In January 2000, the American Psychological Association's flag-ship journal, American Psychologist, dedicated an entire issue to the growing field of “positive psychology,” including both theory and practical applications. The special issue was highly relevant to physician well-being.
The special millennial issue contains 15 empirically minded articles by eminent authors in the field of academic psychology. This field marks a deliberate steering away from the dominant “disease model” of human functioning. In the disease model, clinical psychology had become almost exclusively a science about healing damage or controlling maladaptive impulses. In contrast, the primary purpose of positive ...view middle of the document...
They tie the quality of subjective experience to a process labeled “psychological selection” wherein the individual “preferentially cultivates a limited subset of activities, values, and personal interests.” Their summary of cross-cultural studies suggests that optimal selections for well-being are characterized by high involvement and concentration, intrinsic motivation, and the perception of tough challenges matched by adequate personal skills.
The second section includes 5 articles that ask how personality traits contribute to positive psychology. Spanning nearly 3 decades of psychology research, the authors select 4 “traits” they deem of central importance: subjective well-being, optimism, happiness, and self-determination. Deiner's more general opening piece on subjective well-being and Myers's review of self-reported happiness and life satisfaction are solid summaries, all addressing the same question: “What makes people think and feel positively about their life?” They tackle all the usual predictors of happiness, with some surprising results.
Interestingly, “yuppie values”—preferring a high income and occupational success and prestige to having close friends and a good marriage—are strongly associated with personal unhappiness.
This section also presents evidence of the great adaptability of the human psyche and the strong role of temperament and personality in subjective well-being. In someone predisposed to a positive state of mind, even spinal cord injuries or other adverse life events cannot keep that person down for long.
Peterson takes a more specific look at “dispositional optimism” and explanatory style—the habits we have of explaining why events happen. Persons who tend to explain negative events with external (“it's not my fault”), unstable (“it won't happen again”), and specific (“it applies to this event only”) attributions usually have better moods, more motivation, greater success, and better physical health.
The final 2 articles in section 2 address self-determination and its role in positive psychology. Ryan and Deci present an impressive summary of the literature on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Although the discussion is heavy on theory and light on practicalities, applications can be fairly easily deduced to encourage behavioral change or promote professional satisfaction. Professional satisfaction is most strongly predicted when there is a preponderance of internal motivators—i.e., being able to find personal meaning in what one does or has to do. The authors interestingly tie motivational states to 3 basic and related human needs: for competence, for belonging, and for autonomy. Section 2 ends with an essay by Barry Schwartz discussing “the tyranny of freedom”—i.e., the dangers of too much autonomy.
Section 3 comprises 3 articles that address positive psychology's implications for mental and physical health. Noted psychiatrist and ego defense researcher, George Vaillant, opens the section with his review,...