Cite as: Di Martino, S., Eiroa-Orosa, F. J., & Arcidiacono, C. (2017). Community Psychology’s Contributions on
Happiness and Well-being: Including the Role of Context, Social Justice, and Values in Our Understanding
of the Good Life. In N. J. L. Brown, T. Lomas, & F. J. Eiroa-Orosa (Eds.), The Routledge International
Handbook of Critical Positive Psychology (pp. 99–118). London, UK: Routledge.
Community Psychology’s Contributions on Happiness and Well-being: Including the
Role of Context, Social Justice, and Values in Our Understanding of the Good Life.
Salvatore Di Martino, Francisco José Eiroa-Orosa, and Caterina Arcidiacono
Over the last few decades the scientific literature, institutional, and national
policymakers (cf. Lomas, Chapter 22 in this volume), and the general public have demonstrated
a growing commitment to the furtherance of the happiness and well-being agenda. However,
if we were to look through a critical lens at the extensive body of literature they have produced,
we would notice that some relevant issues have been surprisingly left unaddressed. In
particular, in this chapter we argue that three elements, namely Context, Social Justice, and
Values, have been extensively neglected, and this has significantly impaired the understanding
of current scholarship regarding the good life.
For instance, the lack of recognition attributed to Context has led several thinkers to
either develop or adopt overly individual-centred models of human flourishing (Diener, 1984;
R. M. Ryan & Deci, 2000; Ryff, 1989; Seligman, 2002, 2011; see also Table 7.1), which are
for the most part blind to social and environmental determinants. On the other hand, economists
and sociologists have often produced models and findings in specific policy fields useful to
inform lawmakers about the value of national life satisfaction and wellness (Bok, 2010;
Mulgan, 2013), and yet too abstract to be still applicable to individual circumstances (Layard,
2005; Stiglitz, Sen, & Fitoussi, 2010; see also Table 7.1).
As we hope to show in the following pages, we believe that both of these approaches
are hindered by a common limitation, namely a narrow understanding of the true contextual
nature of the good life. Closely related to this, we contend that they also disregard the presence,
allocation, and administration of resources and opportunities in the environment. In other
words, they lack awareness of how power differential, inequality, and social injustice filter
through the social fabric down to the individual existences by affecting personal, interpersonal,
and communal wellness (Prilleltensky, 2012).
Lastly, we argue that the neglect of an ethical and value-based perspective—which, as
Jeffrey Sachs (2013) has pointed out, “is one of the factors most often overlooked in current
discussions of well-being” (p. 81)—stems from an interpretation of science in general and
psychology in particular, as value-free disciplines (Cushman, 1990; Proctor, 1991). As a
consequence, what the multitude considers the quest for a happy life—which very often
conceals a selfish pursuit of personal satisfaction—has been disregarding its possible negative
impact on other people and the physical as well as psycho-social environment (Haybron, 2008).
Nevertheless, some reluctant voice might object that Context, Social Justice/Equity,
and Values are never entirely omitted from any sound investigation in the nature of the good
life (for a review, see Arcidiacono & Di Martino, 2016). We can agree with this line of
argument, yet not in toto, and to make our case more explicit, we designed Table 7.1. This tool
showcases some of what we regard as the most utilized models and theories of happiness and
well-being along with a description of the understanding they hold about Context, Social
Justice, and Values.
A quick look at the table would apparently give full credit to the above criticism. After
all, every single model we presented seems to tick of all the Context, Social Justice, and Values
N.B. The table has no pretence to be exhaustive and it has been developed mainly to make our case more
easily understandable to the readers of this chapter.
boxes. However, we believe that this does not suffice to conclude that the literature holds a
clear vision of the issues at stake. Quite, the opposite, we believe that its understanding of the
good life in matters of Context, Social Justice, and Values is quite patchy and piecemeal.
