Positive psychology is a recent branch of psychology whose purpose was summed up in 1998 by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: 'We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise, which achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving in individuals, families, and communities.' Positive psychologists seek 'to find and nurture genius and talent', and 'to make normal life more fulfilling', not simply to treat mental illness. The field is intended to complement, not to replace traditional psychology. It does not seek to deny the importance of studying how things go wrong, but rather to emphasize the importance of using the scientific method to determine how things go right. Researchers in the field analyze things like states of pleasure or flow, values, strengths, virtues, talents, as well as the ways that they can be promoted by social systems and institutions. Positive psychologists are concerned with four topics: (1) positive experiences, (2) enduring psychological traits, (3) positive relationships and (4) positive institutions.
Several humanistic psychologists—such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Erich Fromm—developed theories and practices that involve human happiness. Recently the theories of human flourishing developed by these humanistic psychologists have found empirical support from studies by positive psychologists. Positive psychology has also moved ahead in a number of new directions.
Positive psychology began as a new area of psychology in 1998 when Martin Seligman, considered the father of the modern positive psychology movement, chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association, though the term originates with Maslow, in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality, and there have been indications that psychologists since the 1950s have been increasingly focused on promoting mental health rather than merely treating illness. In the first sentence of his book Authentic Happiness, Seligman claimed that 'for the last half century psychology has been consumed with a single topic only - mental illness',:xi, expanding on Maslow’s comments. He urged psychologists to continue the earlier missions of psychology of nurturing talent and improving normal life.
The first positive psychology summit took place in 1999. The First International Conference on Positive Psychology took place in 2002. More attention was given by the general public in 2006 when, using the same framework, a course at Harvard University became particularly popular. In June 2009, the First World Congress on Positive Psychology took place.
Positive psychology finds its roots in the humanistic psychology of the 20th century, which focused heavily on happiness and fulfillment. Earlier influences on positive psychology came primarily from philosophical and religious sources, as scientific psychology did not take its modern form. until the late 19th century. (See History of psychology)
Judaism promotes a Divine command theory of happiness: happiness and rewards follow from following the commands of the divine.
The ancient Greeks had many schools of thought. Socrates advocated self-knowledge as the path to happiness. Plato's allegory of the cave influenced western thinkers who believe that happiness is found by finding deeper meaning. Aristotle believed that happiness, or eudaimonia is constituted by rational activity in accordance with virtue over a complete life. The Epicureans believed in reaching happiness through the enjoyment of simple pleasures. The Stoics believed they could remain happy by being objective and reasonable, and they describe many 'spiritual exercises' that have been compared to the psychological exercises employed in CBT and Positive Psychology.
Christianity continued to follow the Divine command theory of happiness. In the Middle Ages, Christianity taught that true happiness would not be found until the afterlife. The seven deadly sins are about earthly self-indulgence and narcissism. On the other hand, the Four Cardinal Virtues and Three Theological Virtues were supposed to keep one from sin.
During the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment, individualism came to be valued. Simultaneously, creative individuals gained prestige, as they were now considered to be artists, not just craftsmen. Utilitarian philosophers such as John Stuart Mill believed that moral actions are those actions that maximize happiness for the most number of people, suggesting an empirical science of happiness should be used to determine which actions are moral (a science of morality). Thomas Jefferson and other proponents of democracy believed that 'Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' are inalienable rights, and that it justifies the overthrow of the government.
The Romantics valued individual emotional expression and sought their emotional 'true selves,' which were unhindered by social norms. At the same time, love and intimacy became the main motivations for people to get married.
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