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Second Wave Positive Psychology: Exploring the Positive–Negative Dialectics of Wellbeing

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Abstract

Positive psychology has tended to be defined in terms of a concern with ‘positive’ psychological qualities and states. However, critics of the field have highlighted various problems inherent in classifying phenomena as either ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’ For instance, ostensibly positive qualities (e.g., optimism) can sometimes be detrimental to wellbeing, whereas apparently negative processes (like anxiety) may at times be conducive to it. As such, over recent years, a more nuanced ‘second wave’ of positive psychology has been germinating, which explores the philosophical and conceptual complexities of the very idea of the ‘positive.’ The current paper introduces this emergent second wave by examining the ways in which the field is developing a more subtle understanding of the ‘dialectical’ nature of flourishing (i.e., involving a complex and dynamic interplay of positive and negative experiences). The paper does so by problematizing the notions of positive and negative through seven case studies, including five salient dichotomies (such as optimism versus pessimism) and two complex processes (posttraumatic growth and love). These case studies serve to highlight the type of critical, dialectical thinking that characterises this second wave, thereby outlining the contours of the evolving field.
1 23
Journal of Happiness Studies
An Interdisciplinary Forum on
Subjective Well-Being
ISSN 1389-4978
J Happiness Stud
DOI 10.1007/s10902-015-9668-y
Second Wave Positive Psychology:
Exploring the Positive–Negative Dialectics
of Wellbeing
Tim Lomas & Itai Ivtzan
1 23
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REVIEW ARTICLE
Second Wave Positive Psychology: Exploring
the Positive–Negative Dialectics of Wellbeing
Tim Lomas
1
Itai Ivtzan
1
Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015
Abstract Positive psychology has tended to be defined in terms of a concern with
‘positive’ psychological qualities and states. However, critics of the field have highlighted
various problems inherent in classifying phenomena as either ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’ For
instance, ostensibly positive qualities (e.g., optimism) can sometimes be detrimental to
wellbeing, whereas apparently negative processes (like anxiety) may at times be conducive
to it. As such, over recent years, a more nuanced ‘second wave’ of positive psychology has
been germinating, which explores the philosophical and conceptual complexities of the
very idea of the ‘positive.’ The current paper introduces this emergent second wave by
examining the ways in which the field is developing a more subtle understanding of the
dialectical nature of flourishing (i.e., involving a complex and dynamic interplay of pos-
itive and negative experiences). The paper does so by problematizing the notions of
positive and negative through seven case studies, including five salient dichotomies (such
as optimism vs. pessimism) and two complex processes (posttraumatic growth and love).
These case studies serve to highlight the type of critical, dialectical thinking that char-
acterises this second wave, thereby outlining the contours of the evolving field.
Keywords Dialectics Flourishing Positive Negative Second wave positive
psychology
1 Introduction
Positive psychology (PP) is at an interesting point in its development. The initial impetus
for the creation of the field was a sense of disenchantment with the way ‘psychology as
usual’ appeared to be preoccupied with disorder and dysfunction. Given this, the promise
&Tim Lomas
t.lomas@uel.ac.uk
1
Department of Psychology, University of East London, Stratford Campus, London E15 4LZ, UK
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J Happiness Stud
DOI 10.1007/s10902-015-9668-y
Author's personal copy
of this innovative new branch of psychology was a forum where scholars could explore the
‘brighter sides of human nature’ (Linley and Joseph 2004, p. 4). However, in these for-
mative years, PP often appeared to embrace a polarising rhetoric, in which ostensibly
negative phenomena were conceptualised as undesirable (and thus to be avoided), whereas
apparently positive qualities were seen as necessarily beneficial (and thus to be sought).
We might refer to this initial embrace of the positive as the ‘first wave’ of PP. But, as the
field grew to prominence, this kind of polarisation came under fire from critics both inside
the field (e.g., Wong 2011) and outside (e.g., Held 2004). On the one hand, such critics
argued that qualities that were commonly presented as positive could, under certain cir-
cumstances, be counterproductive. For example, ‘unrealistic’ optimism was linked to
under-appreciation of risk and thus to subsequent health risk behaviours, such as smoking
(Weinstein et al. 2005). (One must add that this point was not lost on PP scholars them-
selves; as Seligman (1990, p. 292) pointed out, one must be ‘able to use pessimism’s keen
sense of reality when we need it.’) On the other hand, ostensibly negative states could
paradoxically be conducive to flourishing. For instance, theorists such as Tavris (1989)
have argued that anger could motivate someone to act against and change an invidious
situation that had been hindering their wellbeing. Through arguments such as these, the
initial premise of PP—defined as it was by a focus on the positive—appeared to be
somewhat challenged and even undermined.
However, rather than serving to destabilise the field, these types of critical arguments
have helped PP to reach a new phase of maturity and development, one we might refer to
as ‘second wave’ PP (Held 2004) or ‘positive psychology 2.0’ (Wong 2011). This second
wave approach—hereafter referred to as SWPP—is still driven by concern with the same
meta-concepts that underpinned the first wave of PP, such as flourishing and wellbeing.
(Following Delle Fave et al. (2011), this paper will generally use the term ‘wellbeing’ as an
overarching construct to encompass the range of positive qualities and outcomes of interest
to PP, such as resilience and happiness.) However, SWPP is characterised by an altogether
more nuanced approach to the concepts of positive and negative, and by a subtle appre-
ciation of the ambivalent nature of the good life. More specifically, it will be argued here
that SWPP is above all epitomised by a recognition of the fundamentally dialectical nature
of wellbeing. The current paper, then, offers a review of this second wave development of
the field by exploring the critical arguments—made by scholars both inside and outside the
field (the latter of whom may well not identify as being ‘part of’ PP)—that prompted and
underpinned the emergence of this second wave approach. The paper does this by con-
sidering a number of key constructs that have been central to PP, and exploring the
difficulties inherent in trying to classify such phenomena as either positive or negative. Of
course, the constructs featured here do not exhaust the possibilities for this type of analysis,
but rather serve as case studies or exemplars for the kind of critical thinking that char-
acterises SWPP. However, before we engage with these seven case studies, we must first
introduce the idea of dialectics, as this is arguably the defining feature of SWPP.
