrickson, 2005).134 According to Fredrickson (2005), goodness is made up of: happiness, contentment, and effective performance; generativity is about making life better for future generations, and is defined by “broadened thought-action repertoires and behavioral flexibility”; growth involves the use of personal and social assets; and resilience reflects survival and growth after enduring a hardship (p. 685).134 A flourishing life stems from mastering all four of these parts. Two contrasting ideologies are languishing and psychopathology. On the mental health continuum, these are considered intermediate mental health disorders, reflecting someone living an unfulfilled and perhaps meaningless life. Those who languish experience more emotional pain, psychosocial deficiency, restrictions in regular activities, and missed workdays (Fredrickson, 2005).134
Fredrickson & Losada (2005)134 conducted a study on university students, operationalizing positive and negative affect. Based on a mathematical model which has been strongly criticized,135 and now been formally withdrawn by Fredrickson as invalid,136 Fredrickson & Losada claimed to have discovered a critical positivity ratio, above which people would flourish and below which they would not. Although Fredrickson claims that her experimental results are still valid,137 these experimental results have also been questioned due to poor statistical methodology, and Alan Sokal has pointed out that "given [Fredrickson and Losada's] experimental design and method of data analysis, no data whatsoever could possibly give any evidence of any nonlinearity in the relationship between "flourishing" and the positivity ratio — much less evidence for a sharp discontinuity."138
Another study surveyed a U.S. sample of 3,032 adults, aged 25–74. Results showed 17.2 percent of adults were flourishing, while 56.6 percent were moderately mentally healthy. Some common characteristics of a flourishing adult included: educated, older, married and wealthy. The study findings suggest there is room for adults to improve as less than 20 percent of Americans are living a flourishing life. (Keyes, 2002).139
Benefits from living a flourishing life emerge from research on the effects of experiencing a high ratio of positive to negative affect. The studied benefits of positive affect are increased responsiveness, “broadened behavioral repertoires”, increased instinct, and increased perception and imagination (Fredrickson, 2005, p. 678).134 In addition, the good feelings associated with flourishing result in improvements to immune system functioning, cardiovascular recovery, lessened effects of negative affect, and frontal brain asymmetry (Fredrickson, 2005).134 Other benefits to those of moderate mental health or moderate levels of flourishing were: stronger psychological and social performance, high resiliency, greater cardiovascular health, and an overall healthier lifestyle (Keyes, 2007).140 The encountered benefits of flourishing suggest a definition: “[flourishing] people experience high levels of emotional, psychological and social well being due to vigor and vitality, self-determination, continuous self- growth, close relationships and a meaningful and purposeful life” (Siang-Yang, 2006, p. 70).141
Mindfulness is an intentionally focused awareness of one's immediate experience. "Focused awareness" is a conscious moment-by-moment attention to situational elements of an experience: i.e., thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and surroundings. An aim of mindfulness is to become grounded in the present moment; one learns to observe the arising and passing of experience. One does not judge the experiences and thoughts, nor do they try to 'figure things out' and draw conclusions, or change anything - the challenge during mindfulness is to simply observe.144145 Benefits of mindfulness practice include reduction of stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.146 See also Reverence (emotion).
Ellen J.Langer argued people slip into a state of "mindlessness" by engaging in rote behavior, performing familiar, scripted actions without much cognition, as if on autopilot (see also flow, discussed above).147
Advocates of focusing on present experiences also mention research by Psychologist Daniel Gilbert, who suggested daydreaming, instead of a focus on the present, may impede happiness.142148 Fellow researcher, Matt Killingsworth, found evidence to support the negative impact of daydreaming. Fifteen thousand participants from around the world provided over 650 000 reports (using an online application on their phones that requested data at random times). Killingsworth found people who reported daydreaming soon reported less happiness; daydreaming is extremely common.143 Zimbardo (see "Time Perspectives" above) bestowed the merits of a present-focus, and recommended occasional recall of past positive experiences. Reflecting on past positive experiences can influence current mood, and assist in building positive expectations for the future.
