The paper reviewed here is a brief one by Martin Seligman and colleagues titled ‘A Balanced Psychology and A Full Life’ and freely available here. Seligman is the originator of the positive psychology movement and so it is interesting to hear his thoughts on this subject. The article begins with a discussion of the influence of grants on determining the psychological research that was undertaken, research which focused on mental illness. The authors consider the tremendous progress that has been made in the treatment of mental illnesses before commenting that
‘there is good evidence to suggest that the absence of maladies does not constitute happiness‘
and further that
‘there should be an equally thorough study of strengths and virtues, and that we should work towards developing interventions that can help people become lastingly happier‘
They go onto consider the meaning of happiness and note that this has been considered by many philosophers throughout history. They consider three routes to happiness – experiencing positive emotions, the ‘pursuit of gratification’ and becoming part of a larger movement or community. They go further to describe a ‘pleasant life’ with a focus on positive emotions, a ‘good life’ with pursuit of gratification and lastly the ‘meaningful life’ involving a pursuit of belonging to a movement or community whilst bringing all three together results in the ‘full life’. They discuss some of the empirical approaches to attaining happiness and how the positive psychology movement is flourishing. To some extent it seems artificial to separate such approaches from the treatment of mental illnesses. There is perhaps a good reason which is that this area addresses the very sensitive area of values. However there is good evidence that activities such as exercise can have many benefits for different illnesses and incorporating exercise into a lifestyle is a valued-based choice to some extent. What if some of the empirical research in the area of positive psychology has therapeutic benefits for depression or other illnesses. Should such approaches be considered for use in health-related protocols? Ultimately these are decisions that are made at the level of institutional policy. People must be able to choose their values, an area for which capacity is very important. However if the positive psychology movement develops further and creates a tangible international community with an established culture perhaps specialised mental health services may need to be developed to meet the need of members of such a culture. It will be interesting to follow developments in this area.
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