Jan 122010

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths,” Martin Bolt, Introduction

“The stream of causation from past to future runs through our present choices.” —David G. Myers, 2002

Individuals and groups have shown an astonishing capacity for both great good and great evil. World War II produced unprecedented levels of national violence. Individuals who risked themselves to help others escape from certain extermination are our modern heroes. Caretakers of the gravely disabled sacrifice large parts of their own lives in service to others. We honor those able to demonstrate a common levels of virtues such as compassion, commitment, and self-control.

It would be tragic if we did not attempt to understand the source and foundation that produced and sustained these virtues. Surely, we should be able to cultivate such human strengths in ourselves and others. This is the purpose of positive psychology. Martin Seligman states: “The main purpose of a positive psychology is to measure, understand, and then build the human strengths and the civic virtues.”

Although we easily form opinions about purpose and motivation based on personal observation and anecdote, we produce hugely divergent explanations. We embrace beliefs ranging from predestination and genetic predisposition to environmental influence and total personal responsibility for individual choices. A careful study of why people behave in the ways they do admits most of these influences on our behavior. Most importantly, our opportunities and capacities to make choices and control the direction of our lives, validates the efforts of positive psychology to build human strengths and foster civic virtues. In short, the study of goodness is a good thing.