top of page

Second Wave Positive Psychology

 An appreciation of the dialectical nature of wellbeing
Second wave positive psychology is a new movement within positive psychology which focuses on the dialectical nature of wellbeing.
It is based upon four dialectical principles...

The principle

of appraisal


It is difficult to judge phenomena as good or bad unless they are considered in context



The principle

of co-valence


Many phenomena are a complex blend of light and dark elements 


The principle

of complementarity


Most phenomena are comprised of polarities that are conceptually co-dependent

The principle

of evolution


Phenomena evolve through a process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis 



Lomas, T. (2019). Anger as a moral emotion: A 'bird's eye' systematic review. Counselling Psychology Quarterly. doi: 10.1080/09515070.2019.1589421​

Anger is common problem for which counselling/psychotherapy clients seek help, and is typically regarded as an invidious negative emotion to be ameliorated. However, it may be possible to reframe anger as a moral emotion, arising in response to perceived transgressions, thereby endowing it with meaning. In that respect, the current paper offers a ‘bird’s eye’ systematic review of empirical research on anger as a moral emotion (i.e., one focusing broadly on the terrain as a whole, rather than on specific areas). Three databases were reviewed from the start of their records to January 2019. Eligibility criteria included empirical research, published in English in peer-reviewed journals, on anger specifically as a moral emotion. 175 papers met the criteria, and fell into four broad classes of study: survey-based; experimental; physiological; and qualitative. In reviewing the articles, this paper pays particular attention to: how/whether anger can be differentiated from other moral emotions; antecedent causes and triggers; contextual factors that influence or mitigate anger; and outcomes arising from moral anger. Together, the paper offers a comprehensive overview of current knowledge into this prominent and problematic emotion. The results may be of use to counsellors and psychotherapists helping to address anger issues in their clients.

Gourov, D., & Lomas, T. (2019). ‘It’s about wholeness. I love my awesomeness and I love my flawesomeness’: An IPA analysis of coaching with the shadow in mind. The Coaching Psychologist, 15(2), 10-20.

Difficult emotions and cognitive states are recognised in second wave positive psychology as being a gold mine for personal growth. The growing body of knowledge in positive psychology gives coaching psychologists a perimeter to work with, whilst archetypal shadow analysis, rooted in Jung’s teachings, gives depth and insight. While definitions of coaching vary considerably, it can be argued to function as shining a light onto things that are hidden for the client, thereby bringing wholeness and clarity. Interpretive phenomenological analysis was used to analyse coaching with the shadow in mind, where this work became defined as looking at parts that are hidden, suppressed, unowned and unacknowledged by us and others. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with four professional coaches. Three higher order themes were identified: the coach’s personal journey through the shadow, what a shadow coach does and the client’s journey into the shadow. These themes may generate insight into this paradigm of coaching for the first time and is an important step in the ongoing integration of second wave positive psychology and coaching psychology.

Lomas, T. (2018). The quiet virtues of sadness: A selective theoretical and interpretative appreciation of its potential contribution to wellbeing. New Ideas in Psychology, 49(18-26). doi: 10.1016/j.newideapsych.2018.01.002

Critical emotion theorists have raised concerns that ‘normal’ human emotions like sadness are increasingly being pathologised as disorders. Counter efforts have thus been made to normalise such emotions, such as by highlighting their ubiquity and appropriacy. This paper goes slightly further by suggesting that sadness is not merely normal, but may have inherent value, and indeed be an integral component of a flourishing life. It offers a meta-theoretical review of literature on the potential ‘virtues’ of sadness. Three overarching themes are identified, each comprising four subthemes: (a) sadness as a mode of protection (including as a warning, as prompting disengagement, as a mode of conservation, and as enhanced accuracy); (b) sadness as an expression of care (including as a manifestation of love, of longing, of compassion, and eliciting care); and (c) sadness as a vehicle for flourishing (including as a moral sensibility, as engendering psychological development, as an aesthetic sensibility, and as integral to fulfilment). It is thus hoped that the paper can contribute to a more ‘positive’ cultural discourse around sadness, suggesting that, for the majority of people, experiences of sadness may serve an important and even desirable function in their lives.

Lomas, T. (2017). A re-appraisal of boredom: A case study in second wave positive psychology. In N. J. L. Brown, T. Lomas & F. Eiroa-Orosa (Eds.), The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Positive Psychology (pp. 213-226). New York: Routledge.

