Positive psychology is the area of psychology that studies the optimal functioning of individuals, groups, and institutions. Since its inception, the field of positive psychology has grown rapidly, with a large volume of peer reviewed publications and an expanding reach beyond the field of psychology to disciplines such as wellbeing, education and organisational behaviour.
For many people, Martin Seligman is widely viewed as the father of positive psychology.
However, 40 years before Seligman had his eureka moment after an interaction with his young daughter, social psychologist, writer and teacher Marie Jahoda had written a ground-breaking book Current Concepts of Positive Mental Health.
In her book, which was largely ignored by many in the behavioural sciences, Jahoda highlighted the fact still lost on many today, that the absence of mental illness does not necessarily mean mental health.
She also laid out a framework for positive mental health which included:
- Acceptance of oneself
- Growth & development
- Integration of personality
- Autonomy (freedom from social pressures)
- Accurate perception of reality
- Environmental mastery
Some sixty years later Jahoda’s framework still seems logical and a great starting point for anybody interested in the difference between mental health and disorders.
Jahoda was also an innovator in social psychology. While a Professor at Brunel University Jahoda set up a degree where students spent time in schools, prisons, hospitals and industry, relating their academic studies to real world problems. She also studied in depth the mental impacts of poverty, racial discrimination effects of unemployment and social-class inequities.
Perhaps what is most surprising about Jahoda’s wide body of incredible work, given its potential impact, is that few policy makers, scientists, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists or academics had the courage to adopt her ideas.
Perhaps it had more to do with her gender than the robustness of her ideas.
Jahoda passed away in April 2001 aged 94.