´ A Boy Named Sue (What Positive Psychology is Not) -
August 5, 2014

Grizzly Bear






Taco Bell apparently calls it’s cashiers champions and didn’t you know that this form of fake positivity is endorsed by those weirdos who call themselves positive psychologists? The apocalypse of forced corporate happiness is about as far away from what positive psychology is about as Taco Bell’s taco is from an actual Mexican taco….

On that sunny day on a beach in Hawaii when our founding fathers Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi plotted the creation of positive psychology they probably did not realize that the baby they were making would get beaten up as much by the media as a boy named Sue would.
So here we are, Sue is 16 years old and despite his protests this is what he hears every day:

  • smiling won’t save the world
  • ignoring negativity won’t make it go away
  • using your strengths instead of your weaknesses is an easy cop-out
  • being positive all the time is damaging

Seriously if you don’t believe in the power of optimism and hope that’s fine. If you don’t understand why using your strengths is powerful let’s sit down and talk. But having journalists saying stuff like ‘gee negativity is part of life’ or ‘forcing people to smile as proposed by positive psychologists is actually damaging’ is so freaking annoying.

When your dentist examines your teeth do you lecture her on how your feet are vital to living a healthy life and she should really reconsider her vocation? So why does my choice to study what makes life worth living mean that I don’t respect other areas of psychology or suggest that I think nothing outside of my interests matter?

Because so much rubbish is published everybody is forced to hammer down their message to the size of a tweet. As this post is written my buddies are working on their master theses on topics like coping strategies of refugees, the relationship between perfectionism and self-compassion, what can be done for the dependents of folks like doctors without borders or how risk-taking in professional skiers contributes to a meaningful life. It may come as a shock to you but we and other positive psychology professionals did not sit around tickling each other and finding everything wonderful for two years.

So if you take nothing else away remember this: just because it says Taco in the name doesn’t mean that what you are chewing is an actual taco. Similarly not everything that has positive psychology on the box has positive psychology inside.

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