A Life Worth Living: Contributions to Positive Psychology

A Life Worth Living: Contributions to Positive Psychology

A Life Worth Living: Contributions to Positive Psychology

A Life Worth Living: Contributions to Positive Psychology


A Life Worth Living brings together the latest thought on Positive Psychology from an international cast of scholars. It includes historical, philosophical, and empirical reviews of what psychologists have found to matter for personal happiness and well-being. The contributions to this volume agree on priciples of optimal development that start from purely material and selfish concerns, but then lead to ever broader circles of responsibility embracing the goals of others and the well-being of the environment; on the importance of spirituality; on the development of strengths specific to the individual.

Rather than material success, popularity, or power, the investigations reported in this volume suggest that personally constructed goals, intrinsic motivation, and a sense of autonomy are much more important. The chapters indicate that hardship and suffering do not necessarily make us unhappy, and they suggest therapeutical implications for improving the quality of life. Specific topics covered include the formation of optimal childhood values and habits as well as a new perspective on aging.

This volume provides a powerful counterpoint to a mistakenly reductionist psychology. They show that subjective experience can be studied scientifically and measured accurately. They highlight the potentiality for autonomy and freedom that is among the most precious elements of the human condition. MOreover, they make a convincing case for the importance of subjective phenomena, which often affect happiness more than external, material conditions.

After long decades during which psychologists seemed to have forgotten that misery is not the only option, the blossoming of Positive Psychology promises a better understanding of what a vigorous, meaningful life may consist of.


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The volume you are about to read is a collection of essays from some of the foremost scholars from around the world who identify themselves with the new direction in the discipline called “positive psychology.” This direction is distinguished by an interest in the more desirable aspects of behavior—what used to be called the “virtues”—as opposed to the recently more prevalent focus on pathology. If we imagine human experience as following along a bell curve with illness and despair at the left tail of the slope, joy and creativity at the other end, and the great majority of experiences around a middle neutral point, one could say that for the past half century or so psychology in the United States has been focusing almost exclusively on the left-hand tail of the curve. the goal of most psychologists has been to bring people whose lives were spent in regions of misery far below the mean back into a semblance of normalcy. Yet increasing numbers in the profession have begun to feel that without understanding what happens on the right slope of the curve, the best we have been able to do for people was not good enough. Even “normal” people need to grow, to hope for a better life, to change themselves into what they consider to be better persons. It is in response to this realization that positive psychology started to take shape in the last decade of the 20th century as a loose confederation of thinkers and practitioners with overlapping interests in positive psychological states.

Given the tenor of the contributions to this volume, I took the risky step of characterizing its content as dealing with a life worth living. For many scientists, this amounts to raising a red flag. After all, it is widely held that statements of value are outside the purview of science. So, if psychology is to be scientific, it should avoid dealing with issues such as what might or might not be worthwhile.

And even if we were somehow to agree on what a valuable life is, one could still argue that examining one’s life is not the way to reach it. Recent insights . . .

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