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Positive psychology – a movement that brands can buy into?

October 13, 2010

Positive pyshcology is a fairly recently defined field of study in academic psychology.

"Positive Psychology was officially "born" at the annual American Psychological Association conference in 1998 during Dr. Martin Seligman’s inaugural address as association president. Dr. Seligman, already well-known for his pioneering work on the subject of learned helplessness, and later, on optimism, declared that psychology had too long focused on pathology, and that the time had come for an empirical study of human strengths and human happiness.

There was a similar rallying cry at least 40 years earlier by humanistic psychologists such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Rollo May, Viktor Frankl and others to refocus psychology on healthy human functioning. Their ideas, rooted in existential philosophy, led to what became known as "the human potential movement," and in many ways, these ideas have been absorbed into the larger culture.

Interestingly, Seligman made no mention of these important forerunners. Presumably, he wanted to distance Positive Psychology from the human potential movement, which had been criticized for its excesses and tarred with the brush of narcissism. More importantly, Seligman wanted to establish Positive Psychology on a firm scientific foundation. In this regard, he has certainly succeeded."

However, where scientists pronounce that they are studying how people can be happy, they are straying on to the closely protected turf of some pretty big corporate interests. Major brands such as Coca Cola and many, many others have spent many billions fusing their products to the idea of happiness and promoting the idea that happiness is a commodity. So positive psychology could represent a threat, and it could also represent an opportunity.


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