by Antonella Delle Fave
Over the last decade, social and medical sciences have paid growing attention to wellbeing and quality of life. Initially, these topics were investigated through objective indicators such as income, physical health, housing conditions, and social roles. However, a great number of studies has shown that objective indicators do not provide adequate assessment of the wellbeing and satisfaction of individuals, nor of the development level of a nation. Quality of life and wellbeing are indeed relative concepts: Each individual has his/her own personal interpretation on the basis of his/her physical conditions, social role, psychological characteristics, and interaction style with the environment.
Therefore, it is crucial to identify subjective indicators of wellbeing: Individuals evaluate their health, their degree of satisfaction in the social, working and personal domains, their achieved goals and future objectives on the basis of parameters that can widely differ from the objective conditions they live in. In psychology, the study of subjective wellbeing has given rise to the wide-spread and multifaceted movement of Positive Psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), whose activities have originated from two basic perspectives. The hedonic perspective includes studies that mainly analyze pleasure, considered as purely individual wellbeing, related to positive sensations and emotions (Kahneman, Diener, & Schwarz, 1999). The eudaimonic perspective focuses on the analysis of factors that favor the development and fulfilment of individual potentials and of authentic human nature (Ryan & Deci, 2001). It derives from Aristotle's concept of eudaimonia, which takes into account what is useful to the individual, what enriches personality. Eudaimonia comprises individual satisfaction as well as development towards integration with the surrounding world (Nussbaum & Sen, 1993). The term is often considered analogous to "happiness", but its semantic field is much wider: It implies an interaction process and mutual influence between individual and collective wellbeing, so that individual happiness takes place in the social space.
Positive Psychology has offered highly innovative theoretical and applied contributions: It emphasizes the crucial role of individuals' resources and potentials, which have been mostly neglected by previous research focusing on deficits and pathology. This represents an authentic perspective reversal: Interventions privilege the mobilization of personal abilities and resources, rather than the reduction or compensation of limitations. In addition, the eudaimonic perspective highlights the relation between the wellbeing of the single individual and the development of community, moving from the narrow individualistic approach that often characterizes psychological and medical research to a wider and more integrated framework.
Researchers and professionals in the clinical, educational, occupational and social domains increasingly derive research and intervention tools from Positive Psychology (Delle Fave, 2004). For this reason, we felt the need to offer an opportunity for exchange and discussion to the growing number of Italian researchers and professionals who work on these topics. This space should favor the circulation of current knowledge and the development of new constructs and intervention strategies.
We hope that the Italian Society of Positive Psychology could serve this function.
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- Nussbaum, M. & Sen, A. (Eds). (1993). The quality of life (pp. 242-269). Helsinki: United Nation University and WIDER.
- Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: a review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 141-166.
- Seligman, M., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive Psychology: an introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14.