Positive Psychology Isn't New

Positive Psychology Isn't New
When I was in graduate school in the 1970s, Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs was being accepted as a new idea. It was the beginning of a shift away from traditional study of what's wrong to searching for what's right with people. The movement brought the same attention to positive emotions (happiness, pleasure, well-being) that clinical psychology had always paid to the negative ones (depression, anger, resentment).

According to the Center's website at the University of Pennsylvania, Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.

While it might have been a new idea in mental health circles, it is certainly not new to humanity. Religion has always been about making life better. The Bahá'í Faith, which its followers believe is only the latest chapter in an ongoing religious book from a single Creator, exhorts its followers to efforts in the same direction: "... man's supreme honor and real happiness lie in self-respect, in high resolves and noble purposes, in integrity and moral quality, in immaculacy of mind. [Many] have, rather, imagined that their greatness consists in the accumulation, by whatever means may offer, of worldly goods." - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 19

This positive focus is familiar to followers of the Baha'i Faith, whose Prophet Founder, Baha'u'llah, proclaimed that humanity was all one family and the whole earth one common fatherland. His Son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, explained the process of civilization in this way:

"The primary purpose, the basic objective, in laying down powerful laws and setting up great principles and institutions dealing with every aspect of civilization, is human happiness; and human happiness consists only in drawing closer to the Threshold of Almighty God, and in securing the peace and well-being of every individual member, high and low alike, of the human race; and the supreme agencies for accomplishing these two objectives are the excellent qualities [virtues] with which humanity has been endowed.” - The Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 60-1

Beyond the individual's health and happiness is that of a greater humanity: "The body of the human world is sick. Its remedy and healing will be the oneness of the kingdom of humanity. Its life is the Most Great Peace. Its illumination and quickening is love. Its happiness is the attainment of spiritual perfections [virtues]." - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 19

The Teachings of the Baha'i Faith repeatedly emphasize that the role religion is critical, not only as the quickest way to personal happiness, but also as it is the only way to world peace:

"Religion is the light of the world, and the progress, achievement, and happiness of man result from obedience to the laws set down in the holy Books. Briefly, it is demonstrable that in this life, both outwardly and inwardly the mightiest of structures, the most solidly established, the most enduring, standing guard over the world, assuring both the spiritual and the material perfections of mankind, and protecting the happiness and the civilization of society--is religion.

"It is true that there are foolish individuals who have never properly examined the fundamentals of the Divine religions, who have taken as their criterion the behavior of a few religious hypocrites and measured all religious persons by that yardstick, and have on this account concluded that religions are an obstacle to progress, a divisive factor and a cause of malevolence and enmity among peoples.

"They have not even observed this much, that the principles of the Divine religions can hardly be evaluated by the acts of those who only claim to follow them. For every excellent thing, peerless though it may be, can still be diverted to the wrong ends. A lighted lamp in the hands of an ignorant child or of the blind will not dispel the surrounding darkness nor light up the house--it will set both the bearer and the house on fire. Can we, in such an instance, blame the lamp?" - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 71-2

Positive Psychology is science reaching the same conclusions as religion has always taught: human beings are capable of much more than just their animal nature, and can learn to channel their abilities in to positive growth and development. It is a cheerful view of mankind's future.

You Should Also Read:
Is Mankind Redeemable ?
Can Religion Provide Hope for a Global Ethic ?
Why Science and Religion Work Together

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