Financial Advice for Retirement, Social Security, IRAs and Estate Planning

Puncturing A Theory Of Positivity And Happiness

March 12, 2018

This article explains a lot of what happened behind the scenes when one graduate student decided that a widely-accepted psychology paper and theory was wrong. He recruited a couple of academics to help him develop the arguments, and they published a paper explaining why a best-selling book and a widely-quoted academic paper were dead wrong. As I’ve written before, a lot of bad academic research is being published. You should’t believe something simply because it’s been published in an academic journal and quoted in the media.

Sokal did a little research and was amazed at the standing the Fredrickson and Losada paper enjoyed. “I don’t know what the figures are in psychology but I know that in physics having 350 citations is a big deal,” he says. “Look on Google you get something like 27,000 hits. This theory is not just big in academia, there’s a whole industry of coaching and it intersects with business and business schools. There’s a lot of money in it.”

The concept of positive thinking dates back at least as far as the ancient Greeks. Throughout written history, metaphysicians have grappled with questions of happiness and free will. The second-century Stoic sage Epictetus argued that “Your will needn’t be affected by an incident unless you let it”. In other words, we can be masters and not victims of fate because what we believe our capability to be determines the strength of that capability.




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