What is the negative side of positive psychology


Positive psychology is the scientific study of positive aspects of human life. Among other things, it deals with the basics of a “good life”, with what makes life worth living and with beneficial properties and conditions of well-being. First and foremost, determinants of satisfaction are described and measured and interventions for mentally healthy people are developed in order to increase or stabilize their life satisfaction. The aim of positive psychology is to complete psychology by exploring previously neglected areas and dealing, for example, with character strengths, virtues, well-being, life satisfaction, positive emotions and talents.

What is positive psychology for?

Since World War II, psychology has primarily focused on human problems and their resolution, neglecting the study of what goes well in life. Positive psychology therefore wants to create more balance by also focusing on strengths and positive traits and experiences in life. It should also be researched how a life can be designed to be fulfilling and the best in life can be created.

Precursors and history of positive psychology

The history of positive psychology goes back to ancient philosophers who have already dealt with the good life, virtues and fulfillment in life in their writings. For example, Aristotle dealt with the study of happiness (eudaimonia) over 2300 years ago. His influential work “Nicomachean Ethics” (Aristoteles, 2000) continues to shape ideas of well-being to this day. In his view, cultivating virtues and living in harmony with them are conditions for the good life. He was convinced that not only the development of character strengths and virtues and the realization of these in an increasingly perfect and complex manner, but also the use of these character strengths and virtues for other people or for a higher purpose leads to the experience of happiness. However, virtues do not occur naturally in humans, but must be acquired through education and habit (Jørgensen & Nafstad, 2005). Whether an individual will realize their full potential depends largely on themselves. Religious founders and theologians also dealt with the meaning of the good life and how to achieve it. They advocated that one should exercise one's service to someone, to humanity and a higher power or for a greater purpose. During the early 20th century, the emerging scientific psychology was also interested in giftedness, talents and fulfilling life, among other things. Although the understanding of the “good life” was also expanded by representatives of humanistic psychology such as Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and the founder of logotherapy, Viktor Frankl, these topics increasingly faded into the background in the second half of the 20th century. Despite many similarities to humanistic psychology, the "founding fathers" of positive psychology, Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, decided to differentiate positive psychology from humanistic psychology because they criticized the lack of empirical verification of humanistic ideas. Abraham Maslow first used the term “positive psychology” in 1954, which Martin Seligman took up again in 1998 in his address to the American Psychological Association: To reduce the imbalance that has arisen in psychology, more attention should be paid to research into the positive aspects of life . Seligman summarized these efforts under the catchphrase "Positive Psychology". A short time later a special issue of the "American Psychologist" appeared on positive psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). This event was the starting signal for new research projects and numerous publications. Between 1999 and 2013, 565 (42%) non-empirical and 771 (58%) empirical articles were published (Donaldson, Dollwet & Rao, 2015). 77% of the articles were published in western English-speaking countries. The remaining 23% was published in 46 countries from Europe, Asia and Africa. Most publications come from the University of Pennsylvania, followed by the University of Michigan, the University of Kansas, the University of Zurich, the University of Sydney and the University of Warwick. The main research interests of positive psychology lie in researching what makes people happy and content. The results suggest many different predictors of wellbeing (Donaldson, Dollwet & Rao, 2015). In addition, the effects of various positive constructs on performance and interventions are also often examined. Positive psychology is a growing and pulsating field that uses rigorous scientific methods and strives to investigate well-being, excellence and optimal human functioning and to make the results public. In 2002, a handbook of positive psychology (Snyder & Lopez, 2002) was published, followed by other handbooks such as the book "Character strengths and virtues" (Peterson and Seligman, 2004) on the classification of character strengths and Virtues or the manual “Positive psychology in practice” (Linley and Joseph, 2004) followed. In addition, there are several anthologies on various topics of positive psychology: "A psychology of human strengths: Fundamental questions and future directions for a positive psychology" (Aspinwall & Staudinger, 2003), "Positive Organizational Scholarship" (Cameron, Dutton & Quinn, 2003), “Flourishing” (Keyes & Haidt, 2002) and “Positive psychology: The scientific and practical explorations of human strengths” (Lopez & Snyder, 2006), to name a few. In addition, numerous new scientific journals have been published devoted to topics of positive psychology, including The Journal of Positive Psychology, the Journal of Happiness Studies, the International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology and Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. There are also global conferences and meetings, national and international societies (e.g. https://www.swippa.ch/de/, https://www.ippanetwork.org/ or https://enpp.eu/), and Degree programs (e.g. https://www.psychologie.uzh.ch/de/fachrichtungen/perspsy/CAS.html).


What does "positive" mean?

