1. We are creators of our personal and social worlds. We benefit from experiences
of freedom and from being able to view ourselves as agents rather than pawns
of external forces. The belief in a dynamic self capable of choice, change, and
control influences the goals we choose and the energy with which we pursue
them. High-functioning people are responsible—they own their actions and
answer for them.
2. We are also creatures of our worlds. Biological factors, past experience, and the
present situation powerfully shape our behavior. Understanding the impact of
external factors enables us to make wise choices and exercise more effective
control in fostering change that promotes our well-being. To build human
strengths and civic virtues, we must build healthier families, communal neighborhoods,
more effective schools, and socially responsive media.
3. In carefully applying the scientific method, psychology can help us sort fact
from fiction. This is especially important in understanding subjective wellbeing
and civic virtue. The methods of science that have helped us understand
Personal growth is more than a matter of exercising freedom. Wise choices, the
right changes, and appropriate control are also key. Our own values are at the core
of our personal development. Most people would agree that we have responsibilities
to ourselves, to others, to our environment, and to future generations. A productive,
meaningful life requires the development of our unique talents and a
commitment to something beyond ourselves. We have both a need for autonomy
and a need to belong.
I N T R O D U C T I O N
psychological disorder can also illuminate our understanding of the roots and
fruits of the human strengths. Sometimes these methods confirm conventional
wisdom and commonsense ideas. In other cases these methods challenge popular
assumptions. For example, we will see that research strongly supports the
familiar adage “Money does not buy happiness.” More surprising are findings
that people of different ages, genders, races, and educational levels have
roughly equivalent levels of happiness. In considering research on self-respect,
we will discover, as we might expect, that people with high self-esteem persist
in the face of failure. On the other hand, fostering self-esteem is not an effective
vaccine, as many have proposed, for social problems such as aggression.
4. Although recently given renewed emphasis, positive psychology actually has a
long and rich history in the discipline. For decades investigators have sought to
understand the roots and fruits of such human strengths as love, empathy, and
self-control. Most of the important theoretical perspectives contribute to the
understanding of positive emotions, positive character, and positive institutions.
Working from different points of view, psychologists help us understand
the important biological, environmental, and cognitive components of human
flourishing. These perspectives complement each other just as psychology’s
study complements that of other disciplines that study the human strengths
and civic virtues.
5. One of psychology’s unique contributions to the study of the human strengths
is its measurement of individual differences. Scales that assess the strengths
are included in every chapter of this book. They are important research tools
that you can complete for yourself. Learning proceeds best when we are
actively engaged, especially when we relate the new material to ourselves.
The scales will help you appreciate how researchers have defined and studied
specific human strengths. Remember that the scales are research instruments,
not diagnostic tools. Still, if you answer honestly—not merely as you think you
should or how others might want you to—the scales will give you some idea of
where you fall in the pursuit of a specific strength.
6. For each chapter we will consider the implications and applications of basic
research. We will ask, “What does the research suggest we do to foster the
strengths and virtues in ourselves and in others? How do we promote human
well-being and civic responsibility? How can we build a healthy social environment?”
You are invited to participate in this process, to exercise your critical
judgment in anticipating and interpreting the research results as well as their
7. Values penetrate psychologists’ work, including what they study, how they
study it, the interpretation they give the results, and the applications they
make. For example, positive psychology’s call to attend to human strength I
itself reflects a value judgment. Conclusions of what constitutes a strength or a
weakness, a virtue or a vice are also value judgments. The values need to be
stated openly so that they can be discussed and debated. One of the important
assumptions of this chapter (and of this book) is that we not only have a need
to be our own person, we also need to belong. We have a need for relatedness
as well as autonomy. Thus, any prescription for human well-being needs to
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