Two Truths, No Lie: Positive Psychology

Guest Author Jennifer Lewellen, 2016 MAOD Graduate

Guest Author Jennifer Lewellen, 2016 MAOD Graduate

Dr. Martin Seligman is a mentor of mine in spirit. His day job however is being the father of Positive Psychology and its’ two supporting theories: the Authentic Happiness Theory (AHT) and the Well Being Theory (WBT).

Spoiler alerts:

  1. He was brave enough to recant the first
  2. I am about to be brave enough to (respectfully!) recall it.

Our story starts with Positive Psychology. “Positive Psychology…  is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play” (Positive Psychology Center, 2016).

In his beginning, Dr. Seligman’s AHT theory appointed happiness the pot of gold at the end of the positive psychology rainbow. The goal of the AHT is to find the path to the “Full Life.”  Dr. Seligman proposed that “Happiness and life satisfaction… could be increased by building positive emotion, engagement, and a sense of meaning in life” (Seligman, 2011).

Ten years into living the AHT, one of Dr. Seligman’s students challenged his theory, pointing out that the theory omits the dimensions of connectedness and accomplishment. This prompted Dr. Seligman to revise his thoughts and construct the Well-Being Theory. The WBT has five measurable elements that work together to contribute to our Well-Being (PERMA):


PERMA revolutionizes the purpose of positive psychology from straightforward happiness to all-inclusive well-being. It changes the story, asserting that the goal of one’s life is not just to find happiness or life satisfaction, but rather to “increase the amount of flourishing in your own life and on the planet” (Seligman, 2011).

Now for those of you keeping score, here is where we are at:

Initially, it was Dr. Seligman’s AHT that inspired me to search for the more specific statements of  my happiness; to seek satisfaction with actions that were louder than words. The AHT prompted me to go on a journey to be better than my day before. It empowered me to share my not the same old situation with others. And… it prepared me for the WBT.

So, my counter to Dr. Seligman’s recant is that the WBT is the emotionally intelligent version of the (still relevant) AHT. I see both theories as separate steps. I don’t believe a person can attain “increased flourishing” without starting somewhere simpler. This simple start has to be with the self before being able to offer our paramount to the “planet”.  Therefore, I propose that on our search for satisfaction and well-being we travel towards flourish via both his theories: the AHT is step one, and the WBT is step two. My steps so far reveal:

 Two truths

Our “Full Life” is founded on our free will to choose to create positive emotion, engagement, and meaningfulness in the gray of any day.

Our “Flourish” can take us further by going global and expanding our elements, ever increasing our contributions towards being our best well-being.

 No lie

Our Self is the source of our satisfaction AND our well-being; we can be our better best selves by understanding our role in our successes.

Step by step… this is how we find our flourish.

Questions to consider

  1. Do you agree with my categorization of the theories as steps one and two, OR do you see the WBT as replacing the AHT?
  2. Do either or both of these theories inspire you to be better than your day before? If so, how?


Pascha, Mariana. (June 19, 2015). Positive Psychology Program. The PERMA Model: A Scientific Theory of Happiness. Retrieved from on May 8, 2016.

Positive Pyshology Center. (2016). Penn Arts & Sciences. Retrieved from on May 8, 2016.

Psychology Today. (n.d). Emotional Inelligence. Retrieved from on May 8, 2016.

 Seligman, Martin E.P. (April 5, 2011). Flourish. Retrieved from on May 8, 2016.


  • I agree, the WBT adds a component of emotional intelligence to the earlier theory. I think the positive psychology movement is still in its infancy and theorists will continue the refinement process. Thank you for writing this excellent article! Two other theories of interest are Workplace Thriving and Psychological Capital.

  • Interesting theory to consider. I appreciate the PERMA five-point perspective. I would like to add, each of the five elements of PERMA rests in one’s own context and the context we bring with us will determine the results we receive in each of the five elements.. In short, our context shapes our behavior and our behaviors determine the results we receive. The results we receive become our new context, thus our context is iterative. It would appear that the five elements provide the baseline for a “positive” context in the individual’s perspective. I like the model of happiness described, and it is important to remember that one’s success with PERMA is shaped by one’s own perspective/context. Expect to be happy.

  • I have been hearing so much about Positive Psychology. It was great to read this article, thank you for the post.

  • I personal see WBT as replacing the AHT because each one has a great effect mostly dealing with time and life itself amongst people. it’s like you can’t have one without the other. However, the WBT has a complete set of goals that most people work towards as well as believe in.

    Yes, both of these theories expires me because they play a great function such as number 1. having to feel or try being positive about what I do daily and how I do it considering that I now have a son who is now impacted by the decision I make today.

    2. Engagement- dealing with communicating with people is ways of creating conversations which I do daily.
    3. Achievement- we make goals than we moved on to complete the task such as a school for me would be one.
    4. meaning- services a purpose in life such as experiences and love with family
    5.A relationship which I have myself with people and others daily which helps us to stay function and how to deal with people social.

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