Positive Psychology

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gary Greenberg, psychotherapist and contributor to Harper's magazine, examines how psychotherapy has changed since the days of Freud. Psychology today focuses on winners: strong people who are highly resilient and psychologically fit. His article “The War on Unhappiness,” in the September issue of Harper’s, describes the latest U.S. brand of psychoanalysis—Positive Psychology, which is not being funded not by the National Institutes of Health, but by the Department of Defense.


Gary Greenberg

Comments [26]

MicheleMoore-Happy1 from Traveling the U.S. from Atlanta

Positive psychology can be downright dangerous when it prompts people to overlook key warning signs and danger signals – for more on this see: and and

Our research found that "Habitually Happy" people assess reality very accurately and make wise and often very creative decisions. Once they are sure they have made good decisions, then they use a full force of enthusiasm and positive expectations to achieve their objectives.

They do not allow themselves to fall victims to blinding optimism, to delude themselves or to deny reality. They deal with dangers positively, promptly and effectively.

For more ideas about what we all can do to be happier right now, given who we are and where we are, see

Michele Moore

Aug. 30 2010 01:54 PM

Happiness coaches are part of the great conspiracy that began some 20 years ago when CEO’s , hedge fund managers and bankers discovered if they outsourced jobs to China and India it would increase the bottom line and they would all get rich. If they could not outsource they discovered another way. They terminated half the workforce and piled the work on those who remained. They followed this by bringing in the happy coaches to put smiles on these overworked underpaid miserable employees. Remember “smile or your fired.” Executives, bankers and hedge fund managers took over the once proud manufacturing industry in America and broke it up, outsourced the work and shipped entire factories offshore for obscene profits while destroying the lives of millions of employees. They don’t need happy coaches. I wonder why?


Aug. 29 2010 09:55 AM
caroline g.

This peace was refreshing, especially what your guest had to say about Freud and the condition of life. No matter how outwardly good things are in my life, I always have this low level of misery due to the very condition of being alive. I've often felt that the focus in life should not be on happiness but perhaps some sense of dutifulness and perserverence for its own sake.

Aug. 26 2010 05:08 PM
Matt Brosseau from New Jersey

To Steve from NYC:

Aug. 26 2010 01:25 PM
John from Fordham University

I can't wait until the manual for this US Army "psychological training" comes out on Wikileaks.

I wonder if the "positive" psychology of the Nazi's theory of the "Master Race" made it easier for German soldiers to shove people into gas chambers and burn down Russian villages?

We know, because of wikileaks, what is happening in Afghanistan to civilians. Do we want soldiers who won't question that? Who won't be affected by these things? Will this training attempt to preemptively eliminate any future Bradley Mannings?

This program should be stopped by the Commander in Chief immediately.

Aug. 26 2010 12:52 PM
steve from nyc

The guest mentioned a website but I don't find it when searching. There are a few others that come up so I'm wondering if anyone knows which one he meant?

Aug. 26 2010 12:43 PM
Henry Escobar from Elizabeth NJ

...i wish they could answer my question U_U

Aug. 26 2010 12:39 PM
David from Brooklyn

Um, an army undisturbed by the horrors of war built up by a man who was a consultant on 'learned helplessness' and torture?

What, exactly, do you figure this army without a conscience will be capable of?

Leonard, this is truly the most frightening stuff I have ever heard. Can you sort of, you know, stand up for the necessity of people being allowed to act like people or something.

Aug. 26 2010 12:38 PM
Jeff from Brooklyn

I don't see a problem with the Army trying to preventively improve the mental health of soldiers. War is brutal and devastating. Green's statement that the Army wanting to desensitive soldiers to brutality of war (ie create a cruel soldier) is entirely unfounded.

Aug. 26 2010 12:37 PM
warren from New York, NY

Is it necessary to lose or somehow "get past" one's undesired qualities in order to be happy? It seems that an "authentic" happiness has more to do with living a meaningful, productive life while being fully mindful of these qualities, not escaping them for a better self.

Aug. 26 2010 12:33 PM
Opal from NYC

I have been through years of therapy and my problem is not with happiness or unhappiness (so ephemeral) My problem is a personality disorder which I acquired in my home situation. I have not been able to shed this disorder which causes me problems with friendships.

