The Words of Sun Jin Moon (daughter of Sun Myung Moon and Hak Ja Han)

What is Positive Psychology?

Sun Jin Moon
June 2008

Edited by Louise Strait, manuscript editor for PsycCRITIQUES reviews published by the American Psychological Association

Article written by Sun Jin Moon, who has graduated from Harvard University in June 2008 with a degree in Psychology. She is now Chairman of Seil Travel in Japan and South Korea.

In our search for health, happiness, and well-being, we can utilize a variety of tools and techniques to fulfill that quest. When it comes to our body, some commonsense measures that are based on scientific research and studies can be integrated into our lives. These can include, for example taking vitamins in order to supplement our nutrition; one reason to do this is that essential amino acids that are not created by the body need to be incorporated or supplemented into to our diet for proper body function.

However, the physical body is just one component of health. Mental or spiritual health is composed of feelings, emotions, and the internal mind, which, combined, are known as affect in the field of psychology. Therefore, when we think of health, we cannot just focus on the physical body without considering the health of our mind, or affect, and vice versa. We must consider the overall, interlinked framework of the mind and the body to achieve overall happiness and health.

The popular culture, especially through personalities in the news and entertainment media, has rushed to fill this void and answer the question of how to make life happier. Many various “therapies” promise quick-fix results, claiming to be panaceas for behaviors such as overeating, addictions, other bad health practices, and the abnormal moods and drives that are at the source of many unwell and negative lives. The results, however, are mixed, providing relief for only some people and usually for just a short time because these remedies are not entirely grounded in scientific evidence or successful clinical practice.

Also, within the field of psychology itself, psychologists have been frustrated because for years the field focused its study on only “pathological” behaviors or disorders. Defined according to Wikipedia, pathology stems from the Greek words pathos, meaning suffering, fate, or harm, and logia, meaning the knowledge or study. Thus combined, pathology is the study of the sources of diseases or illnesses and of the causes of suffering.

Heretofore the field of psychology has been defined as the diagnosis and treatment of pathological disorders by clinicians (psychologists or psychiatrists) who have been certified to treat severe mental illness. However, what about the nonpathologically diagnosed people of the world who just desire to live a better, happier, and healthier life?

This concern has spurred on a burgeoning field of study that delves into what a makes individuals happier and healthier. Instead of studying the origin of all the bad behaviors we want to lessen or quit, positive psychology has been steadily pioneering and increasing the span of scientific research to understand the origin of the healthy, positive behaviors that make us thrive, leading to well-being and happiness.

The word salutogenesis, coined by Aaron Antonovsky, combining the Latin word salus, meaning health, and the Greek word genesis, meaning origin, best describes the approach pioneered by Dr. Martin Seligman, who is considered the father of positive psychology. For several decades he has researched not the pathological or sick, but rather the happier, healthier, well people who lead extraordinary successful, fulfilling lives. Positive psychology gathers knowledge that fosters the ways of achieving wellness and an optimal life from a scientific point of view. Its purpose is not to cure mental illness or pathology but to help all of us who want to live healthier, happier lives.

My comments here are based on the research of Professor Tal Ben-Shar of Harvard University. It is important to understand the development of positive psychology. Rather than attributing human conduct to just social learning (meaning we are the sum of our experiences, or “nurture”) or mere biological instincts (we are the product of our genes, or “nature”) positive psychology focuses on human behavior from the point of view of the value and dignity of human beings These qualities ensure that we are beyond mere products of nature or nurture and elevate us to a higher level, with the free will and the power to live our lives with great potential.

From this starting point, research has been conducted about how qualities such as love, goodness, optimism, gratitude, virtue, and kindness can contribute to higher self-actualization and overall happiness, as well as encourage healthy, salutogenic behaviors. Specifically, experimental psychologists in universities such as Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania have studied the attitudes and behaviors of hundreds of volunteers in their laboratories, evaluating the various factors that increase the levels of happiness of these participants. From these results, these researchers have conceived of, tested on still more volunteers, and confirmed various principles or strategems that have universal practical application in bringing happiness.

The research conducted in the field of positive psychology focuses on understanding ourselves better by taking the time to unlock that higher self. Once we can know ourselves internally, then we can branch out in understanding others as well, thereby creating a framework in our mind of effecting desired changes in our lives.

But in order to transform ourselves from this deeper personal understanding and information, we need to realize that we have to work toward applying this understanding to attain our own happiness. Positive psychology does not offer “quick fixes” or simple solutions to a happier life but rather informs us with scientific data, giving us the knowledge to ask the right questions related to optimizing ourselves and our relationships.

The answer to happiness is a continual process of growth and understanding, not merely the diagnosis and treatment of any dysfunctions of the mind and body. But this information, when applied to our life, can help us to unlock our potential for a happier, healthier, and more fulfilled life that is hidden within us.

Written by Sun Jin Moon, graduate of Harvard University with a bachelor's degree in Psychology. Sun Jin Moon has written this article with a focus on promoting the topic of Positive Psychology in order for others to learn more about this field and be able to use it in their lives. For more information on Sun Jin Moon 

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