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date: 29 March 2020

(p. xxiii) Foreword

(p. xxiii) Foreword

In less than a decade, positive psychology has caught the attention not only of the academic community but also of the general public. I just did a Google search for “positive psychology” and found 551,000+hits. That is obviously impressive, although keeping all of us positive psychologists humble is that my searches for the “Olsen twins” and “Britney Spears” produced 4,770,000+ and 90,700,000+hits, respectively.

It is still good that the larger world is interested in positive psychology, and probably even better that this interest does not entail morbid curiosity or the wish to witness a train wreck.

Regardless, the downside of the popularity positive psychology enjoys is the temptation for those of us associated with this new field to run ahead of what we know in pursuit of further popularity. So let us slow down and examine what positive psychology actually is and what we actually know.

Positive psychology is the “scientific” study of what makes life most worth living. It is a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology.

Nowhere does this definition say or imply that psychology should ignore or dismiss the very real problems that people experience. Nowhere does it say or imply that the rest of psychology needs to be discarded or replaced. The value of positive psychology is to complement and extend the problem-focused psychology that has been dominant for many decades.

Several truisms underpin positive psychology. First, what is good in life is as genuine as what is bad—not derivative, secondary, epiphenomenal, illusory, or otherwise suspect. Second, what is good in life is not simply the absence of what is problematic. We all know the difference between not being depressed and bounding out of bed in the morning with enthusiasm for the day ahead. And third, the good life requires its own explanation, not simply a theory of disorder stood sideways or flipped on its head.

Positive psychology is psychology—psychology is science—and science requires checking theories against evidence. Accordingly, positive psychology is not to be confused with untested self-help, footless affirmation, or secular religion, no matter how good these may make us feel. Positive psychology is neither a recycled version of the power of positive thinking nor a sequel to The Secret.

Positive psychology will rise or fall on the science on which it is based. So far, the science is impressive. A great deal has been learned in recent years about the (p. xxiv) psychological good life, none of which was mentioned in any of the psychology courses I took a few decades ago.

The first edition of the Handbook of Positive Psychology both reflected the popularity of positive psychology and contributed to it, especially its scientific basis. Masterfully compiled and edited by my friends and colleagues, Rick Snyder and Shane Lopez, this handbook summarized what was known circa 2002 about positive psychology—theory, research, and application—and more importantly, it charted the future course of the field. Chapters were written by the leaders in positive psychology, and no one mailed in a contribution. Well, we all e-mailed them to Rick or to Shane, but you get the point. The Handbook of Positive Psychology earned a well-deserved place not just on bookshelves but on desks as well.

This edition of the Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology promises to be even more useful to all interested in positive psychology. It updates and expands what is known. Again, it points to the future. And again, it was masterfully compiled and edited by Rick Snyder and Shane Lopez.

The future of positive psychology is bright, but there is one somber note I must sound. With the untimely passing of Rick Snyder, the field has lost one of its giants and one of its genuinely good guys. Rick was a well-known theorist and researcher, but he also labored mightily behind the scenes for the good of positive psychology. Rick, we will miss you. You may not be in Kansas anymore, but you are in our hearts and our minds. In that, we can take some solace.

The epitaph on the tombstone of baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson reads: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” If this is true, and I believe with my entire being that it is, then Rick Snyder led an important life and—indeed—continues to do so. On behalf of all of those touched by Rick Snyder, including those who will read this book, I express gratitude.

Christopher Peterson

University of Michigan

September 2008 (p. xxv)