Positive Psychology

Chapter 1: What is Positive Psychology?

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of what goes right in life, from birth to death. “Psychology has a long past, but only a short history” (Boring, 1950, p. ix). It corrects the imbalance and to challenge the pervasive assumptions of the disease model by focusing on: (1) Strength; (2) Building the best things in life; (3) Fulfilling the lives of healthy people; (4) Promoting human potential.

PP urges that human goodness and excellence are as authentic as disease, disorder, and distress. PP studies: (1) Positive traits and dispositions (kindness, curiosity, ability to work as a team); (2) Values, interest, talents, and abilities; (3) Social situations

Within the framework of PP, one can find a comprehensive scheme for describing and understanding the good life.

The three pillars of PP are:

  1. Positive subjective experiences (happiness, pleasure, gratification, fulfillment)
  2. Positive individual traits (strengths of character, talents, interests, values)
  3. Positive institutions (families, school, business, communities, societies)

Triggers to PP: the realization that psych had traditionally focused on human problems and how to remedy them. Widely accepted classification manuals: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) from the APA (1994) and Int’l Classification of Diseases (ICD) by WHO (1990). Traditionally, there’s a disease model of human nature. People are seen as flawed and fragile, casualties of cruel environments or bad genetics, and either in denial or recovery. We have become a nation of self-identified victims.

Happiology is misleading. It equates PP with the study of happiness, and a very superficial form at that.

Notes on Humanistic Psychology:

  • Humanism: the doctrine that the needs and values of human beings take precedence over material things, and further, that people cannot be studied simply as part of the material world
  • Self-Actualization: striving to make the most of your potential
  • Existentialism: people are products of their own choices; a person’s experience is primary
  • Phenomenology : an intellectual movement that attempts to describe a person’s conscious experience in terms of meaning for the individual (different than cognitive approaches – as cognitive psychologists create universal theories and phenomenologists start with the experience of a specific individual and attempt to describe it

Positive Psychology regards both the good and bad about life as genuine, whereas humanists often assume that people are inherently good. PP is strongly committed to the scientific method, whereas humanists are often skeptical of science and its ability to shed light on what really matters.

Some findings in PP are seen as commonsensical once articulated. Not so. Common sense can always be asserted after the fact. A few notes: people may be unaware of what influences their judgments and actions. Our memory of events is rarely literal. There are limitations to people’s rationality.

Basic premise of PP: human goodness & excellence are as authentic as are human flaws & inadequacies.

Underlying premise: certain topics should be studied: positive experiences, positive traits, and enabling institutions. The routes to the good life are an empirical matter.

Happy people are more successful at school and work, they have better relationships with others, and they live longer. In a positive emotional state, people are more flexible and creative.

Thomas Kuhn’s (1970) notion of a paradigm shift – scientific progress is marked by periods of stability in which an overarching perspective dominates and dictates the particulars of scientific activity: theory, research, and application. To be sure, progress is made in these periods of so-called normal science, but it is incremental and entails fine-tuning the dominant paradigm. Every once in a while, a new way of conceiving things catches on and this creates a scientific revolution. The old paradigm is displaced and a new era of stability and incremental process begins.

PP is a refocusing of subject matter and not a revolution.

Chapter 2: Learning about Positive Psychology

Kurt Lewin’s (1947) sentiment: the best way to understand a psychological phenomenon is to try and change it. Peterson adds: if you really want to understand something, try and change it among young adolescents.

Scientists and adolescents alike try to remain “cool” and take a skeptical stance. Point out what is wrong in someone else’s ideas rather than what is right. Do not show enthusiasm. Do not do anything that would leave you open to ridicule.

Fun is pleasurable in the moment, but it is a fleeting pleasure. Philanthropy, in contrast, lingers. One of the defining features of pleasure (fun) is that it is fleeting because the psychological apparatus responsible for its experience is governed by a principal of adaptation.

Chapter 3: Pleasure and Positive Experience

Pleasure encompasses “raw feels” (enjoyment of perfume or food) and “higher” pleasures of the mind (enjoyment of a movie or a complicated piece of music). It can be intense (joy, ecstasy) or quiet (contentment, serenity).

Rozin (1999): raw pleasures associated with sensations are generated along the skin on our body’s orifices – who is to say if these orifices are inside or outside of the body?

In animals, play among the young teaches precisely the same motions used as adults to hunt

Pleasure has been largely ignored by psychologists over the years, but those who do study it are typically drawn to a position that it emphasizes its role in the biological evolution of our species. Survival tasks: eating, mating, and raising offspring are activities that produce pleasure.

