Categorized | Psychology

The Beginning of Positive Psychology

Updated: Nov 9, 2009

The modern positive psychology movement began with Martin Seligman’s American Psychological Association’s (APA) Presidential address at the yearly conference in San Francisco, California. His speech was entitle Building Human Strength: Psychology’s Forgotten Mission (Seligman, 1998) and since then he has come to be known as the father of positive psychology with Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi. (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000)

The APA’s three missions are:
“[1] curing mental illness,
[2] making the lives of all people more fulfilling, and
[3] identifying and nurturing high talent.” (Seligman, 1998)

After World War 2 the focus both in research and practice, has shifted largely towards addressing and curing mental illnesses while the latter two missions were largely neglected. As a result of this we now have a large and competent body of knowledge about mental illnesses. The obvious and unfortunate downside to this is that the aspects that make life worthwhile living have been left largely unexamined. To bring balance to this negatively skewed field, in his speech, Seligman calls on psychologists to build an equally large body of knowledge about what is good and right about people and exploring how these qualities can be nurtured. As a first step he laid out an action plan for the APA’s Presidential Task Force to set some ground work for a more positive psychology. (Seligman, 1998; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000)

This mission calls for the creation of a more complete picture of people’s lives, beyond a victimology where people are only considered as passive beings who are merely impacted on by their environment, towards also seeing people as active agents who create and shape themselves, their environments, and their futures. There is no doubt that alleviating suffering in peoples lives is very important. Traditionally the focus was on repairing damage but for example “the major strides in prevention have largely come from building a science focused on systematically promoting the competence of individuals.” (Seligman, 1998) And research has:

“discovered that there is a set of human strengths that are the most likely buffers against mental illness: courage, optimism, interpersonal skill, work ethic, hope, honesty and perseverance. Much of the task of prevention will be to create a science of human strength whose mission will be to foster these virtues in young people.” (Seligman, 1998)

Therefore it is equally important to explore how building on human strengths can help make “normal people stronger and more productive as well as making high human potential actual.” (Seligman, 1998).

References:

Seligman, M. E. P. (1998). Building human strength: Psychology’s forgotten mission. APA Monitor, 29(1). [free full text link]

Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology. An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14. [free full text PDF]


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70 Responses to “The Beginning of Positive Psychology”

  1. Merlin Lin says:

    After World War 2 the focus both in research and practice, has shifted largely towards addressing and curing mental illnesses while the latter two missions were largely neglected. As a result of this we now have a large and competent body of knowledge about mental illnesses. The obvious and unfortunate downside to this is that the aspects that make life worthwhile living have been left largely unexamined. To bring balance to this negatively skewed field, in his speech, Seligman calls on psychologists to build an equally large body of knowledge about what is good and right about people and exploring how these qualities can be nurtured. As a first step he laid out an action plan for the APA’s Presidential Task Force to set some ground work for a more positive psychology. (Seligman, 1998; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000) -He just did what people in the field should have done in the 80s.. picture hanging system Singapore framing service Singapore

  2. Eddy Lim says:

    Do you think this would lead to discoveries of super humans? I believe these people are already walking with us…we should be aware..should they need help..or we need help from them?

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    Thanks to American Psychological Association for focusing on the need of psychological problems to the victims of world war 2. But this mental theropies are needed now a days too because of the overall world situation.
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