Positive Psychology: A Necessary Revolution | Positive Psychology Concepts Series

By Catherine Cimon-Paquet.

This blog post was edited by Macilia Abou and Cecilia Marie Chaymâa Ezzahraoui, edited by Rémi Thériault.

In the series called “Concepts of Positive Psychology”, we will introduce you to different aspects of positive psychology and present different science-based practices that will help you increase your well-being.

Positive psychology is a scientific study field that focuses on the strengths of individuals and communities and their optimal functioning. Over the past twenty years, this discipline has grown in importance. In particular, several studies from positive psychology indicate that practices based on the mindfulness, gratitude and strengths of individuals can increase our well-being and decrease our levels of depression, anxiety and stress¹⋅².

The recent rise of positive psychology has led to a particular revolution in the field of psychology. In 2000, Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, two American researchers, highlighted the need to study life aspects that make it worth living. Since the publication of their scientific article in the journal American Psychologist³, many scientists have undertaken positive psychology studies to understand better what makes people happy. Indeed, health is defined not only by the absence of disease but also by a complete state of physical, mental, and social well-being⁴.

Health is defined not only by the absence of disease but also by a complete state of physical, mental, and social well-being.

Photo credit: Külli Kittus

To better understand what makes people happy, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman wanted to identify the strengths and virtues common to all human beings. To create this inventory of character strengths and virtues, Peterson drew on religious, political and cultural texts⁵. The manual reports 24 strengths and virtues⁶, including bravery, honesty, spirituality and humour. These strengths and virtues are categorized into six broad areas: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. Interestingly, international studies have shown that these strengths appear to be universal⁷⋅⁸. Each person would have a diversity of strengths and virtues within him or her. Several strengths of character have been associated with happiness, such as hope, love and gratitude.

Each person would have a diversity of strengths and virtues within him or her.

While character strengths serve primarily to increase self-knowledge, positive psychology also offers concrete ways to increase one’s level of happiness. In particular, Seligman has suggested several elements that could increase our psychological well-being; positive emotions, commitment, interpersonal relationships, the search for meaning, and fulfillment⁵⋅⁹.

Photo credit: Catalin Pop

Many interventions based on positive psychology are effective. Some interventions have been shown to decrease depression, anxiety and stress and increase well-being in healthy and clinical populations, such as individuals suffering from cancer, depression or cardiovascular disease¹⋅².

Interventions based on positive psychology have many personal benefits but also benefits for society. For example, individuals who experience more gratitude and those who practice mindfulness meditation, either in general or during interventions, are more likely to engage in prosocial behaviours¹⁰⋅¹¹, aimed at helping others. Mindfulness meditation is about cultivating an attentive presence, free of judgment. This type of meditation allows one to be aware of the emotions, thoughts and feelings one is experiencing in the present moment.

Individuals who experience more gratitude and those who practice mindfulness meditation, either in general or during interventions, are more likely to engage in prosocial behaviours.

Photo credit: Erik Brolin

Although positive psychology focuses primarily on increasing so-called positive qualities, such as optimism and happiness, some researchers have highlighted the presence of suffering and sadness in human existence¹². Suffering can give way to love and post-traumatic growth, which is characterized by positive change following a challenging situation. Paradoxically, the more love one feels for another person grows, the more the suffering caused by a potential break in that relationship also increases¹². Thus, love and sadness must coexist in order to exist. It would therefore be wrong to believe that positive psychology only values so-called positive emotions.

Love and sadness must coexist in order to exist.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, many researchers are studying the human response to this unprecedented crisis. This is a golden opportunity to further study human resilience — human beings’ ability to overcome difficult challenges¹³. During this extraordinary time, knowledge from positive psychology can inspire us to take actions that will allow us to grow individually and collectively. For example, we can take advantage of this time to question our strengths and values, both individual and societal. Then, we can reflect on the best ways to use our strengths to get through this collective ordeal that is the current pandemic.

Knowledge from positive psychology can inspire us to take actions that will allow us to grow individually and collectively.

Photo credit: Helena Lopes

In upcoming blog posts from the Canadian Association for Positive Psychology’s Student Ambassador Program, we will discuss some of the concepts, such as gratitude, altruism, perseverance and resilience, that increase our level of happiness and put into practice the knowledge gained from positive psychology research.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you have any questions or would like suggestions for further reading on positive psychology, you can reach me at cimon_paquet.catherine@courrier.uqam.ca. Finally, if you are not yet a member of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association, I warmly invite you to join our wonderful community!

References cited in the text

  1. Chakhssi, F., Kraiss, J. T., Sommers-Spijkerman, M., & Bohlmeijer, E. T. (2018). The effect of positive psychology interventions on well-being and distress in clinical samples with psychiatric or somatic disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry, 18(1), 211.
  2. Hendriks, T., Schotanus-Dijkstra, M., Hassankhan, A., de Jong, J., & Bohlmeijer, E. (2019). The efficacy of multi-component positive psychology interventions: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1–34.
  3. Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5–14.
  4. Preamble to the Constitution of WHO as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19 June — 22 July 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of WHO, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948. The definition has not been amended since 1948.
  5. Seligman, M. E. (2019). Positive psychology: A personal history. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 15, 1–23.
  6. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. American Psychological Association; Oxford University Press.
  7. Niemiec, R. M. (2013). VIA character strengths: Research and practice (The first 10 years). In Well-being and cultures (pp. 11–29). Springer.
  8. Nansook Park , Christopher Peterson & Martin E. P. Seligman (2006) Character strengths in fifty-four nations and the fifty US states, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(3), 118–129.
  9. Seligman, M. (2018). PERMA and the building blocks of well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 13(4), 333–335.
  10. Donald, J. N., Sahdra, B. K., Van Zanden, B., Duineveld, J. J., Atkins, P. W., Marshall, S. L., & Ciarrochi, J. (2019). Does your mindfulness benefit others? A systematic review and meta‐analysis of the link between mindfulness and prosocial behaviour. British Journal of Psychology, 110(1), 101–125.
  11. Ma, L. K., Tunney, R. J., & Ferguson, E. (2017). Does gratitude enhance prosociality?: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 143(6), 601–635.
  12. Lomas, T., & Ivtzan, I. (2016). Second wave positive psychology: Exploring the positive–negative dialectics of wellbeing. Journal of Happiness Studies, 17(4), 1753–1768.
  13. Masten, A. S. (2001). Ordinary magic: Resilience processes in development. American psychologist, 56(3), 227–238.

Référence du texte. Cimon-Paquet, C. (2020). Série concepts de psychologie positive : La psychologie positive, une révolution nécessaire. [Billet de blog]. https://cppastudents.medium.com/s%C3%A9rie-concepts-de-psychologie-positive-la-psychologie-positive-une-r%C3%A9volution-n%C3%A9cessaire-89de26524f19

We are the Student Ambassador Program of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association (CPPA). Find our website here: https://www.cppa.ca/Student-Zone

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