The 5 Founding Fathers and A History of Positive Psychology

founding fathers of positive psychologyAfter the Second World War, the focus of psychology was on treating abnormal behaviors and the resulting mental illnesses.

Dissatisfied with this approach, humanist psychologists, such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Eric Fromm helped renew interest in the more positive aspects of human nature.

Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

Inspiration in a Bed of Roses

The story of Seligman’s epiphany in his rose garden—which started the movement of positive psychology—has become somewhat a folk legend. This is how the story goes:

Seligman’s daughter, who was five at the time, had been trying to get her father’s attention when he turned around and snapped at her. Unhappy with this response, his daughter asked him whether or not he remembered how she used to whine when she was 3 and 4?

She told him that when she turned five, she decided to stop – and if she was able to stop whining, then he was able to stop being a grouch!

This revelation of developing what was right, rather than fixating on what was wrong, sparked what Seligman would go on to promote during his career as APA president—that we should teach our children and ourselves to look at our strengths rather than our weaknesses (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).

Positive psychology can be viewed as the “fourth wave” in the evolution of psychology, the first 3 waves being, respectively, the disease model, behaviorism, and humanistic psychology.

This approach contrasts with how, in its early years (the second half the 19th century and the first half of the 20th), the practice of psychology focused mainly on cure and treatment of psychic ailments, which is a decidedly negative focus.

Some of the greatest names in the early field of psychology were foundational, such as Freud, Adler, and Jung. But over time, psychology began to acquire a negative outlook and stereotype, with its focus on the darkest chambers of the human mind and the near total exclusion of its sunlit highlands.

Positive psychology, as the name suggests, is psychology with a positive orientation. What is the science behind what makes humans well?

It does not imply that the rest of psychology is unhelpful or all negative and, in fact, the term “psychology as usual” has been coined to denote the rest of psychology.

The Four Waves of Psychology

To understand the roots of positive psychology, we have to revisit the three waves of psychology that came before that. After all, it was not until recently that the field of psychology began expanding its research criteria to study what makes people thrive, instead of what makes people sick.

The following three sections offer a brief summary of Western psychologies waves, or movements, before introducing the fourth-wave that brings us to positive psychology.

The 1st Wave: The Disease Model

During the second half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th, psychology was concerned with curing mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and human complexes of various kinds (inferiority, power, Electra, Oedipus, etc.).

And why not? There has always been, and will perhaps always be, a significant incidence of mental illness in all communities, irrespective of race or religion, caste or creed.

The attempt of psychologists to cure these ailments was quite natural and laudable, and the work of early psychologists, such as Sigmund Freud, Adler, and Carl Jung was indeed very effective. (Note: It must be added here that of these pioneers, the big 3 of Vienna as they were called, Carl Jung was perhaps the earliest psychologist to recognize, and be troubled by, psychology’s negative focus).

Over time, this disease focus pushed psychology towards the dark recesses of the human mind and away from the deeper well-springs of human energy and potential. As highlighted by Martin Seligman, in his 2008 TED talk on Positive Psychology, the negative focus of psychology resulted in three major drawbacks for the field:

  1. Psychologists became victimologists and pathologizers (they forgot that people make choices and have responsibility);
  2. They forgot about improving normal lives and high talent (the mission to make relatively untroubled people happier, more fulfilled, more productive), and;
  3. In their rush to repair the damage, it never occurred to them to develop interventions to make people happier.

The 2nd Wave: Behaviorism

B. F. Skinner of Harvard University was the originator, along with John B. Watson and Ivan Pavlov, of the behavioral approach in psychology. Skinner believed that free will was an illusion, and human behavior was largely dependent on the consequences of our previous actions.

If a particular behavior attracted the right type of reinforcement it had a high probability of being repeated, and if, on the other hand, the behavior resulted in punishment it had a good chance of not being repeated (Schacter, Daniel, & Gilbert Daniel, 2011).

Skinner believed that given the right structure of rewards and punishments, human behavior could be totally modified in an almost mechanical sense.

