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Flourishing as a dialectical balance: Emerging insights from second wave positive psychology

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Abstract

Positive psychology, an emergent branch of scholarship concerned with wellbeing and flourishing, initially defined itself by a focus on ‘positive’ emotions and qualities. However, critics soon pointed out that this binary logic – classifying phenomena as either positive or negative, and valorising the former while disparaging the latter – could be problematic. For example, apparently positive qualities can be harmful to wellbeing in certain circumstances, while ostensibly dysphoric emotional states may on occasion promote flourishing. Responding to these criticisms, over recent years a more nuanced ‘second wave’ of positive psychology has been developing, in which wellbeing is recognised as involving a dialectical balance of light and dark aspects of life. This commentary introduces this emergent second wave, arguing that it is characterised by four dialectical principles. Firstly, the principle of appraisal states that it is difficult to categorially identify phenomena as either positive or negative, since such appraisals are fundamentally contextually-dependent. Secondly, the principle of co-valence holds that many states and qualities at the heart of flourishing, such as love, are actually a complex blend of light and dark elements. Thirdly, the principle of complementarity posits that not only are such phenomena co-valenced, but that their dichotomous elements are in fact co-creating, two intertwined sides of the same coin. Finally, the principle of evolution allows us to understand second wave positive psychology as itself being an example of a dialectical process.
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Flourishing as a dialectical balance: Emerging insights from second wave positive psychology
Dr. Tim Lomas,
University of East London, School of Psychology,
t.lomas@uel.ac.uk
Note: This article may not exactly replicate the final published version. It is not the copy of record.
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Abstract
Positive psychology, an emergent branch of scholarship concerned with wellbeing and flourishing,
initially defined itself by a focus on ‘positive’ emotions and qualities. However, critics soon pointed
out that this binary logic classifying phenomena as either positive or negative, and valorising the
former while disparaging the latter could be problematic. For example, apparently positive
qualities can be harmful to wellbeing in certain circumstances, while ostensibly dysphoric emotional
states may on occasion promote flourishing. Responding to these criticisms, over recent years a
more nuanced ‘second wave’ of positive psychology has been developing, in which wellbeing is
recognised as involving a dialectical balance of light and dark aspects of life. This commentary
introduces this emergent second wave, arguing that it is characterised by four dialectical principles.
Firstly, the principle of appraisal states that it is difficult to categorially identify phenomena as either
positive or negative, since such appraisals are fundamentally contextually-dependent. Secondly, the
principle of co-valence holds that many states and qualities at the heart of flourishing, such as love,
are actually a complex blend of light and dark elements. Thirdly, the principle of complementarity
posits that not only are such phenomena co-valenced, but that their dichotomous elements are in
fact co-creating, two intertwined sides of the same coin. Finally, the principle of evolution allows us
to understand second wave positive psychology as itself being an example of a dialectical process.
Keywords: positive; negative; dialectics; balance; wellbeing; positive psychology
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The evolution of positive psychology
Just before the dawn of the new millennium, Martin Seligman used his ascension to the presidency
of the American Psychological Association to inaugurate a bold new initiative: positive psychology
(Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). The rationale for its creation was Seligman’s perceptive if not
universally endorsed contention that mainstream psychology had hitherto tended to mainly
concern itself with disorder and dysfunction. Certain fields had resisted this trend of course, focusing
instead on human potential and excellence, such as humanistic psychology (Waterman, 2013).
Nevertheless, on the whole, Seligman argued that concepts like happiness and flourishing were
largely absent in mainstream psychology, removed from serious consideration, and regarded
disparagingly by gatekeepers such as grant-awarding bodies. And so, Seligman used his influence
and prominence to propose the notion of positive psychology as a way of redressing this lacuna. It
swiftly became a fertile new paradigm, offering a ‘collective identity’ for researchers interested in
‘the brighter sides of human nature’ as Linley and Joseph (2004, p.4) put it. As the field grew, it
began to encompass research much of which pre-dated the field itself around diverse process
and qualities that could be deemed ‘positive,’ from overarching constructs such as flourishing, to
more specific concepts like optimism and hope.
