Western versus Eastern
Approaches/Philosophies of Positive Psychology
“Happiness is the key to success” they
say, which is utterly true because until an individual is happy and satisfied
with what he has, he can never move ahead in life. Positive Psychology aims to study and improve
on that very behavior whereby it enables individuals and communities to thrive
by analyzing their strengths and virtues. The field of positive psychology at
the individual level is about positive individual traits — the capacity for
love and profession, audacity, interpersonal skill, perseverance, forgiveness,
originality, future-mindedness, spirituality, high talent, and wisdom. At the
group level it is about the civic virtues and the institutions that move
individuals toward better citizenship: responsibility, nurturance,
selflessness, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethic. Martin Seligman,
known as the ‘Father of Positive Psychology’, said that humans were obsessed
with studying only the negative aspects of their lives and paid very little attention
to the positive ones. Positive Psychology, on the contrary, works to build the
positive qualities within us rather than repair the worst things in our lives.
He explained that given the obstacles we face daily, we may have underestimated
the power of positivity and that of the upbeat experiences.
Broadly there are two basic approaches
to Positive Psychology namely the Western and Eastern Philosophies. The Western
Philosophies mostly revolve around the word “hope”. Hope is the belief that
life can be better, along with the motivations and efforts to make it so. More
than wishes, desires, or daydreams, hope taps thinking that leads to meaningful
actions. This was further supported by three influential western traditions
namely the Athenian, Judeo-Christian and Islamic Views.
The Athenian traditions comprised of the views of both Aristotle and
Plato whereby their teachings focused heavily on virtue and human strength, in
Ancient Greece. Plato provided a list of eleven moral virtues (courage,
moderation, generosity, munificence, magnificence, even temper, friendliness,
truthfulness, wit, justice and friendship), and Aristotle added to the same
with intellectual virtues and believed that “strength of character, would lead
to enduring human excellence”. For this, he proposed that the government should
be charged with the development of virtue in a particular society through early
education and training.
The traditions of Judaism and Christianity can be explained through the teachings in
the Bible whereby in the Old Testament, the virtues of hope, faith and charity
are highlighted along with the “Seven Heavenly Virtues” by Thomas Aquinas.
According to historians, Aquinas lists these virtues as fortitude, justice,
temperance, wisdom, faith, hope and charity. Also, other mentions of various
gifts and strengths are made through the New Testament.
Islam, despite of being a strongly debated
topic whether it belongs to the west or east, incorporates virtues such as
gratitude, love, kindness, justice and courage. Also, it comprises of looking
out for one’s brother and to aid the poor as a duty, not a privilege. However,
it states that such actions should be carried out secretly such that the
humility of the giver is maintained and the recipient is not embarrassed to
accept the present so received.
On the contrary, the Eastern
Philosophies revolve around four traditions namely Confucianism, Taoism,
Buddhism and Hinduism. The Confucian
teachings emphasize that leadership and education are central to morality. It
deems attainment of virtue as the most important aspect which can be further
identified as jen (humanity), yi (duty to treat others well), li (etiquette and
sensitivity for others’ feelings), zhi (wisdom), and xin (truthfulness). The
Sage believed that in order to gain enlightenment or to have a good life, it is
essential to swear by these virtues.
The Taoist tradition states that followers are required to live
according to the Tao, i.e. the Way which gives direction, movement and is a
power that envelops, surrounds and flows through all things. The creator
believes that this way of living can only be understood by experiencing it
first hand, inclusive of both the good and bad ones. It will bring about
artlessness and will help practice virtues such as justice, humanity,
temperance and propriety.
Buddhism is a concept among the Eastern
approaches that revolves strongly around the importance of “Nirvana”. Nirvana
is a state in which the individual is freed from desire for anything and is
hence free from all and any sufferings. Buddha explains that suffering is a
part of being which is brought by the human emotion for desire. However, like
the other philosophies, Buddhism also commemorates the importance of certain
virtues that are love, compassion, joy and equanimity.
Unlike the other three philosophies, Hinduism doesn’t have one particular
founder but it emphasizes the relevance of terms such as interconnectedness and
harmony. It states that one most attain ultimate self-knowledge and should
strive for ultimate self-betterment that facilitates doing good for others and
living a satisfactory life to avoid reincarnation. This view specifically
implies that one’s ultimate goal should be to avoid reincarnation and should
live a life doing good”karma”.
Eastern and Western cultures can differ on a variety of aspects. Some of them
system, their orientation toward time and their
respective thought processes.
Both the cultures can be divided on the basis of the value systems that
are prevalent in each culture. The westerners are inclined towards
individualistic living while the easterners towards collectivistic living. In
individualistic cultures the main focus is on the single person. Individual’s
achievement and goals are given much importance as compared to the goals of the
society in general. In collectivistic culture however, the group spirit is
valued and cooperation is accentuated. An example would be, in individualistic
culture the person who “stand on his own two feet” is seen as possessing
strength within this worldview. While in Eastern culture such assertiveness on
behalf of the self would not be considered favourable. Value is placed on
staying out of conflict and “going with the flow” with the Eastern way of
Differences are also seen in both the cultures in terms of orientation
of time. The Westerners are more likely to look towards the future. Some of the
strengths that are valued most like hope, self- efficacy reflect future
oriented thinking. On the other hand, the Eastern culture is past oriented and
value the strength of looking backwards and recognize the wisdom of their
The thoughts tend to differ among both the cultures The Western cultures
give high priority to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
while the goals of the Easterner might have a different focus. For example, the
approach toward life and achieving happiness. In this case a westerner whose
goal is happiness draws a straight lie to his goal, looking carefully for
obstacles and finding possible ways around them. His goal is to achieve eternal
However, for the Easterner the goal of
happiness may not make sense. The Easterner might have the goal to balance
happiness and suffering rather than having a goal of achieving one’s happiness.
He might trust on the fact that although great sufferings occur in one’s
lifetime they will be balanced with great happiness.
conclude, there are substantial differences in the types of ideas and the ways
in which they are put together that emerge from Eastern and Western traditions.
However, neither is “better” than the other. When it comes to evaluating the
strengths of different culture, we must use culture as a lens to consider whether
a particular characteristic must be considered a strength or a weakness within
a particular group.
there are a number of similarities as well as differences that can be drawn
from the aforementioned two approaches. While the similarities include the type
of human qualities and experiences that are valued, the differences explain
which of the traits are specifically valued. Broadly, these differences can be
separated into three major categories such that in the value system,
orientation of time and thought process. The western philosophies support
individualism, future and forward oriented strengths, and believe in right to
life, liberty and pursuit of happiness respectively. Contrarily, the eastern
philosophies assign more weight to collectivism, past experiences and actions,
and that of balance, i.e. more the suffering, more will be the happiness later
respectively.) * Conclude
properly, still not 1500 words… please add some stuff.