What is Positive Psychology? And why it is so misunderstood?
The inception of psychoanalysis and later on psychology, tended to focus on helping people dealing with trauma, “abnormality” and mental illnesses. But after the Second World War, a group of psychologists began expressing dissatisfaction with this approach as they found it was quite limiting. Some of these were psychologists such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Eric Fromm, who had decided to investigate the more positive aspects of human nature. They tried to provide answers to questions such as what makes some people happier than others, Why do you enjoy your work more, or what makes you experience wellbeing.
From the late 90’s onwards, the field of positive psychology gained increased attention, particularly through the action of Martin Seligman, who has been an avid promoter of this field, within the scientific community. In 1998 Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association and Positive Psychology became the theme of his term as president. He is widely seen as the father of contemporary positive psychology, even though he is not in reality the first one working with positive psychology.
Then, with the turn of the century, positive psychology started to be criticised. Barbara Ehrenreich and others, extensively critiqued “positive psychology”. In Ehrenreich’s book “Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America” for example, the scholar posed some triggering questions on how positive thinking could actually promote unrealistic and reckless behaviour, disrupting productive action.
Fast forward to 2016, we have now a new generation of psychologist working with the field, which is the case of James Pawelski, who is the Director of Education and a Senior Scholar at the Positive Psychology Center, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Religious Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences, at Pennsylvania University.
Pawelski is the founding director of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program, at the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches courses on positive interventions and human flourishing. He is also the founding Executive Director of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) and a charter member of its Board of Directors.
James is a highly coveted international keynote speaker and workshop leader, who regularly gives presentations in both Spanish and English. Having earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy, he turned his eye to writing, and is the author of The Dynamic Individualism of William James, in which he presents an important new interpretation of the work of this seminal philosopher and psychologist.
In the following interview, with James Pawelski, the researcher gives us some answers about why positive psychology is so often misunderstood.
You can check I’M Magazine to watch the rest of James Pawelski’s interview.