2 The Dialectics of Wellbeing
This paper contends that SWPP is above all characterised by an appreciation of the di-
alectical nature of wellbeing. By saying this, we are also acknowledging that SWPP is not
only based upon this; for instance, as set out below, this appreciation of dialectics has
partly been fostered by a greater understanding of the contextual socio-cultural factors that
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influence wellbeing, as explored by scholars such as Wong and Wong (2012) and McNulty
and Fincham (2011). Nevertheless, the current paper focuses specifically on this dialectical
appreciation, as this is the clearest factor we can identify at present separating first wave
and second wave approaches. Essentially, dialectics refers to the dynamic ‘tension of
opposition between two interacting forces or elements’ (Merriam-Webster 2014). This
tension describes the way in which binary opposites—such as positive and negative, or
light and dark—while being diametrically opposed, are yet intimately connected and
dependent upon the other for their very existence. Moreover, the term dialectic does not
simply refer to a static relationship between opposites, but to the way in which many
phenomena change and evolve through the dynamic interplay between these opposites.
One particularly formative conception of such dialectic change was formulated by the
German philosopher Hegel (1812), who argued that development occurs through a process
of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. An example might be the development of ideas. An argument
is advanced, say, that people are fundamentally good; this proposition is the thesis. People
might subsequently discern flaws in this perspective, and respond with the counter-argu-
ment that people are inherently errant; this retort would be the antithesis. However, this
counter-argument may then itself be found to be wanting. Crucially though, this does not
necessitate reverting to the original thesis. Rather, what may emerge is a subtle synthesis
incorporating aspects of both arguments (e.g., acknowledging that people have the
potential for good and bad), creating a higher unity that transcends and yet preserves the
truth of both original opposites (Mills 2000).
The notion of dialectics is central to SWPP, as wellbeing is seen as a dialectical process,
both in the general sense of involving a complex interplay of conceptual opposites, and
possibly also in the Hegelian sense of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. The dialectical nature of
wellbeing is revealed by three distinct principles. First, there is what we might call the
‘principle of appraisal’: it can be difficult to categorise particular phenomena (e.g., emo-
tions) as positive or negative, as such appraisals are fundamentally contextually-dependent
(McNulty and Fincham 2011). To illustrate this point, the first five sections below focus on
five key dichotomies: optimism versus pessimism, self-esteem versus humility, freedom
versus restriction, forgiveness versus anger, and happiness versus sadness. For each of
these dichotomies, the paper seeks to problematize the very notions of positive and neg-
ative by suggesting that ‘positive can be negative’ (phenomena commonly regarded as
positive, such as optimism, may be detrimental to wellbeing under certain circumstances),
and ‘negative can be positive’ (there can be value in qualities and states frequently con-
ceptualised as negative, such as pessimism). Second, there is what we might call the
‘principle of co-valence’: not only is it difficult to characterise particular phenomena as
either positive or negative, many emotional states are ‘co-valenced,’ inherently involving
complex, intertwined shades of light and dark (Lazarus 2003). For example, hope con-
stitutes a fragile mix of yearning for a desired outcome, a degree of confidence that this has
some chance of occurring, and an anxiety that it will not. This issue will be addressed in
the final two sections, which look at two complex processes which can be regarded as co-
valenced: posttraumatic growth and love. Third, and most fundamentally, there is what we
could call the ‘principle of complementarity’: wellbeing itself can be seen as involving an
‘inevitable dialectics between positive and negative aspects of living’ (Ryff and Singer
2003, p. 272). This insight builds upon recent theorising by Keyes (2007), whose dual-
continua model proposes that wellbeing and ill-being are not two poles of a continuum, but
are two separate dimensions of functioning. This model has been corroborated by work
which has shown that wellbeing is not simply an absence of ill-being, and distress is not
necessarily incompatible with subjective wellbeing (Fianco et al. 2015). However, the
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principle of complementarity goes further in suggesting that not only can distress and
wellbeing be co-present, but they are to an extent co-dependent. Indeed, Delle Fave et al.’s
(2011) Eudaimonic and Hedonic Happiness Investigation project has found that the most
important self-rated psychological component of happiness is ‘harmony,’ which can mean
‘balancing opposite elements into a whole’ (p. 199). Thus, the principle of complemen-
tarity—which this paper as a whole seeks to elucidate—holds that wellbeing fundamen-
tally involves a ‘dynamic harmonization’ of dichotomous states.
In acknowledging that wellbeing may involve seemingly ‘negative’ components, it
could be argued that this undermines the very premise of PP, since its formative ethos was
to redress the ‘negativity’ of ‘psychology as usual’ by focusing on more positive aspects of
life. However, we would argue that, far from undermining PP, this emerging critical
awareness means that PP is moving into a new phase of development, one which we are
calling the field’s ‘second wave.’ Indeed, we can use the notion of dialectics to appreciate
not only the complex nature of wellbeing, but the evolution of PP itself. One might view
‘psychology as usual,’ with its apparent focus on the negative, as the thesis. In critiquing
this and embracing the positive, first wave PP thus presented itself as the antithesis.
However, as elucidated below, critics have begun to identify flaws in this antithesis,
highlighting the pitfalls of apparently positive qualities and the potential merits of negative
ones. Crucially though, from a Hegelian perspective, this does not mean we must abandon
PP and revert back to the thesis, back to psychology as usual. Rather, in this dialectical
process, the next stage is (ideally) synthesis, in which the truths of both thesis and
antithesis are preserved, while the flaws in their respective positions are overcome. And,
one might argue, SWPP represents just such a synthesis. In this, there is a movement away
from a simplistic binary view that un-reservedly classifies phenomena as either positive
and negative, valorising the former while condemning the latter, towards a more nuanced
appreciation of the dialectical complexities of flourishing. Paul Wong (2012)—the fore-
most dialectical theoretician in PP, who spearheaded this second wave—refers to this more
nuanced perspective as the ‘dual-systems model’; this represents a synthesis of first wave
PP (with its emphasis on positivity) and existential psychology (which focuses on
engagement with the darker side of the human condition). In sum, SWPP recognises the
validity of King’s (2001, pp. 53–54) contention that flourishing does not mean being a
‘well-defended fortress, invulnerable to the vicissitudes of life,’ but appreciating and even
embracing the complex and ambivalent nature of life.
