|Basic InformationLatest NewsVideosLinksBook Reviews|10 Minute Solution: Butt Lift10 Minute Solution: High Intensity Interval Training101 Ways to Meditate29 Gifts3-In-1 Total Body Fitness with Desi Bartlett30 Minute Ab & Butt Blaster5 Day Fit Yoga5 Mega Miles with Toning Band7 Weeks to 100 Push-Ups8 Keys to Body Brain Balance8 Keys to Practicing MindfulnessA Journey Into Yin YogaA Philosophy for the Science of Well-BeingA.M. EnergyAccessible Yoga for Every Body DVDAfter the Ecstasy, the LaundryAge-Proof Your MindAgeless Mobility: Pain-Free Wellness For LongevityAlmost MeatlessAM/PM YogaAnd BreatheAnswers for AristotleAnywhere, Anytime, Any Body YogaAthlete's Guide to YogaAuthentic HappinessAwakening Self-EsteemBack in Action: Yoga for a Healthy BackBack To Basics: Fitness with Charlotte OrdBalanced AssetsBedroom Body: Booty Burner, Core & Pelvic Floor WorkoutBeginners Meditation & Mindful StretchingBeginners Yoga DVDBeginning YogaBellyFit ElementsBetter Sex Through YogaBeyond the SelfBody By BethennyBody Mindful YogaBorn to Balance - Balance BasicsBOSH!Breath-Centered YogaBreathingBrightening Our Inner SkiesBuddhist Boot CampCalm Body Clear MindCalm EnergyCalm Focus JoyChakra MeditationsChoosing CivilityClassical Pilates Technique DVDComplementary and Alternative Therapies ResearchCore Fusion - Pilates PlusCore Fusion - Pure Abs & ArmsCore Fusion - Thighs & GlutesCore Fusion Body SculptCore Fusion Lean & TonedCore Fusion Power SculptCore Strength PilatesCore Strength Vinyasa Yoga Power Hour with Sadie NardiniCore YogaCreative Core AbsCreative Writing In Health And Social CareDance Off the Inches: Cardio Hip Hop PartyDance the Chakras Yoga WorkoutDeep ListeningDeep Stretch / Yin YogaDetox YogaDr. Andrew Weil's Guide to Eating WellDr. Andrew Weil's Guide to Optimum HealthDr. Andrew Weil's Mindbody ToolkitEastern Body, Western MindEasy YogaElement: Barre ConditioningElement: Targeted Toning Pilates for BeginnersElement: Yoga for Stress Relief & FlexibilityElements of Yoga, Earth FoundationsElements of Yoga, Fire DynamicElements of Yoga: Air & WaterEmotional Chaos to ClarityEmotions, Stress, and HealthEvamarie Pilipuf's Yoga Express DVDEvery Day Yoga for Every Body DVDEveryday GreensEveryday Workout for the Everyday WomanEveryday Yoga for Stress Release Everything VeganExercise-Based Interventions for Mental IllnessExhale Core Fusion 30 Day SculptFamily ForagingFamily YogaFast Food for the SoulFat and FuriousFear and Other Uninvited GuestsFit Family Fun CircuitFit in 5 DVDFlat Abs PilatesFlow and YinFlow YogaFluid Power Vinyasa Flow YogaFood You Can ForageForgiveness is Really StrangeFully PresentGaiam Pilates Slide and Sculpt Kit with DVDGaiam Pilates Total Toning KitGaiam Yoga For Weight Loss KitGet Ripped & ChiseledGet RIPPED! 1000 #3Get RIPPED! and Jacked - The Boomer WorkoutGood MedicineGoodbye, ThingsHandbook of MindfulnessHealing the Heart and Mind with MindfulnessHealing Through Movement: Pilates Head to ToeHealthy AgingHealthy Sexy Beautiful Kundalini YogaHemalayaa's Yoga for Young Bodies DVDHemalayaa: Bollywood BootyHot Body Cool Mind - Level 1Hot Body Cool Mind: Waking Energy How to Be a PatientHow to Be a StoicHow to Cook Everything VegetarianHow Would Buddha Act?I Contain MultitudesI'd Rather LaughIn Defense of FoodInsight Yoga Earth: Balancing Yin EnergyInsight Yoga Heaven: Balancing YangInsight Yoga with Sarah PowersIntegrated YogaIntegrative MedicineInternational Perspectives on Reminiscence, Life Review and Life Story WorkIntroduction to Ashtanga Yoga DVDIntroduction to Qi YogaIntroduction to Yoga DVDIt's Up to YouJanis Saffell Beverly Hills YogaKids Teach Yoga - Flying EagleKidYogi - Yoga for ChildrenKnowing the Nature of FearKripalu YogaKripalu Yoga Dynamic DVDKripalu