Term Paper: Primer in Positive Psychology

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Christopher Peterson is one of the founders of the discipline of positive psychology. As professor of U. And Michigan since 1986, he has become one of the most noted psychologists of the 20th century. His textbook "Primer for Positive Psychology" is a witty and insightful look into the new study of positive psychology. He not only attempts to define positive psychology, but also show how it can be applied to our daily lives and how it will be instrumental in our understand of happiness. Positive psychology is a new and emerging field, it is the "scientific study of what goes right in life, from birth to death and at all stops in between." The following is a comprehensive review and analysis of this influential book.

Positive psychology has its roots in traditional social psychology. The initial purpose of Peterson's narrative is to explain how positive psychology evolved from the primary study of social and cognitive psychology. In specific, positive psychology takes seriously the examination of the specifics of happiness. It focuses on improving the mental functioning of human beings above their normal mental health. Peterson argues that the study of psychology as a tradition has always focused on what "mental illness" and disease, and as a result can only be applied to a specific and minority presence within the wide spectrum of human society. Although he agrees that all human beings suffer from some sort of mental limitation, the principle concern of human beings is with their overall state of happiness rather than any specific limitation. Thus, the study of positive psychology focuses on "mental wellness" rather than "mental illness." This is one of the principle distinctions that Peterson makes within his opening analysis.

Peterson begins with an analysis of positive psychology from the perspective of evolution. The fact remains that despite current research and consistent social attempts to resolve the issue of happiness, positive states of mind is extremely elusive. For the majority of individuals, other than certain religious zealots and others who have deeply practiced the art of meditation, the art of positive mentality comes fleetingly. Peterson argues that the evolution has as much to do with this crisis as any social or psychological implication. There are three primary evolutionary reasons why positivity is hard to maintain. He argues that first, the current environment in which people live in is very different from ancestral environments to which their bodies and their minds have adapted, and this implies that the majority of human society is misfit for their current social environment. Second, human beings have developed a complex series of distress mechanisms as early alert mechanisms. These mechanisms are constantly functional and therefore disrupt our ability to maintain a positive state of mind. Jealousy for instance, is a distress mechanism that might alert people to ensure the fidelity of their spouse. Finally, evolutionary theory states that natural selection tends to be competitive and a zero-sum game, therefore creating a spirit of consistent one-upmanship. This evolutionary approach to understanding happiness is extremely interesting, it presents a unique perspective and understanding of critical human needs. Peterson continues in his narrative to understand the implications of evolutionary effects on positive psychology. He posits that one of the fundamental reasons that people are unhappy is the paradox of social connectivity. While individuals in modern society live with many more people than their ancestors did, they are also intimate with few individuals, thus creating greater loneliness and alienation amidst the social environment.

Another major theme within Peterson's book is the subjective well-being. This term refers to what people think and how they feel about their lives, and the cognitive and affective conclusions they reach when they evaluate their existence. Research has shown that subjective well-being have positive implications for psychological well being. In essence, those individuals who constantly think and reflect upon their current positions inevitably are happier because they come to terms with their position in life. Peterson explains that many of the personal traits that individuals develop are dependent upon the characteristic of subjective well-being. Most specifically, the dispositional trait of optimism mediates between external events and our personal interpretation of them. Peterson explains that optimism involves cognitive, emotional and motivational components. Individuals who are high optimism tend to be having better moods, and thus… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Primer in Positive Psychology.  (2007, May 1).  Retrieved November 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/primer-positive-psychology/516627

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