Before examining the seven case studies, it is worth stating that in exploring SWPP, we
may find ourselves challenging constructions of wellbeing that tend to be dominant in the
West. Critical theorists argue that the kind of ‘first wave’ thinking introduced above—the
valorisation of ostensibly positive emotions—is reflective of broader historical currents of
thought that have held sway in the West over recent centuries (Becker and Marecek 2008).
Consequently, one of the driving forces behind the emergence of SWPP has been critical
awareness of cross-cultural variation in constructions and perceptions of wellbeing, as per
the ‘Cultural Lens Approach’ (Hardin et al. 2014). This awareness has engendered an
appreciation of dialectics in two key ways. Firstly, cross-cultural analyses have highlighted
the ‘principle of appraisal’ by showing cultural variation in whether phenomena are val-
orized as positive or negative. For example, it is suggested that Western and Eastern
cultures construct wellbeing in markedly different ways (Joshanloo 2014); e.g., Western
cultures tend to value high arousal positive states (such as excitement), whereas Eastern
cultures valorise low arousal ones (such as calmness; Tsai 2007). Likewise, in the context
of critiquing the United Nations Development Program, Schimmel (2013) argues that
Western markers of societal progress, like material abundance, are not equally valued
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across cultures. Secondly, SWPP’s appreciation of the dialectical nature of flourishing has
been enhanced through studying other cultures that themselves tend to endorse just such a
dialectical perspective, particularly Eastern cultures (Uchida and Ogihara 2012). This
cross-cultural appreciation has helped the field challenge the Western-influenced con-
ceptions of happiness that underpinned the first wave of PP. That said, we can also
recognise that many thinkers in the West, past and present—from Hegel (1812) to Lazarus
(2003)—have likewise developed dialectical perspectives, and who we can also draw on in
developing SWPP. So, with that in mind, we now explore the dialectical nature of SWPP
by examining five key dichotomies (beginning with optimism and pessimism), before
looking at two co-valenced processes, namely posttraumatic growth and love.
3 Optimism and Pessimism
The first dichotomy considered here is optimism versus pessimism. The first wave of PP
was characterised by a tendency to valorise optimism as integral to wellbeing and to
conversely denigrate pessimism as antithetic to flourishing. However, there are pitfalls that
can occur should optimism be excessive or unrealistic. Indeed, such risks were to some
extent recognised from the outset in PP (showing that the seeds of SWPP were already
present in the first years of the movement); as Seligman (1990, p. 292) put it, we must be
wary of being a ‘slave to the tyrannies of optimism,’ but must be ‘able to use pessimism’s
keen sense of reality when we need it.’ Empirical work corroborates this insight, revealing
diverse problems associated with undue optimism, most relating to an under-appreciation
of risk, which can lead to risk-taking behaviour (e.g., smoking; Weinstein et al. 2005).
Optimism has thus even been implicated as a mortality-risk: Friedman et al.’s (1993)
longitudinal research suggested that ‘cheerful’ children (optimism plus humour) lived
shorter lives than more conscientious peers. That said, other studies have found that
optimism predicts longevity (Giltay et al. 2004). Thus, as with all qualities considered here,
context is key. For instance, Peterson (2000, p. 51) argued that ‘people should be optimistic
when the future can be changed by positive thinking but not otherwise.’ This last point
captures a fundamental principle of second wave thinking: a deep appreciation of situa-
tional context (McNulty and Fincham 2011). This does not mean that one can never make
value judgements about good and bad—SWPP does not necessitate a descent into the
murky waters of relativism—but just cautions against an a priori categorisation of phe-
nomena; all such judgements are (i.e., should be) contextual. On that note though, we can
also acknowledge contexts where Peterson’s point does not hold. For instance, Wong
(2009) highlights Viktor Frankl’s (1963) notion of ‘tragic optimism,’ which recognises the
importance of sometimes keeping alive a flame of hope no matter how bleak the current
outlook or future possibilities. Indeed, for existentialists like Camus (1955), such a mission
arguably sums up the nature of the human condition, bounded as it is by the bleak finality
of mortality.
Naturally, in considering the pitfalls of optimism (positive can be negative), we can
invert this questioning and consider the value of its counterpart, pessimism (negative can
be positive). For instance, Norem (2001) highlights the ‘positive power of negative
thinking,’ e.g., the connection between pessimism and proactive coping. Here we might
usefully differentiate between ‘pure’ pessimism (a fatalistic assumption of the worst) and
strategic pessimism (anticipatory fault-finding and problem solving). One might struggle to
find merit in the former; although, that said, Schopenhauer (1819) argued that one could
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find a form of peace in learning to truly be without hope, in deeply accepting one’s
fundamental existential hopelessness. This argument is also central to traditions such as
Buddhism (Hayes 2002), which perhaps explains why Eastern cultures are thought to be
more comfortable with a pessimistic outlook (Uchida and Ogihara 2012). In any case, the
value of strategic pessimism is more easily discerned: a pessimistic mind-set may prompt
one to prepare for potential problems, thus lessening the likelihood of these actually
eventuating. A veridical example of this is given by the astronaut Chris Hadfield (2013),
who describes the training programme at NASA as involving endless simulations of ‘bad-
news scenarios’ to provide practice in dealing with all conceivable mishaps. He argues that
such ‘pessimistic’ repetitive contingency planning was highly valuable, enabling him to
forge ‘the strongest possible armor to defend against fear: hard-won competence’ (p. 54).