Anhedonic: people who are incapable of experiencing pleasure

Mere exposure effect: our tendency to “like” objects to which we’re frequently exposed

Endowment effect: our tendency to “like” objects when they’re given to us, even if we didn’t previous like them

Daniel Kahneman (1999) – Peak-end theory: Our memories are influenced by the intensity of the experience, as well as how it ended. (example of the hand in cold water for 60 seconds – when we turn up the temperature for an extra 30 seconds but 1 degree, it makes us have a more positive overall experience). Duration neglect: We essentially overlook how long the experience lasted

Kahneman calls these results “discouraging” but Peterson disagrees. Peterson says they’re only discouraging if one believes that true pleasure resides in the moment and that overall pleasure must be the sum of these moments. (bottom up approach) Peterson says that pleasure exists in all temporal domains (past, present, future)

With good and bad events (lottery winners or recently paralyzed), people consistently overestimate how long their reactions will last. We adapt. Two plausible answers to adaptation: (1) Adaptation protects us from being overwhelmed by external stimuli. (2) Adaptation makes us especially sensitive to changes in our environments.

Positive Emotions

Pleasures are brief, while emotions are much more complex. Darwin suggested that emotions increase chances for survival because they are appropriate responses in the situations where they are experienced. (Fear accompanies the avoidance of danger.) Negative emotions have a specific action tendency (fear makes us run; anger makes us want to attack). Positive emotions (like joy) may activate us, but in a much more vague and diffuse way.

Barbara Fredrickson: Broaden and Build Theory – drawing explicit attention to the positive and showing that insights result when we do something more than simply look at the absence of the negative. Peterson wants to see this theory developed in future. To date, different positive emotions are treated as equivalent insofar as their broadening and building potential. Also, some emotions feel good (lust, pride) but they do quite the opposite of broadening and building.

Positive Affectivity

Positive affectivity (aka hedonic capacity) is the ability to experience positive feelings. It is fairly stable across time and proves to be heritable.

Are you a giggler or a grouch? [Tested by PANAS (Positive and Negative Affect Schedule) questionnaire]

People high in positive affect tend to be more extroverted, more likely to be married, more likely to enjoy their jobs. But what came first – chicken or the egg?


Csikszentmihalyi saw intrinsic motivation in artwork, prompting study of flow. Time passes quickly and it is the experience of working at full capacity. Engaged.

Paradox: Why do people so infrequently engage in the activities that they know will produce flow, even as they acknowledge the experience of flow as desirable? Junk flow/faux flow

Shared flow = team sports, shared experiences

Microflow = very short duration activities (like doodling) that produce flow and may have benefits for restoring attention.


Those who habitually savor are happier, more satisfied with life in general, more optimistic, and less depressed.

Strategies for savoring: (1) Sharing with others; (2) Memory building; (3) Self-congratulations; (4) Sharpening perceptions; (5) Absorption

Chapter 4: Happiness

Happiness is of concern to people in general. It’s called the ungrounded grounder, meaning that it is a rationale that requires no further rationale.

Two recent studies of happiness (that show happiness has long-term consequences for well-being):

  • 114 women who showed authentic smiles (i.e. positive emotions, which were identified by the engagement of their eye muscles while smiling) in their 1958-1960 yearbook photos were more likely to have better marriages as middle aged women (Harker & Keltner, 2001). Physical attractiveness did account for the results.
  • Nuns in the American School Sisters of Notre Dame wrote a short autobiographical essay about their childhood, the schools attended, religious experiences, and reasons for taking vows. Positive emotional content (happiness) was related to longevity, with the happier 25% of nuns living on average ten years longer, yet negative emotional content was unrelated to longevity.

Happiness is not just a feeling in the moment, but an important influencer on the future.

Hedonism essentially means minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure.

Ethical hedonism: it is our moral obligation to maximize our pleasure. (Epicurus, 342-270 BCE)
Hedonistic psychology is alive and well and says the pursuit of pleasure is the way to achieve satisfaction.

Eudaimonia means being true to one’s inner self (demon). True happiness involves identifying one’s virtues and living in accordance with them.

Aristotle considered sensual pleasure (hedonism) to be vulgar.

All versions of eudaimonia share the premise that all people should develop what is best within themselves and use it for the greater good. This constitutes a meaningful life

Those who pursue eudaimonic goals are more satisfied than those who pursue pleasure. Hedonism contributes less to long term happiness. Eudaimonia can trump pleasure as a predictor of life satisfaction

Engagement: flow, a state of total absorption, which may or may not be pleasurable but one through which one loses self-consciousness and a sense of time. Not all flow producing activities can be considered meaningful.

Victory: winning for winning’s own sake, whether this contributes to overall happiness or is wholly distinct from other manifestations of it, has not yet been adequately explored.

One cannot study happiness per se but only particular manifestations of it. Psychologists are concerned with how happiness can be ascertained as concrete and therefore measurable variables.

