Positive Psychology 2.0: Towards a Balanced Interactive
Model of the Good Life
Published in Wong, P. T. P. (2011). Positive psychology 2.0: Towards a balanced
interactive model of the good life. Canadian Psychology, 52(2), 69-81.
This paper first describes the growing pains and challenges of the positive psychology
(PP) movement and identified the four pillars of the good life as meaning, virtue,
resilience, and well-being, which are all shaped by culture. I then introduce three
issues that characterise the second wave of PP (referred to as PP 2.0). The first
concerns the need for a comprehensive taxonomy of PP. The second involves the
hypothesis that meaning-orientation and happiness-orientation represent two different
visions of the good life with profound practical implications. Eudaimonia is viewed as
meaning plus virtue. The third issue concerns a dual-systems model as a way to
integrate the complex interactions between the negatives and positives to optimise
positive outcomes in various situations. I conclude that PP 2.0 is characterised by a
balanced, interactive, meaning-centered, and cross-cultural perspective.
Positive psychology (PP) has been all the rage since Martin Seligman’s APA
president address in 1998. In spite of its controversial nature (Carstensen & Charles,
2003; Held, 2002, 2004; Lazarus, 2003), PP has effectively changed the language and
landscape of mainstream psychology and it continues to grow exponentially in the
teaching, research, and applications of PP. The potential of applying PP to enhance
well-being is almost unlimited; it has already opened up new career opportunities for
psychologists in coaching, counselling, and consultation (Linley & Joseph, 2004;
Linley, Joseph, Harrington, & Wood, 2006). The PP movement has been spreading
like a forest fire with no sign of abating: research articles, books, and academic
conferences on PP continue to multiply. The formation of the International
Association of Positive Psychology is one of the many recent developments attesting
to the global appeal of PP. The vitality and creativity of PP research can be found in
mainstream psychology journals as well as specialized journals such as the Journal of
Positive Psychology and the Journal of Happiness Studies. By all indications, the
prospects of PP are bright, but there is a need to take stock and assess its future
direction, now that the dust has settled after the initial explosive growth. The present
paper represents both a reassessment and a reformulation of PP from a Canadian
Seligman’s (1998a) primary reason for launching the PP movement is to address the
imbalance in mainstream psychology. He emphasizes what is good about people to
counteract psychology’s preoccupation with psychopathology. This premise is correct
with respect to applied psychology and the study of emotions, but it becomes
questionable if one considers the totality of mainstream psychology research. For
example, numerous positive PP topics were already well researched prior to
Seligman’s (1998a) APA presidential address. Hart and Sasso (2010, this issue) have
found evidence of substantial growth of several PP sub domains, especially resilience.
Given the above, would PP become superfluous when an analysis of publication rates
of all the growth-oriented research topics fail to show a negativity bias in mainstream
psychology? I think not. I propose that a stronger argument in support of the
of PP is that PP is much more than a corrective reaction to the perceived imbalance in
the literature. Properly understood, the overarching mission of PP is to answer the
fundamental questions of what makes life worth living and how to improve life for all
people—this is also the heart and soul of the mission of both APA and CPA.
The Growing Pains and Challenges of Positive Psychology
Like any new movement, PP has attracted both supporters and detractors. Some of the
criticisms are caused by overstatements, resulting in unnecessary controversies and
criticisms. For example, the controversy regarding humanistic psychology’s
contribution to PP remains unresolved (Bohart & Greening, 2001; Robbins &
Friedman, 2008). The literature has also shown several legitimate concerns about PP:
What To Do About the Negative?
One persistent critique of PP is that it has ignored the reality and benefits of negative
emotions and experiences. Recently, there has been a shift in the PP movement from
focusing only on the positive as separate from psychopathology (Seligman, Steen,
Park & Peterson, 2005) to PP focusing the negatives, the dominant message of PP
(e.g., Fredrickson, 2009; Lyubomirsky, 2008; Peterson, 2006a) still maintains that
negatives will go away if people simply focus on enhancing the positives. However,
too much emphasis on positive affects as the answer to all ills can be
counterproductive because negative emotions, such as a guilt, regret, frustration, and
anger, can all motivate us toward positive change. Future research needs to test the
hypothesis that the development of character strengths and resilience may benefit
from prior experience of having overcome negative conditions. A balanced model
of PP explicitly seeks to harness the positive potentials from negative emotions and
situations for both individuals and society.
The Problem With Black-and-White Thinking
Related to the frequent criticism of “tyranny of positivity” (e.g., Held, 2002) is the
artificial dichotomous thinking of positive versus negative psychology. Such
distinction served a strategic function to launch the PP movement. It is also a useful
short-hand to differentiate between two different motivational systems (approach vs.
avoidance) or two emotional systems (positive affect vs. negative affect). However, in
the final analysis, most psychological phenomena cannot be properly understood
without considering both positive and negative experiences. Emotional experiences
are often complex, involving a mixture of positive and negative elements.
Toward a Balanced Interactive PP 2.0
Ryff and Singer (2003) emphasize the need to appreciate the dialectics between
positive and negative aspects of living: “Human well-being is fundamentally about the
joining of these two realms”(p. 279). In order to fully understand the complexity of
life in its totality, it is more promising to study the paradoxical and interactive effects
of positives and negatives in the next stage of development of PP. This is essentially a
concept paper for PP 2.0 which complements Seligman’s (1998b) original concept
paper and represents part of the ongoing evolution of PP.
The Need for a More Precise Terminology
The progress of PP has been plagued by an imprecise language (Haybron, 2000)
because in the vernacular, happiness and the good life have many surplus meanings,
and psychologists also offer different definitions. Even the term “positive” is
ambiguous because it refers to many things, such as positive valance as well as
outcomes in positive and negative circumstances. The same ambiguity also surrounds
the descriptive “negative.” Guilt and regret are considered negative emotions, but they
may lead to the positive changes. Similarly, pain is necessary for gain in mastering a
Happiness or subjective well-being (SWB) is typically defined as “people’s cognitive
and affective evaluations of their lives” (Diener, Diener, & Diener, 2009a, p. 43).
