I have been reading about the virtues as outlined in the book of virtues by Peterson and Seligman. I have been wondering how they all relate to each other and the influence one virtue exerts on the others. At the same time I have noticed references to these great virtues in literature. It has occurred to me that studying these virtues in both the scientific realm and the literary realm is extremely enlightening, beneficial, and important.
In Character Strengths and Virtues by Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman, the virtue of love “represents a cognitive, behavioral, and emotional stance toward others that take three prototypical forms;…a child’s love for a parent, a parent’s love toward a child, and romantic love.”
In Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, “Love is a burning forgetfulness of everything else. To Cosette and Marius there was nothing in existence beyond Marius and Cosette. The universe around them had fallen out of sight. They lived in a golden moment. There was nothing before, nothing after. These two beings, then, were living this way, way up with all the improbability of nature; neither at the nadir nor the zenith, between man and seraph, above the earth below the ether, in the clouds; scarcely flesh and bone, soul and ecstasy from head to foot; too sublimated already to walk on the earth, and still too weighed down with humanity to disappear in the sky, in suspension like atoms awaiting precipitation; apparently outside of destiny; ignoring that beaten track yesterday, today, tomorrow; astounded, swooping, floating; at times, light enough to soar into infinity; almost ready for eternal flight. They were sleeping awake in this rocking cradle. O splendid lethargy of the real overwhelmed by the ideal.”
Wow! You almost have to stop to catch your breath here! This passage is in Book Eight, Chapter II, of Les Miserables entitled “The Wonder of Total Happiness.”
As scientists, we must define what we study. How can you study the virtues without agreeing on a common definition? How can you measure the virtues without agreeing on a common standard? Positive psychologists look for empirical evidence that there is a cause and effect relationship among variables. Scientists including Peterson, Seligman, Diener, and many others, have established scientific rigor, definitions, and standards to Positive Psychology.
In addition to the science, there is a wonder to the principles of Positive Psychology. There is a “golden moment” when the principles of Positive Psychology come together to create deep meaning – FLOW, perhaps. I think this wonder is what draws us to this good science. Many times I have noticed that the science of Positive Psychology confirms and explains what our souls already sense; that forgiveness, gratitude, and hope are good, that people matter, and that there is power in the positive.
In the midst of our scientific pursuit of the cause and effect, our surveys and questionnaires, our dependant and independent variables, and our statistical analysis, let’s not forget the very soul of what we are studying. Let’s remember the wonder of simply being happy.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 304.
Hugo, V. (1862?, 1995). Les Misérables (Signet Classics) translated by Lee Fahnestock and Norman McAfee, Signet Classics, Pp. 1009.