Health Literacy Article In January 2000, the American Psychological Association's flag-ship journal, American Psychologist, dedicated an entire issue to the growing field of “positive psychology,” including both theory and practical applications. The special issue was highly relevant to physician well-being.
The special millennial issue contains 15 empirically minded articles by eminent authors in the field of academic psychology. This field marks a deliberate steering away from the dominant “disease model” of human functioning. In the disease model, clinical psychology had become almost exclusively a science about healing damage or controlling maladaptive impulses. In contrast, the primary purpose of positive psychology is to measure, understand, and then build human strengths and civic virtues, including hope, wisdom, creativity, courage, spirituality, responsibility, perseverance, and satisfaction.
The special issue is divided into 4 sections: evolutionary perspectives, positive personal traits, implications for mental and physical health, and fostering excellence. As the editors and several authors point out, positive psychology has significant implications for improving the quality of personal and professional life through applications on both individual and societal levels.
The first of the 4 sections includes 2 ambitious articles that examine positive psychology within an evolutionary framework. In “The Evolution of Happiness” David Buss offers 3 hypotheses to explain why positive states of mind are so often elusive: first, the discrepancies between modern and ancestral environments; second, mechanisms evolved that are “designed” to produce subjective distress (i.e., functional jealousy and worry); and third, competitive mechanisms evolved that function to benefit 1 person at the expense of others.
In contrast to Buss' biologically based evolutionary arguments, Massimini and Delle Fave explore psychological and cultural evolution in “Individual...