For years, psychology was dominated by the idea that people were “broken” and that they had to be “fixed”. So, psychologists did research into psychosis, depression, and anxiety, among other things. As a result, clinical psychology has yielded many valuable insights for the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. There was some attention for positive characteristics of humans, but they did not gain the upper hand.
Around the turn of the century a clear counter-movement emerged: positive psychology. Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi ¹ laid the foundation for this new science that focused on positive experience, positive individual traits, and a positive society. They argued that by focusing on the positive, the quality of life improves and thus problems with mental health are prevented.
In recent decades, this branch of psychology has also provided a wealth of knowledge about resilience, post-traumatic growth, strengths, positive emotions, and thriving. But positive psychology is also criticized. The most important objection is that an exclusive look at only the positive in life can result in conscious or unconscious pressure for people who are confronted with setbacks in their lives and therefore do not feel happy at all ².
Robert Emmons ³, one of the pioneers of gratitude research, also acknowledges that life is not just happiness and pleasure, but that people face disappointments, frustrations, loss, pain, setbacks and sadness. Denying this is unrealistic and untenable. Life is suffering and only looking at the good or the positive cannot change this truth.
Although the search for happiness goes hand in hand with flourishing, it is possible to be too happy, to be happy at the wrong time, to pursue happiness in the wrong ways, or to experience the wrong kind of happiness. 4. Also negative emotions are not only bad and good emotions only good. Negative emotions also have their good and useful sides, and positive emotions can also feel annoying or hurtful 5.
Therefore, it was important to abandon the black-and-white thinking of clinical and positive psychology. Paul T.P. Wong 6 suggested to look at personal experiences, based on dialectical principles. Yin and Yang is a good example of this; one cannot exist without the other. There are always two opposing forces that can be found everywhere in life.
This is the nuanced and balanced understanding of the dialectical nature of PP 2.0 that focuses on a dynamic interaction between the positive and the negative of human well-being 7. Every person has light and dark sides, positive and negative emotions. Every person must deal with setbacks. PP 2.0 examines how people can embrace these setbacks and thrive.
(1) Seligman, M.; Csikszentmihalyi, M. Positive Psychology: An Introduction. American Psychologist 2000, 55 (1), 5–14. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5.(2) Ehrenreich, B. Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America; Henry Holt and Company: New York, NY, 2009.
(3) Emmons, R. How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times. Greater Good Science Center 2013.
(4) Gruber, J.; Mauss, I. B.; Tamir, M. A Dark Side of Happiness? How, When, and Why Happiness Is Not Always Good. Perspectives on psychological science 2011, 6 (3), 222–233.
(5) Kashdan, T.; Biswas-Diener, R. The Upside of Your Dark Side; Penguin: London, 2014.
(6) Wong, P. T. P. Positive Psychology 2.0: Towards a Balanced Interactive Model of the Good Life. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne 2011, 52 (2), 69.
(7) Ivtzan, I.; Lomas, T.; Hefferon, K.; Worth, P. Second Wave Positive Psychology: Embracing the Dark Side of Life; Routledge: New York, NY, 2015.
Dr. Lilian Jans-Beken is founder and ceo of the Thriving Human Science Center. She graduated in lifespan psychology, received a PhD in positive psychology, and she became an expert in gratitude and mental health. She is a scientific researcher who writes and talks about human thriving in general and gratitude specifically. In 2019, she wrote a book Een zoektocht naar dankbaarheid which is available through her personal website