This paper first describes the growing pains and challenges of the positive psychology (PP) movement and identifies the four pillars of the good life as meaning, virtue, resilience, and well-being, which are all shaped by culture. I then introduce three issues that characterise the second wave of PP (referred to as PP 2.0). The first concerns the need for a comprehensive taxonomy of PP. The second involves the hypothesis that meaning-orientation and happiness-orientation represent two different visions of the good life with profound practical implications. Eudaimonia is viewed as meaning plus virtue. The third issue concerns a dual-systems model as a way to integrate the complex interactions between the negatives and positives to optimise positive outcomes in various situations. I conclude that PP 2.0 is characterised by a balanced, interactive, meaning-centered, and cross-cultural perspective.


Positive psychology (PP) has been all the rage since Martin Seligman’s APA president address in 1998. In spite of its controversial nature (Carstensen & Charles, 2003; Held, 2002; Lazarus, 2003), PP has effectively changed the language and landscape of mainstream psychology and it continues to grow exponentially in the teaching, research, and applications of PP. The potential of applying PP to enhance well-being is almost unlimited; it has already opened up new career opportunities for psychologists in coaching, counselling, and consultation (Linley & Joseph, 2004; Linley, Joseph, Harrington, & Wood, 2006).

The PP movement has been spreading like a forest fire with no sign of abating: research articles, books, and academic conferences on PP continue to multiply. The formation of the International Association of Positive Psychology is one of the many recent developments attesting to the global appeal of PP. The vitality and creativity of PP research can be found in mainstream psychology journals as well as specialized journals such as the Journal of Positive Psychology and the Journal of Happiness Studies. By all indications, the prospects of PP are bright, but there is a need to take stock and assess its future direction, now that the dust has settled after the initial explosive growth. The present paper represents both a reassessment and a reformulation of PP from a Canadian vantage point.

Seligman’s (1998a) primary reason for launching the PP movement is to address the imbalance in mainstream psychology. He emphasizes what is good about people to counteract psychology’s preoccupation with psychopathology. This premise is correct with respect to applied psychology and the study of emotions, but it becomes questionable if one considers the totality of mainstream psychology research. For example, numerous PP topics were already well researched prior to Seligman’s APA presidential address. Hart and Sasso (2011) have found evidence of substantial growth of several PP subdomains, especially resilience.

Given the above, would PP become superfluous when an analysis of publication rates of all the growth-oriented research topics fail to show a negativity bias in mainstream psychology? I think not. I propose that a stronger argument in support of the legitimacy of PP is that PP is much more than a corrective reaction to the perceived imbalance in the literature. Properly understood, the overarching mission of PP is to answer the fundamental questions of what makes life worth living and how to improve life for all people—this is also the heart and soul of the mission of both APA and CPA.

The Growing Pains and Challenges of Positive Psychology

Like any new movement, PP has attracted both supporters and detractors. Some of the criticisms are caused by overstatements, resulting in unnecessary controversies and criticisms. For example, the controversy regarding humanistic psychology’s contribution to PP remains unresolved (Bohart & Greening, 2001; Robbins & Friedman, 2008). The literature has also shown several legitimate concerns about PP.

What To Do About the Negative?

One persistent critique of PP is that it has ignored the reality and benefits of negative emotions and experiences. Recently, there has been a shift in the PP movement from focusing only on the positive as separate from psychopathology (Seligman, Steen, Park & Peterson, 2005) to PP focusing both on healing the worst AND building the best (Peterson, 2006a). While acknowledging the need to address the negatives, the dominant message of PP (e.g., Fredrickson, 2009; Lyubomirsky, 2008; Peterson, 2006a) still maintains that negatives will go away if people simply focus on enhancing the positives. However, too much emphasis on positive affect as the answer to all ills can be counterproductive because negative emotions, such as a guilt, regret, frustration, and anger, can all motivate us toward positive change. Future research needs to test the hypothesis that the development of character strengths and resilience may benefit from prior experience of having overcome negative conditions. A balanced model of PP explicitly seeks to harness the positive potentials from negative emotions and situations for both individuals and society.

The Problem With Black-and-White Thinking

Related to the frequent criticism of “tyranny of positivity” (e.g., Held, 2002) is the artificial dichotomous thinking of positive versus negative psychology. Such distinction served a strategic function to launch the PP movement. It is also a useful short-hand to differentiate between two different motivational systems (approach vs. avoidance) or two emotional systems (positive affect vs. negative affect). However, in the final analysis, most psychological phenomena cannot be properly understood without considering both positive and negative experiences. Emotional experiences are often complex, involving a mixture of positive and negative elements.

Toward a Balanced Interactive PP 2.0

Ryff and Singer (2003) emphasize the need to appreciate the dialectics between positive and negative aspects of living: “Human well-being is fundamentally about the joining of these two realms”(p. 279). In order to fully understand the complexity of life in its totality, it is more promising to study the paradoxical and interactive effects of positives and negatives in the next stage of development of PP. This is essentially a concept paper for PP 2.0 which complements Seligman’s (1998b) original concept paper and represents part of the ongoing evolution of PP.

The Need for a More Precise Terminology

The progress of PP has been plagued by an imprecise language (Haybron, 2000) because in the vernacular, happiness and the good life have many surplus meanings, and psychologists also offer different definitions. Even the term “positive” is ambiguous because it refers to many things, such as positive valance as well as outcomes in positive and negative circumstances. The same ambiguity also surrounds the descriptive “negative.” Guilt and regret are considered negative emotions, but they may lead to the positive changes. Similarly, pain is necessary for gain in mastering a sport.

