Center for Positive Psychology Studies (C-PoP)

Center for Positive Psychology Studies (C-PoP)

Psychology Sub-Discipline: Clinical/Social

Dr. Carissa Dwiwardani

Why positive psychology? Many sub-fields in psychology have historically been concerned with the study of disorders and ways to help people return to normality. As a response to this trend, positive psychology seeks to reverse the trend and instead, highlight human strengths. In other words, what are the psychological assets that human possess, and how do we leverage these traits? A subset of these qualities, often called character strengths or virtues, are ones that I think make life and relationships especially meaningful. These are some questions that have directed my research in the last ten years or so, and I’d like to invite you to join me as I continue to investigate these areas: Why are some people more likely to exhibit character strengths than others? Specifically, why are some people more likely to show humility, to be grateful and to be forgiving? In a culture that values sensation over substance, in what ways do virtues still matter?

First, why are some people more virtuous than others? A study I conducted with a group of colleagues and students discovered that among other variables, attachment is an important predictor. Attachment is formed early in life, with implications in the way people

relate in adulthood. It also predicts the way we regulate our emotions, our ability to build positive interpersonal relationships and cope with stressors. These capacities surely come in handy when one aspires to exhibit virtues in life. For example, when presented with a threat to our ego (such as when given constructive feedback) and wanting to exhibit humility, it is crucial that we are able to 1) cope with the stress of this threat to our ego, 2) regulate our emotional reactions (ie. defensiveness, frustration, any temptation to criticize the person back), and 3) be invested in the relationship enough to protect it. Indeed, our research found that those who are more securely attached are also more likely to show forgiveness, gratitude and humility (Dwiwardani et al., 2014).

Second, do character strengths matter? While there are many areas of life we can explore in answering

this question, romantic relationships present a unique context. Specifically, in dating, there is pressure to highlight one’s strengths, and name hobbies and traveling experiences that others would find most interesting. In other words, isn’t bragging just an inherent part of dating? Surprisingly, research shows the contrary. As it turns out, humble individuals are more likely to get dates (Van Tongeren, Davis, & Hook, 2014)! Not only that, once they are in a relationship, they more likely to be forgiven (Davis et al., 2013, Farrell et al., 2015), have partners that are more likely to be committed (Farrell et al., 2015) and more satisfied in the relationship (Dwiwardani et al., 2017).

Another area where humility has been shown to be useful is the therapy setting. Specifically, cultural humility predicted the strength of the therapeutic alliance, and is positively correlated with therapeutic outcome (Hook, Davis, Owen, Worthington, Utsey, 2013). A recent pilot study indicated that therapist’s level of privilege is an important predictor when it comes to cultural humility (Jarvis, 2018). There is still yet so much more to learn in this area, but as the data continues to emerge, it is becoming more and more clear that cultural humility is an important trait for counselor to exhibit.

The C-PoP aspires to be a vibrant community that studies character strengths, namely, humility, forgiveness and gratitude, and how they relate to other variables, such as attachment and relational satisfaction. I hope you will check out this research team! I am a big believer in a collaborative community when it comes to producing research that are both rigorous and relevant. Your ideas and contribution are vital as we seek to understand these important positive psychology variables!