There is research that suggests a person's focus influences level of happiness, where thinking too much about happiness can be counter-productive. Rather than asking: "Am I happy?" - which when posed just 4 times a day, starts to decrease happiness, it might well be better to reflect on one's values (e.g., "Can I muster any hope?").149 Asking different questions can assist in redirecting personal thoughts, and perhaps, lead to taking steps to better apply one's energies. The personal answer to any particular question can lead to positive actions, and hopefulness, which is a very powerful, and positive feeling. Hopefulness is more likely to foster happiness, while feelings of hopelessness tend to undermine happiness.
Todd Kashdan, researcher and author of "Designing Positive Psychology", explained early science's findings should not be overgeneralized or adopted too uncritically. Mindfulness to Kashdan is very resource intensive processing; he warned it is not simply better at all times. To illustrate, when a task is best performed with very little conscious thought (e.g., a paramedic performing practiced, emergency maneuvers).149 Nevertheless, development of the skill lends to its application at certain times, which can be useful for the reasons just described; Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry Richard J. Davidson highly recommends "mindfulness meditation" for use in the accurate identification and management of emotions.150151
After several years of researching disgust, Jonathan Haidt, and others, studied its opposite; the term "elevation" was coined. Elevation is a pleasant moral emotion, involving a desire to act morally and do "good". As an emotion it has a biological basis, and is sometimes characterized by a feeling of expansion in the chest or a tingling feeling on the skin.152153
Learned optimism refers to development of one's potential for a sanguine outlook. Optimism is learned as personal efforts and abilities are linked to personally desired outcomes. In short, it is the belief one can influence the future in tangible and meaningful ways. Learned optimism contrasts with learned helplessness, which consists of a belief, or beliefs, one has no control over what occurs, and that something external dictates outcomes, e.g., success. Optimism is learned by consciously challenging negative self talk. This includes self talk on any event viewed as a personal failure that permanently affects all areas of the person's life.
Intrapersonal, or internal, dialogues influence one's feelings. To illustrate, reports of happiness are correlated with the general ability to "rationalize or explain" social and economic inequalities.154 Hope is a powerful positive feeling, linked to a learned style of goal-directed thinking. Hope is fostered when a person utilizes both pathways thinking (the perceived capacity to find routes to desired goals) and agency thinking (the requisite motivations to use those routes).155
Author and journalist J.B. MacKinnon suggested the cognitive tool of "Vertical Agitation" can assist in avoiding helplessness (e.g., paralysis in the face of earth's many problems). The concept stemmed from research on denial by sociologist Stanley Cohen. Cohen explained: in the face of massive problems people tend towards learned helplessness rather than confronting the dissonant facts of the matter. Vertical Agitation involves focusing on one part of a problem at a time, while holding oneself accountable for solving the problem - all the way to the highest level of government, business and society (such as advocating strongly for something: eco-friendly lightbulbs). This allows each individual in society to make vital "trivial" (read: small) changes, without being intimidated by the work needed to be done as a whole. Mackinnon added: a piecemeal approach also keeps individuals from becoming too 'holier than thou' (harassing friends and family about every possible improvement), where widespread practice of Vertical Agitation would lead to much improvement.156
Psychologist Howard Gardner has extensively researched the merit of undertaking good work at one's job. He suggested young generations (particularly in the United States) are taught to focus on the selfish pursuit of money for its own sake, although having money does not reliably engender happiness. Gardner's proposed alternatives loosely follow the pleasant/good/meaningful life classifications outlined above; he believes young people should be trained to pursue excellence in their field, as well as engagement (see flow, above) in accordance with their moral belief systems.157
According to a study reported in the NY Post Newspaper, 48% of parents reward their children's good grades with cash or something else of meaning. Among many families in the United States, this is controversial. Although psychology experts support the offer of reward for good behavior as a better alternative than the use of punishment for bad behavior, in some circumstances, families cannot afford to give their children an average of 16 dollars for every good grade earned. Alternatives for money include allowing a child extra time on a computer or staying up later than usual. Some psychology experts believe the best reward is praise and encouragement because material rewards can cause long term negative effects for children.
