I'm OK, You're OK


| March 7, 2001

I'm OK, You're OK

Contemporary psychologists are making headlines by studying what makes people happy and keeps them sane, rather than what causes their neurosis. In The New Republic, journalist Gregg Easterbrook uncovers the morose outlook of mainstream psychology and highlights a more positive future.

Easterbrook finds 8,166 articles published in the last 100 years in academic journals about 'anger' compared to 416 on 'forgiveness.' These kinds of disparities have helped lead positive psychologists to abandon standard measures of a person's mental wellbeing such as Freud’s description of the best possible mental state for most people as a kind of 'ordinary unhappiness.' They believe that happiness is an attainable goal.

But it's a condition that must be actively sought. 'Positive psychology further finds that happiness is hard,' Easterbrook writes. '[A] positive attitude toward life requires considerable effort; people may slip into melancholy simply because it's the path of least resistance.'

Easterbrook also addresses optimism as a means to a healthier lifestyle. 'Being optimistic doesn't make them [optimists] blind to threats but rather makes them want to be around for the long haul,' he writes. He's not talking about a Pollyannaish kind of optimism, but rather a more all-encompassing world view in which people expect 'tribulations and occasional unhappiness,' but avoid pessimism by understanding the natural course of events.

'For roughly a century, academic theory has assumed that when people lose their minds, the awful truth about life is revealed. Now comes a theory that says the truth is revealed when people acquire happiness and virtue,' he writes.
--Sara V Buckwitz
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