4. Truly Extraordinary People Meeting (March 1999)
5. The Millennial Issue of The American Psychologist
6. The Templeton Positive Psychology Award
7. The Lincoln, Nebraska Meeting on Taxonomy and Measurement
8. The Bahamas Meeting on Meaning and Purpose
9. Akumal 2
Appendix A: Annotated Bibliography for a Positive Social Science
Appendix B: Mission Statement and Conclusions of Akumal 1
Appendix C: The Grand Cayman Meeting Minutes
Appendix D: Book Series Prospectus: Advances in Positive Psychology/Human Strengths
Appendix E: Studying Truly Extraordinary People: Minutes of a Meeting
Appendix F: Tentative Table of Contents for The American Psychologist, January 2000
Executive Summary: Positive Psychology Network
Entering a new millennium, we face a historical choice. Left alone on the pinnacle of economic and political leadership, the United States can continue to increase its material wealth while ignoring the human needs of its people and that of the rest of the planet. Such a course is likely to lead to increasing selfishness, alienation between the more and the less fortunate, and eventually to chaos and despair.
At this juncture the social and behavioral sciences can play an enormously important role. They can articulate a vision of the good life that is empirically sound while being understandable and attractive. They can show what actions lead to well being, to positive individuals, and to flourishing community. Psychology should be able to help document what kind of families result in the healthiest children, what work environments support the greatest satisfaction among workers, what policies result in the strongest civic commitment.
Yet we have scant knowledge of what makes life worth living. Psychology has come to understand quite a bit about how people survive and endure under conditions of adversity. But we know very little about how normal people flourish under more benign conditions. Psychology has, since World War 2, become a science largely about healing. It concentrates on repairing damage within a disease model of human functioning. This almost exclusive attention to pathology neglects the flourishing individual and thriving community. The aim of this proposal is to create a critical mass of leading scholars who will catalyze a change in the focus of psychology from preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also understanding and building positive qualities.
The field of “Positive Psychology” at the subjective level is about positive experience: well being, optimism, and flow. At the individual level it is about the character strengths—the capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future-mindedness, and high talent. At the group level it is about the civic virtues and the institutions that move individuals toward better citizenship: responsibility, parenting, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethic.
We now propose to consolidate this new orientation by creating a network of its leading scholars and researchers. The network will encourage collaborations among researchers on Positive Psychology, will hold conferences and meetings, and will prime pioneering empirical research. These collaborations will fold the best younger investigators into the network and its ongoing research. The network will reach out to leading scholars and practitioners in allied social sciences whose concern is understanding and building positive institutions and positive communities.
The network will consist of three nodes: Positive Subjective Experience, The Positive Individual, and the Positive Community. We have structured the network so that scholarship at the intersection of the nodes will be prized. Over the four years of the network, it is our intention to expand from a base in positive psychology to become the seed crystal of a Positive Social Science, linking to related work in economics, sociology, political science, anthropology, philosophy, and law.
The scientific product will consist of each member finding a collaborator from within the network and together generating a major article, book, or externally funded research program within the field of Positive Psychology or Positive Social Science. We will evaluate the success of the network by quantifying conventional funding, major conspicuous publications, citation rate, new and tenured faculty, and graduate and undergraduate course offerings in the field of Positive Psychology over the four years of the network.
A. The Basic Premise:
The field of Psychology has, since World War 2, become a science and practice of healing. It concentrates on repairing damage within a disease model of human functioning. This almost exclusive attention to pathology neglects the flourishing individual and thriving community. As the 1998 President of the American Psychological Association, at 159,000 members the largest organization of scientists in the world, I proposed changing the focus of the science and the profession from repairing the worst things in life to understanding and building the qualities that make life worth living.
I call this new orientation “Positive Psychology.” At the subjective level, the field is about positive experience: well being, optimism, flow and the like. At the individual level it is about the character strengths—Love, vocation, courage, aesthetic sensibility, leadership, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future-mindedness, and genius. At the community level it is about the civic virtues and the institutions that move individuals toward better citizenship: responsibility, parenting, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethic.
I now propose to consolidate this new field by creating a network of its leading scholars and researchers. The network will encourage collaborations among researchers on Positive Psychology and will hold conferences and meetings. These collaborations will fold the best younger investigators into the network and its ongoing research. The network will reach out to leading scholars and practitioners in allied social sciences whose concern is understanding and building positive institutions and positive communities.
I intend that from this network will expand from its base in positive psychology to become the beginning of a positive social science, linking to related work in economics, sociology, political science, and other fields. The dominant social science paradigm at present views the authentic forces governing human behavior to be self-interest, aggressiveness, territoriality, class conflict and the like. Such a science, even at its best, is by necessity incomplete. Imagine that Psychology were to come to measure, understand, and heal the entire panoply of “mental illnesses” and character “defects.” Imagine a world without schizophrenia, psychopathy, sadism, dishonesty and the like. Even if this were possible, it would not be a Utopia. Humanity would merely have gone from minus 8 to zero. But a complete science would also tell us how to identify, measure, understand, and build the characteristics that will move us from plus two to plus eight.
The aim of Positive Psychology is to understand and then build those factors that allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish. It needs emphasizing that this endeavor is descriptive, not prescriptive. At best it can describe the conditions that result in optimism or pessimism, in flow or boredom, in courage or fear, in civility or intolerance. It cannot tell a society which of these ends to value. Given such descriptive knowledge, it is then up to people to choose. But such a descriptive science does not need to start afresh. Rather it requires for the most part a refocusing of scientific energy. In the fifty years since Psychology became a healing profession it developed a highly useful and transferable science of mental illness. It developed reliable and valid ways of measuring such fuzzy concepts as schizophrenia, anger, and depression. It developed sophisticated methods—both experimental and longitudinal—for understanding the causal pathways that lead to such undesirable outcomes. And it developed pharmacological and psychological interventions which have moved fourteen of the mental disorders from “untreatable” to “highly treatable” and in a couple of cases, “curable.” These same methods, and in many cases the same laboratories and the next generation of scientists, can be used to measure, understand, and build those characteristics that make life most worth living.
What is missing is the leadership and the structure to point the way toward a psychology that asks “What makes life worth living?” What should we strive for?” It is my hope that the network will provide the leadership and interim structure for this scientific endeavor.
B. Structure of the Network
The network will consist of a director, an associate director, one or two distinguished senior fellows, a small central staff, and three nodes. Each node will have a very senior scholar as chair, a more junior scholar as node coordinator, and about twelve colleagues from psychology and allied social sciences. The steering committee of the Network will consist of the Director, the three node Chairs, and the two Senior Fellows.
Each node will meet periodically both in person and electronically, as would the entire network. The aim of these meetings will be to create collaborations both within nodes and across the network. Meetings will also be arranged with individuals responsible for interventions that could benefit from the perspective of a positive psychology, e.g. education, social policy, urban planning, and law, in order to develop practical applications.
C. The Scientific Product and its Evaluation
The network would support meetings, infrastructure, and the training of post-doctoral fellows who would rotate among investigators. The network would also seed collaborative research on foundational, meritorious projects. Each member of the network would be expected to generate the following “product” by the end of four years: to find a collaborator from within the network and together generate a major article, book, or externally funded research program within the field of Positive Psychology or Positive Social Science. The success of the network can be evaluated by the quality and visibility of these articles, books, and grant requests as well as by the spread of the field in the education and research focus of other scientists. So we will evaluate the success of the network by explicitly quantifying increased conventional funding, major conspicuous publications, new and tenured faculty, citation rate, and graduate and undergraduate course offerings, and the like in the field of Positive Psychology over the course of the four years of the network.