Positive psychology and Aristotle: A convergence of ideas
The field of positive psychology, founded by Martin Seligman (1998), seeks to influence individuals whose lives are “neutral” and increase their psychological well-being. Positive psychology offers a unique perspective on mental health through focusing on individual strengths rather than dysfunction, pathology, and mental illness (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). The goal of positive psychology is to assist individuals in creating meaningful lives through the promotion of positive emotions, individual character strengths, as well as, eudemonic happiness, as key components to optimal mental health. Like many other contemporary theories, positive psychology borrows principles and tenets of philosophies, which preceded its formal conception. The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast virtue, character strengths, relationships, and happiness as presented by positive psychology with Aristotle’s virtue ethics theory.
Positive psychology utilizes five pillars in order to flourish, achieve fulfillment, and satisfaction in life: Positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment (PERMA). The five mainstays of positive psychology are not intended to be means to some other end; these foundations are selected for their own value in personal efforts to flourish, and are fundamental to human well-being. Positive psychology describes the “good life” as being pleasant, engaging, meaningful, and full of achievements and connections. Seligman proposes positive subjective experiences illicit and promote positive emotions. Positive psychology distinguishes two types of happiness that can be derived from experiences and events: Hedonic and eudemonic happiness. Hedonism describes immediate sensory gratification, with focus on the maximization of pleasure and the minimization of pain; Conversely, eudemonia, describes “true happiness” which involves identifying one’s virtues, cultivating them, and living a life congruent with these ideals. Contemporary research suggests that eudemonia is a better predictor of life satisfaction than hedonistic pleasure; findings from a study conducted by Huta, Park, Peterson, & Seligman (2005) demonstrate that those who pursue eudemonic goals and activities are more satisfied than those who solely pursue pleasure. (Peterson, 2006)
It has been stated “happiness is the aim of life, but virtue is the foundations of happiness” (Thomas Jefferson, 1819). Seligman proposes that the identification and use of positive individual strengths of character, associated with virtue, are important components to achieving eudemonic happiness and in creating and sustaining a meaningful life. Virtues and strengths can serve as defenses during times of adversity, as well as, have the ability to enhance the healthier moments in life. The Values in Action (VIA) classification system contains 24 strengths of character that are sub-categories of six cross-culturally...