As intimated above, it was not the case that this research was necessarily new. Before
positive psychology strode boldly onto the scene, many of these topics had already been studied
empirically by scholars in disparate fields, from humanistic to clinical psychology. Moreover, its
central concerns the nature of wellbeing and the good life had been debated by scholars for
centuries, millennia even (McMahon, 2006). However, part of the attraction and power of the new
field was that it created a conceptual space where these diverse topics all of which shared the
‘family resemblance’ (Wittgenstein, 1953) of pertaining in some way to wellbeing could be brought
together and considered collectively. Thus, as a new field of enquiry focused specifically on ‘the
science and practice of improving wellbeing’ (Lomas, Hefferon, & Ivtzan, 2015, p.1347), positive
psychology found an enthusiastic response among students and scholars within psychology, and
indeed in other fields, from education to social work (Lomas, 2015b).
However, the field was not without its critics. Some argued that its conceptualisations of
wellbeing were culturally-specific influenced by the North American context in which the field
emerged and yet the field tended to presume that these concepts were universally and perennially
applicable (Becker & Marecek, 2008; Lomas, 2015a). Others accused the field of promulgating a
‘separatist’ agenda, positioning itself as radically different to previous scholarship, and failing to
recognise or engage with pertinent research in other fields (Cowen & Kilmer, 2002; Held, 2004).
Another line of criticism was that the field tended towards the promotion of an individuation of
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social problems, and as such that it was aligned with a neoliberal political agenda (McDonald &
O’Callaghan, 2008). However, while there may be some merit to these claims, at least initially, it is
also important to note that the field is responding receptively to these critiques. Objections around
cultural bias are being addressed through the emergence of sub-fields such as ‘positive cross-cultural
psychology’ (Lomas, 2015a), featuring analyses of phenomena such as linguistic differences in well-
being related concepts (Lomas, 2016b). Critiques around the separatism of the field have led to
attempts to build bridges with other fields, from ‘positive education’ (Seligman et al., 2009) to
‘positive art’ (Lomas, 2016a), which recognise the extensive work pertaining to wellbeing that has
already happened within disciplines such as educational psychology and art therapy. Finally, the
issue of individuation of social problems has given rise to more critical perspectives within the field,
as highlighted by a forthcoming Handbook of Critical Positive Psychology (Brown, Lomas, & Eiroa-
Orosa, 2016), and the emergence of new sub-disciplines such as ‘positive social psychology’ (Lomas,
2015b).
One of the most insightful and interesting critiques concerned the very notion of ‘positive’
which underpinned the entire field, as articulated in particular by scholars such as Barbara Held
(2002; 2004). The accusation was that positive psychology was promulgating a rather polarising
positive-negative dichotomy. Certain phenomena, emotions for example, were being labelled as
positive, presented as inherently desirable and thus to be cultivated. The necessary corollary, of
course, is that contrasting phenomena were implicitly conceptualised as negative, positioned as
intrinsically undesirable and to be avoided. For example, optimism often appeared to be valorised as
an unqualified good, and pessimism as intrinsically deleterious. It is true that some scholars did paint
a more nuanced picture; for instance, Seligman (1990, p.292) himself cautioned that one must be
wary of being a ‘slave to the tyrannies of optimism,’ and that one needs to be ‘able to use
pessimism’s keen sense of reality when we need it.’ However, in terms of the broader discourse of
the field, and its wider cultural impact, a less nuanced binary message the simplistic valorisation of
ostensibly positive phenomena appeared to be dominant.
