Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Emergence of Positive Psychology

The Emergence of Positive Psychology: The Building of a Field of Dreams
Shane J. Lopez, PhD
University of Kansas

"Build it and they will come. Build it and they will come."
A similar eerie directive echoed in Ray Consella's mind in the popular movie,
"Field of Dreams." An epiphany occurred when Consella realized that the building of a baseball field in rural Iowa would open a metaphysical door to his past and his future.

Dr. Martin Seligman experienced a similar epiphany that occurred in his garden and was brought about by the profound words of a child, his daughter Nikki. In a 1999 speech, Dr. Seligman recounted the experience that changed his view of parenting and psychology and he concluded the following:

Raising Nikki would be about taking the strength that she had just shown--I call it seeing into the soul--naming it, nurturing it, reinforcing it, helping her to lead her life around it and let it buffer against the weaknesses and the vicissitudes. The most important thing, the most general thing I learned, was that psychology was half-baked, literally half-baked. We had baked the part about mental illness; we had baked the part about repair of damage...The other side's unbaked, the side of strength, the side of what we're good at.

Positive psychology is the other side. It is the scientific pursuit of optimal human functioning and the building of a field focusing on human strength and virtue. It builds on the bench science and research methods that shed light on the "dark side" of human functioning, and it opens the door to understanding prevention and health promotion. Dr. Seligman (1998) noted:

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