However, a global SWB score is less meaningful without any references to contextual
variables and past histories. For instance, a high SWB score for people struggling in
the midst of unrelenting adversity and poverty would have a very different meaning
and may reflect a very kind of adaptive process than the same SWB score for
someone enjoying a pleasant life in peace and prosperity. The more negative the
situation, the greater the adaptive effort is needed in order to maintain a high level of
SWB. See the elaborate adaptive process involved when I (2008) tried to regain a
sense of joy in the midst of prolonged and intense pain.
The concept of hedonic adaptation
(Frederick & Loewenstein, 1999) describes the tendency to return to the set-point
after high and low points in life, but it does not recognize the very different processes
and consequences of upward and downward adaptations. Thus, the real value of a
global SWB score needs to be interpreted by factoring in the current negativity index
and the history of adaptation to adversity (Larsen & Prizmic, 2008). By the same
token, the same global SWB score tells a different story, depending on the different
sources and avenues of happiness. The following types of happiness all contribute to
SWB, but they may involve different personalities, circumstances, and pathways.
1. Hedonic happiness. It is typically defined as evaluating one’s life as satisfying and
containing a high rate of positive affect and low rate of negative affect (Kahneman,
Diener, & Schwartz, 1999; Kashdan, Biswas-Diener, & King, 2008). What
immediately comes to mind is the kind of life that emphasizes “eat, drink, and be
merry” or the hedonic treadmill. It represents the sensorial experiential pathway to
happiness as well as the general happiness set point inherent in different individuals.
Some people are happygo- lucky, while some are naturally moody or melancholy.
2. Prudential happiness. Feelings of satisfaction that come primarily from living a
fully engaged life. It often includes the “flow” and the intrinsic joy of doing
something one does best and enjoys doing. It refers to a person’s doing well in what
she is good at and what delights him without moral considerations (Haybron, 2000). It
represents the active pathway to happiness, because it fills one’s life with activities
and contents as an antidote to boredom and inner void, and it also provides
satisfaction for a job well done.
3. Eudaimonic happiness. Different researchers have defined eudaimonia differently
(e.g., Kashdan, Biswas-Diener, & King, 2008; Ryan, Huta, & Deci, 2008; Ryff, 1989;
Seligman, 2002; Waterman, 2007). However, it serves as an umbrella term that
incorporates psychological well being, virtue/excellence, intrinsic
motivation/authenticity, flow/fully functioning, meaning/purpose, and concern for
others. Personally, I prefer to define eudaimonia as a lifestyle characterised by the
pursuit of virtue/excellence, meaning/purpose, doing good/making a difference, and
the resulting sense of fulfillment or flourishing. It refers to the kind of happiness
associated with living in a manner that “actively expresses excellency of character or
virtue” (Haybron, 2000, p. 3). This narrower definition differentiates eudaimonia from
hedonic and prudential happiness and recognizes the moral/ethical underpinnings of
4. Chaironic happiness. Feeling blessed and fortunate because of a sense of awe,
gratitude, and oneness with nature or God. Chaironic (pronounced “chair”-“ronic”)
comes from the Greek root chairo (a´), which simply means blessing, joy, or gift
of happiness. However, chaironic happiness does depend on our preparedness and
receptivity. What really matters is our attitude toward life, our being mindful of the
moment and attuned to the transcendental reality. It is typically associated with peak
experiences, mindful meditation, and transcendental encounters. It represents the
existential spiritual pathway to happiness. It calls for empirical and theoretical work.
Granted that everyone may be seeking happiness, but people do differ in the kind of
happiness they pursue as the ultimate purpose in life. A global SWB measure is not
sensitive enough to differentiate these four types of happiness, because they all
SWB, even though their sources and pathways may differ. More specialized well-
being measures are needed to complement the general SWB scale. For example,
eudaimonic happiness may be best measured by a eudaimonic happiness scale
flourishing (Diener et al., 2009) or authenticity (Wood, Linley, Maltby, Baliousis, &
Joseph, 2008). Chaironic happiness may be more related to the spiritual well-being
scale (Bufford, Paloutzian, & Ellison, 1991) than other types of happiness. Presently, I
am developing a eudaimonia preference scale focusing on meaning and virtue in life’s
The Future of a Balanced PP Is Now
Snyder and Lopez (2007) commented that “Future psychologists must develop an
inclusive approach that examines both the weaknesses and the strengths of people. . .
We have not reached that point, however, because we have yet to develop and explore
the science and practice of positive psychology” (p. 9). For all their support of a
balanced PP, they see it as an ideal for the future. But I propose that the future is now.
Since we can never explore fully the science and practice of PP without considering
of positives and the benefits of negatives (e.g., Aspinwall & Staudinger, 2003; Ryan
& Deci, 2001), why not adopt a new strategy of incorporating negative experiences in
all our research and practice of PP right now? Haybron (2007) has rightly emphasized
that “A crucial task for any theory of well-being is to give a credible accounting of the
value of pleasant and unpleasant experiences, especially suffering” (p. 12).