Indeed, it should not come as a surprise to discover that a preponderance of contributions
presented in Table 7.1 have so far been quite reticent to exchange, combine, and synthesise
reciprocal practices, findings, and strategies of intervention. Even the rare exceptions we can
count have failed to overcome the boundaries of multidisciplinarity (see Sirgy et al., 2006) and
venture into the often unexplored territory of Interdisciplinarity and, less still,
Transdisciplinarity (Choi & Pak, 2006).
The direct consequence of this is that Context, Justice, and Values have been hitherto
addressed as three separate domains, each with distinct relevance to the pursuit of the good life.
For instance, some of the theories and models presented above might have a clear vision about
issues of Social Justice while lacking knowledge on how these affects society beyond the
macro-level (e.g., Stiglitz et al., 2010). Others might be well aware of either individual or social
determinants of well-being (e.g., Diener, 2009; Keyes, 1998) while still being little concerned
about ethical conflicts related to both the personal and collective pursuit of the good life. As
such, many of the forms of scholarship presented in Table 7.1 lack a full understanding of how
the three domains are interconnected, or in other words, an awareness of their combined
contribution to the promotion of human flourishing.
Table 7.1. Theories and Models of Happiness and Well-being and Their Contribution to Context, Social Justice, and Values
AND AREAS OF
being refers to the
reactions to one’s
pertains to a
judgment of one’s
• Global Life
resides within the
experience of the
in SWB are also
taken into account.
SWB by itself is
success of a
society. It also
needs to account
for human rights
Diener, & Diener,
appears to bring
out the best in
them more social,
and even more
& Diener, 2008,
(Ryff, 1989; Ryff
& Keyes, 1995).
terms of optimal
• Purpose in Life
• Leading a Life of
PWB is explicitly
concerned with the
the individual (Ryff
& Singer, 2008).
level factors are also
Attention to the
status and social
Aristotle, PWB is
rooted in the
to which the
“good life” is a
AND AREAS OF
• Personal Growth
• Life difficulties
requisite to a full
(Ryff, Magee, Kling,
& Wing, 1999)
being also adds
on prevention and
• Positive institutions
not be the only
aims of public
and tolerance also
need to be valued
pursuit of well-
being is to be
AND AREAS OF
(Deci & Ryan,
2002; R. M. Ryan
& Deci, 2001).
experience. It also
draws on both
Happiness is a
form of hedonic
enjoyment of life.
SDT’s arena is
needs that are the
basis for their self-
well as for the
processes” (R. M.
Ryan & Deci,
2000, p. 68).
Strong focus on the
an active, integrating
human nature and
social contexts that
either nurture or
nature” (Deci &
Ryan, 2002, p. 6).
The positions that
fail to recognize
the importance of
well-being may be
denial of human
freedom to a
of the inhabitants
of the globe (R.
M. Ryan, & Deci,
• Behaving in
• Being mindful
and acting with
• Behaving in
ways that satisfy
AND AREAS OF
defined in terms of
is the appraisal of
conceive of the
self as primarily
on social nature of
social tasks in their
social structures and
either promote or
hinder social well-
1998, p. 122)
Frey & Stutzer’s
& Stutzer, 2002).
affect, and stocks
and flows of
• Pleasant Affect
• Life Satisfaction
• Labour Market
• Family and
• Personality Socio-
• Micro and Macro
• Contextual and
• Institutional (or
as right to
making and actual
Focus on the
of inequality on
happiness and the
moral basis of
economics can be
happiness, and in
AND AREAS OF
The Four Qualities
of Life Model and
“Life results” and
• Life chances
• Life results
• Inner qualities
• Outer qualities
• Liveability of the
• Life-ability of
• External utility
conditions at the
society, the meso
the micro-level of
application of the
Index shows high
is seen as the skill
of living up to
• Living up to
• Living up to an
AND AREAS OF
and I COPPE
Model of Well-
Prilleltensky et al.,
Life satisfaction is
an indicator of the
personal level of
being is the
• Overall Well-
• Physical Well-
• Economic Well-
• Personal growth
• Social justice
• Support for
• Respect for
The promotion of
are linked to
either positive or
can prompt people
to engage in
AND AREAS OF
The Big 7 Model
and Action for
Happiness is a
• Community and
• Personal values
Supporter of the
happiness for the
societies are built
trust, altruism, and
strive to improve
policies should aim
happiness for the
greatest number of
how happiness is
should focus on
the equality with
which happiness is
The right action is
the one that
People’s duty is to
much happiness as
they can, and
reduce the amount
of misery in the
Report by the
(Stiglitz et al.,
Well-being has to
do with both
resources and non-
of peoples’ lives.
