Chapter 4Existential Dimensions of Positive Psychology

ROGER BRETHERTON

This chapter addresses what may seem at first glance to be an unlikely theoretical and practical collaboration, that of existential thought with positive psychology. It argues that there are numerous correspondences and potentially fruitful connections between these two broad intellectual movements and that there is much mutual enrichment to be gained from their cross-fertilization. Indeed, as noted herein, some of the most illuminating concepts in positive psychology bear a distinctly existential inflection. Positive psychology is often at its best when it is most existential. For the sake of argument, some provisional definitions of terms may be useful at the outset.

Positive psychology in this chapter, as in much of the present volume, is taken to mean the movement initiated largely at the turn of the 21st century (though evident prior to that), spearheaded most notably by Martin Seligman during his year as president of the American Psychological Association (see Linley, Joseph, Harrington, & Wood, 2006). As frequently reiterated, positive psychology is concerned most particularly with the psychology of what makes the good, pleasurable, and meaningful life (Seligman, 2003), and is expressed in terms such as thriving, flourishing, and happiness. It is on the whole an empirical approach, seeking to use the research methods of mainstream psychology to investigate the length and breadth of human thriving, ...

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