Aristotle and His Influence in Positive Psychology

21 May, 2020
Aristotle proposed that the concept of positive psychology has the power to give us practical wisdom and a "good life".

Many books have been published on the concept of “positive psychology”. However, according to some, this type of literature is a lot of “hot air” in many cases. This is because some authors tend to exaggerate the power of positive psychology. They promote the idea that embracing positive psychology is a piece of cake.

The goal of these books is to spread positivity and bring readers happiness. However, these books are no substitute for the enormous help of seeing a psychiatrist.

Although positive psychology now has a place on modern-day bookshelves, the truth is that its basic principles are far from “modern”. Aristotle first spoke about positivity in his works centuries ago. This article will explain the influence of this important philosopher in positive psychology. Also, it’ll touch on how he interpreted this concept and how it evolved into the concept we know today.

Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle wrote Nicomachean Ethics in the fourth century B.C. In this work, you can start to see evidence of what’s known today as positive psychology. In this piece, Aristotle discusses happiness (eudaimonia), virtue, practical reasoning, and emotions as the pillars of what he called a “good life”. This is something that he thought everyone strived to achieve. To have a good life, Aristotle believed it was important to develop virtues (good habits) and to make the most of your strengths.

According to Aristotle, your strengths are the aspects of your character that are innate and give you a sense of well-being and happiness. However, not everyone is born with these innate strengths, which are key to achieving a “good life”.

For example, someone who’s insecure will find this more difficult than someone who’s naturally very self-assured and who’s comfortable stepping outside of their comfort zone. Nevertheless, Aristotle states that, through self-control and self-regulation, it’s possible to acquire these strengths, even if it requires some conscious effort.

Practical wisdom in positive psychology

It’s important to mention Aristotle’s concept of “practical wisdom”, or “phronesis”, which is also a part of positive psychology. Aristotle believed that practical wisdom is the main virtue of human beings and that it allows you to make better decisions.

American psychologist and writer Seligman and his colleagues wrote the article “Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions”, in which they discuss how “practical wisdom” can improve well-being. Carnier and Gomez also described these actions in their article “Contributions from positive psychology”. Some examples are:

  • Writing down three things you’re thankful for once a day.
  • Also, writing a thank you card to someone who’s important to you. You can send it or give it to its intended recipient or simply keep it for yourself.
  • Writing down significant memories in a notebook. These can be positive or emotional memories. This might take some time as you can end up remembering lost memories that you didn’t realize you had.
  • Completing a questionnaire on your strengths, such as the questionnaire available on www.viacharacter.org. All you need to do is register and choose your preferred language. There are 120 questions to answer and it’s important to be honest so that the result is equally honest.

These types of actions can bring you closer to the “wisdom” that Aristotle mentions. He believed virtue has to be learned through experience, which psychologists Schwartz and Sharpe also supported.

“Life inflicts the same setbacks and tragedies on the optimist as on the pessimist, but the optimist weathers them better.”

-Seligman-

Active happiness in positive psychology

One principle of positive psychology, which is also put forward by Aristotle, is that you can achieve a “good life” through new habits and a change of certain attitudes. Through practice and perseverance, you can find success and achieve that happiness you so long for.

Now that you’re familiar with this concept, consider reading interesting works to further understand positive psychology. However, it’s also vital to point out one thing. Positive psychology shouldn’t cover up or mask problems. In other words, you shouldn’t pretend that everything is fantastic and wonderful. You can use positive psychology to your advantage, as long as you avoid the lies that cloud this field.