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Second wave positive psychology: Embracing the dark side of life

Conference Paper

Second wave positive psychology: Embracing the dark side of life

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Second wave positive psychology
Dr. Tim Lomas
First wave of positive psychology
Emerged in 1998 (Seligman & Csikzentmihalyi, 2000)
Focus on topics such as….
Happiness
Wellbeing
Positive emotions
Flourishing
What makes life worth living
Negative about negativity
Apparently ‘negative’ emotions are
Intrinsically undesirable
To be avoided
Apparently ‘positive’ emotions are
Intrinsically desirable
To be cultivated
Creates a bigger burden
Normative force (Held, 2002; Ehrenreich, 2008)
Implicit blame for those who fail to be happy
Unhappiness as moral failure
Additional burden for people who are suffering
Negative emotions portrayed as ‘wrong
Contributes to medicalisation of existence
Hindering happiness?
Happiness as goal = ‘self-defeating
Feel one should’ be happy - more easily
disappointed (Mauss et al., 2011)
Self-blame (Schwartz, 2000a)
Unrealistic expectations lead to self-blame
Buddhism: wanting happiness causes unhappiness
Unaware of contextuality
Unacknowledged situatedness
“Modern and ahistorical presumption”
“Disguised ideology(Becker & Maracek, 2008)
American individualism
Ignores cross-cultural insights
Overlooks wisdom from other cultures
Second wave positive psychology
Appreciating dialectical nature of flourishing
Focus on either negative or positive = insufficient
Thriving = complex interplay of positive &
negative
Dialectics = the dynamic ‘tension of opposition
between two interacting forces or elements’
Dialectical principles
1) Principle of appraisal
2) Principle of co-valence
3) Principle of complementarity
4) Principle of evolution
Principle of appraisal
Hard to categorise phenomena as positive or negative
‘Positive can be negative’
‘Negative can be positive’
Appraisals are contextually-dependent
Indicative dichotomies: e.g., optimism vs pessimism
Pitfalls of optimism
Don’t be ‘slave to the tyrannies of optimism’ (Seligman, 1990)
“Use pessimism’s keen sense of reality
‘Excessive’ optimism associated with risk (Weinstein, 1987)
Optimal balance
Between “positive and negative thinking
Wary of under-appreciation of risks
Appropriate optimism
Only when “future can be changed by positive thinking” (Peterson, 2000)
Pitfalls of altruism
Impact on group wellbeing (Batson et al., 1995)
depends on context
Can undermine collective wellbeing
Assigned to feel empathy (ill child)
Allocate more resources (to detriment of group)
Violates moral principle of justice
Two conflicting pro-social motives
Pitfalls of benevolent attributions
Contextual approach McNulty and Fincham (2011)
Optimistic interpretations of undesirable experiences…
Usually associated with wellbeing
Not always beneficial
Self-directed benevolent attributions
Undermine motivation to improve
Other-directed benevolent attributions
Dangerous in abusive relationships
Pitfalls of self-esteem
Can mean people struggle to cope with failure (Crocker &
Park, 2004)
Children suffer if positive self-appraisals punctured by the
blunt realities of competitive life
Inflated self-assessments can lead to attempting tasks that
exceed capacities (Baumeister et al., 1996)
Combined with narcissism = aggression, particularly when
inflated self-appraisals are threatened
Pitfalls of freedom
An excess of freedom can be troubling
Immorality? Dostoevsky (1880): ‘everything is permitted’
Ontological dread? Kierkegaard (1843): dizzying sense of
possibilities
A burden? Sartre (1952): ‘condemned to be free’
Modern example consumer choice (Schwartz, 2000b)
Excessive choice can be a burden
Associated with lower levels of satisfaction
Uses of pessimism
Longevity
Association with childhood conscientiousness (vs
cheerfulness) (Friedman et al., 1993)
‘Extreme’ optimists – risk for depression
Defensive pessimism (Norem, 2001)
Domain-specific strategy for anxiety
Advance problem-solving planning
Enhance task performance
Value of sadness
A warning about harmful situations, e.g., separation
(Eisenberger & Lieberman, 2004)
Disengagement from harmful situations (Nesse, 2000)
A sign of compassion
A manifestation of love (Bauman, 2013)
An aesthetic sensibility (Woolfolk, 2002)
Value of anger
A moral emotion (Tavris, 1989)
A sign of an ethic being breached
Arises in response to injustice (O’Reilly et al., 2015)
Motivating efforts to redress iniquity
A force behind progressive social movements
Principle of co-valence
Many emotions are complex (Lazarus, 2003)
Cannot simply be categorised as either positive or
negative
Not simply that appraisals are contextually
dependent
These emotions intrinsically involve light and dark
Difficulty of assigning valence (hope)
Covalenced
(a) wish/belief in desired outcome
(b) anxiety won’t happen
Example 1 existential threat (illness)
Example 2 wishful thinking (job hunt)
Difficulty of assigning valence (joy)
Unusual psychodynamics
Acute, but fleeting
Realities intrude
E.g., graduating, marriage
Importance of social context
May provoke envy/jealousy
May be defensive
Difficulty of assigning valence (love)
Can be troubling
Misery when unrequited
Threat potential of loss
Dementia, death, separation, or disengagement
Inseparable aspect of the emotion
In background foregrounded if threat immanent
In flux
Emotion vs. sentiment (state vs. trait)
‘In love’ but feeling bad
Poetics of love
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be
wrung and possibly broken’ (C.S. Lewis, 1971)
To love means opening up to that most sublime of all human conditions,
one in which fear blends with joy into an alloy that no longer allows its
ingredients to separate’ (Bauman, 2013)
‘When love beckons to you, follow him; though his ways are hard and
steep. And when his wings enfold you, yield to him; though the sword
hidden among his pinions may wound you’ (K Gibran, 1927)
Principle of complementarity
An ‘inevitable dialectics between positive and negative aspects of living
(Ryff & Singer, 2003)
Opposites are co-dependent and co-creating
‘Positive’ only makes sense if juxtaposed with ‘negative’
Light only exists as a concept because there is also darkness.
Cannot eradicate down’ and just keep ‘up’
Insights from Taoism
Basis in I Ching (circa 1150 BC)
Present version edited and annotated by Confucius (circa
5
th
Century BC) (Wilhelm, 1950)
Overarching principle is change
Change occurs through dialectical interaction between
opposites (Fang, 2012)
Tao Te Ching
Reality is dialectical
Opposites are co-creating: When the people of the world all
know beauty as beauty, There arises the recognition of
ugliness. When they all know the good as good, There arises
the recognition of evil.
‘Human beings, by turning away from the Tao, bring suffering
and chaos into their affairs’ (Smith, 1972)
Te: Try to live in accordance with the Tao:
Principle of evolution
The dialectics of progress (Hegel, 1812)
Phases of development
Thesis (psychology as usual)
Antithesis (first wave positive psychology)
Synthesis (second wave positive psychology)
References
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