Positive Psychology: Is it about Pleasure? Or Meaning? Or both?

The silence on Mappalicious is officially over. I´ve been travelling over the last 14 days and obviously have been too busy actually living my life in order to write about it in addition. And while doing this, I´ve made an interesting discovery: you can spend your days in New York (arguably the most exciting place on Earth) with a bunch of really nice people and a great program (Broadway musical, boat tour on the Hudson, party at one of the best rooftop bars in town etc.) – and still end up crying your eyes out in the hotel room. Just because you miss baby boy so much. True story…

Mika_Nico

Which raises a question on the nature of Positive Psychology:

Is Positive Psychology about leading a happy, pleasurable life? Or is it about leading a virtuous, meaningful life?

The answer is: both aspects are important – but if you would ask Marty Seligman, he´d say the emphasis clearly should be on cultivating strengths, virtues, and meaning. While experiencing lots of positive emotion definitley is a goal in Positive Psychology (because it just feels good to feel good; but more important: because positive emotions produce lots of beneficial ‘side effects’) they are only one element (P) of PERMA, Seligman’s theory of human flourishing.

On the overarching level, it is possible to distinguish between the quest for hedonic (pleasurable) and eudaimonic (virtuous) experiences. Both clearly are important for leading a ‘full’ life, but Eudaimonia may just be a little more sustainable in the long run. When creating a 2×2 matrix with Eudaimonia on the one axis and Hedonia on the other, it will look like this:

Hedonia_Eudaimonia

  • When a human being experiences high levels of positive emotion and the presence of meaning, worthwhile goals, connection to other human beings etc., this can be characterized as ‘the full life’ or ‘Flourishing’ in the official diction.
  • The absence of both dimensions is called ‘the empty Life’ or ‘Languishing’ – a condition that is closely tied with depression.
  • If someone is high on the hedonic dimension but relatively low on Eudaimonia, I like to call it ‘the sweet life’ (‘Settling’ in the official lingo). By way of example, imagine the prototypical billionaire heir that squanders his family´s money on the French Riviera. It´ll surely be pleasurable but may also seem somewhat shallow.
  • On the other hand, when there´s a considerable lack of Hedonia, this condition can be termed ‘the sour life’ or ‘Striving’ in official Positive Psychology speak. You might want to imagine the epitome of an old unmarried lady that spends all of her time and money on ‘good causes’ but forgets herself on the way. It is admirable but may also seem a little ‘anemic’.

If you´d like to learn more: I´ve written an article in a coaching magazine on that topic about a year ago. It´s in German unfortunately – but I know that many German-speaking people are reading this blog, too…

One thought on “Positive Psychology: Is it about Pleasure? Or Meaning? Or both?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s