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If you are excellent, see a psychologist

What is wrong with psychology?

In his book “A Primer in Positive Psychology“, Christopher Peterson observed that since World War II and for 60 years now, psychology has worked with the “disease model” focusing on human problems . He remarked that this focus has yielded remarkable achievements in this field. For instance, 60 years ago, it was not possible to treat disorders, but now 14 disorders are treatable and 2 of which are curable. However, this focus, according to Peterson, lacks balance for three reasons.

  1. Psychologists have become “victimologists” and “pathologizers”, ignoring the fact that people have choices and are responsible for making their decisions.
  2. Psychologists have ignored what seems to be natural in the normal lives and untroubled or even genius and talented people and how to make their lives better.
  3. The focus of psychologists has been almost exclusive on repairing damage, rather than making positive interventions.

As a result, Peterson remarked that the role of  psychologists is perceived now as solving problems and remedying mental issues; thus, people might not feel comfortable going to a psychologist or seen in a psychological clinic as this most likely indicate that they have a problem. Martin Seligman has observed this fear in his personal experience : “Ten years ago, when I was on an airplane and I introduced myself to my seatmate and told them what I did, they’d move away from me. And because, quite rightly, they were saying psychology is about finding what’s wrong with you”.

How to correct this? 

A sub-field of psychology named “positive psychology” has appeared. Positive psychology (PP) is, therefore, concerned with what goes right in life. Positive Psychology, as defined in authentichappinessis, is “the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive”. The main premise of PP, according to Peterson and Seligman, is that what is good in life is just as genuine as the bad things, which means excellence is as authentic as disorder and disease, thus, both sides deserve equal attention. PP suggests that it is time to balance the world view of psychology.

Below, I attempted to depict Postive Psychology as Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi described it in their article “Postive Psychology: an introduction“.


The pillars of PP: (or the layers)

  1. Positive subjective experience = positive emotions in past, present and future. E.g. happiness and hope.
  2. Positive individual traits = individuals’ strengths. E.g. creativity, courage, talents and interests.
  3. Positive institutions. =  communities'(E.g. family, school, society …) strengths. Such as justice, civility, tolerance, team-work and civic engagement

According to Peterson, the 3rd pillar facilitates the 2nd and the 2nd facilitates the 1st.

History of PP

Although Seligman has first named it as a field in 1998, but Maslow had used this term when he described the importance of creativity and self-actualization. Additionally, it is evident that PP, although has a short history, it has a very long past that could be stretched back to Athenian philosophers in the west and Confucius and Lao-Tsu in the east, who focused on questioning the good aspects of life. Moreover, many religious figures have played similar roles. Thus, Positive psychologists do not claim that they have invented “positive psychology” but rather emphasised the need for it.

Parallelism with other fields

In his Ted talk (Video below), Saligman remarked that “the problems of psychology seemed to be parallel to the problems of technology, entertainment and design”. These three fields can be used to relieve misery and building happiness. However, it is important to notice that there is a difference between the skills of relieving misery and the skills of building happiness. Thus, when fractioning “happiness” in Seligman’s vision, we realize that technology, entertainment and design can and need to be used not only to increase positive emotions but also to increase the other two pillars; positive individual traits and positive communities. In technology, the “disease model” exists and referred to as “Solutionism”.


  1. Is PP just another term for Happyiology?

No, as some concerns of PP are things and activities we might do while we’re not smiling or happy, things like curiosity, kindness, team work, values and talent [1]. Seligman [2] divides his vision of a “positive life” into three lives, one of which is Happyiology.  The three lives he identified were: pleasant life (Happyiology), good life and meaningful life. First, the pleasant life which is concerned with amplifying all the pleasant things in life (building pleasure), however this life is usually heritable and rapidly habituated. Secondly, the good life, which is about ‘flow’, during which people can not feel pleasure or anything when they have intense concentration and flow on something they love doing such as playing music. Thirdly, the meaningful life, which is about knowing individual’s highest strengths and leveraging them to achieve something higher than the individual level.

  1. How different is PP from Humanistic psychology?

Unlike HP as in Maslow’s approach which emphasises that people try to make the most out of their potentials “self-actualization”, PP regards both the peaks and valleys in people’s lives and calls for a balance between them. It is more committed to the scientific method.

  1. How different is PP from Sunday school teachers?

Inspirational speakers or armchairs gurus have general visions but not scientific methods.

  1. Are PP’ists Indifferent to suffering?

No, it seeks to balance and complement the problem-focused psychology

  1. Isn’t life tragic?

It could be, but human prefer things that are less tragic than others.

  1. Are happy people stupid?

Studies have shown that in a positive state people are more intellectual [1]. Also, according to studies, these who are extremely social are the happiest [2].

7. Is the rest of psychology negative?

It is referred to as: Business-as-usual psychology

8. Paradigm shift? (radical change in a field).

No. PP is refocusing on new topics


  1. Book: A Primer in Positive Psychology. By: Christopher Peterson
  2. Video (Ted talk): The new era of positive psychology. By: Martin Seligman
  3. Website: Authentic Happiness. By: Martin Seligman
  4. Website: Positive Psychology Center. By: Martin Seligman
  5. Blog:The Good Life (Psychology Today). By: Christopher Peterson
  6. Article: Positive Psychology, An Introduction. By: Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  7. Course: Positive Psychology. By: Barbara L. Fredrickson


I am Tag. A global citizen, lifelong learner and a free thinker. As a PhD student in HCI , my main interests fall in the intersection of cross cultural design and social change. Thus, my blog is focused on -but not limited to- this area. I have been writing in blogs, social media and newspapers for a while but that was in Arabic (my native language). However, being in the UK now and doing my PhD in English, made me consider starting to write and blog in English.

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