Happiness or subjective well-being (SWB) is typically defined as “people’s cognitive and affective evaluations of their lives” (Diener, Diener, & Diener, 1995, p. 851). However, a global SWB score is less meaningful without any references to contextual variables and past histories. For instance, a high SWB score for people struggling in the midst of unrelenting adversity and poverty would have a very different meaning and may reflect a very kind of adaptive process than the same SWB score for someone enjoying a pleasant life in peace and prosperity. The more negative the situation, the greater the adaptive effort is needed in order to maintain a high level of SWB. See the elaborate adaptive process involved when I (2008) tried to regain a sense of joy in the midst of prolonged and intense pain. The concept of hedonic adaptation (Frederick & Loewenstein, 1999) describes the tendency to return to the set-point after high and low points in life, but it does not recognize the very different processes and consequences of upward and downward adaptations. Thus, the real value of a global SWB score needs to be interpreted by factoring in the current negativity index and the history of adaptation to adversity (Larsen & Prizmic, 2008). By the same token, the same global SWB score tells a different story, depending on the different sources and avenues of happiness. The following types of happiness all contribute to SWB, but they may involve different personalities, circumstances, and pathways.

1. Hedonic Happiness

Typically defined as evaluating one’s life as satisfying and containing a high rate of positive affect and low rate of negative affect (Kahneman, Diener, & Schwartz, 1999; Kashdan, Biswas-Diener, & King, 2008). What immediately comes to mind is the kind of life that emphasizes “eat, drink, and be merry” or the hedonic treadmill. It represents the sensorial experiential pathway to happiness as well as the general happiness set point inherent in different individuals. Some people are happy-go-lucky, while some are naturally moody or melancholy.

2. Prudential Happiness

Feelings of satisfaction that come primarily from living a fully engaged life. It often includes the “flow” and the intrinsic joy of doing something one does best and enjoys doing. It refers to a person’s doing well in what she is good at and what delights him without moral considerations (Haybron, 2000). It represents the active pathway to happiness, because it fills one’s life with activities and content as an antidote to boredom and inner void, and it also provides satisfaction for a job well done.

3. Eudaimonic Happiness

Different researchers have defined eudaimonia differently (e.g., Kashdan, Biswas-Diener, & King, 2008; Ryan, Huta, & Deci, 2008; Ryff, 1989; Seligman, 2002; Waterman, 2007). However, it serves as an umbrella term that incorporates psychological well-being, virtue/excellence, intrinsic motivation/authenticity, flow/fully functioning, meaning/purpose, and concern for others. Personally, I prefer to define eudaimonia as a lifestyle characterised by the pursuit of virtue/excellence, meaning/purpose, doing good/making a difference, and the resulting sense of fulfillment or flourishing. It refers to the kind of happiness associated with living in a manner that “actively expresses excellency of character or virtue” (Haybron, 2000, p. 3). This narrower definition differentiates eudaimonia from hedonic and prudential happiness and recognizes the moral/ethical underpinnings of eudaimonic well-being.

4. Chaironic Happiness

Feeling blessed and fortunate because of a sense of awe, gratitude, and oneness with nature or God. Chaironic (pronounced “chair”-“ronic”) comes from the Greek root chairo (χαρá), which simply means blessing, joy, or gift of happiness. However, chaironic happiness does depend on our preparedness and receptivity. What really matters is our attitude toward life, our being mindful of the moment and attuned to the transcendental reality. It is typically associated with peak experiences, mindful meditation, and transcendental encounters. It represents the existential spiritual pathway to happiness. It calls for empirical and theoretical work.

Granted that everyone may be seeking happiness, but people do differ in the kind of happiness they pursue as the ultimate purpose in life. A global SWB measure is not sensitive enough to differentiate these four types of happiness, because they all contribute to SWB, even though their sources and pathways may differ. More specialized well-being measures are needed to complement the general SWB scale. For example, eudaimonic happiness may be best measured by a eudaimonic happiness scale (Waterman, 2008), flourishing (Diener, Wirtz, Biswas-Diener, Tov, Kim-Prieto, Choi, & Oishi, 2009) or authenticity (Wood, Linley, Maltby, Baliousis, & Joseph, 2008). Chaironic happiness may be more related to the spiritual well-being scale (Bufford, Paloutzian, & Ellison, 1991) than other types of happiness. Presently, I am developing a eudaimonia preference scale focusing on meaning and virtue in life’s tough-choice situations.

The Future of a Balanced PP Is Now

Snyder and Lopez (2007) commented that “Future psychologists must develop an inclusive approach that examines both the weaknesses and the strengths of people… We have not reached that point, however, because we have yet to develop and explore fully the science and practice of positive psychology” (p. 9). For all their support of a balanced PP, they see it as an ideal for the future. But I propose that the future is now. Since we can never explore fully the science and practice of PP without considering the limitations of positives and the benefits of negatives (e.g., Aspinwall & Staudinger, 2003; Ryan & Deci, 2001), why not adopt a new strategy of incorporating negative experiences in all our research and practice of PP right now? Haybron (2007) has rightly emphasized that “A crucial task for any theory of well-being is to give a credible accounting of the value of pleasant and unpleasant experiences, especially suffering” (p. 12).

King (2001) points out that “the focus on the maximization of positive affect and the minimization of negative affect has led to a view of the happy person as a well-defended fortress, invulnerable to the vicissitudes of life… Perhaps focusing so much on subjective well-being, we have missed the somewhat more ambivalent truth of the good life” (pp. 53–54). Larsen, Hemenover, Norris, and Cacioppo (2003) emphasize the health benefits of coactivation of positive and negative emotions, which allow individuals to gain understanding and mastery over stressful and traumatic experiences. Consistent with Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, and Vohs (2001), Larsen (2009) has documented the negativity bias. There is also considerable literature on posttraumatic growth (Cassel & Suedfeld, 2006; Joseph, 2009; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1995). The clearest statement in favour of a balanced approach to PP comes from Peterson’s (2006b) syllabus for his course on Positive Psychology Interventions:

Positive psychology calls for as much focus on strength as on weakness, as much interest in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst, and as much attention to fulfilling the lives of healthy people as to healing the wounds of the distressed.

