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The possible effectiveness of using positive psychology to make individuals happier

The well-being theory adds fulfillment and interpersonal relationships to the elements already included in the first theory positive emotions, engagement and meaninghighlighting that well-being does not depend only on individual aspects but on issues related to context and interpersonal relationships.

Whereas authentic happiness seeks life satisfaction, well-being aspires to flourishing - a more complex and dynamic construct. Well-being theory opens the possibility of developing public policies related to promotion of quality of life without ruling out the need for constant review of such approach.

Happiness, well-being, health promotion, Positive Psychology. The Positive Psychology Perspective Positive Psychology, considered one of the most recent approaches in psychology, has been prominent since the late 1990s. At the end of the 1990s, Martin E. Seligman, in the United States, legitimized the use of this term to denote a theoretical approach proposed for the understanding of the human being. According to Sheldon and King 2001Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the ordinary human strengths and virtues.

For Seligman 2000Positive Psychology is the study of feelings, emotions, institutions and positive behaviors that have human happiness as their final goal. For Snyder and Lopez 2009, p.

Also according to the possible effectiveness of using positive psychology to make individuals happier authors, the science and practice of Positive Psychology are directed toward the identification and understanding of human qualities and virtues, as well as promoting conditions for people to have happier and more productive lives.

From this perspective, the meaning of happiness is not understood as something fleeting and fluctuating but as a relatively permanent feeling experienced over time. This innovative proposal arises from the observation that psychology, until then, leaned primarily on the development deficits, disorders, psychopathologies and mental illness.

This effort to highlight health, as opposed to illness, began to be stressed after the Second World War with veterans who returned from battlefields and needed to be reinserted into society and assisted in their needs. By removing the focus from mental illness, the possibility to highlight the positive aspects, strengths, virtues and potential of the human being was opened, focusing on health prevention and promotion.

According to Seligman 2002Positive Psychology is based on three main concepts, namely: Considering the scientific production on Positive Psychology in the Brazilian context, Paludo and Koller 2007 indicate that there is still only scarce information concerning this significant change occurring in psychology, with a gradual change being observed in the focus and approach of the Brazilian studies on human development.

This scarcity of research may be due to the recent nature of the studies in the area because this field was officially "born" in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Considered to be a recent approach, Positive Psycho-logy is developing rapidly, especially considering that its propagation and discussion in academic circles date back slightly over a decade. In addition to the constant development of this perspective, the possibility of systematizing the already consolidated production in the field is opened to gain knowledge on the gaps and potential for new studies.

It is in this direction that the theoretical foundations that underlie Positive Psychology have advanced along this short trajectory. The authentic happiness movement, formulated in 2002, is currently being questioned, thereby allowing the ascendance of the well-being movement, formulated in 2011.

Both movements were developed by Seligman from several empirical studies with the participation of researchers from all over the world.

The transition from a movement to another is automatic and exclusionary but must be understood as an ongoing paradigm shift. Thus, understanding this process is critical to align the Positive Psychology goals to those of a psychological science permanently committed to social change and the human well-being. Therefore, the objective of this study is to discuss the paradigm changes from the authentic happiness movement to the well-being one under the Positive Psychology perspective.

To this end, this study begins with a presentation of the leading researcher on Positive Psychology, Martin E. Seligman, seeking to identify how his biography reflected or allowed such changes. Seligman became a recurring name in Psychology publications and conferences worldwide. Before this period, Seligman was known for his experimental research and in the psychopathology field.

After more than 20 years since his initial thoughts on Positive Psychology were presented to the scientific community, his work has been increasing each year, considering his investments not only in the dissemination of Positive Psychology in academia or outside of it but in transcultural studies that contributed to the improvement of his concepts on human development.

Seligman was born in the United States in 1946, graduated with a major in philosophy at Princeton University 1964 and obtained a Ph. The main influence during his training was Experimental Psychology followed by extensive clinical practice.