Although this valorisation of positivity seemed to offer an upbeat message that positive
emotions are linked to beneficial outcomes in multiple arenas, from health (Fredrickson & Levenson,
1998) to success (Boehm & Lyubomirsky, 2008) critics saw it as problematic. Firstly, it often failed
to appreciate sufficiently the context and complexity of emotional outcomes. For instance,
‘excessive’ optimism can be harmful to wellbeing, particularly when it contributes to an
underappreciation of risk and to subsequent health-risk behaviours, such as smoking (Weinstein,
Marcus, & Moser, 2005). Conversely, pessimism and anxiety may engender forms of proactive
coping that are beneficial to wellbeing (Norem, 2001). Of even greater concern was Held’s (2002,
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p.965) contention that this emphasis on positivity contributed to a ‘tyranny of the positive’ – i.e., to
a cultural expectation that one should be upbeat which had deleterious consequences. For
instance, Held argued that it contributed to a climate in which people who could not find or express
the requisite positivity might face social censure and even ostracism. Similarly, in her polemic against
positivity, sociologist Barbara Ehrenreich (2009) accused companies of compelling positive thinking
as a way of hindering dissent, and a means of cajoling more out of workers. Perhaps most
perniciously, this ‘tyranny’ fed into a larger cultural discourse in which negative emotional states are
not simply seen as undesirable, but as disorders. This discourse is part of a broader medicalisation of
existence, reflecting the cultural hegemony of medical fields such as psychiatry. As Horwitz and
Wakefield (2007) suggest in The Loss of Sadness, emotions that were previously regarded as natural
and inherent aspects of the human condition, from sadness to grief, have largely been re-framed as
disorders, and certainly as problematic. And, it could be argued that positive psychology
contributed, albeit perhaps unwittingly, to this process.
Second wave positive psychology
If the very notion of ‘positive’ is problematic, where does this leave positive psychology? Perhaps for
some of the critics mentioned above, these criticisms might definitively undermine the field.
However, an alternative perspective would be that such critiques in fact facilitate a more nuanced
appreciation of the dynamics of flourishing. This is the view taken by myself and my colleagues.
Challenged and provoked by these critiques, we feel that the field is responding receptively, evolving
and maturing into what we call ‘second wave’ positive psychology (SWPP) (Wong, 2011; Lomas &
Ivtzan, 2015; Ivtzan, Lomas, Hefferon, & Worth, 2015). If the ‘first wave’ incarnation of the field can
be defined by valorisation of the positive, SWPP recognises that flourishing instead involves a
complex balance, a subtle, dialectical interplay between ostensibly positive and negative
phenomena. This second wave is still very much positive psychology: its overarching concern is still
with ‘positive’ meta-constructs and goals such as flourishing and wellbeing. It simply acknowledges
that the routes towards these luminous destinations can be complicated, and sometimes lead
through ‘darker’ realms of human experience. More specifically, SWPP is underpinned by four
dialectical principles: appraisal; co-valence; complementarity; and evolution.
The principle of appraisal cautions against categorically identifying phenomena as either
positive or negative, as such appraisals are fundamentally contextually-dependent. This was alluded
to above, where it was noted that ‘excessive’ optimism can lead to miscalculations of risk, whereas
pessimism can be advantageous if it leads to prudence. One could problematize most emotional
dichotomies in this way. For instance, McNulty and Fincham (2011) show that prosocial emotions
like forgiveness can be harmful if it means one tolerates a situation that one might otherwise resist,
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such as an abusive relationship. Conversely, ‘anti-social’ states like anger may actually be ‘moral
emotions’ which can alert us to ethical breaches, and motivate us to resist iniquities (Tavris, 1989).
Indeed, ‘righteous’ anger has been identified as a crucial driver of progressive change, inspiring and
propelling social movements that have changed the world for the better, from Civil Rights to
feminism (Siegel, 2009). Likewise, consider the polarity of freedom versus restraint. While the total
deprivation of freedom, as in slavery, is surely an unqualified evil, existentialist thinkers have argued
that an excess of freedom, a life untrammelled by restrictions, can be troubling (Yalom, 1980). For
instance, Kierkegaard (1834) felt that this ‘dizzying’ sense of unlimited possibilities could engender
ontological ‘dread,’ since we must continually make choices that irrevocably shape our lives, and
assume responsibility for the consequences. As Sartre (1952, p.399) put it, people are ‘condemned
to be free.’ In a more mundane but no less revealing way, Schwartz (2000, p.79) reports that
‘excessive’ consumer freedom can be experienced ‘as a kind of tyranny,’ with empirical studies
suggesting that a greater diversity of choice often leads to lower levels of subsequent satisfaction
(Iyengar & Lepper, 1999).
