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Positive Factors at Work

The First Report of the Nordic Project

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Positive psychology investigates the positive aspects of human life. Positive psychologists contend that it is difficult to understand the factors that create health, balance and meaningful lives through studying sickness, dissatisfaction and suffering. Accordingly, positive psychology represents a turn for a more positive approach to psychology. The ideas of positive psychology are also applicable within the sphere of work and organisational psychology. It is a central contention of this report that positive psychology may provide interesting answers to some of the challenges that are confronting the Nordic welfare states in the years ahead. The aim of this report is to give a theoretical and methodological overview of existing Nordic research about positive factors at work. The report contains a series of operationalised concepts that measure positive factors at work. These measures of positive factors at work are brought together in a theoretical model that the authors of this report will use as a starting point for further research into positive psychology at work in a Nordic context. This research has been funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers.

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Introduction

What is positive psychology? Why is there a need for positive psychology? Psychological research has always been mainly occupied with negative subjects such as pathology and treatment of illnesses. There are several explanations for this focus. One is that negative emotions require more urgent attention compared to positive emotions, and according to evolutionary scientists, make more sense in relation to immediate action when faced with danger. History also reveals some explanations for this negative focus. In the past, when societies faced military threats, poverty, and instability, they would focus on how to defend themselves and limit the damage (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). When Martin Seligman became President of The American Psychological Association (APA) in 1998, he introduced the concept of ‘positive psychology’, a science containing three pillars: positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Positive psychology turns the negative focus in psychology around to look at what makes people flourish and function optimally (Gable & Haidt, 2005). The Journal of Positive Psychology gives the following definition of positive psychology: ‘Positive psychology is about scientifically formed perspectives on what makes life worth living. It focuses on aspects of the human condition that lead to happiness, fulfilment and flourishing (Linley, Joseph, Harrington & Wood, 2006, p. 5).

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