This theory undoubtedly has a lot of merits, particularly the idea of operant conditioning—the influencing and eliciting desired behavior, through a well-conceived reward system.

However, the manipulation of behavior that such a properly structured reward system allows is open to gross abuse by autocrats and dictators in terms of oppressing their subjects. And not just in society at large, but in the workplace as well. J E R Staddon and Noam Choksy were among Skinner’s major critics (Staddon, 1995; Chomsky & Noam, 1959).

Furthermore, Skinner’s total rejection of free will is still disturbing. It goes against all that human history stands for—the ultimate, and the enduring triumph of the human spirit against overwhelming odds.

Criticisms of his theory notwithstanding, Skinner stands tall as a brilliant psychologist and prolific writer. With 21 books and 180 articles to his credit, he was voted the most influential psychologist of the 20th century in a 2002 survey (Haggbloom et al., 2002).

The 3rd Wave: Humanistic Psychology

Four waves of PsychologyThis wave is known for its two major strands of thought – existentialist psychology (Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre) and humanistic psychology (Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers).

According to Sartre, every human being is responsible for working out his identity and his life’s meaning through the interaction between himself and his surroundings. No one else can do it for him, least of all a non-existent God. For this reason, meaning is something truly unique to each person – separate and independent (Jean-Paul Sartre, 1946).

One cannot quarrel with this strand of thought, particularly the responsibility of the individual for his own destiny, but the underlying atheism is dampening.

What about people who cannot find their identity and their life’s meaning on their own?

Uncontrollable anxiety would be inevitable, particularly in the absence of faith in a supernatural being, an idea rejected by existentialism. This anxiety is recognized in psychotherapy as “existential anxiety” and has been of major therapeutic concern of many leading psychologists, particularly Viktor Frankl, the originator of logo-therapy.

There is a considerable divergence of views on the question of “What is life’s meaning?” and, clearly, each individual needs to work it out for themselves, with their own unique experience and surroundings.

Here is a very thoughtful quote from Kierkegaard, arguably the earliest exponent of existentialism:

“What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die. (…) I certainly do not deny that I still accept an imperative of knowledge and that through it men may be influenced, but then it must come alive in me, and this is what I now recognize as the most important of all”

(Kierkegaard, Soren, 1962).

The humanistic movement was about adding a holistic dimension to psychology. Humanistic psychologists believed that our behavior is determined by our perception of the world around us and its meanings, that we are not simply the product of our environment or biochemistry, and that we are internally influenced and motivated to fulfill our human potential.

Humanistic psychology emphasizes the inherent human drive towards self-actualization, the process of realizing and expressing one’s own capabilities and creativity. This approach rose to prominence in the mid-20th century in response to the limitations of the disease model in fulfilling the human desire for actualization and a life of meaning (Benjafield, 2010).

The 5 basic principles or postulates of humanistic psychology are:

  • Human beings, as human, supersede the sum of their parts. They cannot be reduced to components;
  • Human beings have their existence in a uniquely human context, as well as in a cosmic ecology;
  • Human beings are aware and are aware of being aware – i.e. they are conscious. Human consciousness always includes an awareness of oneself in the context of other people;
  • Human beings have the ability to make choices and therefore have responsibility;
  • Human beings are intentional—they aim at goals, are aware that they cause future events, and seek meaning, value, and creativity.

It is hard to miss the significant foundation that the humanistic approach has provided for positive psychology.

The 4th Wave: Positive Psychology

As already pointed out earlier in this article, positive psychology is psychology with a positive orientation, concerned with authentic happiness and a good life.

Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow maintained that psychology itself does not have an accurate understanding of the human potential and that the field tends not to raise the proverbial bar high enough with respect to maximum attainment.

He wrote:

“The science of psychology has been far more successful on the negative than on the positive side; it has revealed to us much about man’s shortcomings, his illnesses, his sins, but little about his potentialities, his virtues, his achievable aspirations, or his full psychological height. It is as if psychology had voluntarily restricted itself to only half its rightful jurisdiction, and that the darker, meaner half”

(Maslow, 1954, p. 354).