Even happiness and sadness are not immune from such considerations around the principle
of appraisal. There is a risk, for example, that superficial forms of happiness, such as hedonistic
pleasure, might forestall efforts to pursue deeper states of wellbeing that might ultimately prove
more fulfilling (Wong, 2009). Or such pleasures might tranquilise us into acquiescing to social
contexts that ultimately undermine our wellbeing, beguiling us 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). Thus, for instance, there is the accusation that consumer capitalism
provides ‘the 99%’ with just enough recompense to prevent people from revolting en masse against
a socio-economic system that systemically serves to fundamentally limit their wellbeing (DeLuca,
Lawson, & Sun, 2012). Conversely, at times, sadness may be thoroughly appropriate, such as in
response to loss, where grief is not only normal, but may actually maintain and honour one’s
connection to a departed loved one (Thieleman & Cacciatore, 2014). Similarly, sadness may be
valuable as a humane response to suffering (Christiansen, Oettingen, Dahme, & Klinger, 2010), or a
refined aesthetic response to the ephemeral beauty of the world (Thoolen, Ridder, Bensing, Gorter,
& Rutten, 2009). Dwelling on such paradoxes, clear-cut determinations of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’
become harder to make.
Moreover, it is not just that such appraisals are difficult. The second principle of co-valence
reflects the idea that many phenomena are complex admixtures of light and dark, positive and
negative. Consider perhaps the way that hope involves a yearning optimism for a future goal, which
is yet undercut with a gnawing anxiety that it may not come to pass (Lazarus, 2003). Such co-valence
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is perhaps most powerfully revealed in arguably the most cherished and exalted of all human
phenomena: love. While there are many different forms of love from the passion of eros to the
selflessness of agape (Lee, 1977) all can perhaps be understood as being a dialectical blend of light
and dark. One might approach this dialectic in various ways, but all are essentially reflected in the
poignant lamentation of C.S. Lewis (1971) 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
kinds of ways, from enforced partings to an erosion of feelings over time. Thus, even while love
contains pleasure, joy and bliss, it is also infused with worry, anxiety, and fear. It is, as such, co-
valenced, harbouring darker shades of feeling. This recognition leads us inexorably to the third
principle: complementarity. Here we recognise that the potential dysphoria and vulnerability
inherent in love are not aberrations, but the very condition of it. The light and dark of love are
fundamentally inseparable, complementary and co-creating sides of the same coin. Consider that
the stronger and more intense one’s love for another, the greater the risk of heartbreak were the
relationship to end against one’s will. As Bauman (2013, p.6) eloquently puts 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.’
With this third principle, we are in dialectical territory that has been explored with particular
depth and insight by Eastern philosophies, especially Taoism. Taoism has its roots in the I Ching, or
‘Book of Changes,which began life over 3000 years ago as a shamanic practice among the Chou
people, based on the practice of consulting oracles (Wilhelm, 1950). The overarching philosophical
principle of the I Ching is change, which, paradoxically, is the one eternal, immutable law at work in
the universe. Moreover, the I Ching identified the mechanism through which change occurs: the
dialectical interaction between opposites (Fang, 2012). This dialectical interaction was subsequently
captured symbolically by the yin-yang motif (although the terms themselves do not appear in the
book; instead we find dichotomies such as ‘the firm’ and ‘the yielding’). Yin means cloudy/overcast,
whereas Yang means ‘in the sun’ (i.e., shone upon), implying the two sides of a mountain (one sunlit,
one in shadow). Thus, as Fang (2012) explains, yin-yang encapsulates various ‘tenets of duality.’ The
tenet of ‘holistic duality’ means that reality comprises co-dependent opposites that each require the
other for their existence (e.g., ‘up’ depends upon the notion of ‘down’). Moreover, the tenet of
‘dynamic duality’ holds that these opposites tend to mutually transform into each other in a dynamic
process; as Fung (1948, p.19) puts it, ‘When the sun has reached its meridian, it declines’ (i.e., its
zenith heralds the beginning of the descent into night). Thus, yin-yang does not simply present a pair
of static opposites, but includes an element of darkness in the light, and vice versa, capturing the
ceaseless process of becoming. As Ji, Nisbett, and Su (2001, p.450) put it, ‘The pure yin is hidden in
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yang, and the pure yang is hidden in yin.’ Such considerations beautifully encapsulate the principle
of complementarity, which can arguably be applied to all emotional dichotomies that combine to
constitute flourishing, from optimism versus pessimism to freedom versus restriction.