King (2001) points out that “the focus on the maximization of positive affect and the
minimization of negative affect has led to a view of the happy person as a well-
defended fortress, invulnerable to the vicissitudes of life. . . Perhaps focusing so much
well-being, we have missed the somewhat more ambivalent truth of the good life”
(pp. 53–54). Larsen, Hemenover, Norris, and Cacioppo (2003) emphasize the health
benefits of coactivation of positive and negative emotions, which allow individuals to
gain understanding and mastery over stressful and traumatic experiences. Consistent
with Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, and Vohs (2001), Larsen (2009) has
documented the negativity bias. There is also considerable literature on posttraumatic
& Suedfeld, 2006; Joseph, 2009; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1995). The clearest statement
in favour of a balanced approach of PP comes from Peterson’s (2006b) syllabus for
his course on Positive Psychology Interventions:
“Positive psychology calls for as much focus on strength as on weakness, as much
interest in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst, and as much
attention to fulfilling the lives of healthy people as to healing the wounds of the
Commenting on Sheldon, Kashdan, and Steger (in press); Steger (2010) wrote: “In
nearly every one of the essays, leaders in the field urge us not to myopically focus on
the ‘positive’ in psychology and to preserve the symbiotic relationship between the
good and the bad”. The challenge for PP 2.0 is to begin a research program NOW to
study the symbiotic relationship between the good and the bad. The enterprise of PP
2.0 needs to begin with a comprehensive new taxonomy that recognizes the
legitimacy of negatives in all subdomains of PP.
The Need for a New Taxonomy for a Balanced PP
Taxonomy, the most basic level of theory development, can be helpful in facilitating
the advance of PP. This new taxonomy of positive psychology, as shown in Table 1,
will achieve three things: First, it brings order to a wide array of seemingly
contradictory data. Second, it incorporates areas of research that have been ignored as
part of positive psychology. Third, it has the heuristic value of generating new areas
of research by looking at different combinations of the 2 2 matrix. The new
taxonomy must recognize the benefits and risks for both positives and negatives. To
achieve the good life and optimise well-being, one needs to know how to manage
risks and balance positives and negatives.
The main focus is on adaptive processes and positive outcomes in both positive and
negative conditions. This taxonomy has the heuristic value of stimulating PP research
regarding the optimal interactive adaptation to both positive and negative antecedent
conditions for individual and society.
Table 2 show a 2 x 2 contingency table involving Positive Traits – Positive Outcome
(Quadrant 1), Negative Traits – Positive Outcome (Quadrant 2), Positive Traits –
Negative Outcomes (Quadrant 3) and Negative Traits – Negative Outcomes (Quadrant
4). The same 2 x 2 contingency table can be applied to a variety of traits, conditions,
and processes, thus creating a systematic way of studying both the limits of positivity
and positive potentials of negativity.
PP generally focuses on the Quadrant 1 and ignores Quadrants 2 and 3, which also
hold potentials for PP. Quadrant 2 is an important but much neglected area. Every
virtue can become a vice when it is too much or too little. Similarly, the pursuit of
happinessboth on healing the worst AND building the best (Peterson, 2006a). While
acknowledging the need to address also has its downsides, such as greed and
indulgence in materialism and environmental exploitation (O’Brien, 2008). Quadrant
3 (Negative – Positive) holds enormous potential for enhancing the success and well-
being of multitudes who feel that they cannot compete because of all the deficits and
obstacles they face. The world is not fair in terms of life opportunities and health
conditions. Some were born with several strikes against them, and they have to endure
much more than their share of misfortunes and sufferings. Studying their adaptive
process and the positive potentials of various negative emotions and conditions can
benefit large numbers of disadvantaged and disabled people. According to PP 2.0, the
most effective strategy to maximize Positive – Positive and minimize Negative –
Negative is to discover the benefits of Positive – Negative and Negative – Positive.
Thus, the 4 Quadrants comprise a complete strategy of furthering the mission of PP.
Proposed New Taxonomy for a Balance PP
good living conditions
congruent coping, response flexibility
benefits to society
bad living conditions
lack of resources
A Balanced Approach to Character Traits and Outcomes
Positive Trait: Self-confidence
Negative Trait: Self-doubt
Success & happiness
Fame & power
Trust in God & others
Fear and anxiety
Escape from reality
Balancing Between Individualist and Collectivist
The positive outcomes can be either for the individual or for the group/society. A
group-oriented positive psychology is more consistent with collectivistic cultures
(Leong & Wong, 2003). Social activism and political reform also belong to the realm
of positive psychology if they result in the enhancement of justice and the common
good (Csikszentmihalyi, 2009). The positive motivations for the well-being
of othershave not attracted much attention of PP researchers. Altruism (Batson,
Ahmad, Lishner, & Tsang, 2002) and compassion (Gilbert, 2009) represent only a
small segment of PP’s broader concern for creating positive institutions.
People in strong collectivist cultures may be more concerned about securing a better
life for their family than for themselves. Over the years, I have met many professional
people from China or Korea who work at low-paying jobs in Canada so that their
children can have a better education and a better future. They endure marginalization
and downward social mobility for their children’s happiness. Thus, there are cultural
differences in the balancing act between me and we. For PP 2.0, we need to
emphasize positive motivations, processes, activities, and outcomes for both
individuals and groups. Examples of positive outcomes for individuals include life
satisfaction, achievement, and self-esteem, while positive outcomes for groups would
encompass harmonious relationships, group morale, and collaborative success.
Toward a Balanced Definition of PP
In view of the rapid expansion of PP, it becomes increasingly difficult to have a
comprehensive definition that encompasses different aspects of PP. Seligman, Steen,
Park, and Peterson (2005) remain committed to the three-pillar definition of PP as “an
umbrella term for the study of positive emotions, positive character traits, and
enabling institutions” (p. 410). It is worth noting that Seligman et al. recognize that “a
complete science and a complete practice of psychology should include an
understanding of suffering and happiness, as well as their interaction”, but they
consider relief of suffering and enhancement of happiness as “two separate
endeavours” (p. 410). According to PP 2.0, these are inherently interdependent
endeavours. The focus on what is good about people in times of peace and prosperity
is only half of the story. The whole story of PP is about how to bring out the best in
people in good and bad times in spite of their internal and external limitations. Thus,
PP may be defined as the scientific study of virtue, meaning, resilience, and well-
being, as well as evidencebased applications to improve the life of individuals and
society in the totality of life.
