Week+1+optional+Seligman+++MC++2000++an+introduction

Week+1+optional+Seligman+++MC++2000++an+introduction -...

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Positive Psychology An Introduction Martin E. P. Seligman Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi University of Pennsylvania Claremont Graduate University A science of positive subjective experience, positive indi- vidual traits, and positive institutions promises to improve quali~.' of life and prevent the pathologies that arise when life is barren and meaningless. The exclusive focus on pathology that has dominated so much of our discipline results in a model of the human being lacking the positive features that make life worth living. Hope, wisdom, cre- ativity, future mindedness, courage, spirituality, responsi- bility, and perseverance are ignored or explained as trans- formations of more authentic negative impulses. The 15 articles in this millennial issue of the American Psycholo- gist discuss such issues as what enables happiness, the effects of autonomy and self-regulation, how optimism and hope affect health, what constitutes wisdom, and how talent and creativity come to fruition. The authors outline a framework .['or a science of positive psychology, point to gaps in our knowledge, and predict that the next century will see a science and profession that will come to under- stand and build the factors that allow individuals, commu- nities, and societies to flourish. E ntering a new millennium, Americans face a histor- r ical choice. Left alone on the pinnacle of economic and political leadership, the United States can con- tinue to increase its material wealth while ignoring the human needs of its people and those of the rest of the planet. Such a course is likely to lead to increasing self- ishness, to alienation between the more and the less fortu- nate, and eventually to chaos and despair. At this juncture, the social and behavioral sciences can play an enormously important role. They can articulate a vision of the good life that is empirically sound while being understandable and attractive. They can show what actions lead to well-being, to positive individuals, and to thriving communities. Psychology should be able to help document what kinds of families result in children who flourish, what work settings support the greatest satisfaction among work- ers, what policies result in the strongest civic engagement, and how people's lives can be most worth living. Yet psychologists have scant knowledge of what makes life worth living. They have come to understand quite a bit about bow people survive and endure under conditions of adversity. (For recent surveys of the history of psychology, see, e.g., Benjamin, 1992; Koch & Leary, 1985; and Smith, 1997.) However, psychologists know very little about how normal people flourish under more benign conditions. Psychology has, since World War II, become a science largely about healing. It concentrates on repairing damage within a disease model of human func- tioning. This almost exclusive attention to pathology ne- glects the fulfilled individual and the thriving community. The aim of positive psychology is to begin to catalyze a change in the focus of psychology from preoccupation only
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