In K. M. Sheldon,T. B. Kashdan, & M. F. Steger (2011).
Designing Positive Psychology: Taking Stock and Moving Forward
New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 228-247.
Introduction: Positive Psychology and Personality Science
Positive psychology and personality science emerged virtually simultaneously as the new millennium appeared on our horizon. The aspirations and research agendas of these two intellectual movements overlap yet their core tasks differ.[i] The central concern of positive psychology is to reorient psychology to positive features of human conduct that have been understudied in conventional psychology such as hope, happiness, exceptional accomplishment, virtuous action and human flourishing (Sheldon, Frederickson, Rathunde, Csikszentmihalyi & Haidt, 2000.) In exploring these topics positive psychology is concerned with aspects of human thought, feeling and action that are, in Peterson’s (2006) terms, “north of neutral.” Personality science, the hub of which is an invigorated and expanded personality psychology, aims to explore and integrate the full range of diverse influences on personality drawing on disciplines ranging from molecular genetics to narrative theory (Cervone & Mischel, 2002a; Little, 2005, 2006). Its explorations extend both north and south of neutral. I suggest that the geographic center of personality science is essentially equatorial.
My goal for this chapter is to reflect on how these two movements have co-evolved and how they may continue to do so. The key substantive question I explore is this: to what extent and in what ways are positive emotions, orientations, and actions critical for human well-being? Drawing on research in personality science I will make the case that for some individuals, under certain circumstances, adopting what I will call a northern tilt will be highly adaptive. Under other circumstances, however, an upward bound approach to life might be less adaptive. At its worst, unmitigated positivity might catch us unawares and bring us to our knees. Continue reading