4 Self-Esteem and Humility
Our second dichotomy is self-esteem and humility (close, if not perfect, antonyms). Gen-
erally, high levels of self-esteem are more conducive to wellbeing than low levels: a
prospective study by Trzesniewski et al. (2006) found that adolescents with low self-esteem
were liable to greater criminality, worse job prospects, and poorer mental and physical health
in adulthood. However, there are parallels between the pitfalls of optimism and high self-
esteem (indeed, self-esteem might almost be regarded as an optimism of the self). As with
optimism, the risks of self-esteem were recognised by some PP scholars from the outset; for
instance, Seligman (1995, p. 27) felt that widespread attempts by parents and teachers to boost
self-esteem was ‘making this generation of children more vulnerable to depression,’ since
children would likely suffer if and when their own positive self-appraisals were later punc-
tured by the blunt realities of competitive life in adulthood. Moreover, inflated self-assess-
ments can lead to people attempting tasks that exceed their capacities, leading potentially to
failure; this can be particularly damaging if one’s self esteem is contingent on extrinsic
validation and achievement of these goals (Crocker and Park 2004). Further still, in com-
bination with noxious qualities like narcissism, self-esteem can have a dark side, being linked
to higher levels of aggression, particularly when inflated self-appraisals are threatened
(Baumeister et al. 1996). There can even be health risks, since high self-esteem is linked to
perceived invulnerability and consequent health-risk behaviours (Gerrard et al. 2000).
Conversely, there is value in humility. While this is not strictly an antonym of high self-
esteem, it is often treated as such (Rowatt et al. 2002): etymologically, it derives from the
Latin humilis (literally ‘on the ground’), and is frequently taken to mean having a low
opinion of oneself, as revealed by the contemptuous derivate ‘humiliation’ (being reduced
to lowliness). However, Rowatt et al. argue that it involves a ‘genuine modesty’ that is of
great value, characterised by ‘respectfulness, willingness to admit imperfections, and a lack
of self-focus or self-serving biases’ (p. 198). For a start, many virtuous prosocial acts stem
from such self-abnegation (Worthington 2007). Furthermore, the impact on the protagonist
themselves may be even more profound. For instance, a central tenet of Buddhism is that
an overweening sense of self (or ego), and a lack of due humility, is the root of suffering,
generating noxious states like greed (seeking to reward the self) and hatred (for that which
threatens the self). As such, the ‘forgetting of the self’ that characterises humility is a salve
for these self-created poisons (Tangey 2005, p. 411). Going further, discussing the value of
humility in the context of medical training, DasGupta (2008) suggests that it can enable
one to become spiritually ‘transfigured,’ since it renders one receptive to qualities in the
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world (like beauty) that a pre-occupation with self might otherwise cause one to overlook.
However, from a dialectical point of view, self-esteem and humility need not be antonyms;
it is possible to find a Hegelian synthesis of the two (a positive yet humble sense of self),
e.g., through self-acceptance (Wong 1998).
5 Freedom and Restriction
The value of freedom—and related concepts such as self-determination—is almost axio-
matic within PP, regarded as essential to wellbeing (Ryan and Deci 2000). Indeed, the
torments that can occur if freedom is denied, such as in slavery, are undeniable. However,
it has been suggested, notably by existentialist thinkers, that an excess of freedom, a life
untrammelled by restrictions, can be troubling (Yalom 1980). Dostoevsky (1880) argued
that freedom from religious proscriptions would erode morality (‘everything is permitted’).
Moreover, Kierkegaard (1834) felt that this ‘dizzying’ sense of unlimited possibilities
could engender ontological ‘dread,’ since we must continually make choices that irrevo-
cably shape our lives, and assume responsibility for the consequences; as Sartre (1952,
p. 399) put it, people are ‘condemned to be free.’ Schwartz (2000, p. 79) offers a con-
temporary take on these insights, suggesting that ‘excessive’ freedom can be experienced
‘as a kind of tyranny.’ He critiques the ideology of rational-choice economic theory that
forms the basis of our consumer-capitalist society, citing work which demonstrates that
greater diversity of choice often leads to lower levels of subsequent satisfaction with the
chosen item (Iyengar and Lepper 1999), perhaps in part as a result of greater scope for
regret over the unselected options. While such troubles may be a luxury afforded by
affluence, it does corroborate the existentialists’ perceptive linking of freedom and anxiety.
Conversely, limiting one’s freedom can be beneficial to wellbeing; paradoxically, it may
even be liberating. Returning again to Buddhism, it is argued that restricting choice can
perversely create freedom. For example, the rigid routines of monastic life are designed
partly to alleviate the burden of the many inconsequential but incessant choices that
dominate daily life (e.g., around what to eat or wear), thus freeing the mind to engage in
the kind of ‘non-conceptual and focused’ attention that is so valued by meditators (Wright
2008, p. 14). The creation of routines—rigid patterns of behaviour that are adhered to
regardless of the whims of passing moods—is valuable in other domains of life too, from
education to physical health. For instance, regular exercise depends upon a person com-
mitting to a pattern of activity and keeping to this routine, even (or perhaps especially) in
the face of occasional disinclination (Aarts et al. 1997). As shown so revealing by Mischel
et al. (1989), wellbeing depends on being able to resist fleeting inclinations, on creating
strategies to help override short-sighted desires. Only thus can one forgo more immediate
satisfactions, and so pursue longer-term goals—from maintaining one’s health to studying
for qualifications—that are ultimately more beneficial. However, in considering freedom, it
is again possible to achieve a higher Hegelian synthesis that brings together freedom and
restriction. We can appreciate this by considering Frankl’s (1963) distinction between
‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’; the latter refers to a vital freedom of attitude, in which
one has the courage to assert and pursue one’s core values. Crucially, ‘freedom to’ can still
exist under the most restrictive conditions, even—in Frankl’s own tragic case—in wartime
concentration camps. The above example of a Buddhist monastic is also illustrative in this
regard (although of course, this latter example is a wholly different type of situation, being
self-imposed and essentially benign).
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6 Forgiveness and Anger
Turning now to prosocial qualities, an exemplar of which is forgiveness, are these not
‘non-zero-sum’ goods, beneficial to both giver and recipient? Forgiveness is indeed gen-
erally considered beneficial to the wellbeing of the forgiver (and the forgivee). For
instance, forgiveness-based therapies have been successfully used to treat posttraumatic
stress disorder following spousal abuse (Reed and Enright 2006). However, in certain
contexts, forgiveness may be harmful, particularly if it means a person acquiesces to an
invidious situation that they might otherwise be compelled to resist or change. This point
has been made by McNulty and Fincham (2011)—who also highlight the need for a
contextual approach to PP—through a summary of longitudinal studies on abusive rela-
tionships. These surveys suggest that people who make benevolent external attributions for
their partner’s abuse (explaining it away as a result of situational factors, like stress), and/
or who are more forgiving of such transgressions, are at greater risk of on-going abuse.