A study, regarding rewards for children, conducted in 1971 by psychologist, Edward L. Deci, at the University of Rochester, is still referenced today. Featured in the New York Times, it focused on the short and long term effects of rewards for positive behavior. Deci suggested rewards for positive behavior is an effective incentive for only a short period. At the outset, rewards can support motivation to work hard and strive towards personal goals. However, once rewards cease, children showed less interest in the task relative to participants who never received rewards. Deci pointed out, at a young age, children's natural instinct is to resist people who try to control their behavior, which he cited as support for his conclusion rewards for good behavior have limited effectiveness.
In contrast, the New York Times featured research findings that supported the merits of offering rewards to children for good behavior. Expert economists argued children experiencing trouble with their behavior or schoolwork should have numerous helpful options, including rewards. Although children might well experience an initial attraction to financial or material, a love for learning could develop subsequently. Despite the controversy regarding the use of rewards, some experts believe the best way to motivate a child is to offer rewards at the beginning of the school year, but if unsuccessful they recommend teachers and parents stop using the reward system. Because of individual differences among children, no one method will work for everyone. Some children respond well to the use of rewards for positive behavior, while others evidence negative effects. The results seem to depend on the person.citation needed
The development of the Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) handbook represented the first attempt on the part of the research community to identify and classify positive psychological traits of human beings. Much like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of general psychology, the CSV provided a theoretical framework to assist in understanding strengths and virtues and for developing practical applications for positive psychology. This manual identified 6 classes of virtues (i.e., "core virtues"), underlying 24 measurable character strengths.158
The CSV suggested these 6 virtues have a historical basis in the vast majority of cultures; in addition, these virtues and strengths can lead to increased happiness when built upon. Notwithstanding numerous cautions and caveats, this suggestion of universality hints threefold: 1. The study of positive human qualities broadens the scope of psychological research to include mental wellness, 2. the leaders of the positive psychology movement are challenging moral relativism, suggesting people are "evolutionarily predisposed" toward certain virtues, and 3. virtue has a biological basis.158:51
The organization of the 6 virtues and 24 strengths is as follows:
- Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, innovation
- 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
Recent research challenged the need for 6 virtues. Instead, researchers suggested the 24 strengths are more accurately grouped into just 3 or 4 categories: Intellectual Strengths, Interpersonal Strengths, and Temperance Strengths159 or alternatively, Interpersonal Strengths, Fortitude, Vitality, and Cautiousness160 These strengths, and their classifications, have emerged independently elsewhere in literature on values. Paul Thagard described examples; these included Jeff Shrager's workshops to discover the habits of highly creative people.161
A practical application of positive psychology is to assist individuals and organizations in identifying strengths so as to increase and sustain well-being. Therapists, counselors, coaches, various psychological professionals, HR departments, business strategists, and others, are using new methods and techniques to broaden and build upon the strengths of a wide population of individuals. This includes those not suffering from mental illness or disorder.
Researcher Dianne Hales described an emotionally healthy person as someone who exhibits: flexibility and adaptability to different circumstances, a sense of meaning and affirmation in life, an "understanding that the self is not the center of the universe", compassion and the ability to be unselfish, an increased depth and satisfaction in intimate relationships, and a sense of control over the mind and body.162
In the 1970s, pioneering "happiness researcher" Michael W. Fordyce statistically related personal attributes to subjective well-being. His results, published in Social Indicators Research, rank in the journal's top 2.4% most-cited articles.164
The easiest and best possible way to increase one's happiness is by doing something that increases the ratio of positive to negative emotions. Contrary to some beliefs, in many scenarios, people are actually very good at determining what will increase their positive emotions.165 There have been many techniques developed to help increase one's happiness.
One such technique, Fordyce's Happiness Training Program (14 episodes, 1979), presented the empirically validated "fourteen fundamentals of happiness" (1981) in the following categories: (1) change your activities, (2) change your thinking, (3) nurture relationships, (4) value personal growth, and (5) decrease negative emotions. Although slightly outdated, the material is archived online in a 21-page Happiness Booklet166 and 2-volume Happiness Series.
