If we exist on a mental wellbeing scale of -8 to +8, psychology traditionally has worked to assist people to move from the negative up to neutral. The role of positive psychology is to study how to and then assist people to move from neutral to a high positive.
Positive Psychology is the science and research into positive subjective experience, positive individual traits and positive institutions. The aim of which is to improve the quality of life, fulfilment and experience for individuals, communities, organisations and intuitions.
In the 1930’s Psychology had three aims. These included:
1. To cure Mental Illness (This is based on the Disease model)
2. To support the general population to become more productive and be more fulfilled and
3. To study genius and to nurture high talent.
In the 1940’s two key events impacted on these three areas of focus. The first was the influx of war veterans with mental health issues, which saw the founding of the Veterans administration, meaning psychologists could now make a living by treating mental illness. Secondly, the National institute of mental health was founded, providing grant and research funding into mental illness. Essentially the area of psychology was driven to achieve only it’s first aim, with the general population and the study of genius almost entirely forgotten. When Martin Seligman became the president of the American Psychological Association in 1997 he said we’ve spent enough time on mental illness, it’s now time to focus on what’s right with human beings and assist people to experience more positive emotions and bring more meaning into their lives.
Kennedy in 1968 said “The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” I believe this is the core of what positive psychology is about. Enriching the lives of the average people by learning how we can become stronger, wiser, more compassionate, happy and loving individuals, essentially nurturing what is best about mankind.
If you’re interested in the theories and practices of positive psychology, watch this space. I’ll be writing about that next!