The Four Pillars of Positive Psychology
Virtue, meaning, resilience, and well-being are the four of pillars of PP 2.0 because
extensive research has shown that they are the major ingredients of PP, as evidenced
in textbooks and journal publications in PP. Empirically, these four pillars incorporate
many areas of mainstream research which recognizes the moral imperative, the
centrality of meaning, the intrinsic human capacity for resilience, and the universal
human yearning for happiness and a better future. Logically, it is difficult for people
to survive and flourish lacking any of these four ingredients. It is always difficult and
risky to identify areas as essential for positive psychology. My choice of these four
additional pillars is based on both empirical research, as reviewed here, and the
broadest possible psychological understanding of what is essential to make life better
for individuals and society in good times and bad. Seligman’s three pillars represent
the characteristics and outcomes of having achieved a high level of meaning, virtue,
resilience, and well-being. Recently, Seligman has added relationships as an
additional pillar, which is also included as a major source of meaning (Wong, 1998).
The Imperative of Virtue
Virtue is concerned with what kind of person we want to be and the kind of values
and character strengths we want to possess. Unlike competence-based strengths, virtue
cannot be a value neutral term just like “good” is not a value neutral descriptor. Good
invariably begs the question of good for what. A consensus is emerging among
positive psychologists that what is good needs to be both for the individual and the
common good. Virtue, not science, provides a moral map for how we ought to live our
lives and how we ought to develop just and compassionate societies. It takes people
with virtue and integrity to create positive institutions and democratic society. Virtue
is its own reward. It feels good from doing good, even when it hurts. Living a virtuous
life may not always be good for the individual— because the pursuit of what is good
and just may result in persecution and oppression— but it will be good for the
common good (Haybron, 2000).
Fowers (2008) points out that virtues and ethics are important not only for
psychologists but also for the good life in general: “Virtues are the character strengths
that are necessary to pursue what is good. . . That means that what counts as a virtue is
determined largely by what we believe to be the best, highest, most admirable, most
noble aims for humans” (p. 631).
He further adds that “the identification and description of our ends are central to
defining the character strengths we deem admirable and worth cultivating. Because
positive psychologists aim to promote human flourishing and character strength, one
could reasonably expect them to articulate a rich and resonant understanding of what
is good for humans” (p. 631). I agree with Fowers that the concept of good cannot be
entirely based on “the inherent worth of virtue and on the subjective markers of that
worth” (p. 633), because such a view heavily reflects the individualistic bias of
contemporary Western societies without considering the value-systems of more
collectivist societies. Research on virtues needs to recognize cultural differences as we
move toward an international positive psychology.
Another concern is that purely subjective views of what is good will give license to
people to do evil in the name of doing what they are best at, be it gambling, killing, or
exploiting people. According to a value-neutral view of character strengths, even
serial killers and terrorists can be considered living the good life (Seligman, 2002).
Fowers suggests that we need to consider collectivist virtues, “such as citizenship,
responsibility, nurturance, altruism, civility, and tolerance” (p. 634). He also raises the
issue of how to balance the individual and group-level virtues and how to “curb the
possibility of becoming too masterful or hedonically oriented” (p. 634). These issues
implicate the importance of moral/ethical consideration and cultural norms with
respect to what is good.
PP takes an ambiguous stance with respect to moral values because of its emphasis on
science. On the one hand, Seligman emphasizes that the main purpose of PP is to
understand and enhance human strengths and civil virtues (Seligman, 2002), and one
of the 10 criteria for selected each character strengths in Peterson and Seligman
(2004) that the strength needs to be “morally valued in its own right” and a person’s
display of the strength does not diminish or hurt other people. On the other hand, the
above quote seems to suggest that the display of strength can contribute to the good
life, even if it is destructive to others. This inconsistency has been pointed out by a
number of philosophers and psychologists (Martin, 2007; Robbins, 2008;
Sundararajan, 2005; Taylor, 2001; Woolfolk & Wasserman, 2005).
Such inconsistency may be due to Peterson and Seligman’s (2004) emphasis on
competence-and-success values at the expense of moral and ethical values. Their
stance on moral neutrality actually waters down their emphasis on the need for civil
virtue in creating positive institutions and societies. Kraut (2009) maintains that the
ethics of well-being must consider what is good and dismisses that it requires each
individual to construct his or her own definition of the good. It is questionable
whether anyone’s life can be considered “good” or if anyone can be considered of
having a “good character” if either are morally corrupt and ethically harmful to
society. McCullough and Snyder (2000) define virtue as “any psychological process
that consistently enables a person to think and act so as to yield benefits to him or
herself and society” (p. 1). What is good depends on the purposes it
serves. Good must mean good for something, Applying Aristotle’s virtue ethics Kraut
(2009) argues that human good needs to entail whatever fosters human flourishing.
The good life demands the presence of virtue. At the heart of how should we live is
the question of good—how we ought to live a worthy and excellent life that embodies
the best existential values that characterise us as human beings.
Virtue research incorporates several lines of mainstream research, such as moral
development (Gilligan, 1977; Kohlberg, 1981; Walker, 1989), prosocial behaviour
(Clark, 1991), and compassion (Gilbert, 2005, 2009). Moral psychology, at the
intersection of psychology and philosophy, promises to be an area of substantial
growth in PP, especially when eudaimonic well-being gains currency. Like well-
being, virtue also has a cultural dimension (Leong & Wong, 2003; Rigsby, 1994).
The Centrality of Meaning
Jerome Bruner (1992) has long sought to establish meaning as the central concept of
psychology. Peterson’s (1999) analysis has shown that a fuller understanding of
meaning-making requires us to connect the world of myths and beliefs with the world
of science and neuropsychology. Hoffman (2009) concludes that “the attainment of
meaning is one of the most central aspects of human existence and necessary to
address in existential therapy” (p. 49). A meaning-centered PP 2.0 goes beyond the
confines of science to explore narratives, myths, and culture as advocated by the
above three authors.