As a professor of psychopathology, he once asked himself about the tendency of the psychological science to focus their studies in diseases and dysfunctional aspects, ignoring the positive aspects of development.

In 1997, when Seligman held the presidency of the APA, his studies began to be disseminated worldwide. The position held as the president of the largest psychology entity conferred prestige and prominence to his research.

Positive Psychology, for Seligman 2011must maintain its commitment to the human being, not allowing itself to be confined to university walls but serving people and their questions. This questions include the search for health and well-being, as well as permanent accomplishment, as announced in his work from 2004. Seligman has published hundreds of scientific articles and has books have been translated in several countries; he is considered one of the best-known contemporary authors and one who contributed the most to the construction of psychology in the 21st century.

One of the most recent and commonly accepted ways to understand scientific productivity and the consequent individual importance of researchers is the h index measurement, developed by Hirsch 2005. In the ranking of these researchers, Seligman occupies fourth place, therefore placing among the most read and cited authors of the twentieth century.

Seligman's h index is 41. It should be considered that these findings corroborate the testimonials that claim that his work is respected and valued throughout the world, despite his being the target of criticism, some of which has been received and duly answered by the author Seligman, 2011.

It should be considered that the movement dubbed Positive Psychology emerged from Seligman's initiative along other renowned researchers who have contributed for this field to improve and gain prestige in the scientific community. Carol Ryff 1989for example, proposed a model of positive functioning based on the concept of psychological well-being, encompassing such dimensions as self-acceptance, personal growth, life purpose, environmental domain and positive relationships with others, which involve the ability to establish strong empathy, affection and intimacy.

Another prominent researcher in the field of Positive Psychology is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 1997who developed studies on the flow state, which is considered one of the most pervasive concepts in the area.

The concept of flow is defined as a state of optimal experience that people express when they are intensely involved in what they are doing. This state can be represented as a channel on a scheme of challenge versus skill, separating the states of boredom and anxiety: Thus, the flow state may manifest when the challenge and ability are high and in balance, which has subsidized the planning of interventions in different professional and educational sectors.

The presence of flow depends on the combination of internal and external conditions. In terms of external conditions, we highlight the task characteristics, which should have concrete goals such that people can adjust. Internally, there are the personal characteristics, such as self-control and ability of concentrated attention, which are strongly associated to the flow states Mesurado, 2009.

Regarding the positivity concept, we highlight the studies by Alice Isen and Barbara Fredrickson. Isen 1987 found that people who experience moderate positive emotions tend to help others more, to be more flexible in their thoughts and to produce solutions for the problems. From these considerations, Barbara Fredrickson 2009 developed a model capable of explaining the social and cognitive effects of positive emotional experiences.

According to this author, the experience of joy expands the domain of what a person wants to do at that moment, i. Observing a person who does something important and inspires admiration can also enhance positive emotions and change unfavorable pattern behaviors, as noted in studies by Jon Haidt 2002. Witnessing a heroic act, for example, leads the person to a state of elevation, which raises the manifestation of positive emotions.

Ken Sheldon and his colleagues attempted to explain human happiness from a model that integrates genetic aspects, circumstantial and demographic determinants and the process of intentional change. Since its inception, Positive Psychology has not been disseminated only in academia because it develops interventions and proposals that also involve non-academics, inviting them to benefit from its practices.

This graduate program is directed to people who are already engaged in the work market and are able to afford the high tuition fees. Discussing themes such as coaching in different sectors, as well as the importance of developing the well-being in schools and universities, the program was considered revolutionary precisely because it aims to develop peoples' transforming potential. Authentic Happiness There are many existing theories to explain happiness.

Martin Seligman

There are those based in processes and activities, according to which happiness is produced when we engage in certain activities or work for a certain goal. Theories based on genetic and personality dispositions suggest that happiness may be a personality trait or characteristic more stable than those of genetic origin.