Three traditional theories of happiness: (1) Hedonism; (2) Desire Theory; (3) Objective List Theory

Theory of Happiness #1 Hedonism

What matters most to us about hedonic experiences is how they end. “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”

Two methodological implications for this bottom-up view of happiness: (1) Experience Sampling Method: Surveys completed by participants at random times during day. Can track experiences of a person over a period of time. It avoids problems with memory and allows research to take surroundings into account. (Current thinking in psychology accords great importance to setting in which behaviors occur: context.) (2) Overall Summary of the Trajectory and Patterns of Their Lives: Does some view their life emerge as happy or meaningful in the presence of overall unfavorable circumstances? Not to use this method would miss the forest for the trees, ignoring the critical sequencing of momentary pleasures.

Theory of Happiness #2 Desire Theory

Happiness is a matter of getting what you want whether or not it involves pleasure. Pleasure and pain are thus not the sole indicators of happiness as in hedonism.

However people reject hypothetical simulations of happiness, because the prefer integrity or earned happiness. (Ex: People reject the Matrix.)

Theory of Happiness #3 Objective List Theory

There really are truly valuable things in the world and happiness entails achieving some number of these: freedom from disease, material comfort, a career, friendships, education, etc. We thus need to determine whether an individual has obtained these things, if they have, they should be happy. The problem is deciding what these things are, and what they are can often conflict (i.e. finish my education or pursue a lucrative career as a professional athlete).

Progress Paradox: Literacy rates are higher; life expectancy is longer; info is more available; material goods that provide safety and comfort are abundant. However, self-reported happiness has not increased in the U.S. People are no happier than counterparts 40 or 50 yrs ago. This theory requires we dismiss what people say about their happiness if it is at odds with their material and objective goods. What counts is what they have.

In summation, currently researchers use a combination of these three approaches and take what people say at face value. Happiness is a personal experience and highly idiosyncratic.

Subjective well-being: Specific notion usually defined as high levels of positive affect, low levels of negative affect, and overall judgment that life is good (life satisfaction).

Quality of life: Broad label for all emotions, experiences, appraisals, expectations and accomplishments that figure into a good life.

There is a growing trend to identify all of these above as SWB or even happiness measures.

Self-Report Surveys are used because they are cheap, simple, and straightforward.

Objections to survey methods: Not foolproof. Results of survey methods are highly dependent upon the conditions in which they are administered. This can be done deliberately or inadvertently. (How we are feeling at the present moment and our general personality colors responses. We can make arbitrary relative judgments, cultural issue of individuality and standing out, other trivial factors)

Counters to the objections: The robustness of variability in responses is debatable; the results of global satisfaction and well-being tend to be highly stable and reliable. Heritability is also reliable and stable. Also, overall well-being may be influenced by how one feels at the moment but how one feels at that moment may the result of one’s overall well-being. Agreements between ESM and stand-alone measures of well-being tend to be substantial.

Note: Asians tend to report lower levels of life satisfaction than rest of the world. Japanese Proverb: “The nail that stands up gets pounded down.”

Domain Specific Measures of Well-Being: Looking at one aspect of life (work, family, health, leisure). In the US, how satisfied one is overall is best predicted by the domain with which one is most satisfied. In Japan, the opposite: overall satisfaction is best predicted by the domain with which one is least satisfied.

To evaluate the adequacy of a test measure: (1) Internal consistency or reliability, stability or test retest reliability – does the same person receive the same score? (2) Validity. Tougher: do happiness surveys truly measure what they intend to measure?

Hard diagnostic tests: When the self-report of symptoms is compared to lab test results. May not exist in principle – psychological characteristics are best measured at their own level of meaning because they are not reducible to another level. So, do theoretically expected results occur and/or do non-expected effects not occur? This can be determined by the accumulated results of studies in different contexts over time.

Positive Correlations with Happiness and Life Satisfaction:

  • 0-.2 (nothing to small): age, gender, education, social class, income, having children, ethnicity, intelligence, physical attractiveness
  • .3 (moderate): number of friends, being married, religiousness, level of leisure activity, physical health, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism (negative correlation), internal locus of control (believing that you have control over what happens to you)
  • .5+ (large): gratitude, optimism, being employed, frequency of sexual intercourse, % of time experiencing positive affect, test-retest reliability of happiness measures, happiness of identical twins, self-esteem

The take away of correlations above: (1) Demographic factors are usually strong determinants of how people live their lives are associated with happiness, but at very low levels. (2) Social interpersonal factors are important – other people matter. (3) Personality traits (your attitude) – optimism, extraversion, self-esteem, internal locus of control – have moderate to strong correlations with happiness. Possible explanation: Happy ppl attribute other positive characteristics to themselves, therefore common methods factor: correlations reflect a way of presenting oneself. (However, observer ratings correlate as well.)

