The Rise of Positive Psychology: Linking the Movement to the 6th Kondratieff Cycle

One very interesting question about Positive Psychology is: Why now? Meaning: Why is it booming at this point in time, why is it gaining so much momentum, why is it turning into a – sort of – movement, attracting the attention of thousands of researchers (plus: institutions that fund research) and practitioners in business, education, healthcare – and elsewhere?

An easy answer could be: Because Marty Seligman chose it as the central topic of his tenure as president of the APA in 1998. Apart from being a brilliant researcher, Marty has proven to be a very good “salesman” and is also highly skilled at securing grants and other third-party funds. But I guess this response is too simple.

The core ideas of Positive Psychology (first and foremost: looking at the “positive” side of the continuum that comprises human behavior and development) have been around for a while, starting with some of the Greek philosophers – and leading all the way up to 20th century humanistic psychologists such as Viktor Frankl, Erich Fromm, and Abraham Maslow. They all do have their well-deserved spot in the psychology hall of fame – and they are widely respected for their (theoretical) contributions. But they did not really manage to turn their ideas into a widely-accepted and especially well-researched “field”, a broad and comprehensive sub-domain of the academic community.

All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come. (Victor Hugo)

Turns out it may not be their fault after all. There is a good chance that they were simply introducing their ideas to the world…too early. Positive Psychology may be booming during this era of economic development (and human development in general) because it could be the decisive force to spur growth and well-being over the next 50 years (or so…).

Positive Psychology and the sixth Kondratieff Wave

Enter Nikolai Kondratieff (1892-1938). Kondratieff devised an economic theory that today is known as Kondratieff Cycles (often called „theory of the long waves“). They are a concept in macro-economics that describes the development (expansion, stagnation, recession) of entire economies. Yet in contrast to most modern economic theories, Kondratieff did not focus on cycles that last for a few years. He tried to describe waves that last approximately 50-60 years.

A core concept of the theory is the notion of “basic innovations”: Kondratieff posited that a wave arises from the clustering of technical innovations that consecutively serve to launch technological revolutions that in turn create leading industrial or commercial sectors (please see the following graph taken from a research report created by German insurance giant Allianz for a basic overview of the first five cycles – and a projection for the upcoming sixth cycle):

Kobdratieff Waves

As you can see our economy is depicted as entering the sixth wave since the first industrial revolution. What you can also see is a list of candidates for the basic innovations that are projected to drive economic growth during the upcoming cycle (e.g. nanotechnology, biotechology, green-tech).

But there´s another important candidate on the list that is also elaborated on in the Allianz whitepaper – but was introduced to the public a lot earlier through the book The Sixth Kondratieff by Leo Nefiodow (which has recently been reissued in a 6th edition): Holistic health. This encompasses all those products and (medical) services that cater to the needs of an aging society. But it also decidedly incorporates all the services that cater to the psycho-social wellbeing of the workforces in our organizations.

This is where Positive Psychology as a growth driver may tie in. Phenomena such as the burnout syndrome have been on the rise for at least the past 15 years – resulting in billions and billions lost for corporations and society as a whole as a result of absence from work and medical costs (…and I´m not even trying to incorporate the “psychological costs”; and the “social costs” for families, friends, communities). And according to Gallup, the U.S. economy loses some 450-550 billion Dollar per year due to a disengaged workforce (for Germany, the number is depicted at around 130 billion Euro).

Positive Psychology (especially positive organizational scholarship) offers well-researched and at the same time practical solutions for (a lot of) these problems, at the individual and organizational level. For an overview, you might want to check the recently published book How to Be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact by editors Jane Dutton and Gretchen Spreitzer. Other valuable books can be found on this list.

To sum up: I propose Positive Psychology may be the decisive basic innovation of the 6th Kondratieff wave.

What do you think of this?

10 thoughts on “The Rise of Positive Psychology: Linking the Movement to the 6th Kondratieff Cycle

  1. Sehr inspirierend, Nico, danke! Ich könnte mir vorstellen, dass die 6. Welle vielleicht auch dazu führt, dass wir den scheinbaren Gegensatz aus Geist-Materie aufheben und so einen anderen “Spirit” in unserer Wirtschaft bekommen (Siglinda Oppelt) und Heilungs- und Entwicklungsprozesse erleichtern (3. NLP-Generation). Doch wenn das alles so ist/kommt: Warum dann gerade jetzt all das Grauen und Rückständige in der Welt? Letztes Aufbäumen von etwas, dessen Untergang ansteht? Jedenfalls passen diese barbarischen Ereignisse und das positive Menschenbild nicht gut zusammen…


  2. It could also be as simple as Marty Seligman collaborating and including some of the best scientist/researcher/professionals/students to help him bring this movement along.


    • Yes, that is very well possible. Then I would ask: Why didn´t he start 20 years earlier? Most of the big ideas were already there (SWB, Flow etc.). The one big thing that came only later on was Fredrickson´s Broaden-and-Built theory and Grit…


  3. Your question reminds me of a boss I use to have; whenever I came up with a great idea, he’d ask me why I didn’t think of it before??!!


    • Well, Marty himself thinks a lot about topics such as individual and societal “callings” right now – and people “being drawn by the future”. I don´t intend to underestimate his role in all of this. It´s just a question: Is that all – or is there “something else”? Is PP an idea whose time has (or had) come?


  4. What an interesting association of ideas/concepts! Expanding and enlarging the time of observation should be a ‘must’ in all human and social sciences, indeed!


  5. To me it is part of a larger movement and it is the convergence of brain science, mindfulness, social emotional education as well as positive psychology. The author, as is typical of many Western experts, fail to mention the positive psychology embedded in Eastern traditions. And Western psychology is learning from the East – even if not fully acknowledged in the West.


  6. I find the idea of positive psychology creating a work force so efficient it transforms the economy deeply creepy. More to the point, positivity is only one half of reality. Positive psychology is hemorrhaging into popular culture, continued efforts to artificially push culture into the “positive” will only make it harder for us to face negative realities, like the fact that 8,000 children under five die of malnutrition per day and none of the billions spent researching how to make middle-upper class americans happier will save them. The entire positive psychology movement is a distraction, at best a bandaid for the subconscious cultural angst of a human race with no purpose, and a growing sense of helplessness entrapment in the mechanisms of corporate and political organizations which have no genuine care for the wellbeing of humanity. Most disturbingly, the positivity movement, like a well designed virus, contains within itself a natural defense against truth; truth is negative. The narrative that anyone can be inspired to greatness is too convenient an excuse to leave systems of injustice intact. Abandon the.


    • Dear “Mad Dog Jones”,
      somebody once told me that starting a conversation/debate is pretty useless unless there is at least a level of 60% to 70% agreement on that topic right from the start. As I agree with only about 20% to 30% of the claims you make (e.g., that humanity as a whole should do considerably more to fight poverty and hunger), I guess we should leave it at that. I´d just like to point your attention to this post – where you could see that some of the most renowned researchers in the field very much acknowledge that Positive Psychology currently focuses to much in individual well-being – and to little on the “greater good”:
      Best regards, Nico


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