Needless to say, such studies are not engaging in victim-blaming, but are trying to help
injured parties hold their aggressors to account; the real issue is of course is the injurious
actions of their abuser. Nevertheless, such studies do highlight the fact that the value of
prosocial qualities can often depend on context.
Conversely, while anger is often presented as a destructive emotion (Beck 1999), there
are times when this might not only be a more appropriate response to wrongdoing than
forgiveness, but one which may ultimately serve to better promote wellbeing in the long
run. Leading this re-evaluation of anger is Tavris (1989), who argues that it is funda-
mentally a moral emotion, a response to an ethical/moral breach. Of course, this does not
imply that all acts of anger are justified or proportionate. As Aristotle memorably phrased
it (in his Nicomachean Ethics, circa 350 B.C.), it takes great skill to ‘be angry with the
right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in
the right way.’ Nor does it mean that anger is always virtuous; it can be selfish and/or
antisocial (Haidt 2003). Nevertheless, as Haidt acknowledges, ‘the motivation to redress
injustices can also be felt strongly in third-party situations, in which the self has no stake’
(p. 856). Thus, one can, and arguably should, feel outrage at iniquities such as oppression,
and so ‘demand retaliatory or compensatory action’ on behalf of the victims. Indeed, one
could argue that the great progressive movements of recent history, from civil rights to
feminism, have been propelled by a ‘righteous anger’ that the world should and can be
better than it is (Siegel 2009). Crucially, this does not mean fighting oppression through
hate; as great leaders such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama have shown, it is possible to
combat oppression while being guided by compassion and love, even for one’s persecutors.
As expressed by Dr Martin Luther King (2007, p. 345) in 1958, ‘As you press on for
justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no
man pull you so low as to make you hate him.’
7 Happiness and Sadness
For our final dichotomy, we turn to what is arguably the ultimate concern of PP, happiness
itself. The pursuit of this ephemeral goal has been central to the field since its inception,
and indeed has been valorised throughout human history, from Aristotle’s Nicomachean
Ethics to the American constitution. However, without denying the value of this goal, we
can identify various issues here, including problems relating to both seeking and finding
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happiness. In terms of seeking it, one issue is that one may be errant in one’s pursuit, and
chase the ‘wrong’ (i.e., relatively unfulfilling) forms of it. Central to PP is the distinction
between hedonic ‘subjective’ wellbeing (Diener et al. 1999) and eudaimonic ‘psycho-
logical’ wellbeing (Ryff 1989), even if this binary division has been critiqued in recent
years (e.g., Kashdan et al. 2008). Often implicit within this distinction is a qualitative value
judgment, where eudamonic wellbeing is seen as deeper, more fulfilling, or in some
inchoate way as simply better than hedonic varieties. Such judgments can be dated back at
least as far as Aristotle who valorised eudaimonic happiness as an ‘activity of the soul that
expresses virtue,’ while condemning mere hedonic pleasure as a ‘life suitable to beasts’
(cited in McMahon 2006). From this perspective, seeking hedonic happiness could be
disadvantageous if it hindered one from seeking qualitatively richer states of wellbeing.
However, the notion of seeking wellbeing can itself be critiqued, as it has been observed in
many quarters that the act ofpursing happiness tends to render it ever more distant. As theorists
such as Frankl (1963) have recognised, happiness may possibly never successfully be directly
sought; rather, it tends to arise only as an oblique, mysterious by-product of engaging in other
pursuits, such as a search for meaning. To quote Mill (1873, p. 100), ‘those only are happy who
have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness.’ This same insight is
found in Buddhism, where the desire for happiness is seen as the root of unhappiness: the very
act of resisting the present and wishing for a better situation is what creates the dissatisfaction
one hopes to alleviate. This wisdom has found its contemporary expression in Carver and
Scheier’s (1990) cybernetic self-regulation theory, in which dysphoria results from discrep-
ancy between expectations and reality; yearning for happiness serves to widen this discrep-
ancy, thus increasing dissatisfaction (a theory corroborated by empirical studies; e.g., Mauss
et al. 2011). Such yearning may be exacerbated by cultural pressures that turn happiness into
something approaching a social norm; indeed critical theorists have accused PP of perpetu-
ating this very process, contributing to a ‘tyranny of positive thinking’ (Held 2002). The charge
is that if happiness becomes expected, even obligatory, this can engender a climate of implicit
blame and stigmatisation towards those who fail to achieve this goal, with unhappiness seen
almost as a moral failure (Ahmed 2007; Ehrenreich 2009).
Beyond seeking happiness, our second issue here concerns, perversely, the unforeseen
pitfalls of being happy (or at least believing that one is). The risks of attaining a modest
amount of satisfaction is that it may lull one into thinking that life is as good as it could be.
There is, for instance, a danger of becoming tranquilised and acquiescent to social contexts
that ultimately undermine wellbeing through iniquities such as societal inequality. In this
way, one may be beguiled by modest satisfactions into entering what Marxist theorists call
‘false consciousness,’ i.e., a state of mind that prevents us from acting in our own interests
(Jost 1995). For instance, Marx’s (1844) critique of religion was not that it was without
value, but rather that its comforts (e.g., belief in the afterlife) lulled people into inaction; he
thus urged people to relinquish these comforts in order to rise up against the oppressive
social conditions that force people to need such comforts, and instead to seek and find
justice and happiness here on earth: ‘The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of
the people is required for their real happiness’ (p. 244). Perhaps one needs to feel dis-
comfort in order to be compelled to create a better life—one that would ultimately be more
conducive to wellbeing. Indeed, with so many people suffering worldwide through myriad
torments, from poverty to war, should we even want to be happy? Some theorists have
argued that we may actually be closer to the spirit of wanting humanity to flourish if we are
angry, protesting against the state of the world. As Ahmed (2010, p. 223) puts it, ‘revo-
lutionary politics’—i.e., movements to change the world for the better, among which one
might arguably include PP—must ‘work hard to stay proximate to unhappiness.’