A second technique is known as the "Sustainable Happiness Model (SHM)." This model proposes that long-term happiness is determined upon: (1) one's genetically determined set-point, (2) circumstantial factors, and (3) intentional activities. Lyubomirsky, Sheldon and Schkade suggest to make these changes in the correct way in order to have long-term happiness.167 One final suggestion of how to increase one's happiness is through a procedure called "Hope Training." Hope Training is primarily focused on hope due to the belief that hope drives the positive emotions of well-being.168 This training is based on the hope theory, which states that well-being can increase once people have developed goals and believe themselves to achieve those goals.169 One of the main purposes of hope training is to eliminate individuals from false hope syndrome. False hope syndrome particularly occurs when one believes that changing their behavior is easy and the outcomes of the change will be evidenced in a short period of time.170
As a basic building block to a better existence, positive psychology aims to improve the quality of experiences. Within its framework, students could learn to become excited about physical activity. Playing comes natural to children; positive psychology seeks to preserve this zest for movement in growing and developing children. If offered in an interesting, challenging and pleasurable way physical activity would thus internalize an authentic feeling of happiness in students. Positive psychology's approach to physical activity could give students the means of acquiring an engaged, pleasant and meaningful life.171
Positive psychology is beneficial to schools and students because it encourages individuals to strive to do their best; whereas, scolding has the opposite effect. Clifton and Rath172 discussed research conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Hurlock in 1925, where fourth, fifth and sixth graders were either praised, criticized or ignored, based on their work on math problems. Praised students improved by 71%, those criticized improved by 19%, and students provided with no feedback improved a mere 5%. Praise seems an effective method of fostering improvement.
According to Clifton and Rath172 ninety nine out of one hundred people prefer the influence of positive people. The benefits include: increased productivity, and contagious positive emotions, which assists one in working to the best of her, or his, abilities. Even a single negative person can ruin the entire positive vibe in an environment. Clifton and Rath172 cited ‘positive emotions as an essential daily requirement for survival’.
In 2008, in conjunction with the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, a whole-of-school implementation of Positive Psychology was undertaken by Geelong Grammar School (Victoria, Australia). This involved training of teaching staff in the principles and skills of positive psychology. Ongoing support was provided by The Positive Psychology Center staff, who remained in-residence for the entire year.173
Staats, Hupp and Hagley (2008) used positive psychology to explore academic honesty. They identified positive traits displayed by heroes, then determined if the presence of these traits in students predicted future intent to cheat. The results of their research: ‘an effective working model of heroism in the context of the academic environment’ (Staats, Hupp & Hagley, 2008).174
A strengths-based approach to personal positive change aims to have clinical psychology place an equal weight on both positive and negative functioning when attempting to understand and treat distress.175 This rationale is based on empirical findings. Because positive characteristics interact with negative life events to predict disorder the exclusive study of negative life events could produce misleading results.176 Interventions focusing on strengths and positive emotions can be as effective in treating disorder as other more commonly used approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy.177178
Psychologists are looking to use positive psychology to treat patients. Amy Krentzman discussed positive intervention as a way to treat patients. She defined positive intervention as a therapy or activity primarily aimed at increasing positive feelings, positive behaviors, or positive cognitions, as opposed to focusing on negative thoughts or dysfunctional behaviors. A way of using positive intervention as a clinical treatment is to use positive activity interventions. Positive activity interventions, or PAIs, are brief self-administered exercises that promote positive feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Two widely used PAIs are “Three Good Things” and “Best Future Self.” “Three Good Things” requires a patient to daily document, for a week, three events that went well during the day, and the respective cause, or causes. “Best Future Self” has a patient “think about their life in the future, and imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. They have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of their life goals. Think of this as the realization of all of their life dreams.” The patient is then asked to write down what they imagined. These positive interventions have been shown to decrease depression.179 Positive psychology seeks to inform clinical psychology of the potential to expand its approach, and of the merit of the possibilities. Given a fair opportunity, positive psychology might well change priorities to better address the breadth and depth of the human experience in clinical settings.
Positive psychology has been implemented in business management practice, but has faced challenges. Wong & Davey (2007)180 noted managers can introduce positive psychology to a workplace, but they might struggle with positive ways to apply it to employees. Furthermore, for employees to welcome and commit to positive psychology, its application within an organization must be transparent.181 Managers must also understand the implementation of positive psychology will not necessarily combat any commitment challenges that exist. However, with its implementation employees might become more optimistic and open to new concepts or management practices.182
In their article The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?, S. Lyubomirsky et al. report: "Study after study shows that happiness precedes important outcomes and indicators of thriving, including fulfilling and productive work".