Prominent positive psychologists typically consider meaning as one of the
components of happiness or the good life (Park, Peterson, & Ruch, 2009; Peterson &
Seligman, 2004; Seligman, 2002). However, the construct of meaning is much
broader and richer. It is much more than being an antecedent or outcome measure of
happiness. Based on implicit theories, research of lay people’s beliefs of what
constitutes the ideal good life or the ideal meaning full life, when money is no longer
an issue, Wong (1998) has identified eight sources of meaning: happiness,
achievement, intimacy, relationship, self-transcendence, self-acceptance, and fairness.
This finding has been replicated in several other cultures (Kim, Lee & Wong, 2005;
Lin & Wong, 2006; Takano & Wong, 2004). The Personal Meaning Profile (PMP) as
reported in Wong (1998) and McDonald, Wong, and Gingras (in press), excludes the
happiness component in order to minimize the problem of confound when PMP is
used to predict well-being. The seven major sources of meaning are very similar to the
major sources of happiness (Myers, 1993).
Apart from sources of meaning, we also need to consider the structure and functions
of meaning defined as PURE (Wong, 2010a) which stands for Purpose,
Understanding, Responsible action and Enjoyment. Functionally, these four
components cover for many psychological processes for the good life: motivational
(purpose), cognitive (understanding), moral/spiritual (responsibility), and
evaluative/affective (enjoyment). They function together as part of the self-regulation
process (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004; Carver & Scheier, 2001; Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Purpose-driven life. Purpose has to do with the overall direction, life goals, and core
values. It provides the framework of daily deliberations and navigating troubled
waters. According to Kashdan and McKnight (2009), purpose can be characterized as
a central, self-organizing life aim. At one level, purpose refers to the incentive
objectives, goals, and plans (Emmons, Colby, & Kaiser, 1998; Gollwitzer, 1999;
Klinger, 1998). At a deeper level, purpose is concerned with the existential values:
what really matters in life and what would make for the ideal good life (Wong, 2010b;
Wong & Gingras, 2010). At a higher level, purpose refers to devoting something
larger and higher than oneself; Park, Peterson, and Ruch (2009) considers this broader
or higher concern as the
hallmark of a meaningful life.
Understanding and a sense of coherence. Without a sense of coherence, life is
incomprehensible, unpredictable, and unsettling. Without a sense of order and
understanding of how the world works, we would have difficulty achieving hardiness
(Maddi, 1998). Without a clear sense of self-identity, we would not know what to do
with our lives. Pursuit of self-understanding and selfknowledge is important for self-
control (Baumeister, Heatherton, & Tice, 1994). At a situational level, it requires
attribution and appraisal in order to know how to cope (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984;
Peacock & Wong, 1990; Seligman, 1990; Wong & Weiner, 1981). Understanding also
includes emotional intelligence (Salovey, Mayer, & Caruso, 2002). At a deeper level,
enlightenment about life and death and one’s place in the large scheme of things is
needed to discover the meaning of life (Wong, 2010b). Understanding entails the need
for self-reflection and self-acceptance, which are components of meaningful living
(Wong, 1998, 2007).
There is also a social/cultural dimension to understanding. According to constructivist
psychology (Raskin & Bridges, 2004), meaning making is involved in understanding
self and the world, in navigating everyday life. Meanings are subjectively constructed
based on one’s personal history and idiographic way of experiencing the world, but
the ways we understand our world and ourselves are also shaped by culture, language,
and ongoing relationships. Thus, curiosity, meaning seeking, myth-making, and
storytelling all contribute to our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.
Responsible action. It is concerned with doing what is right and what is good. With
freedom comes responsibility. Since selfdetermination is one of the keys to happiness
and the good life, the ability to make good decisions is paramount. Good decisions not
only lead to successful or satisfying results for the individual, but also meet ethical
requirements and contribute to the well-being of others (e.g., Snyder & Feldman,
Aristotle (trans. 2004) emphasizes the importance of practical wisdom as well as
rationality. In Sternberg’s (2001) words, practical wisdom is “not simply about
maximizing one’s own or someone else’s self-interest, but about balancing various
selfinterests (intrapersonal) with the interests of others (interpersonal) and of other
aspects of the context in which one lives (extrapersonal), such as one’s city or country
or environment or even God” (p. 231). To decide on the right course of action
demands that we have the right purpose in life, the correct understanding of the
situation, and careful consideration of its consequences on other people. One is
responsible not only to one’s own conscience and conviction, but also to others and a
Enjoyment and evaluation. Feeling good is the inevitable outcome from doing good
in light of one’s highest purpose and best understanding. One can feel satisfied with
the decision and action even when one fails to accomplish the desired result. Thus,
meaning is related to both SWB and eudaimonia. When the situation worsens and
when dissatisfaction sets in, self-regulation demands that one reevaluate one’s
purpose and understand actions in order to made midcourse corrections. The
evaluative component is necessary to ensure that one does not remain stuck in a rut.
Here discontent serves a positive function when it compels the unhappy person to
make positive changes.
The central, integrating function of meaning. Meaning serves a vital function to
integrate various aspects of human needs and functions. The centrality of meaning can
also be appreciated from the stand point of meeting the basic human needs
(Baumeister & Vohs, 2004) for purpose, efficacy and control, value and justification,
and self-worth. Furthermore, there is extensive literature on the relationships between
meaning and various indices of well-being in personality and social psychology (e.g.,
Baumeister, 1991; Brickman, 1987; Chamberlain & Zika, 1988; Deci & Ryan, 1991;
Kasser & Ryan, 1993; Klinger, 1977; Little,1989; McAdams, 1993; Reker &
Chamberlain, 2000; Reker, Peacock, & Wong, 1987;Ryff, 1989; Ryff & Keyes, 1995;
Sheldon & Kasser, 1995; Wong & Fry, 1998; Wong, in press).
