Psychological Self-Help

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psychoses, marital problems, etc. We have learned to be somewhat
successful treaters in many of these troublesome areas (Seligman,
1995). All this attention was given to suffering, sickness, and
treatment, and while that was commendable, it left other important
aspects of life neglected, e.g., finding really meaningful lifestyles,
being truly happy and satisfied with life, feeling confident and
optimistic, and behaving generously, altruistically and nobly, and so
on. These are important, exciting new directions for applied
For decades, psychology "bought" the Freudian notion that the
major driving forces in humans were bad motives--greed, lust,
aggression, etc.--and originated in our basic human nature and/or
from bad parenting. Even being good and altruistic is often believed to
come from our evil core, as when generous, helpful people are thought
to be compensating for their immoral selfish urges, faults, fears, and
sick needs. It seems more superficial and Pollyannaish when we
explain some human behavior as being caused by good parenting,
genuine concern for others, feelings of satisfaction and joy, a sense of
responsibility, a devotion to high morals, and so on. Such positive
explanations often give rise to the question, "Don't put me on, what is
really going on?" 
If psychologists had emphasized positive traits more, they surely
would have conceptualized the causes of behavior in more positive
terms. If they had focused more on positive human characteristics,
they probably would have concentrated more on psychoeducational
approaches, such as character development, developing a philosophy
of life, learning self-control and self-help, exploring how to develop
good families, friendships, work relationships, humanistic educational
systems, peaceful caring nations, and so on. Seligman and other
positive psychologists think enhancing our positive traits and emotions
is the key to further improving human lives. Positive Psychology goes
far beyond treating mental illness, in fact doesn’t have much to do
with it. Positive emotions are powerful influences; they increase our
social, mental, and health benefits; they help prevent problems. 
Not just Seligman but a productive group of psychologists are
engaging in research and theory-development about positive
emotions. See the Handbook of Positive Psychology by C. R. Snyder &
Lopez, S. J. (2003). Barbara Fredrickson (2003) at the University of
Michigan has published a series of studies and a theory, called the
“broaden-and-build” model, which proposes that positive emotions and
attitudes broaden our thinking about possible solutions to problems.
If we are open to new ideas, we think better. Over time this broader
perspective enables us to build broadly our coping skills and
confidence. Thus, positive and optimistic societies become more
innovative, resilient, socially adjusted, and healthy. Seligman gives
Fredrickson credit for opening his mind to the general importance of
positive psychology. Psychology is currently generating considerable
research that empirically documents the value of positive thoughts and
emotions, e.g., Emmons & McCullough (2003) have shown that
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