Prior to the Second World War, psychology was meant to study the problems facing human beings, such as mental illnesses. The development of psychology was aimed at finding the cure for human mental illnesses, improving the lives of all individuals, and promoting the development of high talents (Snyder & Shane, 2007a, p.4). Clinical psychologists (Carr, 2004, p.xvii) have accomplished the mission of discovering a cure for various human mental illnesses. After WW2, many achievements were documented, including the initiation of the National Institute of Mental Health in 1947 because of the realization by psychologists that they could obtain loans to study mental diseases (Snyder & Shane, 2007a, p.4). A number of mental illnesses that were previously incurable can now be treated with relative ease. However, these clinical psychologists failed to take into consideration the most important virtues of their patients that contribute directly or indirectly to the patient’s recovery from these mental illnesses (Bolt, 2004, p.xvii).
The values of human beings that help them accomplish many targets in life such as recovery from incurable diseases form the basis of positive psychology (Bolt, 2004, p.1). This form of psychology was also developed in order to accomplish the other two missions of psychology that clinical psychology failed to accomplish (Snyder & Shane, 2007a, p.4). These missions include bettering the lives of all individuals and promoting the genius in them. Positive psychology employs both scientific and applied approaches in discovering all the positive values of individuals and helping these individuals to nurture them (Snyder & Shane, 2007a, p.3). Credit has been accorded to the editors of the American Psychologist, Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi for bringing the issue of positive psychology to the forefront through their wonderful work of compiling the findings of the Presidential Task Force on Prevention, 2000 (Carr, 2004, p.xvii).
This paper entails a review of the four major human strengths within the context of an individual’s day-to-day life. These strengths include love, empathy, commitment, and hope. The review will also involve a discussion on the theory behind each of these virtues in relation to their applications in an individual’s life.
Pursuing Human Strengths in Positive Psychology
Love is an important quality of life that maintains the existing relationship between individuals. In order for love to exist, there has to be a relationship. Relationships are based on strong attachments that exist between individuals. These attachments are divided into two based on the stage of growth of an individual and thus, there are infant attachments and adult attachments. These sound relationships are further nurtured by love and the existence of behaviors that promote the bonding of two individuals (Snyder & Shane, 2007a, p.302). Infant attachment begins on the first day of an infant’s life when it begins to develop an emotional bond with the parent or the caregiver. For this kind of relationship to continue, there has to be consistency in the way a caregiver responds to such infant’s behavioral cues as smiling. When there is consistency, an infant learns to trust the caregiver, thereby forming the first step towards the development of love. This also leads to the development of personal perspectives that are maintained throughout an individual’s life (Bolt, 2004, p.303). These are the perceptions of lovability that are integrated into an individual’s life relative to the responses that one receives from those sharing this relationship especially parents and caregivers.
The perceptions and responses remain stable over an individual’s lifetime since they are bound to support each other. The perceptions held by individual guides that individual in gathering information related to the world and other individuals in the world upon which the decisions made are bound to be interpersonal. This is a state of having prospects and predilections on the relationship’s experiences, which determine an individual’s decision-making process and the type of response to these experiences (Snyder and Shane, 2007a, p.303). When an individual maintains a positive state of mind regarding the relationship’s experiences, he/she develops trust in others and feels safe living in that environment.
Having a positive state of mind about the experiences in one’s life forms the basis for self-expansion and development in terms of power, wealth, and influence (Snyder & Shane, 2002b, p.474). The process can be accelerated through an individual falling in love with another. In as much as their interests are not alike, they can still find something in either party that can be incorporated into the process and thus making the self-expansion process rapid. Love can be divided into two types relative to the Triangular theory of love. This theory has it that love is built on three pillars, which are commitment, intimacy and passion. When all three are in existence, the type of love existing is known as consummate love and when none exists, the relationship is referred to as non-love (Snyder & Shane, 2002b, p.475).
Additionally, there are six major styles of love according to Lee’s theory of comparing love with a color wheel. The six styles are Eros, storge, Ludus, Agape, Mania and Pragma. These styles form the basis of the aspects of love such as satisfaction in relationships; love and gender differences; love and friendship; love and sexuality; and finally love and happiness (Snyder & Shane, 2002b, p.477). When it comes to gender differences and love, we discover that men are bound to be game-players in love as opposed to women with their loving, practical, possessive and friendship attitudes (Snyder & Shane, 2002b, p.477). Happiness forms an integral part of any relationship. Therefore, in order to maintain the relationship, love should prevail in our day-to-day activities whereby we are bound to interact with different individuals with different interests in life.