While the previous waves of psychology focused on human flaws, overcoming deficiencies, avoiding pain, and escape from unhappiness, positive psychology focuses on well-being, contentment, excitement, cheerfulness, the pursuit of happiness, and meaning in life.>

The humanistic movement wanted to look at what drives us to want to grow and achieve fulfillment. However, even though their conceptual ideas of human nature did influence the development of positive psychology, they are separate. While the humanistic approach used more qualitative methods, positive psychology is developing a more scientific epistemology of understanding human beings.

Psychology may be converging— finally—with the quintessence of the world’s great religions. It may finally be discovering that the key to human evolution lies in a fine blend of the mind and the spirit. It may, at last, be recognizing and accepting the dark chambers of the human mind as well as its sunlit highlands.

Who are the passionate visionaries behind this fourth wave of psychology? Let’s find out…

The 5 Founding Fathers: Developing Positive Psychology

In 1998, Martin Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association and it was then that Positive Psychology became the theme of his term as president. He is widely seen as the father of contemporary positive psychology (About Education, 2013).

However, while most people see Seligman as the face of Positive Psychology,  he didn’t start the field alone and was not the first ‘positive psychologist.’

There have been many influencers which have contributed to this new era of psychology.

1) William James

James was a philosowilliam jamespher, physician, and psychologist, and he was the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States. He argued that in order to thoroughly study a person’s optimal functioning, one has to take in how they personally experience something, otherwise known as their subjective experience.

He also saw the importance of combining both positivistic and phonological methodology, which is what many now refer to as ‘radical empiricism’ because he was interested in what was objective and observable.

Despite this, many consider James to be America’s “first positive psychologist” (Froh, 2004) because of his deep interest in the subjectivity of a person and because he believed that “objectivity is based on intense subjectivity” (2004).

2) Abraham Maslow

abraham maslowWhile the entire 3rd Wave of Humanistic Psychology played a vital role in providing Positive Psychology with foundational concepts, there was no greater influence from the approach then Abraham Maslow.

In fact, the term “positive psychology” was first coined by Maslow, in his 1954 book “Motivation and Personality.” Maslow did not like how psychology concerned itself mostly with disorder and dysfunction, arguing that it did not have an accurate understanding of human potential.

He emphasized how psychology successfully shows our negative side by revealing much about our illnesses and shortcomings, but not enough of our virtues or aspirations (Maslow, 1954, p. 354).

3) Martin Seligman

seligmanSeligman is an American Psychologist, educator, and author of self-help books. He is famous for his experiments and theory of learned helplessness, as well as for being the founder of Positive Psychology.

His work in learned helplessness and pessimistic attitudes garnered an interest in optimism, which led to his work with Christopher Peterson (mentioned below) to create a positive side to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

In their research, they looked at different cultures over time to create a list of virtues that are highly valued and included it in their Character Strengths and Virtues section in the DSM: wisdom/knowledge, courage, transcendence, justice, humanity, and temperance.

In 1996, he was elected President of the American Psychological Association and the central theme he chose for his term as president was positive psychology. He wanted mental health to be more than just the “absence of illness” and ushered a new era that focused on what makes people feel happy and fulfilled.

Later he became the director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

4) Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi

Czikszentmihalyi was born in Hungary in 1934, and like many other people of that time, he was deeply affected by the Second World War. He was stripped from his family and friends as a child and was put in an Italian prison and it was there he had his first idea of working with flow and optimal experience.

He had an affinity for painting, noting that the act of creating was sometimes more important than the finished work itself. This led to his fascination with what he called the flow state, and he made it his life’s work to scientifically identify the different methods through which one could achieve such a state.

Czikszentmihalyi’s studies gained much popular interested. Today, he is considered one of the founders of positive psychology.

5) Christopher Peterson

Christopher Peterson was the professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan and the former chair of the Clinical Psychology department.