terms of both
• Material living
• Subjective well-
• Fair allocations
Quality of Life
(QoL) takes the
individual as the
fundamental unit of
analysis. This should
not imply neglecting
rather it can be
regard to what meso-
inequality (both in
resources and non-
quality of life),
Supporter of the
and role played by
in the design of
AND AREAS OF
• Political voice
• Insecurity, of an
economic as well
as a physical
contribute to the
QoL of individuals
within those levels.
well as the
the rule of law.
1999, 2009) and
Well-being is one
of the goals that
have the freedom
and agency to
is one of several
relevant to a
The HDI reflects
three basic aspects
leading a long and
healthy life, being
and enjoying a
decent standard of
• Political freedom
approach is a means
to assess the
Countries around the
Justice and Equity
are key to the
of social justice
depends not only
forms, but also on
capability to do
impose on the
person the duty to
to do it or not, and
this does involve
AND AREAS OF
2011) and central
framed in the
therefore is seen
as a state of
by “an active and
development of a
set of core
• Bodily health
• Bodily integrity
• Practical reason
• Other species
• Control over
The crucial good
their people is a
basic, internal, and
elaborated in the
(Nussbaum, 2011). It
is, however, also a
means to assess the
that are the result
the quality of life
for all people, as
defined by their
approach not only
every person as an
end and not a
means; it also
the exercise of
care for the other,
especially those in
In contrast with all this, one of the fundamental goals of this chapter is to demonstrate
that no investigation into the nature of the good life can shirk an interdisciplinary perspective.
In particular, in the following pages we will show how combining the contributions of
Community Psychology—together, in some instances, with its critical variant (see Kagan,
Burton, Duckett, Lawthom, & Siddiquee, 2011; Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010)—with the ethos
of Positive Psychology can generate a novel and more comprehensive understanding of human
flourishing. We intend to do this in order to inform academics, practitioners, and activists about
how a novel contextual, justice-oriented, and value-oriented framework can be embedded into
strategies of intervention and promotion of well-being and life satisfaction.
The Limits of Positive Psychology and the Call for Community Psychology
Within the broad literature on the good life, Positive Psychology (PP) stands out as an
avant-garde movement that has championed the promotion of human flourishing since its
inception (Sheldon, Frederickson, Rathunde, Csikszentmihalyi, & Haidt, 2000). PP, in fact, has
been propounding both a salutogenic philosophy and the adoption of scientifically sound
practices for the betterment of human existence, which together promise to overcome the
pathological hallmark of mainstream psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). The
prospect of making a meaningful difference to people’s lives has already persuaded a multitude
of psychologists, social workers, and practitioners to jump on the PP bandwagon. With regard
to these issues, both mainstream researchers and new voices within the field of PP have recently
started to advance several proposals of positive social change from justice-oriented and
contextual perspectives (see Biswas-Diener, 2011; Biswas-Diener, Linley, Govindji, &
Woolston, 2011; Marujo & Neto, 2014; Wright & Lopez, 2011) as well as examples of how
values inform the theory and practice of the movement (Lopez & Gallagher, 2009).
