Positive Psychology the History and Research Paper

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Another near-contemporary of Rogers and Maslow is Albert Bandura, whose social learning theory is more part of the behaviorist school than the humanist, though these are not as dissimilar as is often thought (Bandura 2010; Ricks & Wandersman 1982). Ultimately, though Bandura's work is most famous for explaining aggression and other behavior developments, it is truly concerned with how people develop into functioning and satisfied human beings (Bandura 2010; Bandura 1978). Even in seemingly opposed theoretical schools, then, the development of psychology during the twentieth century was leading inevitably towards positive psychology along several different channels (Sandage & Hill 2001).

For decades, Robert Sternberg has been a major luminary in the realm of psychology, and though his most prominent theoretical contributions have been in the area of intelligence testing, measurement, and definition, his overarching approach to psychology can also be seen as having a largely humanist bent (Sternberg 2001; Salovey & Mayer 2002). By defining intelligence in a much broader fashion and identifying different types of intelligence, Sternberg achieved great success in his attempts to better understand how people solve problems and react to situations generally (Sternberg 2001; Salovey & Mayer 2002). From these other theorist and psychologists of the twentieth century, the primary trend in thinking that has lead to the development of positive psychology can clearly be observed: understanding people as whole individuals that have already been equipped with the means of dealing with and deriving joy and satisfaction from their world is the new goal of psychology, as opposed to identifying peoples problems and fixing them.

Seligman and Attachment

Martin Seligman is considered the founder of positive psychology, and he was certainly the first person to put the concept of positive psychology forward in a concrete and explicit manner (Snyder 2002). Though many of the trends that developed into positive psychology were quite evident in the psychological theories of the twentieth century, they did not really coalesce until the dawn of the twenty-first (Seligman 2000; Sheldon & King 2001). Now, however, positive psychology is emerging as one of the dominant and most dynamic psychological schools.

One of Martin Seligman's most foundational theories is his belief in the attachment principle as an early and fundamental need that must be fulfilled in order for happiness to be achieved again and again throughout life (Joseph & Seligman 2004). In other words, it is through interpersonal relationships that satisfaction and happiness as a person an be found, and indeed that it is possible to eventually become the person one was "meant" or at least capable of being, which is not really a new thought in psychology but that has been reformulated and refocused in positive psychology (Maslow 1946; Bandura 2010; S. Seligman 2000; Joseph & Seligman 2004). Stephen Seligman (no known relation to M. Seligman) has also published a paper concerning the importance of attachment, suggesting that the ability to form attachments is connected to the ability to distinguish between oneself and the external world, which is essential in most human functioning and definitely in deriving satisfaction from life (S. Seligman 2000).

The concept of attachment has a great deal to do with he concept of love and simple belonging, especially in the framework of positive psychology (Joseph & Seligman 2004; Seligman 2000a). Affiliation -- identification with various social groups including family and often work relationships, networks of friends, etc. -- is another highly important and related concept. Maslow (1946) proposed belonging as one of the essential needs for self-fulfillment and eventual self-actualization, and this emphasis has received new vigor and even been endowed with a primal influence in positive psychology, rather than seen as a necessary crutch in more traditional modes of thinking (Seligman 2000; Joseph & Seligman 2004; Sheldon & King 2001).

Enabling Institutions

The most simple way to explain the framework of positive psychology is perhaps to define its opposite: while much psychological theory is focused on the inherent problems and negative potential of situations -- a feeling of admiration might stem from a feeling of personal inadequacy, etc. -- positive psychology sees the positive that arises from situations (Sheldon & King 2001). Alternatively, positive psychology has been defined as "an umbrella term for the study of positive emotions, positive character traits, and enabling institutions" (Seligman et al. 2005). Some of the basic emotions and character traits that positive psychology is primarily concerned with have been described above, but the manner in which these emotions can be brought about often receives little summative attention.

Human beings do not exist, grow, heal, and find happiness in isolation, but must depend on certain social connections or "institutions" for these things to take place (Seligman et al. 2005; Seligman 2000; Joseph & Seligman 2004). The family can be seen as one such institution, and is usually the most important institution in an individual's life; their identity as a son, daughter, mother, father, husband, wife, brother, sister, etc. is usually one of the most defining roles in their lives (Seligman et al. 2005; Joseph & Seligman 2004). Even in conditions that might be labeled as "dysfunctional," these relationships can be very important to a sense of identity and self-worth, and thus can still be termed "enabling" (Seligman et al. 2005). While improvements could perhaps be made, the family remains necessary in enabling the achievement of satisfaction from life.

There are also many other enabling institutions; pretty much any social network or group in which people interact has certain codified roles and a series of relationships that help to create the true personhood of every individual (Joseph & Seligman 2004). The work place provides many individuals with an arena in which to build tangible success and receive recognition for it, and also serves as one of the primary places for socialization for many adults (Seligman et al. 2005; Seligman 2000). Then there are official societies and clubs that many individuals belong to, form book clubs to country clubs, and online science fiction fan chat rooms to live-action role players that meet in the woods and hold mock battles between mystical realms -- all of these are enabling networks for those that belong to them, providing acceptance, affiliation, and ultimately love (Seligman et al. 2005; Joseph & Seligman 2004).


The American Psychological Association's Division 17 -- the Society of Counseling Psychology -- has a section dedicated towards positive psychology, but the branch of theory does not yet have its own division in the organization (APA 2011). Given how long it has taken for positive psychology to rear its head in a truly explicit and tangible form, this can not necessarily be deemed a huge fault of the psychological community. As time passes and the theoretical framework of positive psychology becomes more definite and more well-known, it will undoubtedly achieve its desired status alongside the other major theories and schools in psychology.


APA. (2011). Positive Psychology. Accessed 23 February 2011. http://www.div17pospsych.com/

Bandura, a. (1978). Social Learning Theory of Aggression. Journal of Communication 28(3): 12-29.

Bandura, a. (2010). Addressing Population Growth: Social Cognitive Theory Goes Global. The Australian Humanist 97: 3-5.

Engler, B. (2009). Personality Theories: An Introduction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Fiske, S., Gilbert, D. & Lindzey, G. (2010). Handbook of Social Psychology. New York: Wiley.

Froh, J. (2004). The History of Positive Psychology: Truth Be Told. NYS Psychologist (May/June): 18-20.

Hill, J. (1996). Mill, Freud, and Skinner. Seton Hall Law Review 26: 92-167.

Joseph, S. & Seligman, M. (2004). Positive Psychology in Practice. New York: Wiley.

Levine, M. (2006). Spirituality and Psychotherapy: The Positive Psychology of Buddhism and Yoga. Accessed 23 February 2011. http://iymagazine.org/iymag_articles/spring06/buddhism_spring06.html

Maslow, a. (1946). A Theory of Human Motivation. In Twentieth Century Psychology, Harriman, P., ed. New York: The Philosophical Library.

Maslow, a. & Frager, R. (1970). Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper & Row.

Ricks, D. & Wandersman, a. (1982). Humanism and behaviorism: Toward new syntheses.

Rogers, C. (1956). Becoming a Person. Pastoral Psychology 7(1): 9-13.

Rogers, C. (2003). Client Centered Therapy. London: Constable.

Salovey, P. & Mayer, J. (2002). The positive psychology of emotional intelligence. In the Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, Snyder, C., ed. New York: Oxfrod Univeristy Press.

Sandage, S. & Hill, P. (2001). The Virtues of Positive Psychology: the Rapprochement and Challenges of an Affirmative Postmodern Perspective. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior 31(3): 241-60.

Seligman, M. (2000). Positive Psychology. In the Science of Optimism and…[continue]

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