by David Satterlee
Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths,” Martin Bolt, Preface
The weakness of psychology, during its short history as a science, has been its primary focus on human weaknesses rather than on human strengths. That began to change dramatically when Martin Seligman was elected president of the American Psychological Association. Seligman leveraged his research on learned helplessness and hopelessness into a new focus on learned optimism and happiness.
A primary focus of positive psychology is on human strengths, a core set of virtues. The intent is to study, measure, and understand these strengths so that they can be purposefully developed, increasing both subjective and objective psychological well-being.
- Responsibility – Both researchers and individuals have a responsibility to understand the factors that influence thinking and behavior, and to use this knowledge to increase the healthful development of individuals and societies. Responsibility is vital for the development of other strengths.
- Love – Hereditary nature and environmental nurture both contribute to human development. Attachment styles, developed in early life, have a powerful impact on adult relationships.
- Empathy – The ability to recognize and consider the feelings of others is a vital step in psychological development. Empathy is necessary for forgiveness and altruism.
- Self-control – the ability to accept delayed gratification, instead of only immediate rewards, is also vital to psychological maturity. Purposeful achievement requires a persistent cycle of goal setting, reflection, and self regulation.
- Wisdom – intelligence involves a great deal more than the ability to acquire rote knowledge. Wisdom is associated with reasoning ability and the productive application of knowledge in a complex social environment.
- Commitment – our goals must have meaning and reflect a satisfying purpose if we are to pursue them with persistence. But there are important differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.
- Happiness – positive emotions such as happiness were required for salutogenesis. It is irresponsible for psychology to focus on pathology.
- Self-respect – while self-esteem serves to artificially heighten a sense of entitlement, self-respect involves a realistic valuation of one’s potential within society.
- Hope – learned optimism can be an effective therapy for the hopelessness of depression. Hopefulness helps us to sustain effort through difficult times. Community support is vital for individual and collective well-being.
- Friendship – individual support is also effective in promoting personal and collective well-being. Shared responsibility also helps to sustain persistent effort to achieve goals.