The field of psychology has focused disproportionate on all that’s negative about human nature. Psychologists should devote more energy to studying the roots of human happiness, virtue, and well-being.
Over the past six years, a growing number of psychologists have embraced this view of their field—a view often identified with the “positive psychology” movement and one of its chief proponents, former American Psychological Association President Martin Seligman. But even as the tenets of positive psychology have become increasingly wellknown, less clear is how these principles inform new research efforts.
This compilation of 13 essays, edited by Corey Keyes and Jonathan Haidt, offers an instructive overview of positive psychology’s progress to date, and its potential research directions for the future. The contributions cover a range of topics, from creativity and genius to the roots of human resilience to the positive psychological effects of volunteering. Despite the disparate subject matter, the essays share a deep concern for what it means for humans to thrive and find fulfillment in life, not just survive it.
The editors place Flourishing somewhere between a self-help book and a more academic research collection. In their introduction, they write that the book “is not a manual on ‘How to Flourish,’ but it offers empirically grounded advice for getting more out of life.” Readers seeking definite answers to life’s big questions will probably be more satisfied—though by no means better served—by reading Dr. Phil. As the contributors are social and behavioral scientists carefully surveying new research territory, they devote considerable space to defining what terms like “optimism,” “creativity,” and “elevation” mean in the context of positive psychology.
But these definitional matters are not merely academic nitpicking. They signify a thorough investigation into what gives life meaning and how people can lead more meaningful lives. This, writes Seligman in the book’s Foreword, is one of the central missions of psychology, though it has been neglected over the past 50 years. In the effort to revive this mission, Flourishing represents an important step.