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However, we must not suggest that dysphoria is only acceptable if it is useful. And it is here
that we turn to sadness. Admittedly, people have argued that sadness has its merits, for
example as an aesthetic emotion (Thoolen et al. 2009), or a sign of one’s ethical sensitivity
(Christiansen et al. 2010). For instance, sadness may arise as a compassionate response to the
ubiquity of suffering in the world, a sorrow which moreover may fuel a personal sense of
meaning and mission (as Shenk (2006) identified in relation to Abraham Lincoln, for
example). However, the more important point is that sadness may be a profoundly true
emotion, a genuine response to a tragic situation. For instance, for bereaved parents, intense
experiences of grief are an expression of love, and indeed a ‘way to maintain a connection to a
beloved deceased child’ (Thieleman and Cacciatore 2014, p. 6). As we asked above, in such a
baleful situation, would one even want to feel differently? Would not happiness, or any such
‘positive’ state of mind, be thoroughly inappropriate? Thus, as Woolfolk (2002, p. 23)
recognised, while flourishing no doubt involves elevating emotions such joy, when appro-
priate, it ought to also encompass the sensitivity to be ‘touched or moved by the world
inextricably intertwined with a capacity to experience the sadness and pathos that emanates
from the transitory nature of things.’ However, there is currently a danger of PP—in its first
wave incarnation—contributing to a cultural discourse in which ‘negative’ states like sadness
are viewed, not as appropriate reactions to a troubling world, but as dysfunctions to be
alleviated. Of course, therapeutic help should be given to people who want assistance to deal
with negative states of mind. However, we enter troubling territory once we begin to
pathologise these dimensions of human existence. As Horowitz and Wakefield (2007, p. 225)
put it, sadness is ‘an inherent part of the human condition, not a mental disorder.’
Unfortunately though, we do see a creeping medicalization of existence, where ordinary
aspects of being human are treated as diseases to be medicated away (Szasz 1960). This can be
troubling on multiple levels. It can alienate sufferers themselves, making them feel estranged
from their suffering, and from humanity, as if they are flawed or broken. There can be more severe
consequences too, such as the involuntary deprivation of freedom in psychiatric care (Matthews
2000). As such, PP must be wary of colluding in discourses that condemn and even pathologise
negative experiences like sadness. Of course, it is to be welcomed that PP provides interventions
that enable people, if they wish, to alleviate their distress and generate wellbeing. However, it is
vital that PP does not imply that dysphoric states are inherently wrong. For one thing, this
judgement may well compound such distress, leading sufferers to feel bad about feeling bad; in
Buddhism, this is known as the ‘two arrows’ (Bhikkhu 2013)—one’s initial distress (the first
arrow) is wounding enough, but berating oneself over feeling distressed is a second arrow that
compounds the suffering. Moreover, such states may bear important messages, in which one may
find value: they may show us how much we care about someone or something, be a source of
inspiration, or a font of meaning and even beauty. We shall see these ideas borne out in the next
section, which focuses on the phenomenon of posttraumatic growth. However, we must also
acknowledge that states of suffering may sometimes not bear any such positive messages or
herald future beneficial changes, but may simply be distressing; but it is important for that to be
ok too, as simply another dimension of human experience that we allow ourselves to feel.
8 Posttraumatic Growth
The five dichotomous case studies above have highlighted the dialectical ‘principle of
appraisal,’ i.e., the difficulty in determining whether particular phenomena are positive or
negative, since such a determination inextricably depends on context. In these final two
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sections, we consider a related problem, the ‘principle of co-valence,’ which refers to the
idea that many aspects of functioning and flourishing involve a complex balance of pos-
itive and negative elements. To illustrate this point, in this section we consider one such
complex process that has attracted much interest within PP, namely posttraumatic growth
(PTG). Prior to the identification of PTG, the distress burden presented by trauma had
become increasingly acknowledged in psychology and medicine; for instance, the notion of
posttraumatic stress disorder was introduced into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorder (DSM-III) by the American Psychiatric Association (1980) in the after-
math of the Vietnam War. However, soon after, scholars began to recognise that adverse
traumatic events did not impact people equally; for instance, O’Leary and Ickovics (1994)
identified four possible responses to adversity: succumbing (drastically impaired func-
tioning); survival with impairment; resilience (returning to pre-adversity baseline levels of
functioning); and thriving (people recovering to experience even higher levels of func-
tioning than pre-adversity). Reflecting this last category, Tedeschi and Calhoun (1996)
proposed the concept of PTG, which they define as ‘positive change that occurs as a result
of the struggle with highly challenging life crises’ (Tedeschi and Calhoun 2004, p. 1).
Since then, a wealth of studies have corroborated the concept, with studies invariably
finding that ‘a majority’ (percentages vary) of people suffering trauma experience some
degree of PTG, with the trauma in question ranging from illness (e.g., Koutrouli et al.
2012) to natural disasters (Pooley et al. 2013).
The crucial point about PTG, from our SWPP perspective here, is that it is thoroughly
dialectical, in a number of ways. At the most basic level, it is dialectical because positive
changes are reported as arising out of a negative experience, or as Calhoun and Tedeschi
(2013, p. 6) put it, are ‘set in motion by the encounter with difficult life situations.’ More
specifically, PTG is associated with a number of positive changes—although it is by no
means inevitable that a person will experience all, or indeed any, of these—including:
increased personal strength (e.g., more creative, mature), enhanced relationships (closer
and more appreciative), altered life philosophy (e.g., increased existential awareness and
meaning-making, including finding meaning in the trauma), changed priorities (e.g., less
focus on material goals, and greater appreciation of life), and enhanced spirituality.
However, PTG is further dialectical in that it is an on-going process in which positive and
negative are continually intertwined. It is not just a case of good following bad; studies
indicate that PTG tends to co-evolve in conjunction with on-going distress (Dekel et al.
2012).