The majority of people are in fact rather happy, demonstrated by large scale global studies.

Correlation does not imply causation.

Happy individuals experience happiness later in life in: marriage, friendship, income, employment, work performance, mental health, and psychological health. Happiness is not a marker of the good life but may be one of its causes.

Third variables: Pesky confounds in the research that are unmeasured but responsible for the apparent association between two variables that are measured.

Depressive Realism: Mildly depressed people tend to make more accurate judgments about the effects of their contribution to the flashing of a green light, they may be more willing to admit that their actions to not directly contribute to all outcomes in their environment.

Boosting Happiness: Some say happiness is limited to confines of the hedonic treadmill. Others say genetics is a high determinant of life satisfaction.

Happiness = set-point + life circumstances + volitional activity

What we can do to increase happiness levels: (1) Find engaging leisure activities. (2) Find a job that lets us do what we do best. (3) Embrace religion (if so inclined). (4) Improve our health and fitness. (5) Try to experience more pleasures. (6) Seek a therapist to reduce anxiety and depression

What can we not do to make ourselves feel better? (1) Do not fret over attractiveness or education level. (2) Do not fret over your salary if you have enough to pay your bills. (3) Do not fret about aging.

Exercises for satisfaction/fulfillment: These had positive results (but varied in length of time that effects lasted): (1) Gratitude Visit (write and deliver a letter of gratitude); (2) Three Good Things (daily for a week, write down that went well that day and explain why); (3) You at Your Best (write a story about an event that brought out the best in you and review it daily for a week); (4) Identifying Signature Strengths (take online measure of strengths of character strengths and note your highest core; these strengths more in the following week); (5) Using Signature Strengths in a Novel Way (take online measure of strengths of character strengths and note your highest core; use these strengths in “novel ways”)

It is not known whether “more” of these interventions will inevitably lead to more happiness. The challenge for becoming happy is not through quick fixes, but by incorporating happiness boosting exercises into our daily routines.

Chapter 5: Positive Thinking

Harvard Study of Adult Development by George Vaillant (late 1930s): Top 3% of Harvard students (mainly WASPs from the Northeastern US) followed in longevity study to determine how styles of thinking early in life might be related to physical health later in life – attrition rate of near 0%. This was a unique source of information about coping, wisdom, aging, mental health, and spirituality. Peterson examined essays in which those who had returned from WWII had described their “difficult wartime experiences.” If he described his negative events by pointing to flaws inherent in himself, he was rated negatively; however, if he explained bad event by distancing himself from their causes, he was deemed optimistic. Theses score were compared with scores of health that were measured 35 years later and revealed a correlation coefficient (r= 0.37).

A president’s perceived positivity was related to their being elected in 18 of 22 cases examined. This suggests that optimism has a contagious effect. Since the publication of these findings, enlightenment effects have taken place and each candidate now describes themselves as the most positive.

Cognitive Psychology: Study of how people acquire, retain, transform, and use knowledge – concerned with learning, attention, perception, memory, judgment, and problem-solving. Recent development: the content of thought exerts an influence over these processes and vice versa. Content does matter. For ex, processes responsible for memory differ according to the info recalled – faces, odor, narrative sequences.

Pollyanna Principle: We all seem to organize the content of thought in a way that is positive. We tend to think of most things as good, of ourselves as above average, of our experiences as more pleasant than they may have been, and that our futures will be brighter than they may be.

Cognition: Thoughts to which we are aware at any given moment, but also all of the processes that underlie our thought, some of which can be brought into awareness and some of which cannot.

Consciousness: Awareness of one’s current environment and mental life. “The front page of the mind.” Characterized as selective attention. Consciousness is engaged when something puzzling occurs – most are negative and urgent. An animal focuses its sensory systems on threats and then mobilizes to deal with them. This could explain why most of our attention is focused on the negative, or why we focus on what could go wrong rather than what is going well. The default to positive plays out on a non-conscious level and is shown in all of the ways described by the Pollyana Principle. Perhaps our selective attention to the negative explains why PP is not such an obvious field

Optimism: A mood or attitude associated with an expectation about the social or material future – one for which the evaluator regards as socially desirable, to his advantage, or for his pleasure. Also, the occurrence of positive emotion depends on what the individual deems desirable. (Note: Optimism has long been treated with suspicion by thoughtful people.)

Optimism linked to: positive mood and good morale, perseverance and problem solving, life-long freedom from trauma, popularity, good health, academic, military, political, and occupational success (Note: Documented benefits of optimism may be bounded. It can have costs in certain circumstances.)

