I recently discovered Positive Psychology, and I like it a lot. It’s a very new (1998) branch in the field which intends to complement traditional psychology. Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, its main proponents, said: “We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise that achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving in individuals, families, and communities.” In short, Positive Psychology aims to make normal life more fulfilling.
Seligman and his colleagues have identified six human strengths that contribute to well-being and human satisfaction. These strengths are listed here, along with the positive personality traits that express each one:
• Wisdom and knowledge: Creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective
• Courage: Bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality
• Humanity: Love, kindness, social intelligence
• Justice: Citizenship, fairness, leadership
• Temperance: Forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-control
• Transcendence: Appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality
Echoes of Psychospirituality, don’t you think? This thinking seems to have been foreshadowed by Humanistic Theories in Psychology. Perhaps you’re familiar with the names Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers? Rogers (1902-1987) always emphasized the human capacity for inner peace and happiness. For him, a fully functioning person was someone living in harmony with his deepest feelings, impulses and intuitions. Rogers spoke of congruence, saying that when our self-image is consistent with what we really think, feel, do and experience, we are best able to actualize our potentials. If I may translate to BCBP-speak: It is when we see ourselves in truth and reality that the work of the Holy Spirit can earnestly begin in our lives.
Maslow (1908-1970), on the other hand, was made famous by his Hierarchy of Needs, which illustrated how human needs rose from the most basic necessities for survival, to the most lofty. He coined the term “self-actualization,” referring to the process of fully developing personal potentials. Having examined the lives of great historical figures like William James, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, among others, Maslow found that self-actualizers were people who felt safe, nonanxious, accepted, loved, loving and alive. Among their shared traits are:
• Efficient perceptions of reality
• Comfortable acceptance of self, others and nature
• Having a mission larger than the self
• Continued freshness of appreciation
• Fellowship with humanity
• Profound interpersonal relationships
• Comfort with solitude
• Nonhostile sense of humor
• Peak experiences
To me, Maslow’s profile of the self-actualizer reads like a paraphrase of Jesus and the Evangelists: “Remove the wooden beam from your eye first…Change and become like little children…Be at peace with one another…Do not be afraid… Pray with thanksgiving…Fortunate are those who work for peace…And I say it again, rejoice!”
A recent study in Positive Psychology has found that traits of hope, vitality, gratitude, love and curiosity are strongly associated with life satisfaction. I think we who claim to have personal relationships with the Lord have known this all along. In stress studies, researchers find that the ingredients of effective stress management include aerobic exercise, biofeedback, relaxation, social support and spirituality. Current research in fact is now trying to understand the active components of the religion-health correlation. I say we who actively exercise our faith in worship and service can teach researchers a thing or two in this area.
All this deepens for me something which I have believed for a long time now. Science and faith do not necessarily conflict – there is no need for empirical inquiry to lock horns with matters of spirituality. The more we learn about the concrete world, the more we realize that there is, indeed, a Prime Mover and a First Source. The universe is not ruled by random occurrences, we are governed by order of a far superior kind than we can imagine. Albert Einstein himself, one of the great individuals whose lives Maslow scrutinized, said, “Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.”
When I consider this, I am always reminded of a favorite quote from Bro. Alfred Cogliandro: “God has created in our souls an abyss so profound, only He can fill it.” I rest my case, Amen.
Coon, D and Mitterer, J. (2009), Psychology, Modules for Active Learning. California: Thomson Learning, Inc.
Maslow, A. H. (1954), Motivation and Personality, New York: Harper
Park N., Peterson C. and Seligman M. E. P. (2004), “Strengths Of Character And Well-Being”. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 23(5), 603-619
Peterson C. and Seligman M. E. P. (2004), “Character Strengths And Virtues”. Washington DC: American Psychological Association
Seligman, M. E.P.; Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). “Positive Psychology: An Introduction”. American Psychologist 55 (1): 5–14.