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Positive Psychology Models

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“All models are wrong, but some are useful.” Statistician George Box

Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2000) state that the purpose of positive psychology as to “articulate a vision of the good life that is empirically sound while being understandable and attractive.” The original framework they described in 2000 had three pillars: positive experience, positive traits, and positive institutions. Positive experience comprised positive emotions and subjective well-being. Positive traits included character strengths and virtues. Positive institutions included “civic virtues and the institutions that move individuals toward better citizenship.”

Seligman has also described the life well-lived as a combination of three lives — experiencing positive emotions regularly along with skills of amplifying those emotions (the pleasant life), experiencing a high level of engagement in satisfying activities (the engaged life), and using ones strengths in service of a greater whole (the meaningful life).

Dr. Martin Seligman ExplainingMore recently in an address to the 2007 Global Well-Being Forum, Seligman argued that these frameworks are not broad enough to cover all the elements of the life well-lived. In particular, he chose to add positive relationships and positive accomplishments as elements that people pursue even when they don’t bring other elements. For example, he stated that people pursue accomplishment even in the absence of pleasure, engagement or meaning.

Mihaly CsikszentmihalyiIn the discussion that followed, Csikszentmihalyi agreed that science advances by constantly updating models and assumptions and that positive psychology needs to pay more attention to the expression of one’s best self through action.

The top-level image map for the life well lived incorporates elements from both of the original three-part models as well as the two new elements.

This image map is just a tool for understanding and finding one’s way around, not something etched in stone. As we move forward and learn more, our models will keep changing to reflect our growing understanding.

PPND Articles that Address Positive Psychology Models
By Jordan Silberman:Positive Psychology in the Media: One Ninth of the Field
By Kathryn Britton:Giving Gifts
By Aren Cohen:Passages and Positive PsychologyThe Minding Life
By Rosie Milner:Aristotle versus Aristuppus: Were they both right?
By Senia Maymin:Report from the 2007 AI Conference: Cooperrider, Buckingham, SeligmanWhat is Positive Psychology?
By John Yeager:Sports: A Vehicle for Happiness

Boniwell, I. (2006). Positive psychology in a nutshell. London: Personal Well-being Centre.  
Ed Diener face
Ed Diener

Robert Biswas-Diener
Diener, E. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth.To be released in September 2008.  

Shelly Gable
Gable, S. & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and why) is positive psychology?. American Psychologist, 9, 103-110. Available here.
Jon Haidt
Chris Peterson
Chris Peterson
Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M. (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 25-41. Nansook Park
Nansook Park
Chris Peterson
Chris Peterson
Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

The primer is a broad exploration of positive psychology in its many manifestations.

Paul Rozin
Rozin, P. (2007). Exploring the landscape of modern academic psychology: Finding and filling the holes. American Psychologist, 62, 754-766.  
Martin Seligman
Martin Seligman
Seligman, M. E. P. & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction.. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14.. Available here. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Martin Seligman
Martin Seligman
Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness. New York: Free Press.

The whole book is built around ways to amplify The Pleasant Life, The Engaged Life, and The Meaningful Life.Page 249 has a short description of the three together.

Martin Seligman
Martin Seligman
YouTube of Dr Seligman: Why is Psychology Good?

Psychology should be

  • just as concerned with strength as with weakness,
  • just as interested in building the best things in life as repairing the worst
  • just as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling and with nurturing high talent as with fixing pathology.

Life Well-Lived Image Map

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