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How Did Positive Psychology Come To Be? A Snapshot

by Scott Bidmead on May 26, 2022

How Did Positive Psychology Come To Be? A Snapshot

Happiness has been broken down into two areas: hedonic (feel good, chocolate happiness aka wellness) and eudaimonic (fulfilled, purposeful, life-of-meaning aka well-being). Within this distinction also lies the importance of separating wellness from well-being. Green drink guzzling, pills, potions and lotions fall into what we can call wellness. It’s not that these are bad things; but, these outward manifestations will be of little help if there isn't a commitment to fostering well-being in ourselves and others. Well-being is the new name of the game. It involves examining and building the best in our thinking, feeling, behaving, and interacting with the world and others. Some write ‘wellbeing’ as one word, for me it must be two. Well… being. The art of being well and beingness.

The French have nailed the art of hedonic happiness throughout history. They championed the idea that happiness is found in pleasure and sensation and is the sum of all of the sensory pleasures. Fast-forward to the 18th and 19th centuries and we have utilitarianism, which believed that happiness is found in actions that lift up the welfare of as many people as possible. So, it was a shift away from what is best for me and my own pleasure and a focus towards others and fulfilment, and fulfilment leads to lasting happiness.

The origin of humanistic psychology dates back to the Middle Ages when the philosophy of humanism was born, but modern humanistic psychology emerged in the mid-1950s. Where we were introduced to concepts like self-actualisation and the hierarchy of needs.

But it was during the 1970s that Psychologist Martin Seligman helped ignite positive psychology, after having an illustrious career and a stint as president of the American Psychological Association. So what is positive psychology, exactly? Ok. To drill down on that question, I’ll first tell you what it isn’t. It isn’t positive thinking. It’s important that we clear that up, straight away. Positive psychology is, in fact, a ‘new wave of psychology’. In the years immediately after WWII the field of psychology was dominated by a focus on fixing things that were ‘broken’. This was a natural reaction to the horror of war and its aftermath - the tentacles that reached out for generations. Mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and psychosis, were recognised as illnesses that required cures and, on the whole, it was a very important and noble pursuit. One issue that spun from it was that with the focus on treating mental illnesses, the importance of building the good qualities in ourselves and taking people who are doing just ok and making them great was neglected.

 

Some of the key concepts in this scientific approach can be found far and wide - from ancient Greek philosophy to Taoism. But the big focus has been on putting these concepts to light under the microscope of science. According to Seligman – ‘The mission of positive psychology is to understand and foster the factors that allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish’.

Plus, according to a lot of research, people who are happy live longer, are more successful, more connected and can better serve those around them. If you just put a bit of time and focus onto your growth and expansion (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually), you will thank yourself. Especially when you get that happy birthday letter from the Queen because you’ve lived to a ripe old age.