The Necessity of Resilience
It is inevitable that we will experience setbacks, obstacles, failures, losses, sickness,
and death. It makes a great difference how we respond to adversities. Typically,
resilience is conceptualised in terms of protective factors within the individual and
available in the culture or environment. Such factors not only prevent people from
getting sick but enable them to bounce back from illness or trauma. The broadest way
to view resilience is terms of adaptation—the process of adjusting and overcoming
setbacks, resulting not only in bouncing back but also in becoming stronger.
Resilience simply means the capacity to endure, bounce back, and grow in the midst
of adversities and existential anxieties; we can study resilience both in terms of the
underlying processes and its beneficial effects on the human being.
According to Davydov, Stewart, Ritchie, and Chaudieu (2010), “Resilience can be
viewed as a defence mechanism, which enables people to thrive in the face of
adversity.” However, I conceptualise resilience is involved in both recovering and
flourishing as defined by Keyes and Lopez (2002). Resilience depends on having
sufficient inner and external resources to cope with whatever life throws as us.
Resilience also depends on learning effective coping strategies and skills to manage
different kinds of troubles and threats. This learning process requires cultural
knowledge (Rigsby, 1994; Wong & Wong, 2006) and the ability to differentiate
between adaptive and maladaptive coping processes. Recently, Ungar and his
associates (Ungar & Lerner, 2008 and Ungar & Liebenberg, 2009) have broadened
resilience to include ecological and cultural factors. They define resilience as the
development and application of science-based knowledge pertaining to positive
development, positive adjustment and thriving across the life span. In sum, resilience
is a complex and multifaceted adaptation process with cognitive, behavioural, social,
and cultural components.
The will to live is the key to resilience. Frankl (1985) defined the will to live as the
will to meaning. According to the meaningcentered approach (Wong & Wong, in
press), the will to live consists of having meaning and purpose and the capacity to
transform negatives to positives.
The Psychology of Well-Being
The good life necessarily entails well-being. The psychology of well-being serves as
an umbrella term for happiness, health, flourishing, and optimal functioning at both
the individual and national levels in both positive and negative conditions. Well-being
denotes the desirable condition of our existence and the end state of our pursuit. All
human efforts and ingenuities are directed to improving their well-being and bettering
their future. Everyone who is seeking and striving for something is after some kind of
wellbeing— something that makes them feel good and something that is evaluated as
good and satisfying. Culture shapes our understanding of happiness and our
expression of emotions (Ahuvia, 2001; Carter, 1991; Chang, 1996; Christopher, 2005;
Leong & Wong, 2003; Pederson, 1999; Sue & Constantine, 2003; Wong, Wong, &
Scott, 2006). Given that there are cultural differences, subjective well-being still
provides a useful index on how we are doing and how well we live at the individual
and national level. Diener and Tov (2009) have reported that overall life satisfaction
and positive affects have different predictors in different countries.
Well-being reflects not only healthy functioning and happiness (Ryan & Huta, 2009),
but also serves an evaluative function in the self-determination process (Ryan, Huta,
& Deci, 2008). Wellbeing is concerned with both objective assessments of wellness
and the subjective judgment of how satisfied one is with their life in terms of physical,
mental, social, economic, and emotional well-being. A high level of well-being, both
subjective and objective, flows from living by our best light (virtue), pursing our most
cherished dreams (meaning), and overcoming life’s difficulties (resilience). A sense of
well-being also comes from developing the attitudes and skills to appreciate life,
savour the moments, and enhance happiness. Positive affects, in turn, will increase our
capacity for virtue, meaning, and resilience (Frederickson, 2002; Lyubomirsky, King,
& Diener, 2005). There is a need to develop a more complete taxonomy and index of
national and individual well-being. The current Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW,
2009) includes six components: living standards,
healthy populations, community vitality, democratic engagement, time use, and
leisure and culture. The CIW places too much emphasis on physical, social, and
economic well-being and very little on psychological well-being such as meaning in
life, subjective well-being, relationships, and spiritual well-being. Ryff and associates
have identified several dimensions of psychological well-being (Keyes & Ryff, 2000;
Ryff, 1989; Ryff & Keyes, 1995; Ryff & Singer, 1998). Ryff (1989) proposed three
major dimensions: psychological, social, and emotional. Each of these dimensions
includes separate elements. For example, psychological wellbeing includes self-
acceptance, personal growth, purpose in life, environmental mastery, autonomy, and
positive relationships with others. This sounds very much like what constitutes a
meaningful life according to the PMP (Wong, 1998). In other words, psychological
well-being according to Ryff is much broader than subjective well-being.
Well-being enriches and energizes life; it also endows life with a sense of joy and
meaning. All the struggles and sufferings seem worth it when we are able to drink
from the fountains of happiness. It is tempting to view the meaning of life purely in
positive affects. However, psychology of well-being needs to study both the perils of
happiness (Wong, 2007) and the benefits of suffering (Frankl, 1985; Wong, 2009).
A complete theory of well-being needs to take into account negative emotions and
suffering (Haybron, 2003). One cannot define well-being in terms of the absence of
negative affect and conditions as I have discussed earlier. Approach-oriented
motivations need to work in conjunction with avoidance-oriented motivations to
produce the optimal level of adaptation and well-being. Watson (2002; Watson &
Clark, 1994) have demonstrated the coexistence and the interdependence of positive
and negative affect. Diener and Emmons (1984); Keyes and Ryff (2000), and
Bradburn (1969) have all demonstrated the independence of negative and positive
emotions. Therefore, the challenge for people is not to avoid or minimize negative
emotions or to achieve the ideal positive-to-negative ratio as proposed by Fredrickson
and Losada (2005). Instead, the challenge for psychologists is to help people achieve
the optimal level of well-being in spite of the difficulties and pains they are going
through. The psychology of well-being needs to focus more on the positive potential
of transcending and transforming negative emotions. Salovey, Mayer, and Caruso
(2002) proposed that the best way to manage emotions is to balance approach-oriented
and avoidance-oriented emotions. According to PP 2.0, well-being is not the algebra
of positive minus negative but positive plus negative. In other words, the capacity to
transcend and transform negative provides an additional source of well-being to
positively based well-being. Some recent studies (e.g., Huta & Hawley, 2010)
combined strengths and vulnerabilities and examined their relations to well-being.
