Dreaming The American Dream: Individualism And Positive Psychology

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Social And Personality Psychology Compass


Although positive psychology now promotes itself globally, its American roots are evident in its persistent though unacknowledged attachment to an American-inspired brand of individualism. That attachment is evident in the movement's endorsement of self-fulfillment as the ultimate life goal, its promotion of self-improvement via personal effort, and its narrow sense of the social. We maintain that the bounded, autonomous self that strides through a positive life is an illusion, as is the notion that human flourishing and happiness are readily available to all. We also take issue with the individualistic vision that pervades positive psychologists’ descriptions of society and social institutions. Taking as an example A Primer in Positive Psychology (a recent textbook written by one of the founding fathers of positive psychology and highly praised by the others), we argue that positive psychology's rendering of social institutions is fundamentally asocial and neglects gender, class, ethnicity, and power relations.