Finally, the principle of evolution allows us to contextualise the very idea of SWPP. Just as
SWPP is defined by an appreciation of dialectics, it is itself an example of a dialectical process. Here I
refer to the dialectical movement of thesis-antithesis-synthesis associated with G.W.F. Hegel (1770-
1831). One might view mainstream psychology, with its apparent concern with ‘negative’ aspects of
human functioning, as the thesis. In critiquing this and embracing ostensibly positive phenomena,
positive psychology presented itself as the antithesis. However, critics subsequently began to discern
flaws in this antithesis, as elucidated above, pointing out the pitfalls of positive qualities and the
potential merits of negative ones. Crucially though, from a Hegelian perspective, this does not
necessarily mean an abandonment of positive psychology, a reversion back to the original thesis.
Rather, the next stage in this dialectical process 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 is just such a synthesis: there is a movement away from a binary classification of
phenomena as either positive and negative valorising the former while condemning the latter
towards a more nuanced appreciation of the dialectical complexities of flourishing.
Conclusion
This paper has provided a summary of SWPP, which is characterised above all by appreciation of the
dialectical nature of wellbeing (supported by subsidiary elements, such as a critical attention to
context). It was suggested that this dialectical appreciation centres on three key components: the
principle of appraisal (the difficulty of categorising phenomena 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 of light and dark aspects of life). In addition, SWPP itself was seen as the
manifestation of a fourth dialectical principle, namely evolution, in that it is a synthesis, emerging
from the interaction of ‘psychology as usual’ (the thesis) and positive psychology (the antithesis).
These considerations show the way in which positive psychology is evolving as a discipline, and point
the way ahead to future scholarship on the nature of wellbeing.
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... However, taking gratitude into account only from this positive aspect may be insufficient (Jens-Beken& Wong, 2019). Positive psychology focuses on studying positive qualities, processes, and emotions (Lomas, 2016;Wong, 2019). Even though positive psychology also acknowledges the other side of the coin (e.g., adversity, pain, hardship; Gable & Haidt, 2005), its study area focuses on positive aspects such as happiness and success (Wong, 2016). ...
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This study aims to adapt the Existential Gratitude Scale (Jens-Beken & Wong, 2019) to Turkish culture and to examine the scale’s psychometric properties in this respect. The study uses the convenience sampling method, and the sample consists of 286 participants between the ages of 18 to 53, of whom 212 (74.1%) are female and 74 (25.9%) are male. The structural validity of the scale has been examined using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). The CFA results confirm the original EGS’ one-dimensional structure over a Turkish sample, and the scale has good fit indices (χ2=94.655, df=34, χ2/df =2.784, GFI=0.936, NFI=0.930, CFI=0.954, SRMR=0.0420, and RMSEA=0.079). The factor loadings range from .46 to .77. For the criterion validity, Pearson correlations were calculated for the EGS with the Short Gratitude, Resentment, and Appreciation Scale and Transpersonal Gratitude Scales, which resulted in significant positive correlations (respectively r=0.476 and r=0.579 at p= 05). The item-total correlation and comparison of the upper 27% and lower 27% groups were examined for the item analysis of the scale; these have revealed the EGS to possess satisfactory discriminating power. As a result of the reliability analysis, Cronbach’s alpha of internal consistency was calculated as .893. This study shows the EGS to be a valid and reliable tool useable in the context of Turkey for measuring individuals’ existential gratitude levels. The EGS can be a valuable tool for practitioners in mental health settings in developing appropriate interventions for individuals’ coping skills in celebrating adversity.
... Establecer los límites de la mala práctica en PP, también es, por supuesto, el objetivo de la Anti-Psicología Positiva. Se comienza a hablar de la "segunda ola" de la PP (Ivtzan, Lomas, Hefferon y Worth, 2015;Lomas, 2016aLomas, , 2016bLomas, , 2016cLomas e Ivtzan, 2016), lo cual parece ser totalmente incorrecto, además de que no es razonablemente justificable. La PP siempre ha tenido, y continúa utilizando, el mismo discurso de felicidad lingüística y de la auto-promoción disciplinaria y académica (Jarden, 2012). ...