Commenting on Sheldon, Kashdan, and Steger (in press); Steger (2010) wrote: “In nearly every one of the essays, leaders in the field urge us not to myopically focus on the ‘positive’ in psychology and to preserve the symbiotic relationship between the good and the bad.” The challenge for PP 2.0 is to begin a research program NOW to study the symbiotic relationship between the good and the bad. The enterprise of PP 2.0 needs to begin with a comprehensive new taxonomy that recognizes the legitimacy of negatives in all subdomains of PP.

The Need for a New Taxonomy for a Balanced PP

Taxonomy, the most basic level of theory development, can be helpful in facilitating the advance of PP. This new taxonomy of positive psychology, as shown in Table 1, will achieve three things: First, it brings order to a wide array of seemingly contradictory data. Second, it incorporates areas of research that have been ignored as part of positive psychology. Third, it has the heuristic value of generating new areas of research by looking at different combinations of the 2 × 2 matrix. The new taxonomy must recognize the benefits and risks for both positives and negatives. To achieve the good life and optimise well-being, one needs to know how to manage risks and balance positives and negatives.

Table 1 Proposed New Taxonomy for a Balance PP

Antecedent conditions Adaptive process Outcomes
Positive good living conditions

good health

positive attitudes

good resources


congruent coping, response flexibility

goal persistence

high well-being

actualization, virtue

benefits to society

group morale

Negative bad living conditions

bad health

negative attitudes

lack of resources





wisdom, humility

growth, maturity

patience, faith

spiritual formation

The main focus is on adaptive processes and positive outcomes in both positive and negative conditions. This taxonomy has the heuristic value of stimulating PP research regarding the optimal interactive adaptation to both positive and negative antecedent conditions for individuals and society.

Table 2 show a 2 × 2 contingency table involving Positive Traits – Positive Outcome (Quadrant 1), Negative Traits – Positive Outcome (Quadrant 2), Positive Traits – Negative Outcomes (Quadrant 3) and Negative Traits – Negative Outcomes (Quadrant 4). The same 2 × 2 contingency table can be applied to a variety of traits, conditions, and processes, thus creating a systematic way of studying both the limits of positivity and positive potentials of negativity.

Table 2 A Balanced Approach to Character Traits and Outcomes

Quadrant 1 Positive Trait: Self-confidence Negative Trait: Self-doubt Quadrant 2
Positive Outcomes Success & happiness

Optimal functioning

Fame & power



Trust in God & others

Negative Outcomes Arrogance


Alienating friends


Fear & anxiety

Escape from reality



Quadrant 3 Quadrant 4

PP generally focuses on Quadrant 1 and ignores Quadrants 2 and 3, which also hold potentials for PP. Quadrant 2 is an important but much neglected area. Every virtue can become a vice when it is too much or too little. Similarly, the pursuit of happiness also has its downsides, such as greed and indulgence in materialism and environmental exploitation (O’Brien, 2008). Quadrant 3 (Negative – Positive) holds enormous potential for enhancing the success and well-being of multitudes who feel that they cannot compete because of all the deficits and obstacles they face. The world is not fair in terms of life opportunities and health conditions. Some were born with several strikes against them, and they have to endure much more than their share of misfortunes and sufferings. Studying their adaptive processes and the positive potentials of various negative emotions and conditions can benefit large numbers of disadvantaged and disabled people. According to PP 2.0, the most effective strategy to maximize Positive – Positive and minimize Negative – Negative is to discover the benefits of Positive – Negative and Negative – Positive. Thus, the 4 Quadrants comprise a complete strategy of furthering the mission of PP.

Balancing Between Individualist and Collectivist Orientations

The positive outcomes can be either for the individual or for the group/society. A group-oriented positive psychology is more consistent with collectivistic cultures (Leong & Wong, 2003). Social activism and political reform also belong to the realm of positive psychology if they result in the enhancement of justice and the common good (Csikszentmihalyi, 2009). The positive motivations for the well-being of others have not attracted much attention from PP researchers. Altruism (Batson, Ahmad, Lishner, & Tsang, 2002) and compassion (Gilbert, 2009) represent only a small segment of PP’s broader concern for creating positive institutions.

People in strong collectivist cultures may be more concerned about securing a better life for their family than for themselves. Over the years, I have met many professional individuals from China or Korea who work at low-paying jobs in Canada so that their children can have a better education and a better future. They endure marginalization and downward social mobility for their children’s happiness. Thus, there are cultural differences in the balancing act between me and we. For PP 2.0, we need to emphasize positive motivations, processes, activities, and outcomes for both individuals and groups. Examples of positive outcomes for individuals include life satisfaction, achievement, and self-esteem, while positive outcomes for groups would encompass harmonious relationships, group morale, and collaborative success.

Toward a Balanced Definition of PP

In view of the rapid expansion of PP, it becomes increasingly difficult to have a comprehensive definition that encompasses different aspects of PP. Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson (2005) remain committed to the three-pillar definition of PP as “an umbrella term for the study of positive emotions, positive character traits, and enabling institutions” (p. 410). It is worth noting that Seligman et al. recognize that “a complete science and a complete practice of psychology should include an understanding of suffering and happiness, as well as their interaction”, but they consider relief of suffering and enhancement of happiness as “two separate endeavours” (p. 410). According to PP 2.0, these are inherently interdependent endeavours. The focus on what is good about people in times of peace and prosperity is only half of the story. The whole story of PP is about how to bring out the best in people in good and bad times in spite of their internal and external limitations. Thus, PP may be defined as the scientific study of virtue, meaning, resilience, and well-being, as well as evidence-based applications to improve the life of individuals and society in the totality of life.