Pessimism linked to: depression, morbidity, passivity, failure, social estrangement, and mortality

Optimism as Human Nature: Optimism was viewed negatively because it seemed to purport the denial of reality. The epitome of good psychological functioning was thus the accurate perception of reality. This shifted in 1960-1970s when cognitive psychologists began to show that people are often not realistic in how they act or think. Optimism: The Biology of Hope, (Tiger, 1979) says that optimism started when people began to think ahead. It emerged as people needed a way to counteract the psychological distress caused by an unforeseeable future. Optimism is a characteristic which people possess in varying degrees.

Dispositional Optimism: The global expectation that good things will be plentiful in the future and bad things scarce. How people pursue goals is important. People have optimism if they demonstrate efforts to maintain goals whereas pessimistic people do not.

Explanatory Style: Introduced to help account for the the boundary conditions of human helplessness following uncontrollability. Those who explain the causes of bad events as a result of environment or situation have a more optimistic explanatory style. Those who explain bad events as a result of their inherent shortcomings have a pessimistic explanatory style. (Optimists underestimate likelihood of future bad events, and believe they can forestall such events through their own actions.) It is measured with Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ) which is a self-report showing hypothetical events asking to find one major cause of event if it happened to them. It is also measured with Content Analysis of Verbatim Explanations (CAVE): allows written or spoken material to be scored (like with the president and Harvard example at beginning of chapter)

Hope: integrates to versions of optimism – expectation and agency – stating that goal-directed expectations are composed of two separate components: (1) Agency = determination that goals can be achieved; (2) Pathways: the individual’s belief that successful plans can be generated to reach goals.
Hope is measured with a brief self-report scale where respondents agree or disagree:

  • I energetically pursue my goals (agency)
  • There are lots of ways around my problem (pathways)

Little Optimism: Specific expectations about positive outcomes. (I will find a good parking space)

Big Optimism: Refers to larger, less specific outcomes. (Our nation is on the verge of something great.)

The Reality Basis of Optimism: Optimism can have costs if too unrealistic. Wishful thinking can distract people from making and obtaining realistic goals. (“John Henryism” is the over confidence in one’s ability to control all events in their lives solely through hard work.) People should be optimistic when the future is changeable and goals are obtainable but not otherwise.

Final Notes: Optimism is not solely a cognitive characteristic; it has inherent emotional and motivational components. Religious individuals tend to show more optimism. We want individuals to have appropriate levels of challenges to attain goals, but not challenges that lead to discouragement. In capitalist societies, over optimism about obtaining material goods can lead to alienation when those ends are not met. “Hot seat technique” aka “rapid-fire technique” is quickly disputing negative thoughts and replacing them with positive. Positive expectations can be self-fulfilling; therefore good reason to teach optimism to young. Stress and trauma can take their toll on optimism. Explanatory style of kids and parents converge – perhaps because of modeling?

Chapter 6: Character Strengths

The Values in Action (VIA) Institute was created by the Mayerson Foundation in 2000 to provide the conceptual and empirical means of describing positive youth development. What does “good character” mean, and how can it be measured? Peterson and Seligman formed a team to produce: VIA Classification of Character Strengths

Psychologists had once been interested in character, but it fell out of favor because personal values could unintentionally pervade “objective” research. In fact, Gordon Allport banished the term ‘character,’ arguing that it was a philosophical matter rather than psychological – he urged psychologists to focus on presumably objective traits stripped of moral significance.

How to approach good character? Is it defined by what someone does not do, or is there a more active meaning? Does it exist in degrees, or is it binary (yes/no)? Is it a single characteristic? Or does it have multiple aspects?

VIA says that good character is… A family of positive dispositions (e.g., perspective, teamwork, kindness) and its components are called character strengths. It is more than bad character negated or minimized. Character strengths must be defined and assessed in their own right.

PP asserts that human goodness and excellence are as authentic as distress and disease. Empirical question: Which strengths of character are culturally bound? (Ex: Punctuality will clearly have different value in different cultures.) The project was considered a classification (i.e., descriptive) rather than a taxonomy (i.e., explaining relationships between cases). They counted six “core virtues.”

Identification of Character Strengths: They looked at a lot of different literatures and media, to cover all the potential strengths, then narrowed the list by combining duplicates and applying criteria. To be a character strength it must:

  1. Be ubiquitous (widely recognized across cultures)
  2. Be fulfilling (contributes to fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness)
  3. Morally valued (valued in its own right)
  4. Not diminish others (it elevates those who witness it)
  5. Have a nonfelicitous opposite (has obvious antonyms that are ‘negative’)
  6. Be trait-like (like personality traits)
  7. Be measurable
  8. Be distinct
  9. Have paragons (is strikingly embodied by some individuals)
  10. Have prodigies (precociously shown in some youth)
  11. Be potentially absent in some individuals
  12. Have enabling institutions

VIA Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues is 24 character strengths under the six core virtues. The six core virtues are: (1) Strengths of wisdom and knowledge; (2) Strengths of courage; (3) Strengths of humanity; (4) Strengths of justice; (5) Strengths of temperance; (6) Strengths of transcendence.

