“Psychology is not just a study of pathology, weakness, and damage; it is also the study of strength and virtue. Treatment is not just fixing what is broken; it is nurturing what is best within ourselves. Psychology is not just concerned with illness or health; it is much larger. It is about work, education, insight, love, and play. ” – Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph. D. In the year 1998, during his term as the President of the American Psychological Association (APA), Martin Seligman lent his support to the then nascent positive psychology movement.
In the decade since that declaration, positive psychology has gained significantly wider support. The movement, which, like humanistic psychology promotes the advancement of human fulfillment, aims to give a new direction to the field of psychology as a whole. Before the advent of the second World War, psychology had been preoccupied with healing the injuries inflicted on the human psyche (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). This was in keeping with the disease model of human functioning that was prevalent at the time.
Although useful, this type of orientation in the field focused on the “negative” aspects of human behavior, while neglecting the need to nurture individuals and communities. Supporters of positive psychology such as Seligman attempted to correct this way of thinking. In their view, it is not enough to repair injury or disease. It is also imperative that psychologists help their patients to enhance and reinforce their good qualities.
In other words, the proponents of positive psychology encourage a friendlier, less coldly scientific approach to human behavior (Sheldon & King, 2001).. As a result of the popularity of the positive psychology movement, numerous studies have emerged that shed light on the more positive aspects of the human psyche. Researchers have explored the nature of valued subjective experiences such as the concepts of happiness, satisfaction, and well-being.
They have also conducted studies that focus on virtues such as wisdom, mature defenses, and self-determination. People’s motivations for performing good deeds also became the subjects of these studies. Several of the most notable of these studies were published in a special issue of the American Psychologist which appeared in the year 2000 (January 2000, Vol. 55, No. 1). The rise of such a movement and the appearance of such a journal issue can be said to be part of the backlash against the trend in psychology before World War II.
Before the 1940’s, most psychological studies focused on the extremely negative manifestations of human behavior. Many contemporary studies have recognized the dangers inherent in such a pessimistic outlook on humanity, and thus the concepts of optimal functioning, happiness and positive psychology have become popular research subjects. One research topic in particular that has become extremely popular is the notion of happiness, which is formally termed “subjective well-being” by psychologists. (Russell, 1980 as cited in Wright & Cropanzano, 2000).
Happiness is one of the most important facets of human life, which explains why social scientists and philosophers through the ages have concentrated their energies on defining and studying it. Happiness has traditionally been enshrined in human culture as the ideal state of mind. The pursuit of happiness has also been assumed to be the root cause of all human action (Diener, 1984). Yet, despite the central role of subjective well-being in human lives, psychologists of the past decades have chosen to explore its polar opposite—that is to say, human unhappiness.
Some contemporary researchers, such as Kitayama & Markus (2000), freely interchange the terms “happiness,” “subjective well-being” and “psychological well-being. ” The first term is most often used by non-psychologists. The term “subjective well-being” or SWB, on the other hand, is more often utilized by academics in their research papers in order to appear more credible, scientific, and precise. The word “happiness,” after all, has many semantic layers and is more prone to misinterpretation (Diener, 1984).