Contribution Of Positive Psychology To Understanding Of Human Psychology

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This essay will be discussing how Positive Psychology has contributed to our understanding of Human Psychology, needs, emotions and movements. Positive psychology has been defined as ‘the scientific study of the strengths that enables individuals and communities to thrive’, which is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives to encourage what is best within themselves (Positive Psychology Centre, 2019). The essay will be discovering what positive psychology means, the history behind positive psychology, the main ideas of positive psychology, positive psychology’s application, and theoretical critiques.

Since the beginning of civilization, human beings have pondered on how to live the ‘good life’. The good life refers to a ‘desirable state that is characterized by a high standard of living or the faithfulness to ethical and moral laws. It can be expressed through a luxurious lifestyle full of material belonging or live a life following the ethical, moral, legal and religious laws of one’s culture or country’ (Mueller, 2016). After decades of experimental research and success with his learned helplessness theory, Seligman founded the positive psychology movement and decided to introduce his plan to correct modern-day ‘scientifically focused’ psychology. Seligman viewed life as a problem rather than an opportunity and thought he would address this by acknowledging the power of positive thinking. Since then, the positive psychology movement has gained continual support from research funds and governments across the world to include positive psychology theories and practices in daily life (Hefferon and Boniwell, 2011, pp. 5). Stemming from the work of Ancient Greeks, health and well-being has gained recognition as part of ‘positive psychology’ which has also considered new idea’s to the extent that the ‘good life’ had become an art form. Before the discipline of positive psychology existed, there were four groups of individuals that were investigating ‘the good life’. Aristotle (384-322 BCE) contributed to ‘the good life’ with his work on morality, virtue and what it means to live a good life. He concluded that the good life was just happiness. Arguably, his work suggested that although pleasure may arise from engaging with righteous activities, it is not the solitary aim of humanity. According to utilitarianism, the policy from the government was ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number principle’. This philosophy was the first sector to measure and assess the quantity of happiness, however, previous philosophers had assumed that happiness was not measurable. Eventually, positive psychology found ways to measure happiness. William James (1890) was known for his contribution to psychology via his book ‘The Principles of Psychology’. His chapter, ‘The Emotions’, contributes to positive psychology suggesting that emotions come after we have physically acted out. For example; we encounter a bear, we are frightened and run away. This was the first example that connected emotions and expressions. Humanistic Psychology emerged in the late 1950s to early 1960s which is the psychological perspective that highlights the study of the whole person. Humanistic psychology solidified the qualitative inquiry to research human thought, behavior, and experience, adding a holistic dimension. The main focus for humanistic psychology was on mental health, specifically positive attributes. The humanistic perspective posits that humans had a choice and a responsibility for their own intentions. Ultimately, this perspective views life as a process, with all humans observing an innate drive for growth and fulfillment of potentials (Hefferon and Boniwell, 2011, pp. 8-11). After World War Two, psychology had become a science with its main focus on healing. To repair the damage, a disease model was used as human functioning. This almost neglected the idea of a thriving community and the possibility to build strength was the resource of therapy. The main focus of positive psychology is to alter psychology by making a repair to the negative things in life and build on the positives. A build on the imbalance of psychology, strengths in life became the main focus for treatments and preventions of mental illness after World War Two (Seligman, 2002).

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Like most movements, positive psychology has its limitations. Richard Lazarus (2003) suggested that positive psychology promises too much but doesn’t deliver alongside insinuating that positive and negative psychology can be separated. However, neither one can be emphasized without the other. Lazarus also demonstrated that problematic research methods use cross-sectional correlation methods which display relationships but not the casual directions of emotions. This however, is a common problem in psychology in question. On the other hand, Larsen et al (2001) explains that emotions are seen as either positive or negative, when in reality they are mixed. For instance, hope can often cause anxiety which criticizes the complexity of human emotions. Held would agree that positive psychology convoy’s promising messages without awareness. However, some psychologists such as Seligman would suggest that to think positive thoughts, we must be able to cultivate our positive emotions and attitudes, and that we must cooperate with our strengths to be able to be happy, healthy and wise (Hefferon and Boniwell, 2011, pp. 222-223).

[bookmark: _Hlk20848924]There are many theories that contribute to the understanding of positive psychology, however, this essay will examine the connection between Fredrickson and positive psychology. In addition to the history of the positive psychology movement, Frederickson’s Broaden and Build theory suggests that experiences of positive emotions can widen individuals’ awareness of examining thoughts, skill-building and personal resources over time. For example; joy makes individuals want to play, therefore joy arising from playing with others can strengthen social support networks and creativity can lead to problem-solving in day to day life. An increase in problem-solving may contribute to development and positive emotions. Fredrickson hypothesized that positive emotions have a “broadening effect” contributing to human wellbeing and expanding thought-action performances. This will affect negative emotions by discarding automatic responses and discovering a more effective way of thinking. By broadening perspectives and actions, individuals tend to build a more important way of using physical, intellectual, psychological and social resources to contribute to cultivating their well-being over time (Rahimi, 2014). Fredrickson’s (2004) examines how positive emotions lead to a broadening effect on attention and a more global form of visual processing. Positive emotions allow for a more creative cognitive process by making more connections.