Yoga Gentle DVDKundalini Yoga : DVDKundalini Yoga for Beginners & BeyondKUNDALINI YOGA for Your Week - MONDAYKUNDALINI YOGA for Your Week - TUESDAY - CoreKundalini Yoga Meditation for Beginners & BeyondKundalini Yoga Meditation for Complex Psychiatric DisordersKundalini Yoga on the BallKundalini Yoga Solar Power All-In-One WorkoutKundalini Yoga to Detox and Destress DVDKundalini Yoga Transformer All-In-One WorkoutKundalini Yoga: Green Energy of the HeartLife MakeoversLifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues--Level 1LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues: Level 2Living BeautifullyLiving Room Yoga DVDLiving Room Yoga: Twist and BendLiving Your Best LifeLiving Your DreamLunar Flow YogaMadhur Jaffrey's World VegetarianMake It Fast, Cook It SlowManage Your Depression Through ExerciseMaui PilatesMayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for Back PainMayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for IBSMayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for InsomniaMean GenesMeditation in a New York MinuteMeditations for BeginnersMeditations on Self-Discipline and FailureMind GamesMindful AmericaMindful AngerMindfulnessMindfulness for BeginnersMindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches: Clinician's Guide to Evidence Base and ApplicationsMisadventures of a Garden State YogiMozart's Brain and the Fighter PilotNamaste Yoga: Season 3 Part 1NeuroLogicNew York PilatesNext-Level PilatesNutrition Essentials for Mental HealthOn Being an Introvert or Highly Sensitive PersonPassionate VegetarianPerfect in Ten AbsPerfect in Ten: PilatesPerfect in Ten: StretchPerfect in Ten: YogaPilates AnatomyPilates for BeginnersPilates for MenPortraits of ResiliencePositivityPower to the Peaceful YogaPower YogaPower YogaPower YogaPower Yoga for HappinessPower Yoga: Core PowerPower Yoga: Fat BurnerPrenatal FlowPrescriptive StretchingPresence Through Movement: Yin YogaPsychology Moment by MomentPure and Simple YogaPure SculptPure Yoga Pilates with Kerry BestwickQi Gong Fire & Water With Matthew CohenQi Gong Flow for BeginnersQi Gong for Low Back PainQi Gong for Upper Back and Neck PainQi Gong for Weight LossQi Workout AM/PMQiGong for Healthy Joints & BonesQiGong IllustratedQuick Blast MethodReach - Upbeat Toning & Flexibility for a Dancer's BodyRed Lotus YogaResistance Stretching With Dara TorresRestorative Yoga PracticeSara Ivanhoe's Taste DVDSaving NormalSelf-CompassionSeven Challenges To Change Your Life DVDSleep BetterSolar Flow Yoga DVDSoupsSparkSpontaneous HappinessSports Hypnosis in PracticeStep By Step Strength TrainingStep by Step Tai ChiStrength & SpiritStrength, Grace, HealingStress ReliefStrong & SculptedStrong Body, Ageless BodySun SalutationsSuper Natural CookingSuper Seniors: Box, Balance, & Lift SuperhumanSupersurvivorsSurf Yoga SoulSybel's Yoga For Sports & FitnessSybel's Yoga For Sports & Fitness Vol 2Tai Chi for Beginners with Grandmaster William C. C. ChenTaming Your Inner BratTeach Yourself MeditationTeen YogaTeenYogi DVDTen Minutes to RelaxThe Accidental VeganThe Angelica Home KitchenThe Art and Science of MindfulnessThe Athlete's Guide to YogaThe Beginner's Guide to Healthy EatingThe Best Things You Can EatThe Booty Barre -Total New BodyThe Breathing FieldThe Cafe Brenda CookbookThe Complete Book of Raw FoodThe Complete Vegetarian HandbookThe Easy Yoga WorkbookThe Feeling Good HandbookThe Five Things We Cannot Change ...The Good LifeThe Happiness of PursuitThe Harvard Medical School Guide to YogaThe Healing Remedies SourcebookThe Healing Remedies SourcebookThe Health Psychology HandbookThe Healthy KitchenThe Heart of YogaThe Indian VegetarianThe Jewel Tree of TibetThe Joy of MeditatingThe Kettlebell BoomerThe