Positive psychology, when applied correctly, can provide employees with a greater opportunity to use skills and vary work duties. However, changing work conditions and roles can lead to stress among employees if they are improperly supported by management. This is particularly true for employees who must meet the expectations of organizations with unrealistic goals and targets.183 Thomas and Tasker (2010) showed less worker autonomy, fewer opportunities for development, less-enriched work roles, and lower levels of supervisor support reflected the impact of industry growth on job satisfaction.184
Can an organization implement positive change? Lewis et al. (2007) developed Appreciative inquiry (AI), which is an integrated, organizational-level methodology for approaching organizational development. Appreciative Inquiry is based on the generation of organizational resourcefulness, which is accomplished by accessing a variety of human psychological processes, such as: positive emotional states, imagination, social cohesion, and the social construction of reality.185
A relatively new practice in the workplace is recruiting and developing people based on their strengths (what they love to do, are naturally good at and energises them). Standard Chartered Bank pioneered this approach in the early 2000s. More and more organisations are realising the benefit of recruiting people who are in their element in the job as opposed to simply having the right competencies for the job. Aviva, Morrisons (a large UK supermarket) and Starbucks have all adopted this approach.186
Traditional work with offenders has focused on their deficits (e.g., with respect to socialization, and schooling) and other "criminogenic" risk-factors. Rehabilitation more often than not has taken the form of forced treatment or training, ostensibly for the good of the offender, and the community. Arguably, this approach has shortcomings, suggesting a need to make available additional positive options to treatment staff so they can best assist offenders, and so that offenders can better find their way forward. Positive psychology has made recent inroads with the advent of the "Good Lives Model", developed by Tony Ward, Shadd Maruna, and others. With respect to rehabilitation: "Individuals take part ... because they think that such activities might either improve the quality of their life (an intrinsic goal) or at least look good to judges, parole boards and family members (an extrinsic goal)."187
Positive psychology research and practice is currently conducted and developed in various countries throughout the world. To illustrate, in Canada, Charles Hackney of Briercrest College applies positive psychology to the topic of personal growth through martial arts training; Paul Wong, president of the International Network on Personal Meaning,188 is developing an existential approach to positive psychology.
Cognitive and behavioral change, although sometimes slight and complex, can produce an ‘intense affect’. The benefits argue for this focus becoming a legitimate area of study, specifically regarding links in cognition and motivational responses. Isen (2009) remarked, further progress requires suitable research methods, and appropriate theories on which to base contemporary research.189 Chang (2008) suggested researchers have a number of paths to pursue regarding the enhancement of emotional intelligence, even though emotional intelligence does not guarantee the development of positive affect; in short, more study is required to track the gradient of positive affect in psychology.190
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Myriad criticisms exist. According to Schneider (2011),191 positive psychology fails to explain past heinous behaviors such as those perpetrated by the Nazi party, Stalinist marches, Klan gatherings, to identify but a few. Furthermore, Schneider pointed to a body of research showing high positivity correlates with positive illusion, which effectively distorts reality. The extent of the downfall of high positivity (also known as flourishing) is one could become incapable of psychological growth, unable to self-reflect, and tend to hold racial biases. By contrast, negativity, sometimes evidenced in mild to moderate depression, is correlated with less distortion of reality. Therefore, negativity might play an important role within the dynamics of human flourishing. To illustrate, conflict engagement and acknowledgement of appropriate negativity, including certain negative emotions like guilt, might better promote flourishing.134 Overall, Schneider (2011) provided perspective: “perhaps genuine happiness is not something you aim at, but is a by-product of a life well lived, and a life well lived does not settle on the programmed or neatly calibrated” (p. 35).191 It must be noted that some positive psychologists, such as Seligman, have acknowledged in their works the point about positive illusion.192 Seligman is also a critic of merely feeling good about oneself apart from reality and also recognises the importance of negativity / dysphoria.193 Therefore, Schneider's criticism must be understood as a criticism only applicable to some views of positive psychology and not an absolute denouncement of positive psychology.
