Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology is a movement that was started by the psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman. In a way, this is a bit ironic as he gained earlier recognition in psychology for his research on learned helplessness. In this research he showed that if animals were exposed to an environment of random shocks from which there was no escape, these animals were unable to learn in another setting that they could avoid these shocks. These findings were extrapolated to a human setting in which there are few positive rewards and few opportunities in which people simply give up and stop trying.

Seligman was disturbed by the emphasis placed in clinical and counseling psychology on malfunctioning individuals. He was not arguing that these populations did not deserve attention, but, rather, that attention should also be given to positive behaviors and thought that lead to happiness. The website for Positive Psychology can be found at http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/index.html.

There was a session at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA) on Positive Psychology. On the whole, I am impressed with this movement. In other words, I am positive about Positive Psychology. My position should no be surprising given some previous Healthymemory Blog posts (“Continuing to Be Positive After Thanksgiving, “The Second Half of Life,” and “Change Your Brain By Transforming Your Mind.”). Buddhism encourages a positive attitude both to others and yourself. Positive thinking leads to happiness. It can also encourage perseverance and lead to success.

But there are parts of Positive Psychology that give me some concern. Emphasis is placed on finding and developing personal strengths. Although this is certainly good advice, I think it would be a mistake to focus on and develop personal strengths exclusively. If there are certain skills that are important to achieving your goals, but which are skills at which you do not excel, I think it would be a grave mistake to ignore them. For example, it certain mathematical skills would be helpful to achieving your interests, it would be good to focus on them and develop certain proficiencies. Once you have worked at something long enough you can become good enough where you actually enjoy the skill as it becomes a strength. Similarly, if giving presentation or public speaking is important to your pursuits, but you, like many, are fearful of speaking in public, consider addressing that fear. There are programs to help you overcome this fear and speak in public effectively and persuasively. Successful athletes do not usually work on what they are good at, but what they don’t do well, so they become more skilled at their sport. Deliberate practice is the term describing practice that focuses on correcting weaknesses or shortcomings.

Optimism is generally a good disposition, but it can be overdone (See the Healthymemory Blog Post “Can Optimism Be Bad?”). So be positive, but not too positive. Be optimistic, but not too optimistic.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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