Although these few raised voices deserve credit, we must acknowledge that PP in
general has been highly criticized for placing an unduly responsibility on individuals in
determining their life with a narrow sense of socio-contextual determinants, including matters
of power, social justice, and equality (Becker & Marecek, 2008). Furthermore, it has been
condemned as a new kind of ideology that discriminates alternative voices to its dominant
message (B. S. Held, 2004), perpetuates the status quo (Christopher & Hickinbottom, 2008),
and reinstates the current neo-liberal economic and political discourse (McDonald &
We believe that PP and its advocates should be deeply concerned about these issues,
since failing to properly address them has hitherto impaired a full comprehension of how the
movement can best investigate, pursue, and promote the good life. We argue that what hinders
PP most is a subordination to objectivism, whereby overtly declared descriptive (rather than
prescriptive) goals and a neutral stance are put forth whenever happiness and well-being are
examined (see Seligman, 2002, p. 129).
Taking issue with this vision, we argue the need for the contribution of Community
Psychology (CP) to be brought to bear to inform the science and practice of PP, and to get PP
scholars and practitioners to step out of their comfort zone by starting to acknowledge the
intrinsic relatedness between Context, Social Justice, and Values. This attempt follows on from
some recent theoretical endeavours to integrate the two approaches (Kagan, 2015; Neto &
Marujo, 2014), based on the recognition that they are both rooted in a tradition of prevention,
personal growth, self-determination, and wellness promotion (Cowen & Kilmer, 2002;
Schueller, 2009). In the same vein, some of the CP core assumptions identified by Canning
(2011), such as adaptation as the means of development and change, wellness as a focus over
psychopathology, prevention and promotion as priorities over treatment, and collaborative,
empowering helping relationships, share a common ground with the ethos and practice of PP.
However, CP also advocates for social justice, social action, and cultural and human
diversity as means to promote better life conditions not only for individuals, but also for groups,
organizations, communities, and societies (Canning, 2011; Kloos et al., 2012; Nelson &
Prilleltensky, 2010). This last set of assumptions will be our entry point to describe the CP
ethos in more detail and, in so doing, lay out a new vision of wellness promotion for PP and
the literature on the good life.
The Role of Context
In his 2012 film To Rome with Love, Woody Allen portrays the story of a would-be
tenor, Giancarlo, who is endowed with an exceptional singing talent that, unluckily, he can
only produce when soaping up in the shower. After a disappointing audition, owing to the
absence of the only place where he is able to perform well, Giancarlo's impresario arranges for
him to perform in an opera from within a shower cubicle on stage. Of course, this bizarre
premiere turns out to be an outstanding success, ensuring the singer a promising career. This
funny story is an excellent example of how contextual features are able to influence human
endeavours by fostering—or, conversely, hindering—personal competences. Under certain
circumstances, the only way to enable people to thrive—as in the case of the “tenor in the
shower”—is to change their surrounding context, rather than their attitude towards life.
However, even when Context does not play such a decisive role, we think that its
importance should never be underestimated. Conversely, we often fail to understand its
significance. In fact, as Kloos and colleagues (2012) have pointed out, “like a fish swimming
in water, we take the context of our lives for granted” and as a consequence “we tend to
minimize contextual factors and overlook ecological levels of analysis” (p. 140).
This tendency is very much evident in the scientific enquiry into the good life as a
propensity to downplay contextualism, reducing it to a set of characteristics capable of
influencing the lot of humans. The literature is replete with explanations of how contextual
variables and social factors such as marriage, work, health, income, and social relations impact
on happiness and well-being (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999; Helliwell & Putnam, 2004)
both at the macro-level of society, the meso level of organizations and the micro-level of
individuals (Veenhoven, 2015). However, much less is available in terms of how individual
features and coping strategies are “contextually situated” in “historical antecedents, economic
constituents, and political consequences” (Cushman, 1990, p. 600).