Positive psychology has become increasingly amenable and open to critical perspectives, including with respect to the very notions of “positive” and “negative.” This problematizing of the “positive” has been referred to as “second wave” positive psychology (Lomas & Ivtzan, 2015; (Ivtzan, Lomas, Hefferon, & Worth, 2015)—and previously as positive psychology “2.0” (Wong, 2011)—as elucidated in the introduction to this section. The rationale for these labels is that the initial “first wave” of the field was essentially founded on a binary positive–negative construction: Certain phenomena were viewed as positive, and hence desirable, with others therefore being negative, and hence undesirable. However, it is increasingly clear that such categorical appraisals are far from straightforward: ostensibly positive phenomena can be detrimental to wellbeing, while seemingly negative phenomena may be conducive to it. To some extent, this critical appreciation was implicit within the field from the beginning (e.g., Seligman, 1990). However, this more nuanced appreciation tended to be missing from the overarching “message” of the field. Now, though, there is a growing recognition of the complex “dialectics” of flourishing, involving an intricate interplay between seemingly negative and positive phenomena (e.g., Kashdan & Biswas-Diener, 2014). This chapter provides an illustration of this second wave approach in the form of a case study on an emotion that is generally regarded as negative and undesirable, namely boredom.

Lomas, T. (2016). The art of second wave positive psychology: Harnessing Zen aesthetics to explore the dialectics of flourishing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 6(2), 14-29. doi: 10.5502/ijw.v6i2.2

In recent years, a ‘second wave’ of positive psychology has been emerging, characterised above all by an awareness and appreciation of the ‘dialectical’ nature of flourishing. This paper offers a philosophical foundation for this second wave, based on Eastern philosophy, and in particular, Zen aesthetics. Part one introduces Zen, including its key philosophical ideas and practices, as well as two antecedent traditions that helped to form it, namely Buddhism and Taoism. Part two then elucidates three aesthetic principles that are integral to Zen: mono no aware (the pathos of life), wabi-sabi (desolate beauty), and yūgen (profound grace). The paper discusses how these principles could be of value to positive psychology in fostering dialectical understanding and appreciation, thus highlighting future directions for the field.

Lomas, T. (2016). A meditation on boredom: Re-appraising its value through introspective phenomenology. Qualitative Research in Psychology. doi: 10.1080/14780887.2016.1205695

Boredom is almost universally regarded as a dysphoric mental state, characterised by features such as disengagement and low arousal. However, in certain quarters (e.g., Zen Buddhism), boredom is seen as potentially having great value and even importance. The current study sought to explore boredom through a case study involving introspective phenomenology. The author created conditions in which he would experience boredom for an hour, and recorded his experience in real-time using a variant of the Experiencing Sampling Method. The data were analysed using an adaptation of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. The results indicated that the state of boredom contained three main sources of value: (a) altered perception of time; (b) awakened curiosity about the environment; and (c) exploration of self. Consequently, the paper offers a re-appraisal of boredom, suggesting that rather than necessarily being a negative state, if engaged with, boredom has the potential to be a positive and rewarding experience.

Lomas, T. (2016). Positive psychology - The second wave. The Psychologist, 29, 536-539. 

It is nearly twenty years since Martin Seligman used his 1998 American Psychological Association presidential address to inaugurate the notion of ‘positive psychology.’ The rationale for its creation was Seligman’s contention that psychology had hitherto tended to focus mainly on what is wrong with people, on dysfunction, disorder and distress. There were of course pockets of scholarship that held a candle for human potential and excellence, like humanistic psychology. Nevertheless, on the whole, he argued that concepts such as happiness did not attract much attention or credibility in mainstream psychology. Emerging to redress this lacuna, positive psychology soon became a fertile new paradigm, encompassing research into a panoply of processes and qualities that could be deemed ‘positive,’ from overarching constructs such as flourishing, to more specific concepts like hope. Of course, none of this was radically new: many of these topics had been studied empirically for years by scholars in disparate fields, and indeed had been debated for centuries, millennia even. However, part of the appeal of the new field was that it created a conceptual space where these diverse topics – all of which shared the ‘family resemblance’ (à la Wittgenstein) of pertaining to wellbeing – could be brought together and considered collectively. Thus, as a novel branch of scholarship focused specifically and entirely on ‘the science and practice of improving wellbeing’ (Lomas, Hefferon, & Ivtzan, 2015, p.1347), it was a welcome new addition to the broader church of psychology. However, it was not without its critics...