Aug. 26 2010 12:33 PM
Elaine from Baltimore

Happiness = purposeful living

There are levels of pleasure.

1 - lowest form: physical pleasure which is temporary but not illusory.

2 - esthetic pleasure

3rd - The pleasure of relationships, where you seek out the goodness in others & they bring out the goodness in you. Not, as is much of Western Hollywood influenced imagery... what the other gives to you, that is called self-love.

4 - From a Jewish perspective, the highest form of pleasure is realizing that the goodness that one seeks in others & in oneself is the search for the face of G-d.

See Rabbi Noah Weinberg for further elaboration, the Five Levels of Pleasure

Aug. 26 2010 12:30 PM
Julian Kandell from New Jersey

Positive Psychology and Coaching.
How does life coaching fit into this point of view - it's become quite popular and people are replacing therapists with coaches.

Aug. 26 2010 12:30 PM
Ed from Larchmont

Isn't there a difference between postive psychology and the new psychology of virtue?

Aug. 26 2010 12:29 PM
Julian Kandell from New Jersey

Positive Psychology and Coaching.
How does life coaching fit into this point of view - it's become quite popular and people are replacing therapists with coaches.

Aug. 26 2010 12:29 PM
Julian Kandell from New Jersey

Positive Psychology and Coaching.
How does life coaching fit into this point of view - it's become quite popular and people are replacing therapists with coaches.

Aug. 26 2010 12:28 PM
rosane from nyc

how does he see meditation as a way to see ur life as a positive experience?

Aug. 26 2010 12:28 PM
Sera from NJ

People who visit therapists are clients or customers, not patients. This is not a medical domain.

Aug. 26 2010 12:26 PM
Candace from Montclair, NJ

Doesn't Barbara Ehrenreich deserve real credit for Greenberg's take on this? She wrote "Bright-sided," questioning the positive thinking movement.

Aug. 26 2010 12:25 PM
Caring teacher from Bk


I am a teacher who formerly taught at a KIPP charter school. There is a large attempt (driven by co-founder Dave Levin) to bring Marty Seligman's findings on the characteristics that lead to a happy life into the NYC KIPP schools. It always left a bad taste in my mouth, initially because it felt that my students, that I love very much, were being treated as Guinea pigs, then because I felt that by dictating an individual's habits, we were robbing them of the trial-and-error aspect of LIFE that I believe would lead them to happiness. Can Mr. Greenberg comment of the appropriateness of this in schools and as an element of school culture? KIPP serves kids in low-income, inner-city neighborhoods, and it makes me uncomfortable to delude kids in a way, when the odds are stacked against them already.

Aug. 26 2010 12:25 PM
Ed from Larchmont

Two things a therapist can do that a friend can't do is to provide a disinterested viewpoint, and to put a person back together. Often it's one's friends that puts one in therapy.

Aug. 26 2010 12:21 PM
J K from Bronx

Is Dr. Greenberg saying that the years of training therapists have is not essential to the success of therapy? I find this somewhat disheartening as a 5th yr doctoral candidate in child psych...

Aug. 26 2010 12:19 PM
Leo Cassidy from Bernardsville, NJ

When all the insane investment banking craziness two years ago, were there people who would have stood up to say "stop, this is insane" -- but they were diagnosed as unhappy and drugged into compliance?

Aug. 26 2010 12:18 PM
A listener

Where do the Tony Roberts of the world fit into all of this? And what about the ministers who preach the gospel of prosperity? In glimpses I've caught of them, they say "God wants you to be happy and rich!"

Do people need God's permission to be materialistic?

Aug. 26 2010 12:17 PM
Henry Escobar from Elizabeth NJ

How does psychotherapy addresses economics,
or the economic factor on people?

Is acknowledging that the "Self Made Man" theory is a myth -since there are invisible economic forces that rule our lives- a problem?

Aug. 26 2010 12:17 PM
Ed from Larchmont

To say that the psychology of promoting the virtues is close to Scientology is a bit of a stretch.

Aug. 26 2010 12:14 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.