Western of both Aristotle and Plato whereby their

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
Views.

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”. Aristotle and Plato also
stress on the political development and maintenance of these virtues. For this,
Aristotle 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. In Ethics of the Fathers,
lessons are given for living life as an ethical follower including a host
to the poor, being fair and seeking peace. 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 received.

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. These teaching reflect what Aristotle and Plato said,
leaders should take charge of the group and care about the members. 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. The only
goal is the achieve spontaneity and naturalness. 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 (both premortal and postmortal) 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. Thus
returning to the world indicates the failure to achieve ultimate knowledge of
one’s self. 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
are: 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. They value ideas like personal freedom and autonomy. Whereas, in
collectivistic culture however, the group spirit is valued and cooperation is
accentuated. They value interdependence within the groups. 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 favorable. 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 i.e. focus on future
oriented thinking. 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 thought
process tends 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.

   
For
western values, Rugged Individualism and Hope for personal and individual goals
is necessary. It includes Goal-focused thinking for a positive future where as
for eastern values, compassion and harmony is essential for life balance. There
are different approaches within the field of positive psychology. There are two
different cultures or ways to view positive psychology of personal strengths
i.e. focus and balance culture. In focus culture, individuals are focus on building
their own strengths. Balance culture is concerned with balancing and bringing
harmony 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 characteristic
must be considered a strength or a weakness within a particular group.

 

     To conclude, there are a number of
similarities as well as substantial 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.