A fortunate exception is represented by McNulty and Fincham’s (2012) critique of
Positive Psychology, which show how positive processes such as forgiveness, optimistic
expectations, positive thoughts, and kindness—which are normally deemed universally
desirable and beneficial strategies to fulfil one’s life—can either benefit or harm personal well-
being depending on the context in which they operate. In the same vein, Tomasik and
Silbereisen (2009) have demonstrated how diverse environments create conditions in which
people with very similar characteristics might still produce different outcomes. For instance,
demands of social change due to globalization or individualization differ in a systematic way
across ecological niches. A study carried by these authors, which compared coping styles and
life satisfaction in different parts of Germany (Tomasik, Silbereisen, & Heckhausen, 2010),
showed that, against the belief that an active coping style is adaptive in any situation,
disengaging from these demands can even be adaptive when one lives in an economically
These examples are a good point of departure to introduce CP’s contextual vision, since
its approach “tries to understand the importance of context for people’s lives and work to
change the environments to be more supportive” (Kloos et al., 2012, p. 140). This requires CP
to assume that people’s flourishing is strongly intertwined with the contexts within which they
live and interact (Prilleltensky, 2005, 2012; Schueller, 2009). As Orford (2008) has pointed
At the very heart of the subject is the need to see people—their feelings, thoughts, and
actions—within a social context. It exhorts us, when thinking of people’s health,
happiness and well-being, or when thinking about people’s distress and disorder, to
“think context.” (p. xi)
CP’s contextual approach is much evident in its tendency to forgo standardised
interventions and one-size-fits-all solutions in favour of more situated answers. In this regard,
the success of an intervention is assessed in terms of how much stakeholders are engaged in
their own betterment along with their enhanced empowerment to choose among collective and
negotiated pathways to wellness (Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010).
In this light, we suggest that PP can benefit from at least three aspects of CP’s attention
to Context. First, Positive Psychologists can learn that happiness and well-being are to be
understood from an “ecological perspective” in that they operate on a multi-systemic
continuum. Thus, well-being is a desideratum not only for individuals, but also for
organizations, communities, and ultimately society at large (Prilleltensky, 2012; Prilleltensky
et al., 2015). In relation to this principle, Prilleltensky has suggested that interventions aimed
at promoting better life conditions must draw on Sites, Signs, Sources, Strategies, and
Synergies of well-being (for a review see Prilleltensky, 2005) as well as encompass
interpersonal, community, occupational, physical, psychological, and economic domains (see
I COPPE model in Table 7.1).
Second, PP must be aware that different contexts contribute differently to well-being,
in terms of objective/subjective and quality/quantity of resources they supply (Kagan & Kilroy,
2007). In particular, in addition to PP’s interest in subjective and cognitive evaluations of life,
CP suggests to draw on objective measures including level of education, literacy, life span, and
income (Schueller, 2009). This means that the impact of an intervention is also measured by it
capacity to change objective life circumstances, which in turn impinge on psychological
Third, the adoption of a contextual perspective entails acknowledging the role that
socio-cultural traditions and practices as well as global forces play in shaping the individual
and collective pursuit of the good life (Christopher & Hickinbottom, 2008). From the CP
perspective this means first and foremost assuming a respectful and non-ethnocentric attitude
towards local, indigenous, non-western, and ethnic populations (Kloos et al., 2012). Moreover,
it invites to be aware of both opportunities and pitfalls for individuals and collective that lie in
a world of fast-spreading globalization, capitalism, and market-driven values (Marsella, 1998;
Natale, Di Martino, Arcidiacono, & Procentese, 2016; Sloan, 2010).
The Role of Social Justice
In his seminal volume Development as Freedom, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen (1999)
made the case that the protective power of democracy to give people the opportunity to develop
and express their life might sometimes pass unnoticed unless a particular staggering problem
arises. This means that, under certain circumstances, only after things start going downhill, the
absence of Social Justice makes people most vulnerable to adversities. In that case, oftentimes
victims not only bear the brunt but are also blamed for lacking the skills, will, and courage to
emerge from their misery (W. Ryan, 1971).