This co-evolution substantiates the more general point that well- and ill-being can co-
exist, as Bassi et al. (2014) report in relation to persons with multiple sclerosis. Indeed, this
notion of the co-presence of ill-being and wellbeing applies equally to people who have
suffered trauma but who may not experience PTG. For these people, even if there is no
‘growth’ per se, there is still the task and the possibility of finding some degree of well-
being after the event, even if this just means managing to survive and living to see another
day, and perhaps enjoying the occasional moments of happiness and relief from their
burdens. Moreover, in a broader sense, the imperative of attempting to flourish amidst the
hardships of life extends beyond the notion of PTG. While only a subset of the population
may encounter severe trauma—and only a certain percentage of these undergo PTG—
arguably all people experience some degree of suffering in their lives. Indeed, schools of
thought such as Buddhism suggest that suffering is a ubiquitous and universal aspect of
life, at least until people attain certain peaks of psychospiritual development (Hayes 2002).
As such, for the vast majority of humanity, a key existential challenge is to find some sense
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of wellbeing in spite of the inevitable challenges that life throws, some precious light
amidst the gloom.
Moreover, in PTG, distress and growth may not simply be co-present, but in some ways
co-dependent. Consider the possibility of altered life philosophies and priorities: renewed
appreciation of life is often founded upon the existentially challenging recognition of the
fragility and fleetingness of life. It has even been argued that many character strengths
cannot be cultivated—or at least only to a limited extent—without a person experiencing
suffering and hardship (Wong 1995). As such, PTG, and flourishing more generally, is not
only co-valenced, but demonstrates the ‘principle of complementarity,’ i.e., that wellbeing
depends upon a complex balance and harmonisation of positive and negative. Of course,
one does not need to suffer trauma to be able to appreciate this point; it is also true of
arguably the most elevated of human experiences—love.
9 Love
We finish this paper by considering the inherently dialectical nature of love. As with PTG,
we can see that this is thoroughly co-valenced, and is thus a further demonstration of the
principle of complementarity. Before examining its dialectics, it is worth noting that there
are many ways of looking at love, a term which encompasses a multitude of emotional
relationships. Drawing on distinctions elucidated by thinkers at least as far back as classical
Greece, Lee (1973) differentiated between six different ‘types’ of love: eros (romantic,
passionate), ludus (flirtatious, playful), storge (filial, fraternal), pragma (rational, sensible),
mania (possessive, dependent), and agape (unconditional, selfless). While such differen-
tiations mean one should be wary of generalising about love, arguably most, if not all, of
these types—possibly excepting agape—can be recognised as co-valenced, involving a
dialectical blend of light and dark elements. There are many ways of viewing this dialectic,
but all are essentially variations on the idea, expressed so eloquently by C.S. Lewis (1971)
in The Four Loves that, ‘To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart
will be wrung and possibly broken.’ Love can be troubled by the vicissitudes of fate in all
manner of ways, from enforced partings to the erosion of feelings over time. Even in love,
one can be threatened by the fear of its loss, giving rise to complications in one’s
expressions of love, from anxiety to jealousy to anger. Somewhat pointedly, in their book
The Dark Side of Close Relationships, Spitzberg and Cupach (1998, p. xiii) even claim that
‘love and hate are indeed impossible to disentangle.’ While this provocative suggestion
will not apply to all instances of love—storge,pragma and agape all stand out as probable
exceptions—it remains that love invariably and inevitably encompasses a spectrum of
negative feelings that can be troubling to varying degrees.
However—and this is where the second wave appreciation of dialectics comes to the
fore—the vulnerability and potential dysphoria that are arguably inherent in love are not
aberrations, but the very condition of it. Such vulnerability is inseparable from love, they
are two sides of the same coin; it is the condition one must enter into in order to be in love.
This is because love essentially requires one to place one’s fate in the hands of an ‘Other,’
whose actions cannot be controlled, and whose reciprocal love cannot be willed. And, as
Levinas (1987, p. 88) puts it, it is this ‘insurmountable duality of beings’ that creates ‘the
pathos of love.’ Love is thus fundamentally dialectical; a transcendent blend of joy and
terror, safety and fear. It is for this reason that we have included love as an example of the
‘principle of co-valence’ rather than the ‘principle of appraisal.’ It would be possible, as
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per the latter principle, to suggest that whether love is experienced as positive or negative
depends upon the context (e.g., reciprocated vs. unrequited versions respectively). How-
ever, we have included it here in the context of discussing co-valence since the positive and
negative aspects of love are arguably co-creating. For instance, the stronger and more
intense one’s love for a person, the greater the peril that one opens oneself up to (e.g., the
heartbreak one would suffer if the relationship ended against one’s will). As Bauman
(2013, p. 6) memorably phrases it, ‘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.’ This perspective on love arguably aligns with Delle Fave et al.’s
(2011) notion of harmonization—definable as ‘balancing opposite elements into a whole’
(p. 199)—which was rated as the most important psychological component of happiness by
participants themselves. As such, it could be argued that people intuitively understand and
appreciate this point that many of our most valued and important experiences involve just
this kind of dialectical balance, and nowhere more so than in the case of love.
10 Conclusion
This paper has provided a summary of SWPP—which, following Wong (2011), could
equally be referred to as PP 2.0—which is above all characterised by appreciation of the
dialectical nature of wellbeing (in conjunction with other subsidiary elements, such as a
deep understanding of context). It was suggested that this dialectical appreciation centres
on three key components: the principle of appraisal (the difficulty of categorising phe-
nomena as either positive or negative), the principle of co-valence (the notion that many
experiences involve a blend of positive and negative elements), and the principle of
complementarity (the idea that wellbeing and flourishing depend upon a complex balance
and harmonization of light and dark aspects of life). The principle of appraisal was
demonstrated through five case studies of conceptual dichotomies, which revealed that an
appraisal of the respective value of each of the polarities was dependent upon context. The
principle of co-valence was shown through two case studies of complex processes, post-
traumatic growth and love, which, while both being indicative of flourishing, involve a
balance of positive and negative experiences. Together, both issues (of appraisal and co-
valence) substantiate the broader issue of complementarity, which holds that flourishing
depends on the delicate dialectic interaction of light and dark aspects of life. These con-
siderations show the way in which PP is evolving and maturing as a discipline, and point
the way ahead to future scholarship on the nature of wellbeing.