Character strengths differ from talents and abilities because they (character strengths) fall into the moral domain. Talents seem to be valued more for their tangible consequences (acclaim, wealth) than are the former. When talents are left unused the talented courts disdain for squandering their abilities; strengths and virtues, not.

The VIA Classification is unique because it is not only articulating what character strengths are, but aims to assess them as well. Self-reporting has been shown to work for a range of positive attributes. Moreover, asking people about behaviors associated with virtues rather than the virtues directly is often helpful. (e.g., don’t ask people if they’re brave, ask them if they take unpopular stands.)

There is a remarkable similarity in the relative endorsements of the 24 strengths around the world. The most commonly endorsed are: kindness, fairness, authenticity, gratitude, and open-mindedness. There is an overall agreement between US adults and adolescents, but less so than between US adults and international adults. Strengths of the heart are more closely tied to life satisfaction than other strengths are. Immediately after 9/11, faith, hope and love showed increases among US respondents, but not among Europeans. When asked about jobs, relationships, and leisure pastimes, most people expressed an interest in something congruent with their strengths of character (as opposed to salary, status, location, etc.). Respondents who experienced a crisis showed elevated levels of certain character strengths relative to those who had not experienced one.

Chapter 7: Values

The study of values starts with perspective of what others deem worthy. Challenge of positive psychologists is to refrain from endorsing certain values over another.

Value: An enduring belief that some goals are preferable to others. Preferred goal that one regards as a) inherently good: being an ultimate goal; b) absolutely good: holding in all circumstances; and c) universally good: applying to all people. Beliefs held about desirable ends transcend specific situations and guide how we select actions and evaluate others and ourselves.

Values are not attitudes. Values are abstract ideals, whereas attitudes are favorable or unfavorable evaluations of a specific object or issue. Values are more central to individual’s self-concept. Abstract values are less related to specific behaviors than specific attitudes. Values are more stable across lifespan than attitudes. Ex: People should be kind toward others = value. Drivers should use turn signals = attitude, because it is much more specific.

Values are not traits. Traits are dispositions to think, feel, act in consistent ways, whereas values are beliefs about desirable goals which may not map neatly onto specific or consistent behaviors. Some traits positive (kindness), negative (neuroticism), but many are neutral (introversion/extraversion). We use our values (but not our traits) to judge others’ conduct.

Values are not norms, although both embody a sense of oughtness. Norms are thoroughly situational-shared beliefs that one should act in certain ways in certain circumstances. “Wedding guests should bring presents.” Values cut across situations. “People should be polite to everyone.” We tend to chafe under norms and feel that they constrain who we really are. Values do not constrain us; they are who we are.

Values are not needs, though both influence how we behave. Needs have a biological connotation (hunger, thirst, sex) and function as motives to move us to behave in ways to satisfy them. Values provide socially acceptable ways of articulating needs and dictate desirable or undesirable ways to gratify a given need. Marriage vs prostitution to satisfy sexual desire.

Values are not tastes or interests, as we have little expectation that others should have same interests.

Values can have both costs and benefits. The paradox of choice: choice and the freedom to make choices are bedrock values in much of the world, especially in the US, but choice has a downside. As the number of options increases, so does the amount of time spent making decisions, and the after-the-fact regret.

People have a style in how they make choices when confronted with a variety of options. Their style is arrayed along continuum.

Maximizers: Optimize whatever payoff follows a choice and make the best choice. Takes them longer to make decision, and they have less satisfaction with decisions. It has even been shown that they have lower life satisfaction than…

Satisficers: Make a choice that is satisfactory. Good-enough.

Values and behaviors are most likely to be congruent when: values from direct experience more consistent than secondhand values; the degree to which a value helps to define a person’s self-image; whether people are self-conscious while they are behaving – mindless behavior tends to be inconsistent with values; when there is a strong norm for or against acting in a particular way, one’s value exerts little influence on behavior.

Social functions of values: People in a group profess the same sorts of values at least insofar as the values relevant to group’s purpose. Shared values are one of the defining characteristics of a group. Shared values regularize behavior within a group by articulating a general rule and reduce conflict. They also justify sanctions against deviants and offenders and allow groups to judge other groups.

Cataloging Values

Rokeach: Terminal values: beliefs about ideal states of existence (comfortable life, world at peace, equality, pleasure, salvation). Instrumental values: beliefs about ideal modes of conduct that presumably aid and abet terminal values. Note: Instrumental-terminal distinction does not hold up in practice.

Gordon Allport: Catalog of values, types of people, six basic values: (1) Theoretical: valuing truth and its discovery; (2) Economic: valuing what is useful and practical; (3) Aesthetic: valuing what is beautiful and harmonious; (4) Political: valuing power, influence, and renown; (5) Social: valuing other people and their welfare; (6) Religious: valuing transcendence and communion with the larger universe.