If we transfer this outlook from political economics to psychology, we might notice that
a preoccupation with intra-psychic dynamics and a misplaced emphasis on resilience have led
researchers in PP to ignore the significance of Social Justice-related determinants of the good
life such as income distribution, access to health and education, and availability of life-fulfilling
opportunities (Ehrenreich, 2010; Prilleltensky, 2012). Once again, this vision rests on the
assumption that external conditions are negligible as long as people can rely on their inner
strengths. It is quite telling that PP has provided over the years a plenitude of tools, techniques,
and practices for nurturing flow, positive emotion, character strengths, and meaning (see
Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005), whilst largely omitting to promote the fair
distribution of objective resources and life opportunities for people to develop their full
In her book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky (2008) offered a prime example
of PP’s disinterest in matters of Social Justice, when she went as far as to say that “only about
10% of the variance in our happiness levels is explained by differences in life circumstances
or situations—that is, whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain,
married or divorced, etc” (p. 21). However, this invites the question, “What if an individual’s
unhappiness stems not from any biological or psychological ‘fault’ but from the wider
socioeconomic conditions in which they find themselves living—in an area with extreme
deprivation and inequality, say, or a faltering economy?” (Thompson, 2013, p. 428).
In line with Lyubomirsky’s argument, Seligman too—when laying out the features of post-
traumatic growth—almost makes the case that anybody, once provided with the adequate
psychological endorsement, can overcome life challenges and even gain a new purpose in life
from negative events (Seligman, 2011). Contrary to this argument, Isaac Prilleltensky (2012)
has warned us that, regardless of our capacity of adaptation, only a minority of people are
capable of overcoming oppression and injustice.
In contrast with PP’s unduly optimistic faith in the power of the individual to recover
or even thrive in the face of the most disruptive circumstances, CP has made the promotion of
Social Justice and Social Change as well as the fight against disempowerment, marginalization,
discrimination, and disenfranchisement the core of its mandate for the promotion of the good
life (García-Ramírez, Balcázar, & de Freitas, 2014; Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010).
Furthermore, whereas PP is committed to promoting flourishing wherever optimal conditions
of Social Justice at the individual level are already guaranteed, CP focuses on all other levels
of analysis beyond the individual as well as all those instances where Social Justice is deficient
or missing altogether. Indeed, CP works to fulfil multiple aspects of Social Justice (i.e.,
procedural, distributive, retributive, and cultural) at the personal, interpersonal, organizational,
and communal level of analysis (Prilleltensky, 2012).
In that regard, PP can benefit greatly from Prilleltensky’s (2012) work, which is
dedicated to linking variations in well-being levels to different instances of Social Justice.
According to the “Well-being Continuum” model two conditions of Injustice (Persisting
Conditions and Vulnerable Conditions of Injustice) and two conditions of Justice (Suboptimal
Conditions and Optimal Conditions of Justice) are accountable for variations in well-being.
Persisting conditions of Injustice entail “Suffering,” which is characterised by the presence of
psychosocial responses such as oppression and internalization, helplessness, and upward
comparisons. “Vulnerable Conditions of Injustice” represent the next step on the well-being
ladder. These are responsible for generating “Confronting,” a state of affairs characterized by
critical experience, critical consciousness, critical action, and righteous comparison. “Coping”
is qualified by “Suboptimal Conditions of Justice” and includes strategies like resilience,
adaptation, compensation, and downward comparisons. Of all these states, only “Optimal
Conditions of Justice” create the right conditions for people to “Thrive.” The strategies
involved in this case, indeed, span across the promotion of responsive conditions, prevention,
individual pursuit, and avoidance of comparisons.
The Role of Values
As touched upon in the introduction of this chapter, the importance of Values for a well-
lived life has been extensively overlooked by the scientific literature on the good life
greater extent than the two previously discussed topics. As Sachs (2013) reminded us in the
World Happiness Report 2013:
We are now returning, step by step, to a broader conception of happiness. Yet . . . the
ethicists are still mostly overlooked . . . modern ethicists, who are generally
overshadowed in the public discourse, have not yet been successful in placing their
subject back on the public agenda. (p. 82)
The absence of a normative value-oriented framework directing people not to pursue self-
related enjoyment in life, but to be concerned over the welfare of others, can be partially
attributed to the rise of values such as personal satisfaction, competition, and striving for
achievement, which are becoming part and parcel of capitalistic and growth-obsessed societies
(Bauman, 2008; Lane, 2000; Natale et al., 2016).
