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Am Psychol. 2012 Feb-Mar;67(2):101-10. doi: 10.1037/a0024572. Epub 2011 Jul 25.

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

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, University of Tennessee, USA. jmcnulty@utk.edu

Abstract

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.

PMID:
21787036
PMCID:
PMC4112753
DOI:
10.1037/a0024572
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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