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Flourishing as a dialectical balance: emerging insights from second-wave positive psychology

Palgrave Communicationsvolume 2, Article number: 16018 (2016) | Download Citation


Positive psychology, an emergent branch of scholarship concerned with wellbeing and flourishing, initially defined itself by a focus on “positive” emotions and qualities. However, critics soon pointed out that this binary logic—classifying phenomena as either positive or negative and valorising the former while disparaging the latter—could be problematic. For example, apparently positive qualities can be harmful to wellbeing in certain circumstances, while ostensibly dysphoric emotional states may on occasion promote flourishing. Responding to these criticisms, over recent years a more nuanced “second wave” of positive psychology has been developing, in which wellbeing is recognized as involving a dialectical balance of light and dark aspects of life. This article introduces this emergent second wave, arguing that it is characterized by four dialectical principles. First, the principle of appraisal states that it is difficult to categorically identify phenomena as either positive or negative, since such appraisals are fundamentally contextually dependent. Second, the principle of co-valence holds that many states and qualities at the heart of flourishing, such as love, are actually a complex blend of light and dark elements. Third, the principle of complementarity posits that not only are such phenomena co-valenced, but that their dichotomous elements are in fact co-creating, two intertwined sides of the same coin. Finally, the principle of evolution allows us to understand second-wave positive psychology as itself being an example of a dialectical process. This article is published as part of a collection entitled “On balance: lifestyle, mental health and wellbeing”.

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  1. Department of Psychology, University of East London, London, UK

    • Tim Lomas


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Correspondence to Tim Lomas.

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