He was the co-author of Character Strengths and Virtues with Seligman and is noted for his work in the study of optimism, hope, character, and well-being.

Influential Positive Psychology Researchers

The following positive psychology researchers deserve a special mention. However, there are so many positive psychology researchers whose work is shaping the future of positive psychology that they can’t all be mentioned in this article. Check out our full list of Positive Psychology Researchers.

Albert Bandura

Albert Bandura’s self-efficacy theory originated from his social-cognitive theory. It relates to a person’s perception of their ability to reach a goal and the belief that one is capable of performing it in a certain way in order to reach them. This concept has been of great impotence and use in positive psychology.

Donald Clifton

Seligman stated that Clifton followed a similar path that he did when he came up with Strengths-based psychology. He studied successful individuals and wanted to know what they did right to achieve top performance.

His work gave employees solid recommendations on how to find a fulfilling career that is suitable for them. He was honored in 2002 by the American Psychological Association with a Presidential Commendation as the Father of Strengths-based Psychology and he has been called the “grandfather of Positive Psychology” (Snyder, Lopez, & Pedrotti, 2015, p. 66).

Deci and Ryan

The theory of human motivation known as Self-Determination Theory was developed in 2000 by Edward L. Deci, professor in the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences at the University of Rochester, New York, and Richard M. Ryan, clinical psychologist and Professor at the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, Australia.

Their grounding work on Self-Determination Theory updated the hierarchy of needs originally identified by Abraham Maslow and found that human motivation is founded in three major needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness (connecting to other people).

Ed Diener

Dr. Ed Diener, aka “Dr. Happiness”, is a leading researcher in PP who coined the term “Subjective well-being” as the aspect of happiness that can be measured scientifically. His argument that there is a strong genetic component to happiness has led to a huge amount of data studying the internal and external conditions of happiness and how one can change it.

Diener even researched the relationship between income and well-being, as well as cultural influences on well-being.

His publications have been cited over 98,000 times and his fundamental research on the subject is what earned him his nickname. He has worked with researchers Daniel Kahneman and Martin Seligman and is a senior scientist for The Gallup Organization.

Carol Dweck

Dweck conducted research on the notion of growth vs. fixed mindset. It has been used with parents, teams, students, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. It is a positive psychology tool that is used widely and praised highly, bringing people more interest to the world of positive psychology.

Barbara Fredrickson

World-renowned author and researcher, Fredrickson made her first contribution to positive psychology research with her theory on positive emotions, The Broaden and Build Theory, which proposes that positive emotions are able to broaden people’s minds, resulting in resources for experiencing well-being and resilience in times of adversity. Since then Fredrickson has done extensive research and produced 2 books.

Fredrickson currently acts as the Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free.



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  • Further praise for Carol Dweck | LVS Consulting by Lisa Sansom (2012). Retrieved from
  • Mentor Coach. (2014). BEN’S INTERVIEW WITH KENNON SHELDON, PhD. Retrieved from
  • The Pursuit of Happiness. (2015). Diener and Happiness. Retrieved from here
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  • Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism is a Humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre 1946″ .

Article references:

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  • Bugental, J. (1964). The third force in psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 4(1), 19-26.
  • Greening, T. (2006). Five basic postulates of humanistic psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 46(3), 239-239.
  • Froh, J. J. (2004). The History of Positive Psychology: Truth Be Told.
  • Hefferon, K., & Boniwell, I. (2011). Introduction to Positive Psychology. In Positive psychology: Theory, research and applications. Maidenhead, Berkshire: McGraw Hill Open University Press.
  • Kierkegaard, Soren. Works of Love. Harper & Row, Publishers. New York, N.Y. 1962.
  • Park, N., Oates, S., & Schwarzer, R. (2013). Christopher Peterson “Other People Matter”. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 5(1), 1-4.
  • Snyder, C. R., Lopez, S. J., & Pedrotti, J. T. (2015). Positive psychology: The scientific and practical explorations of human strengths (p. 66).
  • Seligman M & Csikszentmihalyi, M (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction, American Psychologist, 55, 5-14. Also Chapter 1 of Positive Psychology, a publication of
  • Schacter, Daniel L., and Gilbert Daniel. (2011). Psychology. (2 ed.). New York, 2011.
  • Staddon, J. (1995) On responsibility and punishment. The Atlantic Monthly, Feb., 88−94. Staddon, J. (1999) On responsibility in science and law. Social Philosophy and Policy, 16, 146-174. Reprinted in Responsibility. E. F. Paul, F. D. Miller, & J. Paul (eds.), 1999. Cambridge University Press, pp. 146−174.