Lomas, T. (2016). Flourishing as a dialectical balance: Emerging insights from second wave positive psychology. Palgrave Communications, 2:16018.


Positive psychology, an emergent branch of scholarship concerned with wellbeing and flourishing, initially defined itself by a focus on ‘positive’ emotions and qualities. However, critics soon pointed out that this binary logic – classifying phenomena as either positive or negative, and valorising the former while disparaging the latter – could be problematic. For example, apparently positive qualities can be harmful to wellbeing in certain circumstances, while ostensibly dysphoric emotional states may on occasion promote flourishing. Responding to these criticisms, over recent years a more nuanced ‘second wave’ of positive psychology has been developing, in which wellbeing is recognised as involving a dialectical balance of light and dark aspects of life. This commentary introduces this emergent second wave, arguing that it is characterised by four dialectical principles. Firstly, the principle of appraisal states that it is difficult to categorially identify phenomena as either positive or negative, since such appraisals are fundamentally contextually-dependent. Secondly, the principle of co-valence holds that many states and qualities at the heart of flourishing, such as love, are actually a complex blend of light and dark elements. Thirdly, the principle of complementarity posits that not only are such phenomena co-valenced, but that their dichotomous elements are in fact co-creating, two intertwined sides of the same coin. Finally, the principle of evolution allows us to understand second wave positive psychology as itself being an example of a dialectical process.



Lomas, T., & Ivtzan, I. (2015). Second wave positive psychology: Exploring the positive-negative dialectics of wellbeing. Journal of Happiness Studies. doi: 10.1007/s10902-015-9668-y.


Abstract: Positive psychology has tended to be defined in terms of a concern with ‘positive’ psychological qualities and states. However, critics of the field have highlighted various problems inherent in classifying phenomena as either ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’ For instance, ostensibly positive qualities (e.g., optimism) can sometimes be detrimental to wellbeing, whereas apparently negative processes (like anxiety) may at times be conducive to it. As such, over recent years, a more nuanced ‘second wave’ of positive psychology has been germinating, which explores the philosophical and conceptual complexities of the very idea of the ‘positive.’ The current paper introduces this emergent second wave by examining the ways in which the field is developing a more subtle understanding of the ‘dialectical’ nature of flourishing (i.e., involving a complex and dynamic interplay of positive and negative experiences). The paper does so by problematizing the notions of positive and negative through seven case studies, including five salient dichotomies (such as optimism versus pessimism) and two complex processes (posttraumatic growth and love). These case studies serve to highlight the type of critical, dialectical thinking that characterises this second wave, thereby outlining the contours of the evolving field. 



Lomas, T. (2015). The dialectics of emotion. In I. Ivtzan, T. Lomas, K. Hefferon & P. Worth (Eds.), Second Wave Positive Psychology: Embracing the Dark Side of Life (pp. 5-30). London: Routledge.


Objectives: This chapter will enable you to: interpret the relationships between ‘psychology as usual,’ PP, and ‘second wave’ PP; understand the dialectics of thesis-antithesis-synthesis; see the reciprocal co-dependency of dichotomous terms; critique the pursuit of optimism, self-esteem, freedom, forgiveness and happiness; find potential value in pessimism, humility, constraint, anger and sadness; appreciate the ambivalent nature of the good life via principles of Buddhist aesthetics; understand the significance and value of engaging with the ‘dark side’ of life.



Lomas, T. (2015). Wellbeings: Suffering, compassion, and interconnectedness. In I. Ivtzan, T. Lomas, K. Hefferon & P. Worth (Eds.), Second Wave Positive Psychology: Embracing the Dark Side of Life (pp. 134-152). London: Routledge.


Objectives: This chapter will enable you to: articulate the difference between compassion, empathy and sympathy; see that compassion inherently involves embracing the dark side of life (i.e., suffering); consider the value placed on compassion by traditions like Christianity and Buddhism; appreciate a range of ‘other-regarding’ qualities in addition to compassion, including loving-kindness, generosity, and sympathetic joy; differentiate various models of selfhood, including individualism and intersubjectivism; generate compassion through meditative practices; understand how cultivating compassion can engender self-transcendence; appreciate self-transcendence as a key component of psychospiritual development.


bottom of page