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... Since "complexity" means (from the Latin word "complexus") "weave together" (Morin, 1999(Morin, , 2000, it invites spirituality to be woven into the PP framework. For instance, linked to a lack of holistic authenticity (Held, 2002), the "tyranny of positivity" has fueled a cultural discourse in which negative emotional states are not only considered undesirable, but also pathological (Lomas and Ivtzan, 2016). Such does not correspond to the human being's quest for meaning and wholeness (Malette, 2019), which speaks of "cohering harmony" (Wissing, 2022). ...
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In the context of climate change and its accompanying impact on stress and mental health, we argue that positive psychology (PP) may benefit from an integration of spirituality to better support people’s wellbeing. Starting with an overview of climate change’s impact on wellbeing and health, we explore the paradoxical and complex relationship between humans and nature. Following which, we will briefly define spirituality and present an evocative metaphor of the wave to portray the evolution of the field of PP. In our conclusive remarks, we argue that the field of PP has gradually become more open to integrate spirituality (since the first wave), as it evolves towards greater complexity (in its third wave). In addition to meaning, some spiritual perspectives potentially relevant to positive psychology facilitate an ecocentric view (i.e., eco-spiritualities) which allow for a better understanding of the paradoxical human-nature relationship, as we struggle to deal with the complex issues related to climate change.
... The reality is that in some circumstances, qualities and experiences that are generally considered to be positive can be counterproductive and those that are generally considered to be negative could be adaptive (Lomas & Ivtzan, 2016). For example, excessive or misplaced optimism can lead to unwise risk taking, while anger at injustice could motivate someone to take action to correct it. ...
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... Recently, scholars have made vociferous calls for expansions in the scope and theoretical base of positive psychology research and practice in the second and third waves of the discipline (Lomas & Ivtzan, 2016;Lomas et al., 2021;Wissing, 2021) in terms of the target groups (e.g., to also include clinical population groups and people from non-Western contexts), to broaden the focus beyond the individual person to include groups and systems, to adopt a wider range of research and practice methodologies, and to be more considerate of the context and cultural backgrounds of target groups. This article is an attempt to further highlight the need for such expansion by exploring plausible sociocultural and methodological limitations with some positive psychology activities when administered in the more collectivistic and socioeconomically disadvantaged settings of sub-Saharan Africa. ...
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Scholars conducting cross-cultural research in mental health often import intervention programs found to be efficacious in one social context (e.g., Western) and directly implement them in other contexts (e.g., African and Asian) without recourse to the sociocultural disparities between the target populations and the theoretical foundations of the constructs and principles underpinning the intervention programs. Such efforts mistakenly assume that positive psychology interventions (PPIs), most of which were developed from Western perspectives and assumed individualistic cultural orientation and value systems, operate equally across all contexts. Drawing on the extant literature and on insights from designing, implementing, and evaluating group-based (mental) health behavior change intervention programs across several communities in Ghana, we discuss some sociocultural, theoretical, and methodological issues that can significantly constrain the design, uptake, and effectiveness of PPIs in the rural, low literate, socioeconomically disadvantaged, highly collectivistic context of Ghana, and sub-Saharan Africa more generally. In all illustrations, we offer suggestions to guide the design and implementation processes to ensure culturally appropriate, highly acceptable, and potentially effective intervention programs. We argue that PPIs can be potentially fructuous in the sub-region when adapted to, or embedded in, the cultural values of the target population and tailored to the needs, capacities, and circumstances of participants.
... This movement has been critiqued for various reasons, including with regard to the power of such thoughts, which are more limited in their ability to affect happiness than its proponents may claim (Ehrenreich, 2010). Conversely, negative cognitions and emotions can sometimes be conducive to happiness; for instance, unpleasant states such as anxiety or anger may lead one to take courses of action which are ultimately beneficial to wellbeing (Lomas & Ivtzan, 2016). But generally, there is a close connection between positive thoughts and emotions, which is why interventions aimed at generating such thoughtsfor instance gratitude diaries can be effective generators of happiness (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). ...
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Happiness is an increasingly prominent topic of interest across academia. However, relatively little attention has been paid to how it is created, especially not in a multidimensional sense. By ‘created’ we do not mean its influencing factors, for which there is extensive research, but how it actually forms in the person. The work that has been done in this arena tends to focus on physiological dynamics, which are certainly part of the puzzle. But they are not the whole picture, with psychological, phenomenological, and socio cultural processes also playing their part. As a result, this paper offers a multidimensional overview of scholarship on the ‘architecture’ of happiness, providing a stimulus for further work into this important topic.
... Wong's concept is dualistic as well as systemic in nature, taking different system's elements into consideration. PP2.0 or EPP have become important terms and concepts in the positive psychology movement [10][11][12][13][14]. Moreover, researchers such as Lomas et al. [15] have since called for the introduction of a third wave of positive psychology (PP3.0), which would ask questions with a view to a more systemic understanding of the development of positive psychology concepts. ...
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Positive education has gained increased interest and attention in the last decade. Born as an applied movement within positive psychology, positive education aims to introduce a positive approach to education to aid schools in promoting happiness , improving learning and performance, and reducing mental health problems among children and adolescents. Whereas relatively new, positive education has made notable progress and bears enormous potential. However, the movement still presents vulnerabilities and limitations that need addressing. With a focus on critical and supporting literature, this integrative review explores and brings together some of the most pressing challenges that positive education faces today. Tackling these vulnerabilities would positively contribute to the ongoing advancement of the movement.
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The ritual dimension of the Zen tradition in East Asia took the particular shape that it did primarily by means of thorough absorption of two different cultural legacies in China, one-the Confucian -indigenous to China and one entering East Asia from India and Central Asia in the form of the Buddhist tradition, and influence Zen even today. The introduction places the Zen ritual tradition in relation to the growing interdisciplinary field of critical ritual studies. Relevant contemporary ritual theories include those that focus on the non-intellectual dimensions of life, where the emotive and bodily dimension of learning and culture are given greater appreciation, and theories of ritual change that attempt to see how rituals tend to evolve over time without practitioners necessarily being aware of that transformation.