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El libro es una dura crítica a la teoría de al psicología positiva. Luis Fernández-Ríos sólo hizo un largo Prólogo, que agradezco al autor Julio Alfonso Piña López la invitación. El autor del libro (Anti - Psicología Positiva) expone sus ideas acerca de la psicología positiva de forma sencilla, clara y precisa. Vale mucho la pena leerlo.
... Establecer los límites de la mala práctica en PP, también es, por supuesto, el objetivo de la Anti-Psicología Positiva. Se comienza a hablar de la "segunda ola" de la PP (Ivtzan, Lomas, Hefferon y Worth, 2015;Lomas, 2016aLomas, , 2016bLomas, , 2016cLomas e Ivtzan, 2016), lo cual parece ser totalmente incorrecto, además de que no es razonablemente justificable. La PP siempre ha tenido, y continúa utilizando, el mismo discurso de felicidad lingüística y de la auto-promoción disciplinaria y académica (Jarden, 2012). ...
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Libro con prólogo del Dr. Luis Fernández-Ríos (Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, España), conformado por cinco capítulos, en los que se plantean cuestionamientos al movimiento de la Psicología Positiva desde la perspectiva de la Psicología Conductual (con énfasis en la Psicología Interconductual).
... The valuable source of inner peace can only be earned by going through the steps of confronting, accepting and embracing suffering; similarly, life balance and harmony can be achieved only by learning dialectical (Lomas, 2016) or the dual-system process (Wong, 2012). Even when we want to live a meaningful life, we still need to maintain a proper balance between difference sources of meaning, such as achievement needed to be balanced by acceptance of self-limitations (Wong, 1998). ...
... It is better for us to get used to living with the inevitable prospect of suffering and death in order to gain mental toughness and wisdom. The valuable sources of inner peace and life balance can only be earned by going through the gates of hardships and suffering, and learning dialectical balancing (Lomas, 2016) along with the dual-system process . Even when living a meaningful life, we need to have both the proper balance between difference sources of meaning (Wong, 1998). ...
... It is better for us to get used to living with the inevitable prospect of suffering and death in order to gain mental toughness and wisdom. The valuable sources of inner peace and life balance can only be earned by going through the gates of hardships and suffering, and learning dialectical balancing (Lomas, 2016) along with the dual-system process . Even when living a meaningful life, we need to have both the proper balance between difference sources of meaning (Wong, 1998). ...
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The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed torrents of global suffering at a devastating scale, necessitating a strong response to alleviating suffering. This paper begins with noting that the conventional approach to suffering in North America is to be positive and not to be negative. The paper summarily explores the philosophy of positive psychology underlying the first- and the second-wave of positive psychology, commenting on the evolution from dualism and a binary conceptualization in the first wave (PP 1.0) to a non-dualism of integrating binaries in the second wave (PP 2.0). PP 2.0’s enhanced therapeutic efficacy is noted for its non-dual framework. The paper then explores and suggests a different conceptualization possibility of non-duality, fundamental non-duality , that is related to but distinct from the one in PP 2.0. A case is made that fundamental non-duality has a radical possibility of therapeutic efficacy. Being consistent with the philosophy of non-duality, further suggestions are made that non-duality of PP 2.0 and fundamental non-duality can be therapeutically deployed together for greatest efficacy. The exploration contained in the paper is largely philosophical, arts-based, and autobiographical, creating an enacted and lived experience of applying theory to practice.
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The relevance of the arts to wellbeing has been recognised within clinical fields, as reflected in therapeutic forms based on various art modalities, from music to drama therapy. However, there has hitherto been little appreciation in fields such as positive psychology of the broader potential of the arts as a vehicle for flourishing and fulfilment. As such, this paper proposes the creation of ‘positive art’ as a field encompassing theory and research concerning the wellbeing value of art. To show the scope and possibilities of this proposed field, the paper provides an indicative summary of literature pertaining to four major art forms: visual art, music, literature and drama. Moreover, the paper identifies five main positive outcomes that are consistently found in the literature across all these forms: sense-making, enriching experience, aesthetic appreciation, entertainment, and bonding. The paper aims to encourage a greater focus on the arts in fields like positive psychology, enabling science to more fully understand and appreciate the positive power of the arts.
