On ‘Appreciation’ in Positive Psychology

What can we learn about “appreciation” in the emerging scientific field of positive psychology?

KEYWORDS: appreciation, appreciative inquiry (AI), appreciation as character strength, appreciation as emotion, appreciation as gratitude, character strength, emotion, gratitude, positive psychology, thought.

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Previously I have talked about the word “appreciation” in various contexts (here, here, and here). And today I am continuing talking about this word, but this time from the angle of positive psychology.

Some Surprising Finds (1)

So let’s start with our search for the word “appreciation”.

My first stop will be the eminent eight-volume Encyclopedia of Psychology, published jointly by the American Psychological Association and Oxford University Press. But since that encyclopedia was published already in 2000, will it contain concepts found in positive psychology, which, as a field of study, originated as late as in the 1990s?

The answer is “No”, at least in regard to the word “appreciation”. That word is, unfortunately, nowhere to be found in the encyclopedia, according to its general index. And the term “positive psychology” is also not present anywhere.

However, on the positive side, we do see that one of the founders of the “positive psychology” movement, Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania), is well represented at this early stage, being mentioned in a half-dozen articles, especially in regard to “cognitive-behavioral therapy” (Ellis 2000, pp. 7-8) and “learned helplessness” (Routh 2000, p. 115; Beckham 2000, p. 473).

Some Surprising Finds (2)

My second stop will be the thick and heavy one-volume APA Dictionary of Psychology. Because this volume was published seven years later than the APA’s own encyclopedia discussed above, one might surmise that we might be more likely to find terms such as “appreciation” in there.

But unfortunately there is no mentioning of any “appreciation” in it (VandenBos 2006, p. 67).

However, on the bright side, we do have a mentioning of the phrase “positive psychology” (VandenBos 2006, p. 713; my square brackets):

“a field of psychological theory and research that focuses on the psychological states (e.g., contentment, joy), individual traits or character strengths (e.g., intimacy, integrity, altruism, wisdom) and social institutions that make life most worth living. [more text follows]”

This quote seems to be, to the best of my knowledge, the first passage in any psychology dictionary or encyclopedia of the term “positive psychology”. So I consider that to be a very interesting and useful discovery.

Appreciation and Appreciative Inquiry (AI)

One of those teams who have applied appreciation in their work are the two American scholars David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva. They published in 1987 an influential article titled “Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life” (reprinted in Cooperrider 2017).

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a process for organizational change. It is based not on the idea of solving a problem, but on the “focusing on the positive future” (Grenville-Cleave 2016, p. 80). And some schools have already adopted the AI process “to bring about effective change at the level of the institution” (Fox Eades 2014, p. 587).

But even though many positive psychology enthusiasts describe the nature of the Appreciative Inquiry process as (very) positive, Cooperrider himself, though, comments (Cooperrider 2017, p. 83):

“Of course there are also many contemporary debates and questions surrounding the idea of appreciative inquiry. For example, is appreciative inquiry about positivity — as so many people in positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship are quick to claim — or is it about generativity, that is ways of doing inquiry that opens our future to new possibilities and better worlds?”

But although Cooperrider seems to want to downplay the positivity aspect of it, it still seems to me that Cooperrider’s overall attitude is one of appreciation and positivity, using phrases such as “miracle of life” (p. 83), “positive potential” (p. 84), and also stating on the closing page of the introduction that (p. 85):

“Appreciation is about valuing the ‘life-giving’ in ways that serve to inspire our co-constructed future.”

Appreciation as Character Strength

The concept of “character strength” comes from the field of virtue ethics (moral philosophy), and in particular Aristotle. The idea is that one’s “character strength” may provide “fortitude and staying power in the face of great adversity” (Quick 2014, p. 801).

Thus, “appreciation” may be regarded as a character strength, since it may provide such “staying power”.

A person equipped with such appreciation may then appreciate beauty and excellence in all its variety, whether we are talking about nature, science, the arts, or the everyday display of virtues in other people.

Three types of expression can be seen (Carr 2011, p. 67; cf. Seligman 2011, p. 259; my square brackets):

“A person who has the [character] strength of appreciation in response to physical beauty experiences awe; in response to skill experiences admiration; and in response to acts of virtue experiences moral elevation.”

Conclusion

These observations naturally just scratch the surface of what is going on in the academic field of positive psychology. However, it is my ambition to continue to investigate and report about appreciation (as well as other positive emotions such as gratitude and happiness) in upcoming articles.

Chris Bocay

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References

Beckham, E. Edward (2000), “Depression” in Alan E. Kazdin, ed., Encyclopedia of Psychology. Volume 2: Calkins to Determinants of Intelligence. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; and New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. [Link to book]

Carr, Alan (2011), Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness and Human Strengths. Second Edition. Hove, England: Routledge. [Link to book]

Cooperrider, David (2017), “The Gift of New Eyes: Personal Reflections after 30 Years of Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life” in Research in Organizational Change and Development. Volume 25, pp. 81-142. [Link to article]

Ellis, Albert (2000), “Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy” in Alan E. Kazdin, ed., Encyclopedia of Psychology. Volume 7: Rape to Systems Theory. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; and New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. [Link to book]

Fox Eades, Jennifer M., Carmel Proctor, and Martin Ashley (2014), “Happiness in the Class Room” in Susan A. David, Ilona Boniwell, and Amanda Conley Ayers, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Happiness. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Link to book]

Grenville-Cleave, Bridget (2016), Positive Psychology. London, England: Icon Books Ltd. [Link to book]

Kazdin, Alan E., ed. (2000), Encyclopedia of Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; and New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. [Link to book]

Quick, James Campbell, and Jonathan D. Quick (2014), “Executive Well-Being” in Susan A. David, Ilona Boniwell, and Amanda Conley Ayers, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Happiness. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Link to book]

Routh, Donald K. (2000), “Clinical Psychology” in Alan E. Kazdin, ed., Encyclopedia of Psychology. Volume 2: Calkins to Determinants of Intelligence. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; and New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. [Link to book]

Seligman, Martin (2011), Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being – and How to Achieve Them. London, England: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. [Link to book]

VandenBos, Gary R., ed. (2006), APA Dictionary of Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. [Link to book]

NOTE: All links are clean (i.e. NOT affiliate links).


Copyright © 2022 by Chris Bocay. All rights reserved.

First published: Tue 8 Mar 2022
Last revised: Sun 7 Aug 2022

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