What our readers think

  1. Stewart

    You say that the underlying atheism of Satre’s position of absolute freedom to be “dampening”. What do you mean by that?

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Stewart,

      I think the writer meant that a downside of Satre’s message (that each of us needs to work out our own identity without the support of a deity) will potentially narrow the scope of people who can find relief in this approach to psychological wellness. In other words, a lot of people (particularly those who face existential anxiety) will find they can realize greater well-being by being able to connect their actions to an overarching purpose they believe is chosen for them by God or a higher power.

      Indeed, many people realize great transformation in themselves and their psychology once having connected to such a purpose, so sometimes an approach to psychological wellness that connects people to the spiritual domain of life can be valuable.

      Hope this answers your question!

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      • Trevor Clements

        If that’s what was meant it’s not very clearly communicated, though I agree that is a potential way to look at it since a very large percentage of the world’s population does identify as religious or spiritual so in that limited sense, maybe lack of belief could be seen as excluding a large swath of the population. On the other hand, if we work on the assumption that religion does, indeed, give people a higher chance of being happy then atheism shouldn’t dampen those religious people since they, by definition as religiously identifying individuals, shouldn’t be affected at all in terms of their happiness since atheism is not a necessary pre-requisite for identification as a humanist or existentialist even. Kiekegaard is one of the original inventors of existentialism and he was a deeply religious man. I will however concede that many atheists do in fact also identify as existentialists.

    • Trevor Clements

      I also found this remark in an otherwise interesting and thought provoking article a bit suspect. Some might say that although an atheistic worldview could be “dampening ” to some so can the idea of focusing on a future after death for the ultimate source of happiness because that could (not necessarily though) imply not focusing on this present life as an opportunity that must be savoured, enjoyed, and made into meaning since you are waiting for a (most likely mythological in the minds of many and most likely supported by embracing the scientific which the article suggests positive psychology does) a paradise after you die. Notice I don’t claim that belief in the supernatural automatically leads to a dampening outlook, but it can. Some people experience deep deep-seated feelings of crippling religious guilt or are convinced the end of the world is imminent, or are subject to extreme privations due to fanatical religious sects, and some researchers note that “religion has been found to be associated with anxiety (eg., Pressman, Lyons, Larson, & Gartner, 1992, as cited in Lewis & Cruise, 2006), fear of death Pressman et al., as cited in Lewis & Cruise, 2006), and guilt (eg., Hood. 1992, as cited in Lewis & Cruise, 2006) [as well as] those whose religious beliefs are at odds with those around them, such as may not in not wishing to accept an arranged marriage, religion may lead to tension and unhappiness. Indeed, there are examples of some sect members being subected to tyranical disipline. Thus, for some individuals, religion maybe associated with happiness, and for others, unhappiness ” (Lewis & Cruise, 2006)

      I find this particular comment as to the “underlying . . . dampening” association with atheism more a reflection of the general misunderstanding of atheism and atheists by people that don’t hold that worldview and perhaps watch too much T.V. and mistake if for real life. Honestly it’s insulting, stereotypical, and not actually supported by empirical findings and research but rather than a boogeyman perspective in many cases. Just as it was wrong for people to paint Jews as monsters that would eat babies during the heights of antisemitism during the height of Nazism in Europe and other continents that took up that sad chapter in human existence so too it is wrong to paint non-believers as incapable of experiencing a profound joy life. (Edgell et al., 2006). We atheists can also exult in being alive, in experiencing life through a lens of wonder, of genuine concern for the well-being of all human beings inclusive of believers, non-believers, and agnostics and the spiritual but not religious people in the middle.

