Pros and Cons of Positive Psychology

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Positive Psychology is an approach that became notable around 1990 and was devised by Martin Seligman (Scorsolini-comin' et al. 2013). It is deemed a scientific approach that is used to study human experiences such as happiness, well-being, and the development of significant relationships (Carr, 2011).

Pentti et al. (2019) discussed how they believe there are five core components of Positive Psychology, and suggested they are the fundamental building blocks of health and happiness; these are engagement, relationships, positive emotions, meaning, and accomplishment. However Positive Psychology states 24 signature strengths contribute to a satisfying and optimistic life experience, such as self-acceptance, integrity, curiosity, and judgment (Diener et al. 2010). These characteristics are thought to be components of an individual's personality and can be improved upon throughout a lifetime by using the systems suggested by Positive Psychology and can then be measured through The Signature Strength Survey (Blanchard et al. 2020) and developed.

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Positive Psychology states to live a fruitful life experience, an individual should focus on two key notions. Hedonia, which is the pursuit of pleasure and relaxation, and Eudaimonic, which is the feelings of fulfillment and utilizing skills to form a meaningful life (Voight, 2017). Flourishing is a term that Positive Psychologists use, that describes being in a high state of both Hedonia and Eudaimonia and is the concept of complete mental health and overall well-being of an individual. While languishing is the opposite of this (Santini et al. 2020). The goal is to use the interventions set out by Positive Psychology to reach a consistent state of flourishing.

Flow is another key aspect of Positive Psychology and is a state of mind, or experience, where an individual is completely engrossed in an activity that involves cognitive mechanisms, and that is usually somewhat challenging, enjoyable, and replies upon their skill set (Pentti et al. 2019). When one is in flow, one can often become immersed in the activity and lose track of time. It is also said to be a key state to be in to improve learning and work performance (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

Once an individual can harness these signature strengths, it will become easier to flourish and reach a state of flow, thus promoting positivity, mental clarity, and well-being. An individual can improve these strengths by completing various tasks and interventions suggested by Positive Psychologists.

A Positive Psychology intervention is that of a Gratitude list, where a person notes down 3 or more things, they are grateful for, daily. Seligman et al. (2005) tested this intervention and found that it had a significant impact on reducing depressive symptoms and increasing happiness. However, they did state some caveats, that other key considerations contribute to an individual's happiness alongside the completing of the gratitude list, such as Socioeconomic factors, as well as pre-determined set points of happiness, and any practices that relate to happiness that the individual may already be implementing or taking part in, which may all impact the effectiveness of gratitude list intervention (Proyer et al. 2014) and perhaps question its independent validity. Possibly implying this is not a universal or failsafe standalone technique to reduce depressive symptoms and promote well-being, but could possibly be implemented in a treatment plan or used in a wider toolbox of techniques and strategies if it works well with the individuals' current circumstances and is having a positive impact on the individual completing the task.

Gander et al. (2013) directed an experiment on a variant of the Three Good Things intervention which is another technique used and suggested by Positive Psychology, and is similar to the Gratitude List intervention, but encompasses writing down three good things that have happened in the individuals day, and found that this intervention had a significant impact on helping relieve depression. These findings may be used as examples of how effective Positive Psychology interventions could be and may be used to promote the benefits of the model. However, Lazarus (2003) states concern with the experimental precision and suggests an influential factor shaping the success of the intervention is the individual differences in perceived happiness. Stating there are cultural differences that may cause an impact on validity, and that these are not considered in Gander et al. (2013) research. As well as individual bias and subjectivity of happiness have little research taking into account these factors within Positive Psychology interventions, therefore it is possible that Positive Psychology cannot be universally applied.

Donaldson et al. (2015) suggest there are assertions that Positive Psychology lacks scientific consistency, as it is a theory based on moving variables and scales, which makes it hard to measure outcomes and apply them broadly. As well as that Blanchard et al. (2020) have suggested that a disadvantage to Positive Psychology interventions within a group or individual setting is that they are costly to conduct. However, many of these techniques, once taught, can be conducted at home without supervision, so this may not be accurate.

Fineman (2006) has suggested that dealing with stressful events or emotions is vital in forming identity, coping strategies, emotional resilience, and forming moral character. Suggesting that the avoidance of transgressions, disappointment, or anxiety-inducing situations can stem from fear, and not be seen as a strength of character, and in fact cause an individual to miss out on valuable experiences to learn and grow. Fineman (2006) also proposes that social constructs exist due to social interactions and one's ability to make sense of the world, and due to this, social constructs are forever changing and evolving, and so are people within society. Therefore values, norms, and context of situations change alongside cultural shifts, and the way individuals make sense of the world. Meaning, unless Positive Psychology adapts to this, it runs the risk of becoming outdated when cultural norms change and may lose any effect it has on promoting mental well-being. Once these values change, the individual's goalpost for happiness changes alongside them. Not only that, an individual's values, and setpoints for happiness and well-being change within their own life too. So, the Positive Psychology interventions will need to be flexible, to be able to mold to an individual needs over their life span or run the risk of becoming void.

