Applied Positive Psychology 10 Years On
The first edition of this handbook was published in 2004. The title of the introduction chapter was “Applied Positive Psychology: A New Perspective for Professional Practice.” In that chapter, the authors argued for the need for applied positive psychology. It had only been a few years since positive psychology had first come to widespread attention following Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi's (2000) special issue of the American Psychologist. Positive psychology was still a fledging discipline and scholars were beginning to coalesce around this exciting new idea. Applications of positive psychology were in their infancy.
A decade later, positive psychology is no longer new. The ideas of positive psychology have now firmly taken root within professional psychological practice. In the intervening years, there have been applications in the contexts of work, health, organizations, counseling, and coaching, as well as in professional disciplines outside psychology such as sociology, social work, education, and public policy. There seems little need 10 years on to argue the case for positive psychology. The notion that psychology had focused too much on the alleviation of problems with scant attention to what goes right in life is no longer controversial. It is now widely accepted that it is of equal value to attend to what makes life worth living as it is to what goes wrong, and it is important to look for ways to help people lead lives in which they are happier, have a sense of meaning and purpose, and come closer to fulfilling their potential. These are the aims of positive psychology, which broadly expressed can be said to be “the study of the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions” (Gable & Haidt, 2005, p. 104).
Since 2004, research output in positive psychology has continued apace, not only in the dedicated journals of positive psychology, well-being, and happiness, but also in the wider literature. Research with a positive psychology emphasis is now regularly published in the journals of social, personality, and clinical psychology, as well as in the flagship journals of the leading professional associations. Many new books have appeared in the intervening years, including major scholarly volumes (e.g., Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi, 2006; David, Boniwell, & Conley-Ayers, 2012; Lopez & Snyder, 2011), an encyclopedia (Lopez, 2009), and introductory level textbooks (e.g., Hefferon & Boniwell, 2011; Peterson, 2006), which demonstrate the breadth of the topic and its appeal.
It is beyond doubt that positive psychology deserves to be a major force in contemporary psychology. Across the globe, there are now dedicated courses in positive psychology as part of the undergraduate curriculum and postgraduate-level courses specializing in positive psychology, and since 2004 a new generation of scholars with doctorates in positive psychology has emerged. Many more scholars and practitioners now identify themselves with positive psychology.
Positive psychology provides a common identity for all scholars and practitioners interested in human flourishing and well-being. Some may identify themselves primarily as positive psychologists, particularly those who have graduated from the new courses over the past decade or gained doctorates in positive psychology topics. For others, positive psychology may be a secondary identity because they view themselves first and foremost as clinical, counseling, developmental, educational, forensic, health, management, occupational, personality, or social psychologists. They may be academics or practitioners, but all share the same concern in what makes for a good life, but in a way that now encompasses the idea that we ought to be interested not only in the alleviation of problems but also the promotion of optimal functioning. For some, positive psychology has been a new way of thinking altogether. For others, it has provided a way to understand and give voice to what it was they always aspired to achieve.
Positive psychology has also attracted interest from the general public eager to find out what the science can contribute to their lives. In the bookstores, positive psychology is well-represented by a number of books written for the general public (e.g., Froh & Bono, 2014; Joseph, 2011; Lyubomirsky, 2008; Seligman, 2011). Unlike many of the traditional areas of psychology, positive psychology has clear and direct applications to everyday life. As human beings, we are motivated to fulfil our potential, function at optimal levels, and achieve a pleasurable and meaningful life. Positive psychology is concerned with how best to support these aspirations in us in ways that are both good for us and those around us.
The Content of This Volume
Any volume such as this inevitably reflects the interests and biases of its editor. I have endeavored to provide coverage of the range of activity in positive psychology and to maintain the book's cutting-edge appeal. I was also interested in strengthening the historical, theoretical, and philosophical perspectives. There is a famous quote from Kurt Lewin: “There is nothing so practical as a good theory” (Lewin, 1951, p. 169). To me this quote sums up the essential ingredient of good practice. No matter what one's practice specialty, whether it is in coaching, counseling, clinical, or health psychology, the most important thing is to understand how what you do relates to and emerges from theory. There is much that is directly practical in this volume, but it is also a book that is rich in ideas. In this respect, one of the key developments over the past 10 years has been the shift in emphasis from hedonistic well-being to eudaimonic well-being.
The importance of this development of interest in eudaimonia is twofold. First, it has widened the scope of positive psychology so that it is no longer as concerned with happiness in the traditional sense of joy and pleasure but also with the existential concerns of meaning and purpose. This has given positive psychology greater depth and provided a counterbalance to those critics who saw it as little more than happiology. Second, it has allowed positive psychology to build bridges toward humanistic psychology. Initially, positive psychology distanced itself from humanistic psychology. But as positive psychologists have shifted toward a greater appreciation of the eudaimonic perspective, it has become clearer that there is much to be valued in the earlier writings of the humanistic psychologists. As will be clear in this volume, the two disciplines have come closer together, and many of the ideas in humanistic psychology have now become part of the scope of positive psychology. Positive psychologists did not invent the study of well-being. It is now acknowledged that the pioneers of humanistic psychology, such as Maslow (1968) and Rogers (1963), also offered perspectives that were positive psychologies. It is useful to see the links between disciplines and for their forces to combine in creating a better understanding of what makes for a good life. Positive psychology must recognize that its topics of interest date back to humanistic psychology and even beyond to the origins of psychology itself. This has led to deeper philosophical considerations and a more thoughtful and sophisticated approach to what it means to promote human flourishing.
In Part I
(Historical and Philosophical Foundations), Hilde Nafstad (Chapter 2
) deals with a number of antecedent developments in the history of psychology and science that have informed the development and epistemology of today's positive psychology. Specifically, Nafstad discusses the Aristotelian philosophical position that has attracted increasing attention over the past decade. It is important to understand that practice is always rooted philosophically. Despite a contentious early relationship, the past 10 years have seen much rapprochement between positive psychology and humanistic psychology. Humanistic psychology has long recognized the importance of one's philosophical position. As such, a new chapter from Brent Robbins (Chapter 3
) is included that continues this theme of understanding our history, the Aristotelian tradition, and further builds bridges between humanistic and positive psychology. Roger Bretherton deepens this line of enquiry even further in Chapter 4
with an exploration of how positive psychology can learn from existential thinking with its focus on the person's inherent strengths and capacities. Finally, concluding this section is another new chapter by Shifra Sagy, Monica Eriksson, and Orna Braun-Lewensohn (Chapter 5
) on Antonovsky's concept of salutogenesis. Most positive psychologists will have heard the term salutogenesis
, but this is a concept that deserves to be more widely understood than it is, particularly the profound notion that entropy is the natural state of being human.
In Part II
(Values and Choices in Pursuit of the Good Life), Tim Kasser (Chapter 6
) examines the question of our pursuit of “the good life or the goods life”—that is, psychological satisfaction or material success and its implications for personal and social well-being. Lilach Sagiv, Sonia Roccas, and Shani Oppenheim-Weller (Chapter 7
) consider three value pathways to fulfillment, looking specifically at the roles of healthy values, valued goal attainment, and the congruence between our own values and the values supported by our environment. Barry Schwartz (Chapter 8
) addresses the paradox of choice, that is, how it can be that more choice is actually bad for us, and suggests ways in which we can act to counter this maladaptive influence. This theme is reflected by Kirk Warren Brown and Richard Ryan (Chapter 9
) who discuss developments in self-determination theory and how adopting an attitude of mindfulness can facilitate autonomous thought and behavior that serves to foster more fully informed decisions and intrinsic values and goals with attendant positive psychological outcomes. As ...