The Four Pillars of Positive Psychology

Virtue, meaning, resilience, and well-being are the four of pillars of PP 2.0 because extensive research has shown that they are the major ingredients of PP, as evidenced in textbooks and journal publications in PP. Empirically, these four pillars incorporate many areas of mainstream research which recognizes the moral imperative, the centrality of meaning, the intrinsic human capacity for resilience, and the universal human yearning for happiness and a better future. Logically, it is difficult for people to survive and flourish lacking any of these four ingredients. It is always difficult and risky to identify areas as essential for positive psychology. My choice of these four additional pillars is based on both empirical research, as reviewed here, and the broadest possible psychological understanding of what is essential to make life better for individuals and society in good times and bad. Seligman’s three pillars represent the characteristics and outcomes of having achieved a high level of meaning, virtue, resilience, and well-being. Recently, Seligman has added relationships as an additional pillar, which is also included as a major source of meaning (Wong, 1998).

The Imperative of Virtue

Virtue is concerned with what kind of person we want to be and the kind of values and character strengths we want to possess. Unlike competence-based strengths, virtue cannot be a value-neutral term just like “good” is not a value-neutral descriptor. Good invariably begs the question of good for what. A consensus is emerging among positive psychologists that what is good needs to be both for the individual and the common good. Virtue, not science, provides a moral map for how we ought to live our lives and how we ought to develop just and compassionate societies. It takes people with virtue and integrity to create positive institutions and democratic societies. Virtue is its own reward. It feels good from doing good, even when it hurts. Living a virtuous life may not always be good for the individual—because the pursuit of what is good and just may result in persecution and oppression—but it will be good for the common good (Haybron, 2000).

Fowers (2008) points out that virtues and ethics are important not only for psychologists but also for the good life in general: “Virtues are the character strengths that are necessary to pursue what is good… That means that what counts as a virtue is determined largely by what we believe to be the best, highest, most admirable, most noble aims for humans” (p. 631).

He further adds that “the identification and description of our ends are central to defining the character strengths we deem admirable and worth cultivating. Because positive psychologists aim to promote human flourishing and character strength, one could reasonably expect them to articulate a rich and resonant understanding of what is good for humans” (p. 631). I agree with Fowers that the concept of good cannot be entirely based on “the inherent worth of virtue and on the subjective markers of that worth” (p. 633), because such a view heavily reflects the individualistic bias of contemporary Western societies without considering the value-systems of more collectivist societies. Research on virtues needs to recognize cultural differences as we move toward an international PP.

Another concern is that purely subjective views of what is good will give license to people to do evil in the name of doing what they are best at, be it gambling, killing, or exploiting people. According to a value-neutral view of character strengths, even serial killers and terrorists can be considered living the good life (Seligman, 2002). Fowers suggests that we need to consider collectivist virtues, “such as citizenship, responsibility, nurturance, altruism, civility, and tolerance” (p. 634). He also raises the issue of how to balance the individual and group-level virtues and how to “curb the possibility of becoming too masterful or hedonically oriented” (p. 634). These issues implicate the importance of moral/ethical considerations and cultural norms with respect to what is good.

PP takes an ambiguous stance with respect to moral values because of its emphasis on science. On the one hand, Seligman emphasizes that the main purpose of PP is to understand and enhance human strengths and civil virtues (Seligman, 2002). One of the criteria for selecting each character strength in Peterson and Seligman (2004) is that the strength needs to be “morally valued in its own right” and a person’s display of the strength does not diminish or hurt people. On the other hand, the above quote seems to suggest that the display of the strength can contribute to the good life, even if it is destructive to others. This inconsistency has been pointed out by a number of philosophers and psychologists (Martin, 2007; Robbins, 2008; Sundararajan, 2005; Taylor, 2001; Woolfolk & Wasserman, 2005).

Such inconsistency may be due to Peterson and Seligman’s (2004) emphasis on competence-and-success values at the expense of moral and ethical values. Their stance on moral neutrality actually waters down their emphasis on the need for civil virtue in creating positive institutions and societies. Kraut (2009) maintains that the ethics of well-being must consider what is good and dismisses that it requires each individual to construct his or her own definition of the good. It is questionable whether anyone’s life can be considered “good” or if anyone can be considered of having a “good character” if either are< morally corrupt and ethically harmful to society. McCullough and Snyder (2000) define virtue as “any psychological process that consistently enables a person to think and act so as to yield benefits to him or herself and society” (p. 1). What is good depends on the purposes it serves. Good must mean good for something, Applying Aristotle’s virtue ethics Kraut (2009) argues that human good needs to entail whatever fosters human flourishing. The good life demands the presence of virtue. At the heart of how we should live is the question of good—how we ought to live a worthy and excellent life that embodies the best existential values that characterise us as human beings.

Virtue research incorporates several lines of mainstream research, such as moral development (Gilligan, 1977; Kohlberg, 1981; Walker, 1989), prosocial behaviour (Clark, 1991), and compassion (Gilbert, 2005, 2009). Moral psychology, at the intersection of psychology and philosophy, promises to be an area of substantial growth in PP, especially when eudaimonic well-being gains currency. Like well-being, virtue also has a cultural dimension (Leong & Wong, 2003; Rigsby, 1994).

The Centrality of Meaning

Jerome Bruner (1992) has long sought to establish meaning as the central concept of psychology. Peterson’s (1999) analysis has shown that a fuller understanding of meaning-making requires us to connect the world of myths and beliefs with the world of science and neuropsychology. Hoffman (2009) concludes that “the attainment of meaning is one of the most central aspects of human existence and necessary to address in existential therapy” (p. 49). A meaning-centered PP 2.0 goes beyond the confines of science to explore narratives, myths, and culture as advocated by the above three authors.