Sample (2003) noted the argument by Steven Wolin, a clinical psychiatrist at George Washington University in Washington DC: the study of positive psychology is a reiteration of older ways of thinking.
Snyder and Lopez (cited in Held 2004, p. 17) warned of possible damage to the field of positive psychology as a result of the scientific community becoming caught up in the media’s celebration of it. In a warning to researchers in the field, Snyder and Lopez suggested they remain within the parameters of scientific professionalism and appropriately utilize any research or study findings.196
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges wrote scathingly on the social dangers of "positive psychology", both in his column for Truthdig197 and, more extensively, in his 2009 book Empire of Illusion. Hedges stated corporations appeal to "positive psychology" to force employees to be happy at all times. In a similar vein, Hedges is critical of "positive psychology's" law of attraction. However, while popular in media and business, psychologists generally do not take seriously the notions of permanent happiness and law of attraction.
Barbara Ehrenreich extensively critiqued "positive psychology" in her book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America,198 in lectures, and interviews.199200201202 Ehrenreich discussed how unrealistic, obsessive, or reckless positive thinking impedes productive action, causes delusional assessments of situations, and that people are then blamed for not visualizing hard enough, and thus "attracting" failure even in situations when "masses of lives were lost."203 These criticisms are valid to psychologists.citation needed It is unclear to what extent Ehrenreich is critiquing the positive branch of psychology for errors of the popular positive thinking movement - especially the law of attraction, which is not taken seriously by professionals.
Held argued while positive psychology makes contributions to the field of psychology, it has faults. Her 2004 article offered insight into topics including the negative side effects of positive psychology, negativity within the positive psychology movement, and the current division in the field of psychology caused by differing opinions of psychologists on positive psychology.196 In addition, she noted the movement’s lack of consistency regarding the role of negativity. She also raised issues with the simplistic approach taken by some psychologists in the application of positive psychology. A ‘one size fits all’ approach is not arguably beneficial to the advancement of the field of positive psychology; she suggested a need for individual differences to be incorporated into its application.196
Zagano and Gillespie (2006) demonstrated there are similarities between contemporary positive psychology, as a secular phenomenon, and the spirituality of Ignatius of Loyola. The latter was traced to the 16th century in Phyllis Zagano and C. Kevin Gillespie, "Ignatian Spirituality and Positive Psychology", The Way, 45:4 (October 2006) 41-58.
Although psychology has its roots in philosophy, philosophical objections might well be raised regarding positive psychology, in particular. For example, Arthur Schopenhauer and his disciples, might accuse followers of a "positive" approach to human thought as showing a preference for delusion and denial. Delusions are false beliefs, while denial can protect the ego. Interestingly, delusion and denial are human processes. Philosophically, some believe life is ultimately utterly meaningless. This viewpoint, based on human processes, and an extreme belief regarding the purpose of existence, contrasts steeply with what positive psychology has to offer, and what it suggests people are capable of, including a capacity to become aware of their foibles (i.e., a tendency to delusion and/or denial), and overcome them. Similarly, Marxist theorists would likely view the development of positive psychology as a symptom of alienation and ideology.
These objections highlight some of the difference between philosophy (which generally suggests one possesses true beliefs, even if such beliefs have negative or unpleasant consequences), and several fields of psychology, including positive psychology. Unlike the philosophical notion of 'true' beliefs, psychology argues personal beliefs are changeable; therefore, it is not only valid to seek happiness, subjective well being, "wellness" or "ideal functioning", but it makes very good sense to attempt to do so.
- Outline of psychology
- Happiness economics
- Meaning of life
- Positive education
- Psychological resilience
- Theory of humor
- What Matters
- Humor (positive psychology)
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|Wikiversity has learning materials about Positive psychology|
- Economic Downturn: Can Money Buy Happiness? WhyFiles.org
- Niemiec, R., & Wedding D. (2008). Positive Psychology at the Movies: Using Films to Build Virtues and Character Strengths. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
- Martin Seligman presentation on positive psychology (Video) at TED conference
- The Karma of Happiness: A Buddhist Monk Looks at Positive Psychology by Thanissaro Bhikkhu