July 27, 2011

Beyond positive psychology?: Toward a contextual view of psychological processes and well-being

Beyond positive psychology?: Toward a contextual view of psychological processes and well-being

McNulty, James K.; Fincham, Frank D.
American Psychologist, Jul 25, 2011

The field of positive psychology rests on the assumption that certain psychological traits and processes are inherently beneficial for well-being. We review evidence that challenges this assumption. First, we review data from 4 independent longitudinal studies of marriage revealing that 4 ostensibly positive processes—forgiveness, optimistic expectations, positive thoughts, and kindness—can either benefit or harm well-being depending on the context in which they operate. Although all 4 processes predicted better relationship well-being among spouses in healthy marriages, they predicted worse relationship well-being in more troubled marriages. Then, we review evidence from other research that reveals that whether ostensibly positive psychological traits and processes benefit or harm well-being depends on the context of various noninterpersonal domains as well. Finally, we conclude by arguing that any movement to promote well-being may be most successful to the extent that it (a) examines the conditions under which the same traits and processes may promote versus threaten well-being, (b) examines both healthy and unhealthy people, (c) examines well-being over substantial periods of time, and (d) avoids labeling psychological traits and processes as positive or negative. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2011 APA, all rights reserved)

Also read: On positive psychology: my worries, views, suggestions and questions


  1. I think this post makes a great point that the context of a relationship indicates which behaviors would be the most helpful. I think some of the Solution Focus tools (such as the Miracle Question) may help shift the dynamic of a relationship. Once both parties have each other's best interests in mind then the tools of Positive Psychology mentioned above will work.
    This is part of why I always think it's important to treat wonderful tools like PP, SF, Ai, etc., as tools, not religions or an entire way of life.

  2. Hi Bob, I agree. To take this point further: I think it is important to view things like PP, SF and what other abbreviations have you as approaches and not as movements. I am generally not fond of the movement like character. I am generally not fond of professional communities organized around approaches (although many individuals belonging to them are wonderful people). In the worst cases, the communities in question can take on sect like forms and become very inward focused.


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