Symposium 6th World Congress on Positive Psychology 2019

Were the Violins in Tune While the Titanic Was Sinking? Probing the Role of Positive Psychology in a Frightened, Perishing World (#145)

Michael Steger 1
  1. Center for Meaning and Purpose, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, United States

Positive psychology (PP), at least initially, was dismissed as a silly fascination rooted in fin-de-siècle grandeur, or a deluded trifle, glorifying trivial matters of smiling, giggling, and being impresses with one’s self. Nearly two decades later, we continue to hear calls for PP to be more serious in some way, implying that PP, like the rest of the world, needs to wake up and smell the burning forests, the burning oilfields, and the burning villages. It is easy to feel small and overwhelmed. The original articulation of PP as concerning itself with positive emotions, positive traits and positive institutions risks creating an inward spiral focused ever more intently on the flourishing of the individual, where individuals and institutions alike strive to help the individual flourish. This talk argues that PP has great opportunities to play a larger role in redeeming the failings that seem to lead us, placidly but inexorably toward calamity. An evolution of PP might consider growing more intentionally and rapidly beyond the Flourishing of the Person, and bring its strengths and expertise to bear on an additional target, the Flourishing of All. One would only need to page through the program of this World Congress to find dozens of tools that could strengthen our work toward the Flourishing of All. I will present examples and possibilities of how Meaning, Mindfulness, and Strengths could be adapted to become even better agents of transformation. If too much of a good thing can be bad for us, and if the seeds of transformation often grow from the dark side, then surely moderating our emphasis on the individual and confronting the fears of our age could illuminate new paths forward.