With his APA President’s Address in 1998, Martin Seligman raised the need to balance the tendency for psychological research to focus on psychopathology, by researching what caused people to flourish and to lead fulfilling lives. As a result, positive psychology was born. Seligman’s intention was for this to complement the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which focused largely on pathology.

Positive psychology research

A tremendous amount of fantastic scientific research has been carried out into examining subjects such as happiness, human strengths, optimism, building resilience, which is enabling people to thrive and to go from good to great. While it was refreshing to study these subjects, there needed to be caution that it wasn’t taken to the extremes, which is why there has been a recent emergence of what is being called the Second Wave of Positive Psychology or Positive Psychology 2.0. This second wave is taking into consideration that there are times when positive psychology subjects may not have a positive intention, e.g. there are times when pessimism and caution may be more appropriate or that it would be best to underplay a strength.

I was fortunate to recently be able to speak to Dr Tim Lomas, co-author of the book, Second Wave Positive Psychology: Embracing the Dark Side of Life. We discussed what the second wave is and what people need to learn about it.

What is Second Wave of Positive Psychology

When I asked Tim what Second Wave of Positive Psychology was, he answered:

“Rather than undermining the field of positive psychology, we just felt that with all this research that’s been happening over the last 10 years or so the field is moving into a slightly different plane, a slightly different level, as it were, and we just gave a label to this with ‘second wave of positive psychology’. So it’s not like we’re suggesting everyone else has been doing things as a sort of first wave approach and here we are with this bold new second wave approach, that’s not what we’re suggesting, it’s more just a way of recognising trends and patterns that have been ongoing in the field for the last 10-15 years, like I say, critique in positive and negative, for example, recognising that we need to perhaps engage with the difficulties of life as they can actually be useful and valuable in some respects and be conducive to flourishing, so just grouping all of this emergent research under the label of second wave. So for me that’s perhaps the second wave in a nutshell.”

Why a second wave is needed

Following up on this by asking whether this is something that is now needed in the field of positive psychology, Tim responded:

“I think it (the field) would probably still get along fine without us, kind of this idea or bringing this book out, it certainly doesn’t need our help in that respect, but I think it can hopefully bring something to the field, something useful. You know, it can open up this conceptual space where people can bring in slightly more unusual qualities, you know, topics of interest; so, for example, things that could be considered part of the darker aspects of life, uncomfortable emotions, the fact that these can be part of positive psychology.

I think it’s recognising that things that we might deem to be negative can still serve flourishing and adaptation and wellbeing, so it can perhaps expand our way, expand our horizons and concern in the field, so I think it’s useful in that respect.”

For me, the second wave of positive psychology is an important and exciting development for the field of positive psychology, which can help it to become a more mature and well-rounded discipline. By focusing research on both the positive and the negative as ways for people to flourish, this allows for a broader scope of interventions for people to use, in order to thrive and be successful.

Listen to or read the full interview

You can hear the full audio of the interview with Tim below
or if you would like to read a transcript of the interview, you can access it here.

Tim explores issues relating to the second wave in his forthcoming book, published by Piatkus in autumn 2016, entitled The Positive Power of Negative Emotions: How Harnessing your Darker Feelings can help you see a Brighter Dawn. To find out more information about Dr Tim Lomas and the groundbreaking work that he is doing, please go to Tim’s website, www.drtimlomas.com

If you’d like to order your copy of Second Wave of Positive Psychology: Embracing the Dark Side of Life, you can do some from Our Bookshop.


‘Maximising Potential’