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Although much attention has been paid to culture-specific psychopathologies, there have been no comparable attempts to chart positive mental states that may be particular to certain cultures. This paper outlines the beginnings of a positive cross-cultural lexicography of ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to well-being, culled from across the world’s languages. A quasi-systematic search uncovered 216 such terms. Using grounded theory, these words were organised into three categories: feelings (comprising positive and complex feelings); relationships (comprising intimacy and pro-sociality) and character (comprising personal resources and spirituality). The paper has two main aims. First, it aims to provide a window onto cultural differences in constructions of well-being, thereby enriching our understanding of well-being. Second, a more ambitious aim is that this lexicon may help expand the emotional vocabulary of English speakers (and indeed speakers of all languages), and consequently enrich their experiences of well-being. The paper concludes by setting out a research agenda to pursue these aims further.
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Critical theorists have accused positive psychology of paying insufficient attention to cultural variation in the way wellbeing is constructed and experienced. While there may be some merit to this claim, the field has developed a more nuanced appreciation of culture than its critics suggest. However, it could also be argued that positive psychology has not sufficiently appreciated or absorbed the wealth of literature within cross-cultural psychology pertaining to wellbeing. This paper aims to forge a bridge between positive psychology and cross-cultural psychology by introducing the idea of ‘positive cross-cultural psychology,’ an interdisciplinary conceptual space for existing and future cross-cultural research on wellbeing. Moreover, the paper offers a meta-theoretical perspective on trends within this literature. It is suggested that crosscultural research is underpinned by two broad orienting perspectives: a ‘universalising’ perspective, which holds that, despite apparent cultural differences, people share a common human nature; and a ‘relativising’ perspective, which argues that people are strongly shaped by their cultural context. However, the paper finally argues that most research can actually be seen as offering a synthesising perspective – labelled here as ‘universal relativism’ – which recognises universals in the ways wellbeing is sought, constructed and experienced, but allows for extensive variation in the ways these universals are shaped by culture.
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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.
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Americans now live in a time and a place in which freedom and autonomy are valued above all else and in which expanded opportunities for self-determination are regarded as a sign of the psychological well-being of individuals and the moral well-being of the culture. This article argues that freedom, autonomy, and self-determination can become excessive, and that when that happens, freedom can be experienced as a kind of tyranny. The article further argues that unduly influenced by the ideology of economics and rational-choice theory, modern American society has created an excess of freedom, with resulting increases in people's dissatisfaction with their lives and in clinical depression. One significant task for a future psychology of optimal functioning is to deemphasize individual freedom and to determine which cultural constraints are necessary for people to live meaningful and satisfying lives.
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Critical theorists have accused positive psychology of paying insufficient attention to cultural variation in the way wellbeing is constructed and experienced. While there may be some merit to this claim, the field has developed a more nuanced appreciation of culture than its critics suggest. However, it could also be argued that positive psychology has not sufficiently appreciated or absorbed the wealth of literature within cross-cultural psychology pertaining to wellbeing. This paper aims to forge a bridge between positive psychology and cross-cultural psychology by introducing the idea of ‘positive cross-cultural psychology,’ an interdisciplinary conceptual space for existing and future cross-cultural research on wellbeing. Moreover, the paper offers a meta-theoretical perspective on trends within this literature. It is suggested that cross-cultural research is underpinned by two broad orienting perspectives: a ‘universalising’ perspective, which holds that, despite apparent cultural differences, people share a common human nature; and a ‘relativising’ perspective, which argues that people are strongly shaped by their cultural context. However, the paper finally argues that most research can actually be seen as offering a synthesising perspective – labelled here as ‘universal relativism’ – which recognises universals in the ways wellbeing is sought, constructed and experienced, but allows for extensive variation in the ways these universals are shaped by culture.