Little Book of Healthy TeasThe Little Soy BookThe Little Yoga BookThe Mood CureThe Mozart EffectThe Myth of Freedom and the Way of MeditationThe Nature FixThe Origins of HappinessThe Perfect ExerciseThe Pilates Workout JournalThe Playful BrainThe Quest for Peace, Love, and a 24'' WaistThe Road to Calm WorkbookThe Self-Compassion Skills WorkbookThe Spa DeckThe Spirit of Buddhist MeditationThe Stoic Art of LivingThe Ultimate BALLET YOGAThe Ultra MindsetThe Way of StretchingThe Weight of the NationThe Well-Tuned BrainThe Will to Live and Other MysteriesThe Wisdom of FrugalityThe Yin Yoga KitThink SmartTotal AstangaTotal Health the Chinese WayTotal PilatesTotal-Body ToningTransform Yourself with Jivamukti YogaTransformative YogaTrudie Styler's Warrior YogaV-Core WorkoutVegan ExpressVegan for LifeVegan Recipes from the Middle EastVegetarian Turkish CookingVegetarianoViva Vegan!Walk It Off in 30 DaysWalk to the HITS Radio RemixesWalkingWalking a Literary LabyrinthWatch Me Do YogaWeight Loss Cardio KickWellbeingWhat We Say MattersWhen Things Fall ApartWriting in FlowYin and Yang YogaYin Yoga DVDYogaYogaYogaYoga & Pilates Workouts for DummiesYoga 4 TeensYoga : Beginners Flow for EveryoneYoga AnatomyYoga and PsychologyYoga as MedicineYoga Beauty BodyYoga Bliss HipsYoga Body : Lean & Defined Total Body WorkoutYoga By Teens DVDYoga Emergency DVD: Arms & ShouldersYoga Emergency DVD: BackYoga Emergency DVD: Full Leg StretchYoga Emergency DVD: HipsYoga Flow DVDYoga for AnxietyYoga for AthletesYoga for Back CareYoga for BeginnersYoga for Energy & Stress ReliefYoga for EveryoneYoga for MeditatorsYoga for OsteoporosisYoga for Pain ReliefYoga for Regular GuysYoga for Strength & EnergyYoga for Strength & FlexibilityYoga for the Young at HeartYoga for Your WeekYoga In BedYoga in BedYoga Inside Out: Go DeeperYoga Inside Out: The Healing WayYoga Journal's Yoga for StressYoga Journal: Yoga for Strength and Toning DVDYoga Link: Core IntegrationYoga Link: Hip HelpersYoga Link: Shoulder Shape-UpYoga Nidra for Complete Relaxation and Stress ReliefYoga on DemandYoga Quick FixesYoga SanctuaryYoga SculptYoga ShaktiYoga TherapyYoga TherapyYoga Therapy for Back PainYoga Therapy Prescriptions - 60 Health Restorative SequencesYoga To Go's Yoga Quick Fixes DVDYoga to the Rescue - Feel Good from Head to ToeYoga to the Rescue for Back PainYoga to the Rescue for Neck & ShouldersYoga to the Rescue for Pain-Free Back, Neck & ShouldersYoga Weight Loss for DummiesYoga: Freedom from Back PainYoga: Relief from Neck and Shoulder PainYoga: Spirit of Vinyasa FlowYogabodyYogawomanYou Can Think Yourself ThinYou'll See It When You Believe ItYour Body Breakthru - Your Best Body Circuit DVDYour Brain on FoodYour Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings,Your Miracle BrainZen Encounters with Loneliness
by Michael A. Bishop
Oxford University Press, 2015
Review by Keith Harris on Jan 12th 2016
The good life and its related subjective experience of well-being have been reflected on, debated and written about by both philosophers (for millenia) and psychologists (for decades). So why do we need yet another book on the good life?
As Bishop explains in the introduction, "philosophers, despite their many insights, are in a never-ending stalemate. And the psychologists, despite their many results, are incapable of providing a clear account of their discipline" (p. 1).
Positive Psychology, the branch most closely associated with happiness and the good life, has its own problems: it "appears to be a giant hodgepodge. It has no agreed upon definition . . . . [it] is not a principled, well-defined scientific discipline, but a research program built on the subjective views of some psychologists about the right way to live." (p. 4).
