Positive Psychology And Zen: Where Science And Spirituality Agree

Written by Cameron Harman 

Scientists and psychologists have been researching for years to find the key to happiness. I believe that the answers have been in front of us for a long time. In fact, when we look at practices such as Buddhism and Zen, we find that practitioners have been living in bliss for generations. So why is it so difficult in the West to attain joy in living? What the West lacks in spiritual practice is being met with psychology. However, if we compare what is being explored in psychology to Zen's approach, we will find something interesting. What would seem like a reprogramming of the mind in one society is a way of life for another. In this article, I will compare a scientific approach to happiness with a spiritual way of life that has been around for generations.

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life worth living. In an article written by Courtney E. Ackerman on positivepsychology.org, we learn what research is showing us about human behavior regarding happiness in life. The focus of the study is in three parts.

• Positive experiences (happiness, joy, and love)

• Positive states (gratitude, compassion)

• Positive institutions and organizations

The research is to help understand how people live flourishing lives. What we can take away from this is, under the right conditions, the mind learns positive patterns and behaviors conducive to happiness. 

Founder Martin Seligman is well known for his research in the '60s and '70s. Prior to his research into positive psychology, he worked on what would be the foundation for his present work. His famous theory of "learned helplessness" showed that both animals and humans through depression can cause a feeling of true helplessness. Depression can cause a person to feel they have lost control over their lives. Seligman's theory helped him develop resiliency programs for children and military personnel. Fast forward to today, and now we have positive psychology. In the article, it states the 17 benefits of positive psychology. I recommend giving the article a read for all of them. Here are a few examples: 

  1. Gratitude is a way of remembering how good life is. 
  2. Happiness is contagious; those with happy friends and family are more likely to be happy. 
  3. Volunteering your time to a cause you believe in can improve your well being. 

The article continues with more examples and studies and mentions what critics against the theory say.


An old Zen proverb states that if you try to explain Zen, you have already failed. But an article written in zenstudies.org called "What is Zen" does a fantastic job. It states that Zen is both something we are and do. Our true nature is expressed from moment to moment, and a disciplined practice through which we can realize the joy of being. Now, if you are reading this and thinking, "Wow, this sounds like positive psychology," not only do I agree with you, it is, in fact, my point. Zen masters have been teaching their students for generations to live in the now, not to worry about the past or the future. But what we have in this moment is enough. Life is what it is, and trying to attain more of it causes our suffering. The article says that through meditation, we can realize our oneness with everything. And with that realization comes wisdom and compassion. Allowing for a peaceful response to whatever arises in our lives because resistance to life is suffering. By sitting in silence and quieting the mind, we ease our anxiety. Being in the moment can help us let go of our fear of tomorrow or the shame of yesterday. The Buddha himself said it best, "the mind is everything, what we think we become" we are our own worst enemies at times. To be in "oneness" is to accept yourself and others as the same. Our pain and suffering are the same, we experience pain and suffering in different ways, but it is still the same. This understanding makes it easier to forgive others. With compassion, we can forgive not only others but ourselves. When negative things happen in our lives, we accept them instead or resist them, or simply put, "going with the flow."

A Happy Life

Is that not what everyone wants? How do we attain a positive or Zen mind in 2020? Only when you learn how to manage the mind, either through science or spirituality, can we be free. Monitor your thoughts and write them down. What are they saying? During the day, have gratitude for what you do have. Remember to go with the flow and not to resist life. When possible, call a friend or family member and have a loving connection with those around you. You don't have to be a psychologist or a Zen master to be happy. Change your mind, and you change your reality.


About the author: My name is Cameron Harman. I served in the US Army for eight years. From 2011 to 2012, I went to Afghanistan. After my service, I had PTSD and suffered from it for many years. When my time in the military was done, I started meditating and learning about spirituality. My life changed, and the pain began to fade. I started a podcast called Hermit_Radio to share what I had learned about healing the mind and living from the heart.

Website: Hermitcast.com

Podcast Hermit_Radio

IG: Cameron_harman91

Twitter: Hermit_radio


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