Prominent positive psychologists typically consider meaning as one of the components of happiness or the good life (Park, Peterson, & Ruch, 2009; Peterson & Seligman, 2004; Seligman, 2002). However, the construct of meaning is much broader and richer. It is much more than being an antecedent or outcome measure of happiness. Based on implicit theories, research of lay people’s beliefs of what constitutes the ideal good life or the ideal meaningful life, when money is no longer an issue, Wong (1998) has identified eight sources of meaning: happiness, achievement, intimacy, relationship, self-transcendence, self-acceptance, and fairness. This finding has been replicated in several other cultures (Kim, Lee & Wong, 2005; Lin & Wong, 2006; Takano & Wong, 2004). The Personal Meaning Profile (PMP) as reported in Wong (1998) and McDonald, Wong, and Gingras (2012), excludes the happiness component in order to minimize the problem of confound when PMP is used to predict well-being. The seven major sources of meaning are very similar to the major sources of happiness (Myers, 1993).

Apart from sources of meaning, we also need to consider the structure and functions of meaning defined as PURE (Wong, 2010a) which stands for Purpose, Understanding, Responsible action and Enjoyment. Functionally, these four components cover for many psychological processes for the good life: motivational (purpose), cognitive (understanding), moral/spiritual (responsibility), and evaluative/affective (enjoyment). They function together as part of the self-regulation process (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004; Carver & Scheier, 2001; Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Purpose-Driven Life

Purpose has to do with overall direction, life goals, and core values. It provides the framework of daily deliberations and navigating troubled waters. According to Kashdan and McKnight (2009), purpose can be characterized as a central, self-organizing life aim. At one level, purpose refers to the incentive objectives, goals, and plans (Emmons, Colby, & Kaiser, 1998; Gollwitzer, 1999; Klinger, 1998). At a deeper level, purpose is concerned with the existential values: what really matters in life and what would make for the ideal good life (Wong, 2010b; Wong & Gingras, 2010). At a higher level, purpose refers to devoting something larger and higher than oneself; Park, Peterson, and Ruch (2009) considers this broader or higher concern as the hallmark of a meaningful life.

Understanding and A Sense of Coherence

Without a sense of coherence, life is incomprehensible, unpredictable, and unsettling. Without a sense of order and understanding of how the world works, we would have difficulty achieving hardiness (Maddi, 1998). Without a clear sense of self-identity, we would not know what to do with our lives. Pursuit of self-understanding and self-knowledge is important for self-control (Baumeister, Heatherton, & Tice, 1994). At a situational level, it requires attribution and appraisal in order to know how to cope (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Peacock & Wong, 1990; Seligman, 1990; Wong & Weiner, 1981). Understanding also includes emotional intelligence (Salovey, Mayer, & Caruso, 2002). At a deeper level, enlightenment about life and death and one’s place in the larger scheme of things is needed to discover the meaning of life (Wong, 2010b). Understanding entails the need for self-reflection and self-acceptance, which are components of meaningful living (Wong, 1998, 2007).

There is also a social/cultural dimension to understanding. According to constructivist psychology (Raskin & Bridges, 2004), meaning-making is involved in understanding the self and the world, in navigating everyday life. Meanings are subjectively constructed based on one’s personal history and idiographic way of experiencing the world, but the ways we understand our world and ourselves are also shaped by culture, language, and ongoing relationships. Thus, curiosity, meaning-seeking, myth-making, and storytelling all contribute to our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.

Responsible Action

It is concerned with doing what is right and what is good. With freedom comes responsibility. Since self-determination is one of the keys to happiness and the good life, the ability to make good decisions is paramount. Good decisions not only lead to successful or satisfying results for the individual, but also meet ethical requirements and contribute to the well-being of others (e.g., Snyder & Feldman, 2000).

Aristotle (trans. 2004) emphasizes the importance of practical wisdom as well as rationality. In Sternberg’s (2001) words, practical wisdom is “not simply about maximizing one’s own or someone else’s self-interest, but about balancing various self-interests (intrapersonal) with the interests of others (interpersonal) and of other aspects of the context in which one lives (extrapersonal), such as one’s city or country or environment or even God” (p. 231). To decide on the right course of action demands that we have the right purpose in life, the correct understanding of the situation, and careful consideration of its consequences on other people. One is responsible not only to one’s own conscience and conviction, but also to others and a higher authority.

Enjoyment and Evaluation

Feeling good is the inevitable outcome from doing good in light of one’s highest purpose and best understanding. One can feel satisfied with the decision and action even when one fails to accomplish the desired result. Thus, meaning is related to both SWB and eudaimonia. When the situation worsens and when dissatisfaction sets in, self-regulation demands that one reevaluate one’s purpose and understand one’s actions in order to make midcourse corrections. The evaluative component is necessary to ensure that one does not remain stuck in a rut. Here discontentment serves a positive function when it compels the unhappy person to make positive changes.

The Central, Integrating Function of Meaning

Meaning serves a vital function in integrating various aspects of human needs and functions. The centrality of meaning can also be appreciated from the stand point of meeting the basic human needs (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004) for purpose, efficacy and control, value and justification, and self-worth. Furthermore, there is extensive literature on the relationships between meaning and various indices of well-being in personality and social psychology (e.g., Baumeister, 1991; Brickman, 1987; Chamberlain & Zika, 1988; Deci & Ryan, 1991; Kasser & Ryan, 1993; Klinger, 1977; Little,1989; McAdams, 1993; Reker & Chamberlain, 2000; Reker, Peacock, & Wong, 1987; Ryff, 1989; Ryff & Keyes, 1995; Sheldon & Kasser, 1995; Wong, 2012; Wong & Fry, 1998).