Is a lack of intellectual or theoretical insight into well-being and the good life enough to warrant an additional book and a new theory? Perhaps not. But Bishop, being a philosopher, still believes there is a practical reason to come to clarity about what the good life is. He notes that "before we can know how strenuously to pursue well-being, or even whether to pursue it at all, we need to know what well-being is" (p. 6).
Bishop has named his approach the "network theory of well-being," a description of which he takes up in the first chapter. At the core of the theory is what he calls the "positive causal network," often abbreviated as PCN. The characteristics of the good life as based on this PCN include positive feelings, moods, and emotions, positive attitudes, positive traits, and satisfying accomplishments. So far this doesn't seem to be a novel idea – after all, this is pretty much common sense.
But how does this ramshackle set of facts fit into a coherent whole? How are we supposed to unite them into a coherent theory of well-being? The answer I propose is simple: We don't have to. The world has already joined them together in a web of cause and effect. (p. 8)
In other words, what the network theory adds is the insight that well-being, happiness, life satisfaction, a sense of meaningfulness, flourishing -- whatever terms come to mind to represent a life well lived – is a natural result or emerging that comes from the proposed resonating or interacting network of positive attributes listed above.
According to the network theory, the state of well-being is the state of being in (or, to use philosopher's jargon, instantiating) a positive causal network. (p. 10)
The next chapter deals with methodology and the reasonableness of integrating different perspectives – that of commonsense experience and empirical data, taking into account philosophic insights where appropriate. (Philosophers and empirical scientists advocate their own distinct approaches of course.) Bishop systematically works his way in this chapter through the pros and cons of the various methods of studying well-being and arrives at what he calls the inclusive approach.
Bishop begins this chapter with the observation that what we want is "a theory that tells us what well-being is" (p. 14) and the reader further supposes that clarity about this will lead to practical applications later on. Bishop points out that the methodology – how we choose to approach our investigation – already presumes a lot about what well-being is. Thus, it is reasonable that what he calls the "commonsense" nature of well-being is considered alongside insights from empirical studies. Most people, Bishop writes, have some personal experience of what well-being is, what it feels like, and how they arrived at the state of well-being when they have experienced it. So this common experience is most valuable in establishing a starting point for further investigation. This is called the "Descriptive Adequacy" pre-condition.
In the third and fourth chapters, Bishop proposes and defends his thesis that positive causal networks or PCNs are what Positive Psychology actually studies. However, these chapters are "an exercise in pure philosophy of science" as he puts it, and "even if you don't buy the idea that PCNs have anything to do with well-being, I still hope to convince you that they are Positive Psychology's primary object of study" (p. 35). That is, these chapters aren't essential in understanding what well-being actually is, as his theory presents it. But they chapters are necessary to give the reader an understanding of PCNs, which the network theory defines as a self-sustaining network of positive feelings, attitudes, behaviors, traits, and the resulting accomplishments and achievements of the confluence of these. The essential idea here is self-sustaining and self-reinforcing. Positive attitudes tend to lead to positive behaviors, which capitalize on positive traits, which lead to positive outcomes, which then reinforce the positive attitudes and so on.
Chapter Five, which sets out to show that the network theory is the best option for understanding well-being and happiness, also provides an excellent review and summary of the history of ideas about what a good life really is. Bishop weighs and discusses in turn hedonism, "informed desire theory," the authentic happiness view, and the various perspectives on happiness that rely on Aristotelian ideas. (This is consistent with psychologist Martin Seligman's earlier suggestion that there are only three traditional theories – Hedonism, Desire Theory, and Objective List Theory.)
Bishop agrees that there are the obvious truths in each of each of these approaches, but claims that network theory substantively adds to them by incorporating both the findings and the implications of recent empirical studies. For example, he points out that "Aristotle and Bentham had no choice but to rely only on their wisdom, experience, and common sense in developing their theories of well-being [because the] science of well-being did not exist in their day" (p. 147).
In Chapter Six, Bishop asks why, if Positive Psychology is really the study of well-being, theories and findings are so often put in terms of happiness instead. "Should we understand Positive Psychology to be the study of happiness rather than well-being?" He goes on to assert that the issue is really about PCNs and thus the quibble over terminology is irrelevant: "Happiness is positive-states-of-mind-and-the-mechanisms-responsible-for-them-whatever-they-may-be" (p. 150).
