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You might have experienced the following scenario: sitting with a group of friends, when someone raises the topic of positive psychology. A number of people then respond with sarcastic comments such as, “Isn’t that the ‘be happy’ movement?”

We have a challenge in positive psychology – when people think about our field they immediately imagine the smiley emoticon and feel that the discipline is obsessed with happiness and optimism. Some even think of it as the tyranny of happiness, where joy is the only acceptable emotional state. We all know that in reality, positive psychology is dealing with all of life’s experiences – the difficult and joyful, challenging and easy, painful and hopeful. Our existence is a beautiful mosaic, made up of numerous emotional, cognitive, and behavioural aspects – which are all part of positive psychology. We discuss this mosaic as part of our "Second Wave Positive Psychology" book. How do we change this bad press and make people realise the true depth of positive psychology? The answer is simple: we distinguish between experiences and outcomes.

The outcomes we aim for should always be positive – and that’s the meaning of ‘positive’ in positive psychology. We constantly strive to increase levels of happiness, hope, meaning and other aspects of wellbeing in groups and individuals. However, the experiences which lead us towards these positive outcomes might be difficult and challenging. If I look back at some of the most transformative periods in my lifetime, where I developed an authentic happiness within me, I can frequently find pain and challenges involved in the process. In other words, the so-called “negative” became a platform for the “positive”. Positive psychology should not make us deny our experiences – on the contrary, it should make us embrace them. Whatever you feel, however you think, as difficult as it might be, it could be a beginning of a journey which ends with yourself being stronger and more beautiful. Our task in positive psychology is to provide individuals with the theoretical knowledge and practical tools that would allow them to commence such a journey.

Dr. Itai Ivtzan is a positive psychologist, a senior lecturer, and the program leader of MAPP (Masters in Applied Positive Psychology) at the University of East London (UEL). His work is focusing on Positive Psychology, Mindfulness, and Spirituality. You can find his workshops, books, and scientific work on his website:

His new co-authored book “Second Wave Positive Psychology: Embracing the Dark Side of Life” offers an in-depth understanding of this article’s topic. You can follow Dr Itai Ivtzan on Twitter and Facebook.

About the Authors

Itai Ivtzan Ph.D.

Itai Ivtzan, Ph.D., is a positive psychologist, senior lecturer, and the program leader of the Masters in Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of East London.  

Tim Lomas Ph.D.

Tim Lomas, Ph.D., is a lecturer in positive psychology at the University of East London. 

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