The Necessity of Resilience

It is inevitable that we will experience setbacks, obstacles, failures, losses, sickness, and death. It makes a great difference how we respond to adversities. Typically, resilience is conceptualised in terms of protective factors within the individual and available in the culture or environment. Such factors not only prevent people from getting sick but enable them to bounce back from illness or trauma. The broadest way to view resilience is in terms of adaptation—the process of adjusting and overcoming setbacks, resulting not only in bouncing back but also in becoming stronger. Resilience simply means the capacity to endure, bounce back, and grow in the midst of adversities and existential anxieties; we can study resilience both in terms of the underlying processes and its beneficial effects on the human being.

According to Davydov, Stewart, Ritchie, and Chaudieu (2010), “Resilience can be viewed as a defence mechanism, which enables people to thrive in the face of adversity” (p. 479). However, I conceptualise resilience as involved in both recovering and flourishing as defined by Keyes and Lopez (2002). Resilience depends on having sufficient inner and external resources to cope with whatever life throws at us. Resilience also depends on learning effective coping strategies and skills to manage different kinds of troubles and threats. This learning process requires cultural knowledge (Rigsby, 1994; Wong & Wong, 2006) and the ability to differentiate between adaptive and maladaptive coping processes.

Recently, Ungar and his associates (Ungar & Lerner, 2008 and Ungar & Liebenberg, 2009) have broadened resilience to include ecological and cultural factors. They define resilience as the development and application of science-based knowledge pertaining to positive development, positive adjustment and thriving across the life span. In sum, resilience is a complex and multifaceted adaptation process with cognitive, behavioural, social, and cultural components.

The will to live is the key to resilience. Frankl (1985) defined the will to live as the will to meaning. According to the meaning-centered approach (Wong & Wong, 2012), the will to live consists of having meaning and purpose and the capacity to transform negatives to positives.

The Psychology of Well-Being

The good life necessarily entails well-being. The psychology of well-being serves as an umbrella term for happiness, health, flourishing, and optimal functioning at both the individual and national levels in both positive and negative conditions. Well-being denotes the desirable condition of our existence and the end state of our pursuit. All human efforts and ingenuities are directed to improving their well-being and bettering their future. Everyone who is seeking and striving for something is after some kind of well-being—something that makes them feel good and something that is evaluated as good and satisfying. Culture shapes our understanding of happiness and our expression of emotions (Ahuvia, 2001; Carter, 1991; Chang, 1996; Christopher, 2005; Leong & Wong, 2003; Pederson, 1999; Sue & Constantine, 2003; Wong, Wong, & Scott, 2006). Given that there are cultural differences, subjective well-being still provides a useful index on how we are doing and how well we live at the individual and national level. Diener and Tov (2009) have reported that overall life satisfaction and positive affects have different predictors in different countries.

Well-being reflects not only healthy functioning and happiness (Ryan & Huta, 2009), but also serves an evaluative function in the self-determination process (Ryan, Huta, & Deci, 2008). Well-being is concerned with both objective assessments of wellness and the subjective judgment of how satisfied one is with their life in terms of physical, mental, social, economic, and emotional well-being. A high level of well-being, both subjective and objective, flows from living by our best light (virtue), pursing our most cherished dreams (meaning), and overcoming life’s difficulties (resilience). A sense of well-being also comes from developing the attitudes and skills to appreciate life, savour the moments, and enhance happiness. Positive affects, in turn, will increase our capacity for virtue, meaning, and resilience (Frederickson, 2002; Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005).

There is a need to develop a more complete taxonomy and index of national and individual well-being. The current Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW, 2009) includes six components: living standards, healthy populations, community vitality, democratic engagement, time use, and leisure and culture. The CIW places too much emphasis on physical, social, and economic well-being and very little on psychological well-being such as meaning in life, subjective well-being, relationships, and spiritual well-being. Ryff and associates have identified several dimensions of psychological well-being (Keyes & Ryff, 2000; Ryff, 1989; Ryff & Keyes, 1995; Ryff & Singer, 1998). Ryff (1989) proposed three major dimensions: psychological, social, and emotional. Each of these dimensions includes separate elements. For example, psychological well-being includes self-acceptance, personal growth, purpose in life, environmental mastery, autonomy, and positive relationships with others. This sounds very much like what constitutes a meaningful life according to the PMP (Wong, 1998). In other words, psychological well-being according to Ryff is much broader than subjective well-being.

Well-being enriches and energizes life; it also endows life with a sense of joy and meaning. All the struggles and sufferings seem worth it when we are able to drink from the fountains of happiness. It is tempting to view the meaning of life purely in terms of positive affects. However, psychology of well-being needs to study both the perils of happiness (Wong, 2007) and the benefits of suffering (Frankl, 1985; Wong, 2009).

A complete theory of well-being needs to take into account negative emotions and suffering (Haybron, 2003). One cannot define well-being in terms of the absence of negative affect and conditions as I have discussed earlier. Approach-oriented motivations need to work in conjunction with avoidance-oriented motivations to produce the optimal level of adaptation and well-being. Watson (2002) and Watson & Clark (1994)) have demonstrated the coexistence and the interdependence of positive and negative affect. Diener and Emmons (1984); Keyes and Ryff (2000); and Bradburn (1969) have all demonstrated the independence of negative and positive emotions. Therefore, the challenge for people is not to avoid or minimize negative emotions or to achieve the ideal positive-to-negative ratio as proposed by Fredrickson and Losada (2005). Instead, the challenge for psychologists is to help people achieve the optimal level of well-being in spite of the difficulties and pains they are going through. The psychology of well-being needs to focus more on the positive potential of transcending and transforming negative emotions. Salovey, Mayer, and Caruso (2002) proposed that the best way to manage emotions is to balance approach-oriented and avoidance-oriented emotions. According to PP 2.0, well-being is not the algebra of positive minus negative but positive plus negative. In other words, the capacity to transcend and transform negative provides an additional source of well-being to positively based well-being. Some recent studies (e.g., Huta & Hawley, 2010) combined strengths and vulnerabilities and examined their relations to well-being. The present balanced model goes one step further. It will predict one’s coping efficacy with vulnerability, and negative emotions will be positively related to both strengths and well-being.