Ronald Inglehart: Uses Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to specify goals that groups of people most value. Recast each need as an end state that people might regard as desirable, catalog of values. Progression from survival to self-expressive values. Survival values: correspond to needs at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. Self-expressive values: correspond to needs at the top.

Sissela Bok: Tried to identify universally held values. People in all times and places must endorse three sets of values a) positive duties of mutual care and reciprocity; (b) negative injunctions against violence, deceit, and betrayal; and (c) norms for rudimentary fairness and procedural justice in cases of conflict regarding positive duties and/or negative injunctions. Bok called these minimalist values and declared them the minimal requirements for a viable society. Maximalist values are, more numerous, extensive, elaborated, and culturally situated (teachings of the Catholic Church in contraception and abortion)

Shalom Schwartz: defined values that were universally required for individuals and groups to survive and thrive, pointing specifically to the (a) biologically based needs of the individual; (b) requirements for social coordination and interaction; and (c) institutional demands concerning group welfare.

Many categorizations fail to recognize the emergence of a new value among people because of its reliance on extant theorizing about old values.

Measuring Values: The most typical way of measuring values relies on self-report, with considerable variation. Some researchers ask respondents about specific attitudes and behaviors that presumably reflect a given value. From the pattern of responses, the value is inferred.
Universal Structure of Human Values: 10 values are consistently distinguished around the world:

  1. Achievement: personal success through the demonstration of competence in accordance with society’s standards, e.g., ambition
  2. Benevolence: preservation and enhancement of the welfare of others in one’s immediate social circle, e.g., forgiveness
  3. Conformity: restraint of actions that violate social norms or expectations, e.g., politeness
  4. Hedonism: personal gratification and pleasure, e.g., enjoyment of food, sex, and leisure
  5. Power: social status, prestige, dominance, and control over others, e.g., wealth
  6. Security: safety, harmony, and stability of society, e.g., law and order
  7. Self-direction: independent thought and action, e.g., freedom
  8. Stimulation: excitement, novelty, and challenge in life, e.g., variety
  9. Tradition: respect for/acceptance of one’s cultural or religious customs, e.g., religious devotion
  10. Universalism: understanding, appreciating, and protecting all people and nature, e.g., social justice, equality, environmentalism

A circumplex model has been applied, structured on 4 corners, openness to change vs. conservation and self-transcendence vs. self enhancement. Values close on the circle are compatible. Opposite sides, incompatible and not likely to be held by same people. Shows relative emphases. Can make sense of someone’s value system and the tradeoffs that often result within it.

Value self-confrontation: People may place insufficient emphasis on a particular value because they have not confronted the contradiction among their value priorities. Strategy entails confronting people with their value priorities, explicitly interpreting the contradictions, and seeing what happens. In the vast majority of studies testing value self-confrontation, change in the expected direction occurs

World Values Survey: An ambitious study that periodically surveys people around the world with respect to their attitudes, beliefs, and values. Sampled—81 different countries containing 85% of the world’s population, and the respondents in each nation are representative samples. Summary of his findings: The values emphasized in a nation are strongly associated with its political and economic institutions. As nations develop industrially, specialized and educated labor forces emerge, and these economically advantaged individuals value autonomy and self-expression in all spheres of life, including politics. With industrialization comes trends toward democracy and the endorsement of values that are liberal and secular. When a nation shows value changes, it is usually through a process called generational replacement and not because given individuals change what they value. Whether people hold traditional or secular values is unrelated to their reported happiness, but the value difference reflected in what they say is important in determining their own happiness. The US is an anomaly: the most-affluent nation on the planet yet one that remains highly traditional in its value priorities, especially with respect to religion and nationalism.

Chapter 8: Interests, Abilities, and Accomplishments

No more than 20% of US workers believe that their jobs allow them to do and be their best on a regular basis. Yet companies that are filled with people allowed to do their best not only perform well financially, but also have low rates of absenteeism and turnover, and high levels of morale and loyalty.

According to Gallup, we can most improve by strengthening what we already do well. Context is important in determining who does or does not excel at some endeavor. Everyone has some kind of talent.

Interests: We all have interests (or passions) that define who we are. Some are shared; others are private. Common interests seem to be a critical aspect of friendship. We should not rank some passions over others or judge people for their interests.

Competence: People are motivated to behave in a competent way, regardless of what they are doing. Competence is never sated. We experience pleasure in doing things well regardless of what else our behavior produces.

Aristotelian Principle (Philosopher John Rawls, 1971): Other things being equal, human beings enjoy the exercise of their realized capacities … and thus enjoyment increases the more the capacity is realized, or the greater its complexity.

