What happens when we use applied positive psychology on the darkness in the world today?

This is something I’ve been contemplating for several years now. While working with people who were truly suffering, I attempted to apply positive psychology. I was in a place where the focus was on the pathology intertwined with agency policy over people.

It didn’t go well. In the immortal words of Marty Seligman, on the state of psychology,  “It’s good, but not good enough”.

That statement stuck with me for the past thirteen years. When I worked for that agency, they were still using the same model of pathology under the same supervision of someone who had never professionally left her position for twenty years. The agency reflected the leadership. I knew I had to leave. The worldview would never be eye to eye.


The challenge was, “Can we make miserable people less miserable?”. Beyond the pathology, there is another option. This was the seed planted in 1998. In today’s world, many of us have suffered loss in unbelievable ways. The darkness of the global pandemic turned us toward each other. The virtual world. 

The indelible lightness of being one with hope continues to hold on to those who believe the power of the mind. Something that has been tested and challenged for most of us. 

The more struggle and hardship someone has, the harder it is to buckle down on seeing the good in people. Those determined to rise above will already have a set mindset. Others have the opportunity to change their mindset. With work. 

For those who’ve lived in suffering, the challenge will be more of a struggle than for those who have never had a significant hardship. Great loss, financial crises, or violent crimes change us.

Balance with Light 

Culture, age, race, community status, familial patterns, and linguistic comprehension are all valid components of how our work will be received.  If we’re not mindful of what we say to whom, we can create a counter culture that will double down on an opposite effect. 

‘At any given moment, we can have a completely different life’, only applies to those whose basic needs are met. For others who have home, safety, or family insecurity, that whimsical advice, though perhaps well meaning, is more fuel for the toxic fire. 

Respecting one’s audience seems a best practice policy we can all easily adapt to. 

Perhaps, the darkness of our times is a call to action on how we adapt our field to meet the needs of those we seem to leave behind in our research. 

In the words of Albert Einstein, 

“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing it is stupid” 

We, the positive psychology people, are challenged to go where the people are, to learn about their culture, and then, adapt to their strengths.  

Humans are adaptable, organic beings, capable of anything they set their minds too. Darkness when in balance, sheds light in a new and different way. One we can all embrace. 

Author: k.  Aren Henry has a masters in community psychology and an advanced graduate certificate in mental health counseling. The Light Life is part of her “happiness noir” series, copyright 2021 ©  She’s a private practitioner and researcher in the United States. Henry Healing dot com is her calling card.



“We Are The Positive Psychology People”


Find out more about positive psychology courses and training at 

Share This