Title

A new positive psychology: A critique of the movement based on early Christian thought

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

9-2016

Abstract

Positive psychology offers two visions for human life: a hedonic path that focuses on the seeking of pleasure and happiness, and a eudaimonic journey that involves the development of virtues conducive to a good life. Early Christian thought offers a sophisticated critique of the strengths and weaknesses of these visions because it responded to similar ideas that were present in classical philosophical systems like Stoicism. Early Christian writers rejected hedonic understandings of human flourishing (as did most people in the classical period) and approved of a focus on virtue as necessary to a good life. They also would join with positive psychologists and criticize a narrowly medical model view of mental health. However, there are also important differences between early Christian thought and eudaimonic positive psychology. Early Christian authors had a different understanding of virtue as holistic and relational, in contrast to the more fragmented and individualistic picture of virtue and health found in most positive psychology research. These Christian writers also had a different view of suffering as having positive potential or a ‘medicinal’ quality, while positive psychology writers generally see suffering as something undesirable that needs to be eliminated. Overall, some aspects of positive psychology are not incompatible with the vision of life, struggle, and helping that was developed by early Christian writers. However, the differences are probably more notable than the similarities.