The present balanced model goes one step further. It will predict one’s coping efficacy
with vulnerability, and negative emotions will be positively related to both strengths
Two Mindsets: Meaning Orientation Versus Happiness
One emerging trend in PP is the recognition of meaning and eudaimonia. The debates
of meaning versus happiness and eudaimonic happiness versus hedonic happiness are
closely related. Eudaimonia can be understood from a meaning perspective because of
its emphasis on purpose, understanding, responsibility, and enjoying the fruit of the
good life. Eudaimonia can also be viewed as rooted in both inner goodness and the
common good, as previously discussed. In other words, eudaimonia can be defined as
meaning plus virtue. A meaning-orientation with a focus on virtues becomes a
eudaimonic orientation. The distinction between eudaimonia (meaning) and hedonic
happiness is an important one for parenting, education, and positive psychology. For
example, Haybron (personal communication) suggested that eudaimonia might
provide the key to resolving the parenting paradox in SWB research which shows that
parents with young children tend to be the least happy of them all. Gilbert (Munsey,
2010) suggests that parents need to believe that their hard work and sacrifice are
worth it in order to raise good children. In order words, being responsible and
sacrificial parents may result in eudaimonic rather than hedonic well-being.
Takamori, Akehashi, and Ito (2006) observe that: “Modern society is plagued with ills
such as violence in its many forms, including tyranny, terrorism, murder, and suicide.
Real answers to these problems continue to elude us. Our advances may have made us
richer, but they have not done anything to ensure our happiness or provide us with a
sense of abiding meaningfulness. In fact, modern life often seems only to bring more
acute feelings of isolation, loneliness, and emptiness” (p. ix”). How can we be freed
from all these human miseries in spite of material prosperity?
They point on that this question was addressed more than 25 hundred years ago by
Siddhartha Guatama (Sakyamuni), the founder of Buddhism. Born a prince, raised in
privilege and luxury, and blessed with everything that people ever dreamed of for
happiness, yet his heart was not happy. He was troubled by existential givens of old
age, sickness and death; and he was burdened by the suffering of fellow human
beings. As a result, he devoted nine decades of his life to search and spread the
wisdom of how to achieve inner peace and happiness by being freed from ignorance
and greed—the root of all suffering—so that people can experience the joy of being
alive. Obviously, he was not interested in hedonic or prudential happiness; his pursuit
can be best described as eudaimonic and chaironic. Researchers have found happiness
ranks as one of life’s most cherished goals (Diener, 2000; Lyubomirsky, 2001). But
Sakyamuni, Confucius, and many modern saints have pursued a very different kind of
happiness, one that is closely linked to finding meaning and virtue or eduaimonia.
These people are willing to sacrifice their personal comforts and even their own lives
for a higher purpose enhancing the well-being of humanity.
PP 2.0 is interested in studying these two contrasting visions of happiness—one
focuses on the pursuit of personal happiness and success, the other on the pursuit of
meaning and virtue. Needless to say, most people would say that what matters most to
them is personal happiness and success, but a tiny small segment would say that what
matters most is make this world a better place. The latter group would include people
like Gandhi, Nelson Mendela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, and the many
social/political reformers and humanitarian relief workers who sacrifice their own
comforts and risk their own lives for the well-being of others. Why are psychologists
more interested in what makes life happiest rather than what makes life most
meaningful and virtuous? Haybron (2000) points out that “the question of what way
of life will make one happiest may be second only to that of what manner of living
would be most admirable or virtuous as a matter of practical consideration when
confronted with Socrates’ question” (p. 7).
Huta and Ryan (2010) report eudaimonic motivation tends to be more strongly related
to a sense of meaning and purpose in life, whereas hedonic motivation tends to be
more closely linked to positive emotions and a sense of being carefree. I maintain that
two different types of happiness represent two fundamentally different mindsets in
terms of basic life orientation, ultimate concerns, lifestyles, and well-being. I propose
that it matters a great deal whether one is primarily motivated to pursue happiness or a
meaningful virtuous life as the ultimate purpose.
In this paper, I equate meaning orientation with eudaimonia and happiness with both
hedonic and prudential types of happiness. This difference in mindset will influence
the tough choices one makes. A happiness-oriented person is more likely to give up in
the face of adversity, whereas a meaning-oriented person is more likely to persevere
in spite of personal suffering. The differences between the two different mindsets are
shown in Table 3. These two mindsets will also leads to different predictions in
various conditions, as suggested in Table 4.
The two different mindsets also lead to different predictions with respect to how we
relate to environmental issues. According to Boehm and Lyubomirsky (2009),
sustainable happiness refers to intentional efforts that enhance level of personal
happiness beyond the set point; pursuit of hedonic happiness may result to unbridled
consumerism. In contrast, O’Brien (2008) defines sustainable happiness as “the
pursuit of happiness that does not exploit other people, the environment, or future
generations” (p. 289). Her concept of happiness is more like eudaimonia because she
emphasizes personal and social responsibilities to contribute to global well-being.
Another benefit of a Meaning Orientation (MO) is that it is especially important to the
suffering masses. For people living in abject poverty or in Nazi death camps, they
would not have many opportunities for enjoying a pleasant life. Similarly, individuals
struck with severe and chronic illnesses and disabilities would not be fully engaged in
life. Fortunately, even when people are forced to live an impoverished and restricted
life, they can still manage to live a meaningful life (Frankl, 1985; Wong, 2009).