Three main types of Interests: Leisure and Recreation, Individual Interests, Vocational Interests

Leisure and Recreation (Type of Interest #1): Almost everyone reports doing something during their down time. People engage in an incredible variety of activities. The amount of time people devote to their leisure activities varies greatly. (Women have less leisure time than men. Leisure time is the same for lower and middle class. Lower class engage in small variety of activities. Retirees have more time, but few take up new interests after retirement. How much time you spend on leisure activities is strong predictor of life satisfaction. Recent US trends: more hours at work and fewer hours available for leisure. Europe is the opposite. Leisure is strongly related to life satisfaction because there’s intrinsic satisfaction with exercising one’s skills. Many leisure activities directly produce pleasure (Physical activities, music, contact with others)

Well-Developed Individual Interests (Type of Interest #2): Interest that is marked by a deep intellectual and emotional involvement. Those with one are incessantly curious about the subject and driven to learn ever more about it. Because personal interests lead you to create articulate structures of knowledge, you would probably agree with these statements about your favorite high school subject: “Relative to the other things that I know, I know a lot about _______.” Once the basics are established, specific knowledge evokes further interest, and an upward spiral ensues. They may be intrinsically rewarding, but they do not emerge in a vacuum. Critical in sparking and sustaining academic interest are teachers or mentors.

Vocational Interests (Type of Interest #3): Young people should try out as many jobs as possible. They should talk to adults about their jobs. There are interest inventories that are questionnaires designed to match a person’s expressed interests with jobs they are likely to be satisfied with

Ability is shown when people differ in their performance of some behavior for which there is an objective standard (e.g., a stopwatch). Terms describing the ability domain: talent, skill, aptitude, capacity, and intelligence. Note: there is a long-standing and legitimate debate about how valid the distinction between achievement and ability is.

General and Specific Intelligence: One point of view holds that intelligence is singular: a highly general characteristic widely exhibited across different areas (Galton, 1869). General intelligence (“g”) is whatever underlies the fact that a person’s score on tests across various topics tend to correlate (Spearman, 1904). Specific intelligences (“s”) account for the variance from test to test.

Gardner, 1983: Multiple Intelligences: Distinguishes between seven basic abilities: (1) Linguistic; (2) Logical-mathematical; (3) Spatial; (4) Musical; (5) Bodily; (6) Personal; (7) Social. The first three are abstract and usually what is measured by intelligence tests.

Criteria Gardner used to identify them: (1) Can a particular set of skills be selectively isolated by brain damage? (2) Are there distinctive developmental histories? (3) Are there unique symbols involved? (4) Are there child prodigies?

Gardner argued against formal assessment – all of the students taking the same written test of ability or achievement on the same day at the same time, which is then scored according to a simple rubric to yield a single quantitative score. These scores are then used to evaluate students and schools, to steer students into some courses and away from others. Gardner’s alternative is assessment in context – which relies on information about individual abilities obtained in the course of their everyday activities. Depending on the skill, different types of assessment are needed. Assessment in context is therefore as multiple as people’s actual abilities.

Accomplishments: Interest and ability (and perseverance) are the recipe for accomplishment.

Reasons for focusing on accomplishments: (1) Accomplishments for the ages are interesting and awe inspiring; (2) If our interest is in people at their best, we should study the most-talented people, and we should study them in settings and circumstances that have allowed them to do their best

To study accomplishment, you can:

Look at case studies, as Gardner did. He proposed four ways to be extraordinary: (1) Being a master of some domain of accomplishment (e.g., Mozart); (2) Being a maker of an entirely new field (e.g., Freud); (3) Being an introspector and exploring inner life (e.g., James Joyce); (4) Being an influencer (e.g., Gandhi)

Look at larger numbers of eminent people – more of a standard psychological approach; problem: researcher is the victim of historical record; Dean Simonton is the best-known practitioner of this approach

Accomplishment in any given field never has a single determinant but instead always reflects a complex of psychological, social, and historical factors.

Correlated with achievement are: (1) Being firstborn; (2) Intellectual flexibility; (3) (Big Five trait of) Dominance; (4) (Big Five trait of) Extraversion

Murray quantified eminence by counting the amount of space devoted to individuals in different encyclopedias and handbooks from around the world. Agreement across sources was as substantial as the reliability of any psychological measure. He found: (1) Polymaths are rare. Those eminent in more than one field requiring arguably different skills are exceedingly rare, with Aristotle and Leonardo da Vinci as the best and perhaps only examples; (2) Hard work is critical. The most eminent put in much longer hours and produced much more than the merely eminent; (3) Mentors are critical; (4) It helps to be in the right place at the right time; (5) Eminence is most likely to occur in a culture that believes life to have a transcendent purpose and where individuals believe in their own efficacy.

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