Two Mindsets: Meaning Orientation Versus Happiness Orientation

One emerging trend in PP is the recognition of meaning and eudaimonia. The debates of meaning versus happiness and eudaimonic happiness versus hedonic happiness are closely related. Eudaimonia can be understood from a meaning perspective because of its emphasis on purpose, understanding, responsibility, and enjoying the fruit of the good life. Eudaimonia can also be viewed as rooted in both inner goodness and the common good, as previously discussed. In other words, eudaimonia can be defined as meaning plus virtue. A meaning-orientation with a focus on virtues becomes a eudaimonic orientation. The distinction between eudaimonia (meaning) and hedonic happiness is an important one for parenting, education, and positive psychology. For example, D. M. Haybron (personal communication, November 19, 2010) suggested that eudaimonia might provide the key to resolving the parenting paradox in SWB research which shows that parents with young children tend to be the least happy of them all. Dr. Daniel Gilbert (Munsey, 2010) suggests that parents need to believe that their hard work and sacrifice are worth it in order to raise good children. In other words, being responsible and sacrificial parents may result in eudaimonic rather than hedonic well-being.

Takamori, Akehashi, and Ito (2006) observe that: “Modern society is plagued with ills such as violence in its many forms, including tyranny, terrorism, murder, and suicide. Real answers to these problems continue to elude us. Our advances may have made us richer, but they have not done anything to ensure our happiness or provide us with a sense of abiding meaningfulness. In fact, modern life often seems only to bring more acute feelings of isolation, loneliness, and emptiness” (p. ix). How can we be freed from all these human miseries in spite of material prosperity?

They point out that this question was addressed more than 25 hundred years ago by Siddhartha Guatama (Sakyamuni), the founder of Buddhism. Born a prince, raised in privilege and luxury, and blessed with everything that people ever dreamed of for happiness, yet his heart was not happy. He was troubled by existential givens of old age, sickness, and death; and he was burdened by the suffering of fellow human beings. As a result, he devoted nine decades of his life to search and spread the wisdom of how to achieve inner peace and happiness by being freed from ignorance and greed—the root of all suffering—so that people can experience the joy of being alive. Obviously, he was not interested in hedonic or prudential happiness; his pursuit can be best described as eudaimonic and chaironic. Researchers have found happiness ranks as one of life’s most cherished goals (Diener, 2000; Lyubomirsky, 2001). But Sakyamuni, Confucius, and many modern saints have pursued a very different kind of happiness, one that is closely linked to finding meaning and virtue or eduaimonia. These people are willing to sacrifice their personal comforts and even their own lives for a higher purpose enhancing the well-being of humanity.

PP 2.0 is interested in studying these two contrasting visions of happiness—one focuses on the pursuit of personal happiness and success, the other on the pursuit of meaning and virtue. Needless to say, most people would say that what matters most to them is personal happiness and success, but a tiny small segment would say that what matters most is to make this world a better place. The latter group would include people like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, and the many social/political reformers and humanitarian relief workers who sacrifice their own comforts and risk their own lives for the well-being of others. Why are psychologists more interested in what makes life happiest rather than what makes life most meaningful and virtuous? Haybron (2000) points out that “the question of what way of life will make one happiest may be second only to that of what manner of living would be most admirable or virtuous as a matter of practical consideration when confronted with Socrates’ question” (p. 7).

Huta and Ryan (2010) report eudaimonic motivation tends to be more strongly related to a sense of meaning and purpose in life, whereas hedonic motivation tends to be more closely linked to positive emotions and a sense of being carefree. I maintain that two different types of happiness represent two fundamentally different mindsets in terms of basic life orientations, ultimate concerns, lifestyles, and well-being. I propose that it matters a great deal whether one is primarily motivated to pursue happiness or a meaningful virtuous life as the ultimate purpose.

In this paper, I equate meaning orientation with eudaimonia and happiness with both hedonic and prudential types of happiness. This difference in mindset will influence the tough choices one makes. A happiness-oriented person is more likely to give up in the face of adversity, whereas a meaning-oriented person is more likely to persevere in spite of personal suffering. The differences between the two different mindsets are shown in Table 3. These two mindsets will also lead to different predictions in various conditions, as suggested in Table 4.

The two different mindsets also lead to different predictions with respect to how we relate to environmental issues. According to Boehm and Lyubomirsky (2009), sustainable happiness refers to intentional efforts that enhance levels of personal happiness beyond the set point; pursuit of hedonic happiness may result to unbridled consumerism. In contrast, O’Brien (2008) defines sustainable happiness as “the pursuit of happiness that does not exploit other people, the environment, or future generations” (p. 289). Her concept of happiness is more like eudaimonia because she emphasizes personal and social responsibilities to contribute to global well-being.

Another benefit of a Meaning Orientation (MO) is that it is especially important to the suffering masses. For people living in abject poverty or in Nazi death camps, they would not have many opportunities for enjoying a pleasant life. Similarly, individuals struck with severe and chronic illnesses and disabilities would not be fully engaged in life. Fortunately, even when people are forced to live an impoverished and restricted life, they can still manage to live a meaningful life (Frankl, 1985; Wong, 2009). Interestingly, Seligman (2002) also emphasizes that “people who are impoverished, depressed, or suicidal care about much more than just the relief of their suffering. These people care—sometimes desperately—about virtue, about purpose, about integrity and about meaning” (p. xi). Therefore, a meaning-orientation is more adaptive than a happiness-orientation in terms of overcoming adversity and enjoying a high level of well-being in the midst of suffering.