      Are there negative, nihilistic, and sad atheists? Absolutely! Are there atheists who have committed atrocities? Absolutely. Does this existence by any definition of reason and actual thorough contemplation of evidence based data support this view as a necessary endgame of adopting (or rather being born with and unable to logical find enough evidence for a that although potentially comforting) an atheistic worldview (White, A., 2006)

      Could anyone accuse Carl Sagan of never having experience flow, wonder, and a deep appreciation of having been alive? Did Stephan Hawking live a life wallowing in self pity and negativity and lack the ability to look and life and the universe with a sense of wonder? Have you ever seen a video of Neil Degrasse Tyson where he isn’t smiling and super friendly? The popularly accepted view by many is I think more a result of confirmation bias, not always from a stance of active hostility or motivated attempt to spread anti-atheist sentiment, but more from a much too hasty acceptance of harmful and bigoted stereotypes not to mention a homogenous group of clones. I know several atheists that I personally don’t find particularly pleasant people but many who are joyous, compassionate and full of laughter.

      The stereotype of “pessimistic atheist” is no more deserved of respect that of “angry black woman” when used if a black woman justifiably points out that someone is judging her based on her gender and color of skin. It doesn’t make her a person with a natural pessimistic and angry disposition if she is reacting to an instance of gender and racial stereotyping and bias. That is a natural reaction to someone treating her unjustly.

      I’m not claiming that religion cannot or does not make many people happy. It clearly does for many, including many dear friends and family members that I know and personally respect. But to stereotype atheists as not being equally capable of happiness is neither fair, objective, or necessarily based on solid research methods (Lewis & Cruise, 2006). There is much more research to be done, with more consistent controls, and a very careful need to not equate correlation with cause. After all research that looks at the world map and compares levels of happiness tend to show that the least religious and most atheistic countries actually correlate with the highest levels of happiness in the world (White, 2006), but I would be committing a huge disservice to wonderful people I know who have found much happiness in religion to assume that it is fully due to lack of religion as there may be several other factors at play, such as economic factors, access to health care and social services, and so on.

      I hope you don’t read this as an attack on yourself or on Positive Psychology. I enjoyed your article but would hope you would consider a careful reflection on what seems like a possibly flippant assumption about the logical and necessary consequences of atheism. I also noticed reading many of the comments than in many instances where commenters made suggestions of someone you had overlooked as one of the founding fathers (no founding mothers by any chance?) that you considered their advice and decided to update the article so you seem like a quite reasonable person.

      Barber, N. (2012). Are religious people happier? Psychology Today.

      Edgell, P., Gerteis, J., & Hartmann, D. (2006). Atheists As “Other”: Moral boundaries and
      cultural membership in American society. American Sociological Review, 71(2), 211-234.

      Lewis, C. A. & Cruise, S. M. (2006). Religion and happiness: Consensus, contradictions, comments and concerns. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 9(3), 213-225.

      White, A. (2006). University of Leicester produces the first-ever ‘world map of happiness’.,

  2. Paul J Radich

    Great article and overview of the history. Regarding Frankl, to follow up other comments and your request for some information:
    Frankl discovered during his ordeal living through the death camps of World War II that the prisoners who survived were not necessarily the strongest or the biggest or the smartest. He found that the survivors shared in common a sense of meaning in their lives, through four characteristics: positive use of their memory, creative use of their imagination, an orientation to the divine, and an ability to behold beauty in art and nature. He developed Logotherapy, or “therapy based on meaning,” to help patients discover the meaning in their lives. Much of his approach resonates with later positive psychologists (Csik., et al.). Interestingly, as empirical evidence in support of Frankl, Harvard’s ongoing Human Flourishing Project has found that among five domains that could influence happiness (health, financial stability, close social relationships, character/ virtue, and meaning/purpose), the domain that correlates most strongly with happiness is in fact meaning and purpose.