Interestingly, Seligman (2002) also emphasizes that “people who are impoverished,
depressed, or suicidal care about much more than just the relief of their suffering.
These people care—sometimes desperately—about virtue, about purpose, about
integrity and about meaning” (p. xi). Therefore, a meaning-orientation is more
adaptive than a happiness-orientation in terms of overcoming adversity and enjoying a
high level of well-being in the midst of suffering.
Differences Between Meaning and Happiness Orientations in Terms of Life Purpose
and Core Values
1. Actualizing meaning & purpose
1. Optimizing positive experiences
2. Primarily interested in eudaimonic &
2. Primarily interested in hedonic and
3. Pursuing worthy ideals, even at personal costs
3. Pursuing worldly success and avoiding
pain and sacrifice
4. Concerned with how to live a life good in all
4. Concerned with what will make me
5. Concerned with satisfaction with one’s life as
5. Concerned with feeling happy moment by
6. More interested in nurturing the inner life—
inner peace & joy
6. More interested in external sources of
Differences Between Meaning and Happiness Orientations in Terms of Personal
Characteristics and Life Choices
Responsibility above feeling
Feeling above responsibility
High in compassion and altruism
Low in compassion and altruism
High in delayed gratification
High in immediate gratification
Endurance & perseverance
Giving up in the face of hardships
Willing to sacrifice self interests for family
Putting self-interests above family and friends
Will speak up against corruption at the risk
of losing one’s job
Will keep quiet against one’s own values in order
to keep one’s job
Places moral and ethical principles above
Will place expediency and practical gain above
moral and ethical principles
High in self-control, transcendence,
High in self-confidence, self efficacy, achievement
A Dual-System Model of the Good Life
The proposed dual-system model represents our attempt to conceptualise how the
positives and negatives interact with each other to achieve the good life. This model
incorporates all the elements I have discussed earlier. Although the present model
focuses on the dual-system of approach and avoidance motivations, it is actually a
complex multisystem model of self regulation. For example, the mindful awareness
state is important when the person is not actively engaged in approach and avoidance
activity By adding clarity and vividness to experience, savouring contributes directly
to well-being, happiness and self-regulation (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Brown, Ryan, &
It is not possible to understand the good life apart from various contextual factors.
Culture influences all components in the model. Personality traits are also relevant in
terms of their temperament and strengths and weaknesses. A complete understanding
of the good life needs to take into account a multidimensional or complex system
approach. Recently, Sheldon (2009) has also proposed a multilevel model of human
flourishing, involving biological and cognitive levels of the persons within supportive
social contexts and cultures. Similarly, DelleFave (2009) emphasizes that optimal
experiences vary according to culture contexts and meaningmaking.
According to the traditional approach-avoidance model, avoidance motive detracts
from the approach motive, resulting in a reduced approach tendency. However,
according to the dualsystems model, the right amount of avoidance can strengthen
approach. For example, when a person is motivated by both fear of failure and the
need for success, he will be work harder than when he is only motivated by
achievement need. Similarly, when a person is motivated by both the fear of getting ill
and the desire to enjoy good health, she is more likely to stay healthy than when she
pays attention only to health promotion without any thoughts about disease
According to this dialectical, interactive, and dynamic dualsystem view, PP will pay
more attention to contextual variables and adaptive processes in both positive and
negative conditions. To fully experience life, to feel keenly alive is to embrace life in
totality. The dual-systems model depicts the complex interactions in living a full life.
For more details of this model, please read Wong (2010a, in press).
One out of five Canadians will experience some form of mental illness or disorder in
their lifetime (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2010). The challenge is twofold:
First, finding effective ways of treating people with mental illness; second, how to
create conditions that will prevent mental illnesses. The old approach of focusing on
psychopathology will not achieve the prevention goal. The American Positive
Psychology movement will not be adequate by itself in achieving the treatment goal.
The present balanced
model of PP 2.0 has the potential to attain both goals; it emphasizes the need to
enhance the positives and manage the negatives in order to increase well-being and
decrease mental illnesses.
Servan-Schreiber (2009) says “You can’t be healthy on a sick planet” (p. 81)—a
planet contaminated by toxins, chemicals, and pollutants. He emphasizes the need to
create a healthy environment and healthy lifestyle in order to prevent cancer and
promote well-being. Similarly, you cannot live a healthy and fulfilling life in a sick
world contaminated by crime, corruption, injustice, oppression, and poverty. Such
evils can destroy individuals and societies like cancer cells. Positive psychology 2.0
emphasizes the need to develop good and decent people as well as a civil society by
promoting meaning/virtue and overcoming and transforming the negatives.
PP is in flux. Given the dynamic changes in the field, PP today is already very
different from what was originally proposed by Seligman. I emphasize that PP needs
to synthesize the positive and negative, take a clear stance on the imperative of
virtues, integrate across levels of analysis, and build constituency with all branches of
mainstream psychology around the globe. I also shift the focus away from individual
happiness and success to a meaning-centered approach to making life better for all
people. According to Csikszentmihalyi (2009), “The next big challenge for this new
field is to help improving the social and cultural conditions in which people live.”
If PP is broad enough to encompass most areas of psychology, it may lose its identity
and reason for existence. On the other hand, if we place an arbitrary restriction as to
belong to PP, we may be perceived as being divisive. To resolve this dilemma, I
propose that PP 2.0 represents a mindset, a movement and a big tent for all positive-
oriented psychologists, rather than a distinct subdiscipline. PP will continue to evolve
and grow, and it will emerge as a vibrant and ever-expanding area of interest without
clear borders. PP can serve the same function as the counterpart to Abnormal
Psychology by integrating the various lines of research related to meaning, virtue,
resilience, and well-being in the service of making life better for individuals and
society. PP provides a hopeful framework for developing good and fully functioning
human beings and psychologically healthy institutions in spite of the negativity and
finitude inherent in human existence.
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