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The positive psychology (PP) movement, launched by Martin Seligman (1998), is the most significant phenomenon in contemporary psychology. Perhaps it is inevitable that its exponential growth has led to some excesses by its over-enthusiastic supporters and criticisms from its detractors. However, nothing has stopped PP’s growth; it continues to flourish and evolve in light of new theoretical formulations and research findings.

The ‘second wave’ of PP (PP 2.0) (Ivtzan, Lomas, Hefferon, & Worth, 2015; Wong, 2011) represents a maturing of PP that is more nuanced, balanced, and inclusive. It can be regarded as an inevitable or necessary scientific progress towards integration and a more general theory of PP. PP 2.0 is an umbrella term encompassing at least six defining themes that distinguish it from the initial wave of the movement (PP 1.0).

  1. PP 2.0 recognizes that it is scientifically and experientially indefensible to only focus on positive emotions, positive traits, and positive institutions, as proposed by Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000), since positives and negatives are related in a dynamic manner. Thus, PP 2.0 prefers a dialectic rather than a dichotomous approach to positivity and negativity. If the smiley face (☺) symbolizes PP1.0, then the yin-yang symbol (☯) represents PP 2.0.
  2. PP 2.0 maintains that long-term wellbeing for individuals and institutions can be best achieved by embracing and transforming the dark side of human existence. Thus, we will more likely live authentically and fully when we are willing to confront our own mortality (Wong & Tomer, 2011) and make the best use of our limited time on earth. Similarly, we will more likely succeed in creating virtuous positive organizations by taking appropriate measures to weed out and prevent toxic elements like bullying (Wong, Ivtzan, & Lomas, 2016).
  3. PP 2.0 no longer focuses only on neutral and positive territories. The need to confront the dark side of the human condition necessarily takes PP 2.0 to unpleasant and undesirable territories such as suffering, terminal illness, and death. Such new frontiers demand new and innovative PP research and interventions as informed by existential insights.
  4. PP 2.0 does not maintain a value-neutral stance as the physical sciences do. Instead, it advocates the importance of cultivating humanistic values or global virtues, such as human dignity, kindness, and integrity, as necessary preconditions to produce more moral and good human beings and kinder and gentler societies. It argues that simply enhancing individual signature character strengths will not achieve such humanistic ideals.
  5. PP 2.0 does not assume that concepts and research findings based on American PP can be uncritically accepted as “universal truths” and transplanted into other cultures. Instead, PP 2.0 emphasizes that the pathways to wellbeing may be shaped by cultural differences (Chang, 1996; Wong, 2013). Thus, PP 2.0 values contributions from indigenous PP.
  6. PP 2.0 no longer only focuses on quantitative research grounded in the epistemology of positivism. It favours a humble science that values qualitative research and valuable knowledge from the humanities like philosophy, literature, and religion.

In sum, PP 2.0 incorporates both more recent research findings (e.g., Lomas & Ivtzan, 2015; McMahan, 2015) and criticisms of PP 1.0 from both within and outside of the PP community. Thus, PP 2.0 is capable of accounting for a larger database of empirical research and has the heuristic value of generating new research and interventions.


  1. Chang, E. C. (1996). Cultural differences in optimism, pessimism, and coping: Predictors of subsequent adjustment in Asian American and Caucasian American college students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 43(1), 113-123. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.43.1.113
  2. Ivtzan, I., Lomas, T., Hefferon, K., & Worth, P. (2015). Second wave positive psychology: Embracing the dark side of life. London, UK: Routledge.
  3. Lomas, T., & Ivtzan, I. (2015). Second wave positive psychology: Exploring the positive-negative dialectics of wellbeing. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1-16. doi:10.1007/s10902-015-9668-y
  4. McMahan, E. A., Choi, I., Kwon, Y., Choi, J., Fuller, J., & Josh, P. (2015). Some implications of believing that happiness involves the absence of pain: Negative hedonic beliefs exacerbate the effects of stress on well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1-25. doi:10.1007/s10902-015-9707-8
  5. Seligman, M. E. P. (1999). The president’s address (annual report). American Psychologist, 54, 559-562.
  6. Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5
  7. Wong, P. T. P. (2011). Positive psychology 2.0: Towards a balanced interactive model of the good life. Canadian Psychology, 52(2), 69-81. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/positive-psychology-2-0-towards-a-balanced-interactive-model-of-the-good-life/
  8. Wong, P. T. P. (2013). Positive psychology. In K. Keith (Ed.), Encyclopedia of cross-cultural psychology (pp. 1021-1026). Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell.
  9. Wong, P. T. P., Ivtzan, I., & Lomas, T. (2016). Good work: A meaning-centred approach. In L. G. Oades, M. F. Steger, A. Delle Fave, & J. Passmore (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell handbook of the psychology of positivity and strengths-based approaches at work (pp. 0-0). West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell.
  10. Wong, P. T. P., & Tomer, A. (2011). Beyond terror and denial: The positive psychology of death acceptanceDeath Studies, 35(2), 99-106.


Wong, P. T. P. (2015). What is second wave positive psychology and why is it necessary? Dr. Paul T. P. Wong. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/what-is-second-wave-positive-psychology-and-why-is-it-necessary/

This article has been translated into Portuguese for the October 2017 newsletter of the Positive Psychology Association of Latin America. Please email drpaulwong@gmail.com for a copy.