In contrast with this narrative, PP professes value-based and moral strategies of
wellness promotion as part of its mandate. The seminal Handbook of Character Strengths and
Virtues—related to the Values in Action (VIA) Institute on Character—is exhibited as the
crown jewels of the PP campaign to put values back on the human flourishing agenda (Peterson
& Seligman, 2004). Likewise, the Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology has given new
Philosophy stands out as an undeniable exception. This discipline, indeed, boasts a long-
lasting tradition of reflection on the good life that traces back, at least in the history of
Western thought, to ancient Greece (see Annas, 1993).
prominence to values such as compassion, love, empathy, and altruism in promoting human
flourishing (see Lopez & Gallagher, 2009).
However, PP’s approach is once more undermined by an undue faith in the capacity of
individuals to nurture their own ethical nature. And once again, this outlook ignores the fact
that environmental circumstances can play a strong role in either promoting or hindering the
development of moral instincts. In that regard, Albert Bandura’s work (1999) has provided
extensive evidence of how social bodies and institutions can prompt people to either engage
in, or disengage from, moral conduct.
Therefore, as with Context and Social Justice, we believe that CP has much to
contribute towards PP’s aim to incorporate Values in its theory and praxis. Indeed, CP has put
a premium on ethical and reflective practices (Dalton & Wolfe, 2012). In fact, beyond being
faced with specific ethical issues—which stem from the very ecological nature of its approach
(Snow, Grady, & Goyette-Ewing, 2000)—CP is committed to disseminating moral values,
assumptions, and practices to instil meaning in people’s lives and make society a better place
Elsewhere we proposed to equip CP with the Ethics of Care as a novel reference for the
promotion of happiness and well-being (Arcidiacono & Di Martino, 2016). In its latest
development, the Ethics of Care, in fact, integrates both an outlook on Social Justice and an
attention to care for others, collaboration, trust, respect, and reciprocity (V. Held, 1995), which
both fit well with the CP ethos. As much as we believe that a specific kind of ethics is needed
we must acknowledge here that CP has so far preferred to adopt “Values,” which “reflect both
individual and group-level beliefs about what is true and what ought to be; they are belief-
It would go beyond the scopes of this chapter to delve into the advantages for CP of
adopting an ethical perspective over and above a value-based approach.
based (like morals) and invoke action and behavior (similar to ethics), but have an aspirational
element that is distinctive” (Campbell, 2016, p. 295). Core interdependent values in CP are
self-determination, health, personal growth, social justice, support for enabling community
structures, respect for diversity, and collaboration and democratic participation (Prilleltensky,
2001, pp. 753–754).
A second ethical consideration from CP calls for a sustainability-oriented approach, to
ensure that no one enjoys a well-lived existence at the expense of the environment and future
generations (Natale et al., 2016). CP is, in fact, highly committed to upholding norms of
environmental sustainability (Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010; Riemer & Reich, 2011). When
referring to the environment, we include both the physical characteristics of the world we
inhabit and the respect we owe both to animate beings and inanimate objects (Nussbaum,
2011). In that regard, CP informs the practice of PP, in that the promise of “sustainable
happiness” does not merely come down to the “subjective experience and construal of the
world” (cf. Boehm & Lyubomirsky, 2009), but to a state of affairs that acknowledges the
intrinsic relatedness of personal human flourishing, other people, the environment, and future
generations (Natale et al., 2016; O’Brien, 2008).