This may be prevalent in current world circumstances, where an ongoing pandemic is at play. Individuals' views of society and their baselines of happiness and wellness have shifted, perhaps altering core values and beliefs that would ultimately affect their mental wellness and the effectiveness of Positive Psychology interventions. People are struggling to see the world optimistically when there is no certainty, and strong positive relationships have been severed and replaced with isolation. Diener et al. (1991) proposed that overall emotions are calculated by an individual's assessment of their world, and their subjectivity of well-being. This could suggest that the effectiveness of Positive Psychology depends upon the current situation within the world and how an individual perceives it. Perhaps suggesting that Positive Psychology is only valid and useful within a certain type of society and is affected by individuals' pre-set ideations and may simply assume that everyone has an internal locus of control within them. This relates back to the view of Lazarus (2003), and the idea that Positive Psychology does not allow for cultural differences. However (Alexander et al. 2021) suggest that it is in fact a crucial time to be focusing on well-being and emotional health, as these are the underlying foundations of mental wellness. Suggesting there is no more important time to be implementing the advice set out by Positive Psychology.

Fredrickson (1998) introduced the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, indicating that positive emotions compound, and broaden an individual's physical, intellectual, and emotional endurance and coping strategies, which may be an important factor in not only managing current mental health and well-being, but in the prevention of rebound effects, or deterioration of mental wellbeing throughout a lifespan. This could propose the significance of Positive Psychology and may indicate that it should not be discarded totally as a method or theory of treatment for mental health, especially during times of uncertainty in the world, when there is a mass amount of poor mental well-being.

Having said that, Parks and Biswas-Diener (2013) state that the assumption that Positive Psychology makes regarding replacing Negative experiences with Positive ones, is not verifiable, and focusing on the positive characteristics alone, reduces human experience to a considerably basic form, ignoring the negative aspects of a person's character. Not only that, but it does also not account for genetic or biological factors that may be causing someone's unhappiness or mental health concerns, consider chronic disorders, or take into account disorders that have extremes of both positive and negative emotions, such as Bipolar Disorder. It gives off the idea that you can simply think yourself into being happy, which may be disheartening for those with chronic mental health concerns. Seligman et al. (2004) stated that Positive Psychology interventions are best applied to those who are void of any extreme mental disorders, meaning Positive Psychology would be best applied to those who have low levels of mental health concerns. This may benefit some individuals with possible mild levels of unhappiness but makes the theory largely unfeasible universally in the treatment of major mental health concerns. Linley et al. (2006) however stated that Psychology may have lost track of one of its core objectives, to remedy mental illness, and instead has become preoccupied with disease dogma, suggesting that the preoccupation with diagnosing conditions has lost sight of the overall goal of promoting wellness, and suggests that be labeling Positive Psychology as not suitable for certain people, is a disservice, and disagrees with the perspective that Positive Psychology may be inconsistent and lacking universality.

Though Duckworth et al. (2005) asserted that Positive Psychology interventions may be a useful ‘add on’ form of therapy in the overall treatment of mental disorders. Nevertheless, it may be considered that it oversimplifies the understanding of well-being (Ivtzan et al. 2016), and many Positive Psychology studies cannot be replicated, or employed generally, making the validity of the theory ambiguous (Bisaw-Diener, 2015). It also does not consider mental health in the broadest terms and simply focuses on being happy, which for some their goal may simply be to become more stable with their mental health or prevent it from worsening. It does not consider how this would benefit those with psychotic disorders or more complex mental health matters.

This shows there are many conflicting views on Positive Psychology, with some research demonstrating good effective outcomes, while others are more cynical about the universal application of the theory. There may be some weight behind the notion that Positive Psychology can be an effective addendum to further treatment for mental health concerns such as depression, but perhaps not used as the sole treatment for those with high levels of depression or unhappiness. It may be a useful tool to maintain mental health, if the individual has a reasonably elevated baseline of well-being at the start point of the introduction of the interventions, however, Gruber et al (2011) have indicated that by placing happiness as the objective, it becomes tougher to attain, and could result in a person setting themselves up for disappointment. Having said that, perhaps Positive Psychology and its various interventions should not be discarded altogether but used wisely, as research has shown that it can have a positive impact on some individuals, so maybe it should not be discarded so easily. There have been no results showing the interventions have any adverse effects on individuals taking part in them, so there may be no harm in adding them to a treatment plan and seeing how they work for an individual. Though this may not be enough to suggest or justify its position amongst other great theories of Psychology, as some of the studies and evidence found to support Positive Psychology seems more anecdotal.

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Pros and Cons of Positive Psychology. (2023, July 11). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from
“Pros and Cons of Positive Psychology.” Edubirdie, 11 Jul. 2023,
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