Empathy is the state of seeing the need in another individual and coming to share an emotional bond and motivation that leads one into wanting to help another individual. This forms the basis of the empathy-altruism hypothesis. Some psychologists define altruism as an action of an individual that benefits another. However, it is argued that there has to be a motivation behind this action (Bolt, 2004, p.98). Therefore, the state of being in another person’s shoes and getting to experience what the other individual perceived to be in need feels encompasses the idea of emotional empathy that leads to altruism. The intent of these behaviors is to ensure that the welfare of the individual in need is achieved. However, the behavior is described, as egoistic if the intention of helping an individual is to increase one’s welfare (Snyder & Shane, 2002b, p.485). Proponents of egoism argue that the intention of an individual willing to offer another individual help has some stakes. For instance, an individual may help a friend with the intention that their friendship continues or that the friend will help the subject someday in the future. The proponents of altruism agree with these sentiments to some extent but they also argue that when there is empathy, the behavior is always altruistic. The concept of empathy-altruism can be distinguished from the other related psychological phenomena through one individual knowing another person’s inner feelings, emotions and thoughts. This then guides this individual in the process of helping a neighbor or friend in need (Snyder & Shane, 2002b, p.487).
In the psychosocial context, commitment can be seen as the intention of an individual in ensuring that she or he meets personal goals in terms of making a living and in a larger sense developing the community. It acts as a motivational driving force behind an individual’s desire to fulfill personal goals and needs (Walsh, 2003, p.231). Commitment comes into play, particularly during an individual’s career development. A person has to weigh his/her personal interests and preferences against the expectations imposed upon him/her by society. At a tender age, society expects an individual to be committed to becoming aware and concerned about the future by increasing one’s control over one’s own personal activities and decreasing reliance on the family or community. Additionally, an individual should make informed decisions about the roles and goals that are valued by society and be confident through the demonstration of self-esteem which is regarded as another human strength. Moreover, an individual is expected to remain committed to one’s occupation while maintaining high standards of integrity and self-reliance (Walsh, 2003, p. 234). Therefore, the ultimate goal of commitment is seeking self-identity and constructing it. These can be achieved through an individual’s initiative in carrying out a self-search in order to identify one’s strengths and weaknesses to meet both personal and societal expectations (Walsh, 2003, p.241). This may also involve seeking partnerships with individuals perceived as being resourceful in terms of helping one achieve his/her goals. These partners may include community members, career counselors, co-workers and family members.
Hope can be defined as those cognitive thoughts that are aimed at a particular goal with the aim of getting positive results or the necessary motivational drivers that can help him/her to attain the desirable results (Snyder and Shane, 2007a, p.189). These thoughts keep on varying, as the individual has to make a decision being those goals that are of urgency and the ones that will take some time to be accomplished. On this basis, the goal-oriented thoughts in a hopeful individual can be divided into long-term and short-term thoughts. These thoughts can also be intended for the prevention of an undesired occurrence or approaching the desired outcome. Goal-oriented thoughts can also be classified into those that are easy to achieve and the ones that require a coordinated approach that brings into perspective the contribution of members in a group. When the desired goals fail to be achieved, the concept of pathway thinking comes into play. Pathway thinking is a process in which a hopeful individual engages oneself in self-talks such that the next course of action will be looking for alternative options. This forms the basis upon which individuals are classified as being either high hopers or low hopers. High hopers are known to have positive emotions that lead them into engaging in self-emotional talk upon encountering obstacles in the process of goal-oriented critical thinking. On the other hand, low hopers have negative emotions that override the ability of the individual to make informed decisions upon facing impediments (Snyder, 2007a, p.189).
Hope cannot be inherited but it is learned over an individual’s lifetime. The development of hope involves an individual being engaged in a set of goal-oriented thoughts. The ability of thinking for oneself is entirely dependent on the parental guidance that an individual receives at a tender age. This includes teachings on both pathways thinking and agency thinking. Pathway thinking skills are acquired prior to the acquisition of agency thinking skills. They include the knowledge on cause and effect obtained from the parent or caregiver in childhood. Therefore, it is imperative that there is a strong relationship consisting of trust between the caregiver and the child to allow for a successful learning process (Snyder and Shane, 2007a, p.192).
Despite the fact that hope is not inheritable, research has documented that the activities of goal-oriented thinking have a bearing on the corresponding electrochemical changes in the central nervous system. The goal-oriented thoughts are controlled by the central nervous system either positively or negatively (Snyder and Shane, 2007a, p.192). In this case, it is important that an individual is psychologically prepared during the thinking process for one to make decisions or adjustments that can lead to positive outcomes.
The paper has given an in-depth review of the most basic human strengths such as love, commitment, empathy and hope in the context of how these virtues can be employed in the day-to-day activities of an individual. It is also documented that these human values form the basis of positive psychology that is the process of applying scientific and practical approaches in discovering all the positive values of individuals and helping them to nurture them. Love has been considered as one of the most important qualities of life that maintain strong relationships. Empathy on the other hand is the behavior of an individual that promotes the welfare of another. Commitment is the strong involvement of an individual in activities leading to the attainment of personal and societal goals. Moreover, hope is based on the positive goal-oriented thoughts that propel a hopeful individual into achieving desirable outcomes.
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