Hello everyone, I’d like to take just a few moments to introduce the concept of positive psychology and some of the key pioneers of the recent research on the science of happiness. One way to look at positive psychology is in terms of what it is reacting to, which is traditional psychology in the 20th Century
Traditional psychology owes much of its direction and focus to this man, Sigmund Freud (you can tell from the picture by the way that he doesn’t look very happy). This quote is from an early study of his on hysteria, directed towards one of his patients who was wondering how exactly he could help her. Here we see the basic attitude of traditional psychology, which is focused on the negative, the problems that people have: the aim of psychology is to cure people of their mental illnesses, depression, anxiety, stress, and other negative states of mind. Once this is done they will experience less misery and simply share the common unhappiness which is our lot as human beings. Important to point out that positive psychology does not seek to replace traditional psychology…
But not everyone was convinced, thankfully, that this should be the sole concern of psychology. Marie Jahoda was one social psychologist in particular who expressed doubts about the focus on the negative, as can be illustrated by this quote. That is, perhaps just curing people of their problems is not enough to make them happy? But that raises the question: what does make people happy?
Maslow was one of the first psychologists to try to systematically answer this question, though he phrased it more in terms of: what makes for an excellent human life? He studied positive states– what he called peak experiences– to see what was involved when human beings live up to their highest potential. The above quote shows the basic premise of positive psychology.
Marty Seligman is considered the father of positive psychology, not only because of his research on the science of happiness, but also because he made it his goal as President of the APA to “bring psychology back to its roots,” which which is not primarily about curing human illness, but identifying and realizing what makes for an optimal human life. He sees Positive psychology as an empirical discipline, utilizing all the methods of the social sciences, rather than relying simply on case studies as Maslow and Rogers tended to do. Above quote reveals one of the core aspects of his teaching on happiness. This is one component of happiness: the full answer to the question ‘what is happiness?’ involved 3 different components.
Early 2002 he began research on virtue, and along with Peterson engaged in a comprehensive study designed to isolate those univerally held virtues that makes for an excellent human life, and he found that there were 6 virtues in particular that all traditions uphold All of these virtues and their attendant strengths (which are different routes one can take to achieve a particular virtue or to exemplify a specific aspect of that virtue) are correlated to some degree with life satisfaction, though some strengths are more highly correlated, such as kindness, love, and social intelligence. Confucius would love this: cultivate your humanity if you really want to be happy!!
During ww2 had to flee Hungary and Discovered chess in Italian Prison Investigated the state artists and other creative types are in when they are completely focused on their task, oblivious to everything else around them. He called this state ‘Flow’ and gave the above definition in his most popular work published in 1992. Innovative method for correlating flow and happiness: Experiencing Sampling Method: asked teenagers to carry around beepers and record what they were doing and how they were feeling. He found that those who were engaged in flow were more upbeat– later research shows that this is not momentary but people with high Flow will tend to experience more positive effects, have better careers, higher self-esteem and even enjoy greater health!
Flow occurs under specific conditions: when one’s skill level is equal to the challenge one is facing. If the challenge is too high and skill too low, one will experience anxiety. If the Skill is too high and challenge too low, one experiences apathy. Interesting result here: apathy is highly correlated with unhappiness, so since it is the opposite of flow according to this graph, one would expect Flow to be highly correlated with happiness, which it is.
Complex relation between income and happiness: while poor people report themselves as unhappier than middle class or rich people, after a certain threshold there seems to be no correlation between income and happiness, and in fact in a recent study it was found that teenagers from blue-collar families were happier than teenagers from rich families. This tends to confirm one of the most universally held beliefs from western and asian thinkers alike: that happiness comes from within and is not to be found in external things such as money, property, fame, or reputation.
Leading researcher in positive psychology, set standards for research protocols, coined the expression “SWB” for subjective well-being as the measure of happiness that can be statistically assessed…argues for a set level of happiness which is genetically fixed, and has some interesting research to show that external conditions do little to change one’s happiness.
Positive psychology 11.06.10
Lance P. Hickey, Ph.D.
The Positive Psychologists
Psychology in the 20th Century
“Much will be gained if
we transform your
hysterical misery into
– (Sigmund Freud,Studies in
What about happiness?
“The absence of
mental illness is not
a sufficient indicator
of mental health.”
(Marie Jahoda, Current
Concepts of Positive Mental
Abraham Maslow: the voice crying in the darkness
The Hierarchy of Needs
Martin Seligman: The Pioneer
“Authentic Happiness comes from
identifying and cultivating your
fundamental strengths, and using
them everyday in work, love, play,
and parenting.” (Authentic
Strengths and Virtues: The VIA test
Wisdom (love of learning, curiosity, creativity, open-
Courage (authenticity, bravery, persistence, zest)
Temperance (Humility, Self-moderation, prudence,
Humanity (Kindness, Love, social intelligence)
Justice (Fairness, Leadership, Teamwork)
Transcendence (Appreciation of beauty, gratitude,
hope, humor, meaning)
“Flow is…that state in which
people are so involved in an
activity that nothing else
seems to matter; the
experience is so enjoyable
that people will continue to do
it even at great cost, for the
sheer sake of doing it.” (Flow:
the Psychology of Optimal
Ed Diener: Dr. Happiness
“…over the past 50 years, income has
climbed steadily in the United States, with
the gross domestic product (GDP) per
capita tripling, and yet life satisfaction has
been virtually flat. Since World War II
there has been a dramatic divergence
between real income (after taxes and
inflation) and life satisfaction in the United
States, and a similar pattern can be seen in
the data from other nations, such as
Japan.” (“Beyond Money” APA, 2004)
Ed Diener: Dr. Happiness
“The most salient
characteristics shared by the
10% of students with the
highest levels of happiness
and the fewest signs of
depression were their strong
ties to friends and family
and commitment to spending
time with them.” (‘Very Happy
People,” Psychological Science