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Unformatted text preview: What (and Why) Is Positive Psychology? Shelly L. Gable University of California, Los Angeles Jonathan Haidt University of Virginia Positive psychology is the study of the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions. In this brief introduction, the authors give examples of current work in positive psychology and try to explain why the positive psychology movement has grown so quickly in just 5 years. They suggest that it filled a need: It guided researchers to understudied phenomena. The authors close by addressing some criticisms and shortcomings of positive psychology, such as the relative lack of progress in studying positive institutions. The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intel- ligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. (Kennedy, 1968) Robert F. Kennedys lament about the gross national product is analogous to positive psy- chologys lament about what might be called the gross academic product of psychology. In January 2000, when Seligman and Csikszentmi- halyi edited a special issue of American Psy- chologist devoted to positive psychology, they claimed that psychology was not producing enough knowledge of what makes life worth living (p. 5). In the second half of the 20th century, psychology learned much about de- pression, racism, violence, self-esteem manage- ment, irrationality, and growing up under ad- versity but had much less to say about character strengths, virtues, and the conditions that lead to high levels of happiness or civic engagement. In one metaphor, psychology was said to be learn- ing how to bring people up from negative eight to zero but not as good at understanding how people rise from zero to positive eight. In just 5 years since that special issue, quite a bit has happened in what has become known as the positive psychology movement. Many ed- ited volumes and handbooks have been pub- lished (e.g., Aspinwall & Staudinger, 2003; Keyes & Haidt, 2003; Lopez & Snyder, 2003; Peterson & Seligman, 2004; Schmuck & Shel- don, 2001; Snyder & Lopez, 2002). Dozens of conferences have brought researchers together from all over the world. Numerous grants have facilitated the research of young investigators and created collaborations among researchers from many countries. Courses in positive psy- chology are springing up in scores of universi- ties and high schools. Those of us involved in positive psychology are often amazed at how fast the train has been moving....
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