It will soon be twenty years since Martin Seligman famously highlighted how sparse and unexamined our inquiry and understanding into the conditions essential for human flourishing are compared to our knowledge about human dysfunction and positive psychology was born.
In their helpful, balanced and stimulating overview of where the still very new and emerging field of positive psychology might be up to:
In this article, academic thinkers Dan Collinson and Lesley Lyle, of Buckingham New University, and Tim Lomas, of University of East London, offer a framework for thinking about the next level of challenges this research might help us to develop our thinking and responses…
…If the ‘first wave’ is characterised by a championing of the positive, Second Wave Positive Psychology recognises that wellbeing involves a subtle, interplay between positive and negative phenomena. This recognition challenges the idea that wellbeing is not necessarily associated with happiness per se; rather, wellbeing becomes a more expansive term, one that includes negative emotions if these serve some broader sense of ‘being/doing well.’
More specifically, Second Wave Positive Psychology is underpinned by four dialectical principles:+ appraisal;+ co-valence;+ complementarity; and+ evolution.The principle of appraisal means that we cannot appraise something as either positive or negative without taking context into account. For instance, … pro-social emotions like forgiveness can be harmful if it means one tolerates a situation that one might otherwise resist; conversely, ‘anti-social’ emotions like anger can impel one to resist injustice, and drive progressive social change. As such, clear-cut determinations of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ become harder to make.It’s not just that such appraisals are difficult; the second principle of co-valence reflects Richard Lazarus’ idea that many situations and experiences comprise positive and negative elements. This is even so for arguably the most cherished of all human emotions: love. While there are many forms of love, all are a blend of light and dark: even while love contains pleasure, joy and bliss, it also harbours worry, anxiety, and fear……This recognition of co-valence leads us to the third principle: complementarity. Essentially, the light and dark of love – and indeed of all such dialectical phenomena – are inseparable. They are complementary and co-creating sides of the same coin. Consider that the stronger and more intense one’s love for another, the greater the risk of heartbreak…
…Finally, the principle of evolution contextualises the very idea of Psychology, following Hegel’s notion of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. One might view mainstream psychology, with its apparent concern with ‘negative’ aspects of human functioning, as the thesis. In critiquing this and embracing ostensibly positive phenomena, positive psychology presented itself as the antithesis. However, critics subsequently detected flaws in this antithesis, as highlighted above. Crucially though, this does not necessarily mean an abandonment of positive psychology, a reversion back to the original thesis. Rather, the next stage in this process is ideally synthesis, in which the truths of both thesis and antithesis are preserved, while their flaws are overcome. Psychology is just such a synthesis, moving towards a more nuanced appreciation of the dialectical complexities of wellbeing…
Taking these four principles, here are some questions suggested by our pragmatic bias towards application and skills-in-action:
In what situations might this quality/approach be most and least helpful for me to draw from?
For example, when might it be advantageous for me to use a particular signature strength, such as my creativity, and when might this be more problematic and mismatched for the situation?
What might be both the positive and the negative aspects that could come from this quality/approach?
For instance, when I am choosing to look optimistically at how to influence a situation and what I hope for, how might I also give intelligent attention to its more worrisome and pessimistic aspects and what I fear might happen?
How might I actively seek dissonance and blend the most positive aspects of a quality or approach with its other sided aspects?
For example, when I am exercising one of my top strengths or preferred qualities, such as my extraversion, how can I mix into this aspects of its opposite, introversion too?
How can I enrich my expertise from one field with teachings from its opposite?
For example, how can I give sufficient attention and energy to both the qualities, approaches and techniques that come from positive psychology alongside the best teachings from of our studies into anxiety, trauma and resolving or even avoiding problems and conflicts?
Plenty here to think and read and wonder about.
Work in progress…
You can find more articles related to this in our latest collection…
Happy 2017 and here’s to continuing to make a future we can want to live in.