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Second Wave Positive Psychology - it's all about the Light and Shade


You may have heard of Second Wave Positive Psychology, but what is it? It’s a bit of a ‘new movement’ and if you look you’ll find some really interesting articles out there on it. They can be a little technical and use a fair bit of jargon too, so we thought we’d try and give you a more simple explanation – fingers crossed it works!

Second Wave Positive Psychology is really what we’ve been saying here at Practically Positive, so we’re pleased that the academics in this field have started to highlight it. Psychology has tended to focus on what is wrong with us, our disorder, dysfunction and distress. There have always been small groups of scholars who felt that the focus should be on our potential and happiness, Martin Seligman being one of them, which led him to champion Positive Psychology.

There is a huge amount of scientific research which has been focussing on subjects such as human strengths, optimism, happiness, and building resilience. Many felt that it was refreshing to study these subjects, but that it also shouldn’t become the sole focus, which led to what’s become known as the Second Wave of Positive Psychology. The second wave is considering the fact that, at times, positive psychology slants might not have the best positive intentions. For example, there are times when it may be more appropriate to be cautious, or even pessimistic, or to perhaps underplay a strength.

Dr Tim Lomas, co-author of the book, Second Wave Positive Psychology: Embracing the Dark Side of Life, said “…recognise that we need to engage with the difficulties of life, they can actually be useful and valuable in some respects, and be conducive to flourishing...”.

Light and Shade

If the first wave is defined by the positive, second wave positive psychology focuses on the fact that that our wellbeing is a subtle blend of the positive and the negative. This challenges the idea that wellbeing is dependent on things such as happiness, and says that it can include negative emotions if they give us a sense of doing well.

I found this to be true recently because my 7 year old has just left infants school to move on to junior school in September. His last few weeks at school were a whirlwind of parent’s evenings and end of year reports, leaver’s assembly and disco, meetings at the new school to find out how things work there and which classes the children will be put into, a time of goodbyes and new beginnings. It left me emotionally wrung out, I felt that one moment I was filled with sadness that my baby was growing up and we were saying goodbye to some amazing teachers who have nurtured him for the past 4 years, while at the same time feeling excited and optimistic about him growing and developing, for the new adventures he has ahead of him.

We learn that love inherently involves a degree of anxiety for that person, it’s the price we pay for the joy that love brings. The sadness we experience and concern for the future, can often be replaced with joys and anticipation in the blink of an eye.

So really positive psychology isn’t just about being relentlessly positive, it’s about the light and dark sides of life, and an understanding of the complexity of emotions is what can help us to truly embrace life. There is a wealth of information on this second wave of positive psychology available, much of it isn’t written for the laymen among us, so hopefully we have given you a brief insight into it.



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