[bookmark: _Hlk21102068]An implication of this theory is that positive emotions may assist in helping individuals to process and overcome existing negative feelings. For instance; research demonstrates that positive emotional states can aid in enhancing personal health and well-being (Lino, 2016). Fredrickson (2004) demonstrates that once heart rate rises following the experience of a negative emotion, one is able to restore a calmer beat when they entertain thoughts surrounding positive emotion. Furthermore, Pressman et al. (2005) supported the link between positive emotion and enhanced well-being by demonstrating that positive emotions can have a beneficial long-term impact upon mental health. Thus, engaging with positive emotions is highlighted to improve one’s personal mental state. Moreover, an additional strength of the broaden and build theory is that such ideology can be applied within a workplace scenario. Employee engagement surveys are used increasingly by organizations in order to assess individual workplace experiences (Markos & Sridevi, 2010). Therefore, it has been suggested that if organizations review the 10 positive emotions identified by Fredrickson and foster ways for such emotions to be frequently experienced within the workplace then employee productivity, loyalty and efficiency can be enhanced (Lino, 2016).

Alternatively, like other positive psychological theories, the broaden and build theory has received criticism. For instance, Kjell (2010) suggested that the theory remains too simplistic due to a failure to account for the subjective nature of positive emotion alongside the difficulty in providing a reliable and objective measure of this construct. Grewe et al. (2007) lend support to such views concerning subjectivity by demonstrating how different individuals display largely differential emotional responses to the same pieces of music. Therefore, we must consider that what can be described as a positive emotion for one individual may not necessarily be generalized across a target population when measuring the construct of positive emotion.

Likewise, within other aspects of psychology, positive psychology has multiple varying methods in order to gain evidence to support its thesis. Fredrickson carried out a series of laboratory studies to support her broaden and build theory. In one study participants had been shown film clips to encourage their positive emotions such as joy and contentment, negative emotions such as anger and fear and their neutral states where participants would show no emotion at all. Once the participants had seen each clip, they were asked to list as many things they could think of to do if these emotions were in real life. The participants were assessed on their ability to think broadly. The participants were assessed by the use of the global visual processing tasks to investigate whether they just focused on the smaller details or the “big picture”. The participants had to make a judgment on whether or not the opposing two figures were the same as the “standard figure” (for a visualization, see appendix a). The outcome of this study was that there was never a right or wrong answer, but one figure did resemble the “standard” figure in a global figuration form. This study also demonstrated that there was a comparison between those in negative and neutral states, and those who had experienced positive emotions (via an assessed self-report from signals from the face) did tend to choose the global configuration, this suggested that they had a broader way of thinking (Fredrickson, 2003).

However, various criticisms have been presented in relation to such methodology employed to measure the positive and negative emotional states of participants. Fredrickson (2003) employed the use of a global-local visual processing task in order to assess how positive emotions can impact upon the broadness of ones thinking. However, such a task may not necessarily be appropriate to apply to all populations. For instance, a recent meta-analysis by Van der Hallen et al (2015) suggests that individuals with Autistic Spectrum Disorder demonstrate significantly slower global-local visual processing when compared to individuals who don’t fall on the Autistic Spectrum. Furthermore, Coleman et al (2009) found evidence suggesting that individuals with Schizophrenia exhibit substantial deficits in attentional shifts across varying levels of global-local stimuli. Thus, this suggests that employing a global-local visual processing task may not be the most appropriate means of assessing one’s emotional state when it comes to clinical populations.

To conclude, this essay has shown that through the creation of positive psychology, individuals have been able to understand that negative emotions can be overruled by positive emotions if they entertain happier thoughts and feelings. Through the use of the broaden and build theory, individuals have been able to encourage their positive emotions in a more physical, intellectual and psychological way. It has also been a factor in the work place to encourage employee productivity, loyalty and efficiency which can be enhanced. However, it is important to acknowledge that what is regarded as a positive emotion for one individual may not necessarily be generalizable across a wider population due to the subjective nature of emotion. Positive psychology has contributed to our understanding of human psychology as old ideas such as the history and the ‘good life’ have been able to create a new way of life as positive thinking helps to create a happy life. After World War Two and the creation of the disease model, psychology was altered to repair the negative things in life and became the main focus to help individuals to access treatments to prevent mental illnesses. A conservative ideology would suggest that life should not be a negative thing and individuals should rely on increasing their subjective wellbeing.

Reference List

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