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

The First Basic Premise of Positive Psychology: 'Practical Idealism'

Sun Jin Moon
May 14, 2010

In the previous article, we introduced the five basic premises of positive psychology as taught by Dr. Tal Ben Shahar that are the foundation of this field of study. These basic premises reinforce the idea of how we can expand our capacity as individuals to face difficulties as well as cultivate and strengthen our spirit to bring us more joy and fulfillment.

The first basic premise of positive psychology is that it is important to bridge the gap between idealism and the real world. According to Dr. Shahar, there are numerous studies and statistics that show that people have idealism and a very generous nature. Over 1,800 students at Harvard University volunteer at one time or another during their studies there. Also, most will join an organization that is a social enterprise, and they donate money to such organizations after they graduate. Research from Dartmouth College shows that Americans spend an average of four hours a week volunteering for charitable causes.

However, Dr. Shahar contends that although goodwill and idealism are very necessary and good, they are not enough. Without practical scientific research applied to good intentions, many times simple idealism can hurt more than it can help. He provides several examples to support this argument. For instance, psychologists who have worthy intentions of helping "at-risk" populations are less successful when they ignore "salutogenic" questions such as why people succeed despite their difficulties. Instead of solving the problem, they could engender the at-risk population to become passive victims rather than active agents who can change for the better.

Another example that Dr. Shahar gives is the impact of the Pygmalion effect. Studies have shown that teachers' or leaders' expectations and beliefs about their students serve as self-fulfilling prophecies. If more teachers were aware of this power, then they would set more positive expectations for their students' performance.

Also, Dr. Shahar clarifies a misconception that exists about increasing self-esteem. It is a common belief that praising people can enhance self-esteem, but scientific studies conducted by Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, have shown that indiscriminate praising can actually hurt people rather than increase their well-being and success. So, the critical factor is understanding how to praise to successfully raise self-esteem.

Furthermore, to support his case regarding bridging scientific research and applying it in the real world, Dr. Shahar explains that emerging studies reveal the relationship between the mind and the body. For example, scientific research has shown that doing meditation can actually transform our brain and make it more resilient in the face of painful emotions. Also, statistics reveal that ex-prisoners are less likely to commit crime again if they practiced yoga while they were in prison.

Finally, Dr. Shahar clarifies misconceptions about conflict resolution. It is common for people with good intentions and high ideals who desire peace to adhere to the contact hypothesis theory of conflict resolution. This idea is that if there is a problem, the solution is just a matter of getting the two parties together to work things out and resolve their differences. However, this is not always the best method and sometimes can make the situation worse. Research conducted by Elliott Aaronson has shown that both parties need a super-ordinate goal, or a higher purpose above and beyond each party's interests, for conflict resolution to be effective.

After finishing our introduction of the basic premises of positive psychology, we will examine each scientific study in more detail to further expand our understanding of this emerging field. So, given these examples, applying positive psychology based on scientific research and results may support and guide individuals to maximize their idealism to make lasting, good results for themselves and others.

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. 

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