Table 3*: Differences Between Meaning and Happiness Orientations in Terms of Life Purpose and Core Values

Meaning Orientation Happiness Orientation
1. Actualizing meaning & purpose 1. Optimizing positive experiences
2. Primarily interested in eudaimonic & chaironic well-being 2. Primarily interested in hedonic and prudential well-being
3. Pursuing worthy ideals, even at personal costs 3. Pursuing worldly success and avoiding pain and sacrifice
4. Concerned with how to live a life good in all respect 4. Concerned with what will make me happiest
5. Concerned with satisfaction with one’s life as a whole 5. Concerned with feeling happy moment by moment
6. More interested in nurturing the inner life—inner peace & joy 6. More interested in external sources of happiness

Table 4* Differences Between Meaning and Happiness Orientations in Terms of Personal Characteristics and Life Choices

Meaning Orientation Happiness Orientation
Responsibility above feeling Feeling above responsibility
High in compassion and altruism Low in compassion and altruism
High in delayed gratification High in immediate gratification
Endurance & perseverance Giving up in the face of hardships
Willing to sacrifice self interests for family & friends Putting self-interests above family and friends
Will speak up against corruption at the risk of losing one’s job Will keep quiet against one’s own values in order to keep one’s job
Places moral and ethical principles above expediency Will place expediency and practical gain above moral and ethical principles
High in self-control, transcendence, courage, spirituality High in self-confidence, self efficacy, achievement motivation, competence

A Dual-System Model of the Good Life

The proposed dual-system model represents our attempt to conceptualise how the positives and negatives interact with each other to achieve the good life. This model incorporates all the elements I have discussed earlier. Although the present model focuses on the dual-system of approach and avoidance motivations, it is actually a complex multisystem model of self-regulation. For example, the mindful awareness state is important when the person is not actively engaged in approach and avoidance activity. By adding clarity and vividness to experience, savouring contributes directly to well-being, happiness and self-regulation (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Brown, Ryan, & Creswell, 2007).

It is not possible to understand the good life apart from various contextual factors. Culture influences all components in the model. Personality traits are also relevant in terms of their temperament and strengths and weaknesses. A complete understanding of the good life needs to take into account a multidimensional or complex system approach. Recently, Sheldon (2009) has also proposed a multilevel model of human flourishing, involving biological and cognitive levels of the persons within supportive social contexts and cultures. Similarly, Delle Fave (2009) emphasizes that optimal experiences vary according to cultural contexts and meaning-making.

According to the traditional approach-avoidance model, the avoidance motive detracts from the approach motive, resulting in a reduced approach tendency. However, according to the dual-systems model, the right amount of avoidance can strengthen approach. For example, when a person is motivated by both fear of failure and the need for success, he will work harder than when he is only motivated by a need for achievement. Similarly, when a person is motivated by both the fear of getting ill and the desire to enjoy good health, she is more likely to stay healthy than when she pays attention only to health promotion without any thoughts about disease prevention.

According to this dialectical, interactive, and dynamic dual-system view, PP will pay more attention to contextual variables and adaptive processes in both positive and negative conditions. To fully experience life, to feel keenly alive is to embrace life in totality. The dual-systems model depicts the complex interactions in living a full life. For more details of this model, please read Wong (2010a, 2012).


One out of five Canadians will experience some form of mental illness or disorder in their lifetime (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2010). The challenge is twofold: First, finding effective ways of treating people with mental illness; second, how to create conditions that will prevent mental illnesses. The old approach of focusing on psychopathology will not achieve the prevention goal. The American Positive Psychology movement will not be adequate by itself in achieving the treatment goal. The present balanced model of PP 2.0 has the potential to attain both goals; it emphasizes the need to enhance the positives and manage the negatives in order to increase well-being and decrease mental illnesses.

Servan-Schreiber (2009) says “You can’t be healthy on a sick planet” (p. 81)—a planet contaminated by toxins, chemicals, and pollutants. He emphasizes the need to create a healthy environment and healthy lifestyle in order to prevent cancer and promote well-being. Similarly, you cannot live a healthy and fulfilling life in a sick world contaminated by crime, corruption, injustice, oppression, and poverty. Such evils can destroy individuals and societies like cancer cells. Positive psychology 2.0 emphasizes the need to develop good and decent people as well as a civil society by promoting meaning/virtue and overcoming and transforming negatives.

PP is in flux. Given the dynamic changes in the field, PP today is already very different from what was originally proposed by Seligman. I emphasize that PP needs to synthesize the positive and negative, take a clear stance on the imperative of virtues, integrate across levels of analysis, and build constituency with all branches of mainstream psychology around the globe. I also shift the focus away from individual happiness and success to a meaning-centered approach to making life better for all people. According to Csikszentmihalyi (2009), “The next big challenge for this new field is to help improving the social and cultural conditions in which people live” (p. 203).

If PP is broad enough to encompass most areas of psychology, it may lose its identity and reason for existence. On the other hand, if we place an arbitrary restriction as to belong to PP, we may be perceived as being divisive. To resolve this dilemma, I propose that PP 2.0 represents a mindset, a movement and a big tent for all positive-oriented psychologists, rather than a distinct subdiscipline. PP will continue to evolve and grow, and it will emerge as a vibrant and ever-expanding area of interest without clear borders. PP can serve the same function as the counterpart to Abnormal Psychology by integrating the various lines of research related to meaning, virtue, resilience, and well-being in the service of making life better for individuals and society. PP provides a hopeful framework for developing good and fully functioning human beings and psychologically healthy institutions in spite of the negativity and finitude inherent in human existence.

*These tables are not present in the published version of this article.


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Wong, P. T. P. (2011). Positive psychology 2.0: Towards a balanced interactive model of the good life. Canadian Psychology, 52(2), 69-81.