Positive Psychology Progress
Empirical Validation of Interventions
Martin E. P. Seligman and Tracy A. Steen Nansook Park Christopher Peterson University of Pennsylvania University of Rhode Island University of Michigan
Positive psychology has ﬂourished in the last 5 years. The authors review recent developments in the ﬁeld, including books, meetings, courses, and conferences. They also discuss the newly created classiﬁcation of character strengths and virtues, a positive complement to the various editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (e. g., American Psychiatric Association, 1994), and present some cross-cultural ﬁndings that suggest a surprising ubiquity of strengths and virtues. Finally, the authors focus on psychological interventions that increase individual happiness. In a 6-group, random-assignment, placebocontrolled Internet study, the authors tested 5 purported happiness interventions and 1 plausible control exercise. They found that 3 of the interventions lastingly increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms. Positive interventions can supplement traditional interventions that relieve suffering and may someday be the practical legacy of positive psychology. Keywords: positive psychology, happiness, character strengths, interventions ive years have passed since the American Psychologist devoted its millennial issue to the emerging science of positive psychology: the study of positive emotion, positive character, and positive institutions (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Drawing on methods effectively used to advance the science of mental disorders, positive psychologists have been studying mental health and well-being. Building on pioneering work by Rogers (1951), Maslow (1954, 1962), Jahoda (1958), Erikson (1963, 1982), Vaillant (1977), Deci and Ryan (1985), and Ryff and Singer (1996)—among many others—positive psychologists have enhanced our understanding of how, why, and under what conditions positive emotions, positive character, and the institutions that enable them ﬂourish (e.g., Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003; Easterbrook, 2003; Gardner, Csikszentmihalyi, & Damon, 2001; Kahneman, Diener, & Schwarz, 1999; Murray, 2003; Vaillant, 2000). Positive psychologists do not claim to have invented the good life or to have ushered in its scientiﬁc study, but the value of the overarching term positive psychology lies in its uniting of what had been scattered and disparate lines of theory and research about what makes life most worth living (Peterson & Park, 2003). As the basic science continues, other lines of work are moving into the realm of 410
application (Linley & Joseph, 2004). Can psychologists take what they have learned about the science and practice of treating mental illness and use it to create a practice of making people lastingly happier? That is, can they create an evidence-based practice of positive psychology? In this article, we ﬁrst review the recent growth within positive psychology. Next, we describe basic research that bears on whether people can become lastingly happier, and then we present the results of our own happiness interventions that we rigorously tested with a randomized, placebocontrolled design.
Positive psychology is an umbrella term for the study of positive emotions, positive character traits, and enabling institutions. Research ﬁndings from positive psychology are intended to supplement, not remotely to replace, what is known about human suffering, weakness, and disorder. The intent is to have a more complete and balanced scientiﬁc understanding of the human experience—the peaks, the valleys, and everything in between. We believe that a complete science and a complete practice of psychology should include an understanding of suffering and happiness, as well as their interaction, and validated interventions that both relieve suffering and increase happiness— two separable endeavors. Editor’s note. Martin E. P....
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