Westernversus Eastern Approaches/Philosophies of Positive Psychology”Happinessis the key to success” they say, which is utterly true because until anindividual is happy and satisfied with what he has, he can never move ahead inlife. Positive Psychology aims to studyand improve on that very behavior whereby it enables individuals andcommunities to thrive by analyzing their strengths and virtues. The field ofpositive 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, hightalent, and wisdom.
At the group level it is about the civic virtues and theinstitutions that move individuals toward better citizenship: responsibility,nurturance, selflessness, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethic. MartinSeligman, known as the ‘Father of Positive Psychology’, said that humans wereobsessed with studying only the negative aspects of their lives and paid verylittle attention to the positive ones. Positive Psychology, on the contrary,works to build the positive qualities within us rather than repair the worstthings in our lives. He explained that given the obstacles we face daily, wemay have underestimated the power of positivity and that of the upbeatexperiences.Broadlythere are two basic approaches to Positive Psychology namely the Western andEastern Philosophies.
The Western Philosophies mostly revolve around the word”hope”. Hope is the belief that life can be better, along with the motivationsand efforts to make it so. More than wishes, desires, or daydreams, hope tapsthinking that leads to meaningful actions.
This was further supported by threeinfluential western traditions namely the Athenian, Judeo-Christian and IslamicViews.The Athenian traditions comprised of theviews of both Aristotle and Plato whereby their teachings focused heavily onvirtue and human strength, in Ancient Greece. Plato provided a list of elevenmoral virtues (courage, moderation, generosity, munificence, magnificence, eventemper, friendliness, truthfulness, wit, justice and friendship), and Aristotleadded to the same with intellectual virtues and believed that “strength ofcharacter, would lead to enduring human excellence”.
Aristotle and Plato alsostress on the political development and maintenance of these virtues. For this,Aristotle proposed that the government should be charged with the developmentof virtue in a particular society through early education and training.Thetraditions of Judaism and Christianitycan be explained through the teachings in the Bible whereby in the OldTestament, the virtues of hope, faith and charity are highlighted along withthe “Seven Heavenly Virtues” by Thomas Aquinas. According to historians,Aquinas lists these virtues as fortitude, justice, temperance, wisdom, faith,hope and charity. In Ethics of the Fathers,lessons are given for living life as an ethical follower including a hostto the poor, being fair and seeking peace.
Also, other mentions of variousgifts and strengths are made through the New Testament.Islam, despite of being astrongly debated topic whether it belongs to the west or east, incorporatesvirtues such as gratitude, love, kindness, justice and courage. Also, itcomprises of looking out for one’s brother and to aid the poor as a duty, not aprivilege. However, it states that such actions should be carried out secretlysuch that the humility of the giver is maintained and the recipient is not embarrassedto accept the present so received.On thecontrary, the Eastern Philosophies revolve around four traditions namelyConfucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism. The Confucian teachings emphasize that leadership and education arecentral to morality.
These teaching reflect what Aristotle and Plato said,leaders should take charge of the group and care about the members. It deemsattainment of virtue as the most important aspect, which can be furtheridentified as jen (humanity), yi (duty to treat others well), li (etiquette andsensitivity for others’ feelings), zhi (wisdom), and xin (truthfulness). TheSage believed that in order to gain enlightenment or to have a good life, it isessential to swear by these virtues.The Taoist tradition states that followersare 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 byexperiencing it first hand, inclusive of both the good and bad ones.
The onlygoal is the achieve spontaneity and naturalness. It will bring aboutartlessness and will help practice virtues such as justice, humanity,temperance and propriety.Buddhism is a concept among theEastern approaches that revolves strongly around the importance of “Nirvana”.
Nirvana (both premortal and postmortal) is a state in which the individual isfreed 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 thehuman emotion for desire. However, like the other philosophies, Buddhism alsocommemorates the importance of certain virtues that are love, compassion, joyand equanimity.
Unlikethe other three philosophies, Hinduismdoesn’t have one particular founder but it emphasizes the relevance of termssuch as interconnectedness and harmony. It states that one most attain ultimateself-knowledge and should strive for ultimate self-betterment that facilitatesdoing good for others and living a satisfactory life to avoid reincarnation. Thusreturning to the world indicates the failure to achieve ultimate knowledge ofone’s self.
This view specifically implies that one’s ultimate goal should beto avoid reincarnation and should live a life doing good “karma”.Eastern and Western cultures can differ on a variety of aspects. Some of themare: Value system, their orientation toward time and their respective thoughtprocesses. Both the cultures can be divided on thebasis of the value systems that areprevalent in each culture. The westerners are inclined towards individualisticliving while the easterners towards collectivistic living.
In individualisticcultures the main focus is on the single person. Individual’s achievement andgoals are given much importance as compared to the goals of the society ingeneral. They value ideas like personal freedom and autonomy. Whereas, incollectivistic culture however, the group spirit is valued and cooperation isaccentuated. They value interdependence within the groups.
An example would be,in individualistic culture the person who “stand on his own two feet” is seenas possessing strength within this worldview. While in Eastern culture suchassertiveness on behalf of the self would not be considered favorable. Value isplaced on staying out of conflict and “going with the flow” with the Easternway of thinking. Differences are also seen in both thecultures in terms of orientation of time.
The Westerners are more likely to look towards the future i.e. focus on futureoriented thinking. Some of the strengths that are valued most like hope, self-efficacy reflect future oriented thinking. On the other hand, the Easternculture is past oriented and value the strength of looking backwards andrecognize the wisdom of their elders. The thoughtprocess tends to differ among both the cultures.
The Western cultures givehigh priority to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness whilethe goals of the Easterner might have a different focus. For example, theapproach toward life and achieving happiness. In this case a westerner whosegoal is happiness draws a straight lie to his goal, looking carefully forobstacles and finding possible ways around them. His goal is to achieve eternalhappiness.
However, for the Easterner the goal of happiness may not make sense.The Easterner might have the goal to balance happiness and suffering ratherthan having a goal of achieving one’s happiness. He might trust on the fact thatalthough great sufferings occur in one’s lifetime they will be balanced withgreat happiness. Forwestern values, Rugged Individualism and Hope for personal and individual goalsis necessary.
It includes Goal-focused thinking for a positive future where asfor eastern values, compassion and harmony is essential for life balance. Thereare different approaches within the field of positive psychology. There are twodifferent cultures or ways to view positive psychology of personal strengthsi.
e. focus and balance culture. In focus culture, individuals are focus on buildingtheir own strengths. Balance culture is concerned with balancing and bringingharmony within oneself and amongst others. 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 characteristicmust be considered a strength or a weakness within a particular group. To conclude, there are a number ofsimilarities as well as substantial differences that can be drawn from theaforementioned two approaches. While the similarities include the type of humanqualities and experiences that are valued, the differences explain which of thetraits are specifically valued. Broadly, these differences can be separatedinto three major categories such that in the value system, orientation of timeand thought process.
The western philosophies support individualism, future andforward oriented strengths, and believe in right to life, liberty and pursuitof happiness respectively. Contrarily, the eastern philosophies assign moreweight to collectivism, past experiences and actions, and that of balance, i.e.more the suffering, more will be the happiness later respectively.