  • For example, one study observed nuns who were, for the most part, leading virtually identical lifestyles;
  • Engagement, meaning, relationships and accomplishment have both subjective and objective components because you can believe you have engagement, meaning, good relations and high accomplishment and be wrong, even deluded;
  • A significant moment in Seligman's life was his landmark speech in 1998, at the time of his inauguration as the president of the American Psychological Association APA when he declared that psychologists need to study what makes happy people happy!
  • In Authentic Happiness 2002 , he explains that his journey towards this new field in psychology started off in a study on learned helplessness in dogs;
  • According to Seligman, we can experience three kinds of happiness:

Thus, the postulations discussed in this study do not seek to solve this discussion or defend a single path but foster it from contact with various Positive Psychology studies, especially those by Seligman. One of the first concepts studied by Seligman 1991 that contributed to the development of his notions on happiness was that of learned optimism.

In that publication, the author recounts his journey through the studies about learned helplessness and highlights several benefits of the people considered optimistic as being more entrepreneurial and having better health. Optimists tend to assume that the problems experienced are temporary and due to external causes, seeking solutions that do not place them as guilty or as failures, and internalizing positive events.

This ability to prove optimistic in the face of events not always favorable was considered one of the bases for Seligman's theoretical formulations, as we will see further on. In 2004, the translation of the book Authentic Happiness was published in Brazil, a book that has been originally published by Seligman in the United States in 2002. Authentic happiness was the basis of Positive Psychology in the early days of its creation and development. This postulation recommends that happiness could be analyzed according to three different elements: Positive emotion consists of such sensations as pleasure, excitement, ecstasy and comfort among others.

Engagement is related to a position of loss of self, i. Engagement refers to a loss in which the person has little awareness of their true sensations, only reports feeling much pleasure, being in a position of constant openness. According to Seligman 2004all people can develop engagement in relation to an activity and should identify what those activities are and what features may favor the takeover of this position.

The third element is meaning, and it relates to the search for purpose in life. A meaningful life consists of belonging and serving something you believe is greater than the self Seligman, 2004.

Humanity creates all the positive institutions that provide consistency for this search, such as religion, political parties, family, and the diverse social groups. To summarize, authentic happiness assumes that Positive Psychology relates with happiness in three aspects: The measurement of happiness could be conducted from measuring tools that assess life satisfaction, the goal of Positive Psychology being to increase the level of life satisfaction.

What strategies can contribute to increase satisfaction? What interventions are most effective in achieving this goal? What lifestyles promote this transformation? These questions were initially raised in an intervention plan based on authentic happiness.

However, this position began to be questioned by Seligman from the results of his research throughout the first decade of this century. Seligman is not the only author to propose models that lead people to the so-called happiness.

Another important author in the field of Positive Psychology, Sonja Lyubomirsky 2008presents a scientific method for people to achieve happiness, supported by exercises and strategies to promote positive emotions, such as expressing gratitude, cultivating optimism and positive social relationships, manage stress and adversities, develop focus on the present and commit to their goals.

These characteristics should be exercised through a training program aiming at real and lasting happiness. Other studies were developed along the same lines, such as the work by Daniel Kahneman on hedonistic models of happiness.

Among the so-called deficiencies of this first Positive Psychology movement, Seligman 2011 noted that authentic happiness aims to redefine what happiness is in an arbitrary way. As to engagement and meaning, the notions are related to how the human being feel but are not part of what is conceived as happiness. Another criticism refers to the main measure of authentic happiness, which is the level of life satisfaction. This perspective considers mood as the greatest predictor of happiness, which would lead to consider happiness as something transient and situational.

An introverted person, for example, tends to be considered less happy than an extroverted one, which would not take into account the respondent perception or judgment about his emotions but only his moods. Also according to Seligman 2011life satisfaction does not consider how much meaning there is or how much people are committed to their work and how much they engage with the people they love. As a possible measurement of mood, life satisfaction is extremely variable and is therefore a situational measurement.

Based on these criticisms, Seligman and other researchers began to review the construct of authentic happiness, developing a second movement, known as well-being, which will be described next.