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
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
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
Value 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 thinking.
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 elders.
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 happiness.
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.
( To 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.
Hence, 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.