  3. Donna Torney

    Great Article- I was holding my waiting for you to mention some women thought. What about Karen Horney, Mary Main, and other works on attachment?

  4. Henry Arthur Hyde, M.S., LPC

    In your history of influencers, more philosophers and theoreticians were mentioned than any therapists. The “California School” of therapists were exceedingly influential in promoting self-efficacy and focusing on the here-and-now, possibly the most important concept. These analysts were considered renegades in the field of psychiatry and psychology. Perls, Berne, Satir, Goulding, Yalom and many others made revolutionary break-throughs in the existing medical model. Then, Ellis and the cognitive therapists. Unfortunately, the AMA and managed care disregarded these functional approaches, especially Redecision Therapy. Cognitive-behavioral Therapy remains, but deep-seated problems cannot be ignored and correctional emotional experiences are effective, for instance, when needed. Yalom is largely ignored, these pioneers are receding in history, and their therapies as well. Anxiety and depression are part of the human predicament, and the existentialists noted are the origins of these therapies. An abundance of knowledge has been lost, it appears, and unknown to students of therapy, especially psychiatry, which directs treatment programs and the result is poor therapy and management of programs. Calling it Positive Psychology does not make it so.

    • Dawb

      Good points. Berne – would you classify him as positive psych?

  5. Michael Fiedler

    Has nobody here ever heard about Roberto Assagioli (1888–1974) ?
    His Psychosynthesis has been working with a posoítive approach to psychology since forever.

    • Alessandra

      I absolutely love Roberto Assagioli- his psychosynthesis approach should be there!

  6. DjHilton

    Great article but I have a comment about the first photo. It is funny that the banner photo for this article is a 1987 painting of a Mormon Prophet, Wilford Woodruff, receiving a vision in 1877 of the founding fathers requesting their temple work be completed for them in St. George, UT.

    No big deal as only a Mormon would have spotted that. Being one, I think it is hilarious as I am sure that wasn’t the intended message the author wanted when they googled “founding fathers.”

  7. Bob Reuter

    In an earlier comment, apparently not deemed publishable, I disagreed with the author of the above article since I have experienced the field of Psychology during the same timeframe as Seligman and do not share his sense of guilt at his own misguided conduct that he learned about from his young daughter. Positive Psychology is an apologia for a completely wrong interpretation of the true Science of Psychology that has been steadily evolving and has never been considered to be entirely what is expressed as different waves. In any event, positive influences were active long before Seligman began graduate school as the author points out (Fromm, Maslow, Rogers). My graduate training began at Stanford under Earnest Hilgard who, having co-authored a textbook deemed the bible of Experimental Psychology, was then involved in the study of hypnosis and had developed a standardized scale for measuring hypnotic susceptibility. That was also a time when Timothy Leary had just left his mark which motivated many students to come by the Hypnosis lab on the hunch that they could get high through Hypnosis a la LSD (the “hook” was hallucinations) which was never the case and never encouraged. In luring a portion of Psychology and other students and graduates away from “traditional” Psychology, Seligman and Leary have a common achievement. I mentioned in my omitt4d comment that students of Experimental Psychology during my educational years preferred to think and work in the humanistic areas of Psychology despite the need to learn about abnormal conditions. I personally conducted developmental research with 1st Graders and never felt that I was dealing with any form of negative process. I was testing a theory of concept development using a game-like apparatus that the children had fun with. Still, at the same age as Seligman, I knew that I would not be fulfilled if all I did was work under experimental conditions and I was not seeking to become a clinician. I also read Allport, Fromm, Erikson, Rogers, Watts and many other positive thinkers for help with keeping my own sense of positive well-being. So, I urge that individual personal discomfort such as Seligman’s dilemma, not become the reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are therapeutic applications of positive psychology among the many tool kits offered by the author. It is an excellent model for coaching whether to correct something not going well or to make it even better.


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