The beginning of positive psychology

The story of positive psychology started just 20 years ago with Martin Seligman, head of the American Psychological Association. The idea he considered was: What if every person was encouraged to nurture his or her character strengths, rather than being scolded into fixing their shortcomings?

He reorientated the entire discipline of psychology away from mostly treating mental illness and toward human flourishing, then used his authority to promote it.

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Personal transformation

The term “positive psychology" was coined by Abraham Maslow in 1954. Martin Seligman used this term to promote personal change through the redemptive power of devotional practices like counting your blessings, gratitude, forgiveness, and meditation.

It is expressly designed to build moral character by cultivating the six virtues of wisdom, courage, justice, humanity, temperance, and transcendence.

Martin Seligman insists on the value-neutral purity of the research on positive psychology. Yet even its fans say it seems to have some of the characteristics of a religion.

Philosophers such as Mike W. Martin say positive psychology has left the field of science and entered the realm of ethics. Science is a factual enterprise, not promoting particular values.

  • There are worries about its replicability and unreliable self-reports.
  • Promoting material achievement as part of happiness can make well-being seem out of reach.
  • Positive psychology gives the impression you can be happy by thinking the right thoughts.
  • At its core, positive psychology promotes the idea that we can achieve well-being by our own efforts, not considering physical illness and undeserved tragedy.
  • Positive psychology has become a commodity and has been cheapened by the thousands of coaches, consultants, and therapists who benefit from using wild claims for their lucrative products.

There is no major conclusion in positive psychology that has not been challenged, modified or even rejected.

Yet the fact that positive psychology is becoming more popular means that it gives hope, optimism and perhaps happiness to millions of its consumers.

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