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Positive psychology vs traditional psychology? Whereas traditional psychology focuses on mental illness, positive psychology focuses on mental wellness. While traditional psychology is effective for clients with a diagnosed disorder, traditional psychology fails to serve the rest of the population who do not have a diagnosed disorder. Whereas traditional psychology focuses what is wrong with us, positive psychology focuses on what is right with us. “Positive psychology does not seek to detract from the branch of traditional psychology,” says Professor Martin Seligman, founder of the Positive Psychology movement, “but rather to expand upon it.”
Positive psychology is a rapidly growing professional movement that is dedicated to the scientific research of what makes life worth living. The goal of positive psychology research is to help us achieve happiness, satisfaction, and well-being in our lives. While philosophers of old have long contemplated the nature and causes of happiness, it was not until 1998, when scientists joined forces to work together, exploring happiness and well-being through systematic research using the scientific method.
One pitfall of traditional psychology is that it indirectly causes blame and even hatred towards others. Clients are encouraged to relive traumatic experiences as well as the angry and resentful feelings they have towards those who have caused them pain. This can cause clients to bear a grudge and even hate those who have offended them. The Torah forbids this. “You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the L-rd.” (Leviticus 19:18) Clients may also end up dishonoring their parents, which the Torah also forbids. “Honor your father and your mother as the L-rd your G-d commanded you, in order that your days be lengthened.” (Deuteronomy 5:16)
Traditional psychology may also indirectly encourage clients to assume the role of a victim whose circumstances are beyond their control.
"The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny." – Albert Ellis, the famed cognitive-behavioral therapist.
Positive psychology seeks to put clients in the driver’s seat. It is essentially the science of human flourishing. It seeks to help clients live life to the fullest. We are encouraged to be mindful of the present moment and the future, rather than dwelling in the past as traditional psychology often encourages. Positive psychology helps us create goals, bringing us closer to the unfolding of our ideal future selves.
Although G-d decides what happens and has a plan for each and every one of us, in the end, it is ultimately our decision whether we practice gratitude and forgiveness despite our given circumstances. Doing so will bring forth a whole host of other positive emotions and interventions, which can change our lives for the better.