Bishop explains in this chapter that modern psychology often uses the expression "subjective well-being" (SWB) in place of happiness. The common instruments used in research (and with clients) rely heavily on self-report to measure this construct. These instruments are typically affected by "noise" and measure characteristics or factors that aren't essential to well-being. Perhaps of even greater concern, the validity and reliability of these instruments depends on the correctness, precision, and truthfulness of subjects' self-awareness. Even the unconscious influences of the weather or of recent experiences may influence self-assessments. Such issues "raise the specter that SWB reports systematically fail to accurately represent facts about a person's wellbeing" (p. 156).
Bishop's expertise and familiarity with lesser-known literature relevant to happiness studies is especially apparent in this chapter. His discussion of affect-stabilization mechanisms is quite skillful. As just one example, ordinization: This psychological process was explored by Wilson, Gilbert and Myers over a decade ago and (in my opinion) deserves much more attention in the psychotherapy literature because of its importance to the largely-unconscious underpinnings of significant life choices.
Ordinization begins with our natural aversion to uncertainty. We are sense-making creatures. When faced with events of emotional power, we typically try to explain, give meaning to, or otherwise understand these events. Once an emotionally salient event is understood, it loses its affective charge. (p. 162)
Similarly interesting in this chapter is the review of phenomena such as recalibration and hedonic adaptation, and the discussion of Kahneman's views on "objective happiness" (and philosophic objections to same). Findings about happiness from twin studies is presented and evaluated. Altogether, this chapter's methodical examination of core concepts in the field of happiness studies and its sensible explanation of how the PCN provides necessary corrective adjustments to these concepts is thorough and enjoyable. For the practical application of network theory in real-life settings such as psychotherapy, this chapter is a significant contribution to the literature.
In the relatively brief space of 23 pages in Chapter Seven, Bishop weighs and dispenses with the short list of possible objections to network theory. The first potential objection is that the theory has counterintuitive implications, the second is that well-being is "useless for first-person deliberation," and the third is one of normativity: "Well-being is supposed to be good or valuable. How can the network theory account for the normativity of well-being, the fact that S's well-being is valuable for S?" (p. 185). As these objections seem generally obscure, they will no doubt trouble philosophers much more than psychologists and other non-philosophers.
The objection that the theory has counterintuitive elements is (more or less) addressed by pointing out that all theories have such elements. The second objection, that well-being is an irrelevant or unnecessary focus of philosophic concern, is expanded by noting that "any appeal to well-being can be eliminated in favor of far more informative and specific factors (e.g., enjoyment, the thrill of success)" (p. 194). That is to say, when it comes to our own individual motivations, why not just point to the very factors that motivate us, rather than talk about well-being in general? Obviously this criticism applies not specifically to PCN but to all theories of well-being or happiness. Bishop addresses this objection in a somewhat intricate fashion – perhaps necessarily so since the objection itself seems obscure – and concludes with the assertion that "for the network theory, to deliberate about the structure and dynamics of PCNs is to deliberate about the structure and dynamics of well-being" (p. 196).
The third potential objection to network theory is that of normativity. According to philosophers, Bishop writes, "The network theory must explain why S's well-being is valuable for S" (p. 197). This objection is given close attention and is apparently an issue of some concern for philosophers. Why normativity is such a philosophically significant issue may not be at all apparent to non-philosophers, but after a lengthy consideration of the issue Bishop sums up his rebuttal by giving three alternatives: (1) the PCN theory survives the objection intact; (2) the normativity requirement itself is illegitimate; or (3) the requirement isn't met but this failure doesn't significantly affect the network theory's usefulness.
Bishop begins his concluding chapter by pointing out that psychology and philosophy are disciplines estranged. This estrangement impairs progress. By working together collegially and with shared purpose, the integration of the commonsense approach of philosophy and the findings of empirical psychological studies can transform the study of well-being into a scientific enterprise. All of us could benefit from clarity about what matters, and thus how to attain and promote the good life.
As this chapter points out, increased understanding of well-being will give psychotherapists better tools and will permit governments to make informed decisions. Bishop believes PCN theory provides the means to move forward effectively with studies of well-being. "Discoveries about the dynamics of positive causal networks — what factors tend to establish, inhibit, maintain, or strengthen such networks—naturally lead to practical recommendations" (p. 211).
Considering the worrisome state of our world at present, whatever leads us to practical ways to enhance both individual and societal well-being will be very welcome.
© 2016 Keith Harris
Keith Harris, Ph.D., is former Chief of Research for the Department of Behavioral Health in San Bernardino County, California. In his semi-retirement he teaches part-time at California State University, Chico. His interests include psychotherapy, philosophy of mind, the role of the unconscious in everyday life, and the shaping of human nature by evolutionary forces.