These two conditions lay the groundwork for the last one. In fact, pursuing a
eudaimonic life while respecting and furthering the interests of others is intrinsically connected
to actively participating in civic life. As we have shown in the previous pages, Social Justice
is the bedrock for individual and national prosperity. However, we cannot expect Social Justice
to be administered only from the top down. CP values both fair governance as an outlet of
positive outcomes in society and also grass-roots engagement that promotes the betterment of
others and the safeguard of their rights. In other words, CP suggest that Social Justice needs an
ethical ground to thrive (Prilleltensky, 1997), and this can be cultivated only in a lively civic
environment that upholds the common good at the individual, community, and national level.
Therefore, we argue that the well-being of governments, and, ultimately, of society at large,
capitalises on moral-oriented citizens.
As can be seen from other chapters in the present volume (see, for example, Pelletier,
Bellamy, O’Connell, Baker, and Rowe’s description of citizenship interventions in Chapter
29), applied positive psychologists should think about values not only in terms of what is
“desirable” to do, but also as a viable and effective alternative to eliminate symptoms and
increase well-being as well as to facilitate the idea that all human beings can be full and equal
citizens regardless of their racial, social, gender, or physical or mental health conditions.
The scientific literature on human flourishing—with Positive Psychology at the
forefront—has focused on many important aspects of the good life while overlooking three
main key issues, namely that well-being is distributed along different contexts of analysis,
conditioned by the presence of equal distribution of resources and opportunities, and driven by
a value-based worldview.
By drawing on the contribution of Community Psychology, one of the objectives of this
chapter has been to show not only that these three domains are relevant for a better
understanding of the good life, but also that their intrinsic connectedness is paramount for
planning effective strategies of wellness promotion. We might look at Context, Social Justice,
and Values as a three legged stool; we can try to analyse them separately, but ultimately we
need to put them together if we do not wish the whole structure to collapse. In other words, if
we take into account the role of contextualism in the good life, we must acknowledge that each
context—being it individual, communal, or social—provides different resources and
opportunities. In follows that Social Justice is needed to ensure that the latter are fairly
distributed and accessible to everyone. On the other hand, people cannot expect Social Justice
to be administered only top-down. If anything, a bottom-up approach might be even more
fruitful for promoting individual and social wellness. In that sense, as Prilleltensky (1997) has
The good life requires that individuals and communities exercise self-determination.
But in order for individuals to express their self-determination they need . . . . [a]n
appreciation for human diversity . . . caring, compassion, collaboration, and democratic
participation [that] ensure that people cooperate in making choices that do not infringe
on the right of others to pursue their own self-determination. Distributive justice . . . is
[also] crucial. Without sufficient resources, self-determination is meaningless. (p. 521)
Whilst PP can offer CP the large number of empirical instruments it has developed to
measure subjective well-being (Schueller, 2009), we have shown in this chapter that CP carries
the potential of a whole new outlook that is capable of reorienting the way PP investigates and
promotes the good life. In that regard, we aim to make it clear to the reader that we have not
meant to suggest that Positive Psychologists have so far only paid lip service to the promotion
of human flourishing; neither do we ignore their substantial contribution in opening a new path
for scientific inquiry into the good life. However, we cannot ignore the fact that this path has
been quite a “sheltered” one. It might have exposed the PP movement to the criticism of a few
critics, and to some obstacles to remove along the way of getting recognised as an accomplished
scholarly discipline, yet never to the perils of challenging the status quo—that is, questioning
social, economic, and political assumptions both within and outside the realm of psychology
(Kagan et al., 2011; Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010; Prilleltensky, 1994). That is a slippery slope,
which PP has hitherto prudently circumvented, whereas CP has been climbing it since its
This contribution thus invites Positive Psychologists to join Community Psychologists
on the same journey. In order to do so, it offers three useful points of reference. Context, Social
Justice, and Values can and must be integrated into the PP ethos, and as much as this might be
a challenge, we believe that it is a new path worth following for the future of the discipline and
its goal to promote better life conditions.
Francisco José Eiroa-Orosa has received funding from the European Union’s
Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 (2014–2020) under the
Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No 654808.
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