Positive Psychology

Introduced around the late 1990's, the ‘first wave’ of positive psychology was characterised by a focus on positive phenomena, such as emotions, behaviours, thoughts and organisations. However, the ‘second wave,’ or ‘PP 2.0’ (Wong, 2011), acknowledged that flourishing and wellbeing involved a more nuanced approach to the concepts of positive and negative. For example, whether something is experienced as pleasant or unpleasant (positive or negatively valenced), versus whether something either facilitates or hinders wellbeing (positive or negative outcome). This led to an acceptance that life involves a balance of opposite elements to form a whole. This is further evidenced through positively valenced qualities that can lead to negative outcomes (e.g. ‘unrealistic’ optimism is linked to risky health-related behaviours). Conversely, positive outcomes have been linked to negatively-valenced qualities (e.g. anger motivating someone to act against a discriminatory situation that has been negatively affecting their wellbeing), and even to negative life events (e.g. Post Traumatic Growth).

Recently, a new ‘third wave’ has been proposed (Lomas et al., 2020), encompassing a broadening of scope beyond the individual person as the focus on enquiry and looking at groups, organisations and wider socio-cultural factors and processes that affect people’s wellbeing (including politics and economics). This perspective sees the individual as embedded within broader social systems, where there are likely to be different viewpoints regarding the definition of wellbeing or ‘the good life,’ the desired outcomes and even the processes required to achieve change.


One emerging approach interested in super-individual processes and phenomena is Systems Informed Positive Psychology (SIPP; Kern et al., 2019), which incorporates principles from the systems sciences with PP in order to explicitly address the complexity of the world and generate positive futures that can emerge collectively from within the system. Additionally, PP is becoming more multi- and interdisciplinary, as reflected in hybrid formulations like Positive Education and is highlighting the importance of context, including environment, climate and culture on flourishing and wellbeing.

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