The use of the words “positive” and “negative” within positive psychology often leads to misunderstandings (Vázquez, 2013). For example, the term “positive psychology” is often accompanied by the assumption that the rest of psychology only deals with negative content. The terms “positive” and “negative” emotions are also criticized because they are often equated with good and bad emotions. However, the use of the terms “positive” and “negative” is also common in established theories of emotion; for example, one speaks of positive or negative valence (emotional value associated with the stimulus). Furthermore, strictly speaking, there are neither good nor bad emotions; the meaning or effects of emotions depend on the context. Emotions can have different effects depending on the context, culture, dosage, or other psychological variables. A thorough analysis of the meaning of the most fundamental concept of positive psychology - the positive - is crucial for the advancement of positive psychology (Pawelski, 2016). Pawelski describes six different meanings of the "positive", namely the positive orientation (in addition to the negative focus of mainstream psychology), the positive areas (e.g. optimism, courage, social responsibility), the positive target population (primarily non-clinical Population), the positive process type (building good qualities) and the positive goal (understanding and promoting the good life) of positive psychology. It is also emphasized that the positive cannot be reduced to the negative. If you look at the word “positive” on a lexical level, then it is derived from the Latin verb “pono, ponere”. This means making something present. In later use it also took on the meaning of a preference, something desirable, or something good. One can divide the positive into direct (presence of the preferred) and indirect (absence of the dispreferred), ideal (of one's own accord) and contextual (due to circumstances) and instrumental (as a means for a desirable consequence) and non-instrumental (for the matter Will, the way is the goal) divide the positive. Normatively, the positive in positive psychology should be understood simply as a preference, but also as a degree of preference. This depends on various criteria, namely on the relative preference, the maintenance over time, over people, over effects and over structures.

What is “new” about positive psychology?

Sometimes the findings of positive psychology seem so obvious that one might think that they are not beyond common sense. It is also criticized that many philosophical and psychological traditions have positively shaped psychological concepts and that the opportunity to research “new things” in these subject areas has been used up. A connection to this knowledge and a deeper and differentiated study of earlier philosophical views is a source for new findings. In addition, it is not only important to check claims that rely on “common sense”, but also to scientifically verify philosophical ideas.

What is positive psychology not?

One of the greatest challenges in positive psychology is to describe and explain what is “good” without prescribing. Positive psychology wants to show, on the basis of empirical research results, which conditions are “good” or beneficial for a certain goal, and yet it emphasizes the importance that the individual, society, a culture decides what is “valuable” or “good” "Applies. Positive psychology wants to offer a nuanced view of the good life on the basis of scientific data without creating a patent recipe for it. Positive psychology takes an objective stance in that it illuminates both the good and the negative side of life and distances itself from non-empirically based advice (such as often found in self-help literature or in esotericism).


Aristotle (2000). Nicomachean ethics (R. Crisp, Trans.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511802058

Donaldson, S. I., Dollwet, M., & Rao, M. A. (2015). Happiness, excellence, and optimal human functioning revisited: Examining the peer-reviewed literature linked to positive psychology. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10, 185-195. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2014.943801

Glad, J.J. (2004). The history of positive psychology: Truth be told. NYS Psychologist, 16, 18–20.

Gable, S. L., & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and why) is positive psychology? Review of General Psychology, 9, 103-110. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2680.9.2.103

Jørgensen, I., & Nafstad, H. E. (2004). Positive psychology: Historical, philosophical, and epistemological perspectives. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive psychology in practice (pp. 15-34). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470939338.ch2

Linley, P.A., Joseph, S., Harrington, S., & Wood, A.M. (2006). Positive psychology: Past, present, and (possible) future. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 3-16. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760500372796

Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology. An introduction. The American Psychologist, 55, 5-14. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5

Pawelski, J. O. (2016). Defining the “positive” in positive psychology: Part I. A descriptive analysis. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11, 339-356. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2015.1137628

Pawelski, J. O. (2016). Defining the "positive" in positive psychology: Part II. A normative analysis. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11, 357-365. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2015.1137627

Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Vázquez, C. (2013). Positive psychology and its enemies: A reply based on scientific evidence. Papeles del Psicólogo, 34, 91–115.

Waterman, A.S. (1993). Two conceptions of happiness: Contrasts of personal expressiveness (eudaimonia) and hedonic enjoyment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 678-691. http://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.64.4.678


SWIPPA is the Swiss Society for Positive Psychology. At the following link http://www.swippa.ch/de you can join the SWIPPA and exchange scientific information about positive psychology. The site is aimed at researchers, practitioners and interested parties who work or want to work in the field of positive psychology.

The part-time university course "Certificate of Advanced Studies (CAS) Positive Psychology" offers a well-founded theoretical and practical training in the field of positive psychology.

The following link http://www.authentichappiness.org provides an English-language learning platform for positive psychology. There are videos, readings, questionnaires and events and much more. offered.