Its’ absolutely no secret on my blog that I’m a huge fan of positive psychology. Back in 2017, I attended a conference in Brighton and I was honoured to hear Dr. Martin Seligman talk about positive psychology, as one of the Keynote speakers. I’ve always been one to try and sprinkle a little positive psychology into my posts, as you may have seen in 5 Tips on Maintaining Motivation as a Blogger and also my recent Letting Go post. Positive psychology has the power to engage us all, and has a scientific background but is also well embedded in mental, emotional and spiritual health.
As a student member of the British Psychological Society, I recently read an article by Joe Smith discussing recent thoughts in positive psychology; with Seligmans’ perspective promoting the importance of virtue, a step further from the known premise of happiness. I was really intrigued to hear about the ongoing arguments within positive psychology, which is something I often don’t hear about when it comes to positivity.
“The six virtues in positive psychology are wisdom and knowledge, courage, love, temperance, love and humanity, justice, spirituality and transcendence.”
Joe goes on to discuss the issue with promoting such virtue; and this lies within the idea that people focus on improving themselves rather than the virtue of their acts. As Lord Richard Layard criticizes, Dr Martin Seligman states that we should cultivate empathy because it is good for us, not because of what it does for others’, which puts positive psychology in a very egoistic light. In essence, we need to stop being so selfish!
The article subsequently goes on to discuss the idea that positive psychology at present is inegalitarian, which in laymans’ terms, means that it promotes inequality. One thing that I did not consider myself, but the idea that the acquisition of knowledge requires intelligence (a highly heritable trait), in addition to a nurturing environment at a young age, leaves the development of knowledge to nothing more than luck. Subsequently, Dr Martin Seligman runs a Positive Psychology course, and his ‘poster student’ is a mathematics graduate who was top of her class. But, we can’t all be top of the class. Can we?
I was astounded to find out that morals are actually instinctive; with different morals causing differing areas of activation within the human brain. This suggests that they may have an evolutionary origin and are related to Seligmans’ principles of virtue. These moral intuitions include care, fairness, in-group loyalty, respect for legitimate authority and purity. From an evolutionary basis, these all allow us to thrive in society – for example we have respect for legitimate authority to allow us to thrive in a social structure and in the workplace. These instincts subsequently affect our everyday thinking and allow us to make moral decisions without deliberation. Smith later describes how we need to change our animal instincts if we wish to convert these moral principles into virtues. More specifically, we need a more rational moral principle for making decisions on moral dilemmas. Jeremy Bentham is one contributor to the wellbeing movement; he believes that happiness is fungible, one quantity of happiness experienced here is equitable to another quantity of happiness experienced there. So, the happiness of all of us is equal and we should focus on creating as much as possible.
In essence, Layard believes that we should look ‘between utilitarianism and pursuit’ with a system underwriting our decision-making. We act as people who want to make ourselves happier, but we need to act as moral agents – improving the happiness of others regardless of whom that individual is. Because, remember, one quantity of happiness here is equitable to another quantity of happiness there. What positive psychology truly is, is all determined by what we need to achieve a ‘happy’ and ‘positive’ life. Should we be seeking such virtues within ourselves, or for others? The question remains unanswered, but I still believe that we should still take the principles, look after both ourselves and others, in order to achieve the most fulfilling life we can.
I found this article a really interesting read as it suggests that, actually, positive psychology in essence arises from also making an effort to make those around us happier. If this article has taught me a lesson; it’s to look after others more! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.