What are some myths associated with positive psychology?

Ronald Siegel
Positive psychology is the branch of psychology that studies mental health rather than illness, seeking to learn how normal life can be more fulfilling, and to identify the practices that individuals and communities can use to foster greater happiness. Some criticisms and responses from advocates of positive psychology are as follows:

Criticism: Positive psychology ignores suffering and denigrates sadness.
Response: Most mental health research has focused on treating disorders, whereas positive psychology sheds light on previously ignored areas of positive emotion and meaning that are important to people's quality of life. Positive psychology embraces the full range of emotions, including sadness, and attempts to help people become more resilient in the face of adversity.

Criticism: Proponents of positive psychology suggest practices and techniques based on too little evidence from scientific research.
Response: Advocates of positive psychology say that they are committed to controlled, rigorous research, but at the same time are willing to suggest that people try various interventions (meditation, visualization, and others) if they are not harmful and make intuitive sense. Even within conventional medicine, many low-risk medical and psychological interventions are practiced based upon anecdotal evidence until more solid research can be conducted.

Criticism: Positive psychology is religion in disguise.
Response: While some of positive psychology echoes themes that have been part of religious traditions for centuries—especially those suggesting that happiness is less likely to be found in the pursuit of material things and pleasures and more likely to appear with engagement with other people and meaning outside oneself—much of the field is based on scientific research. There is no need to embrace a particular religious doctrine to appreciate and use these real and practical insights and techniques.

Criticism: Happy people are foolish or naive.
Response: The expression "sadder but wiser" only goes so far. Happy people are no less intelligent, and there is some evidence that happy people are more able to look squarely at negative information and learn from it.

Criticism: Happy people are unmotivated or lazy.
Response: On the contrary, people who report being happy are more likely to perform better on the job and be conscientious workers. Passive, sedentary activities are less likely to bring happiness than more active and challenging pursuits.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.