Beyond Positive Psychology to Spiritual Well-Being:
Integrating Faith in teaching Psychology at the University
Prof. Grace KOO
Prof. Grace KOO (KOO) is a professor of Education Psychology at the University of Philippines. She took her post-doctoral studies on Mind, Brain and Education at Harvard University. As an expert in the study of spiritual well-being, KOO taught in five seminaries and is a frequently invited speaker in both academic and church events.
In view of the emerging popularity of Positive Psychology (PP), KOO addressed the issues of relationship between PP and Christian Faith, including the power and limitations, and some of the false promises of PP and its influence on Prosperity Gospel. KOO argued for the need to go beyond positive psychology and to attain real joy and spiritual well-being as described in the Bible. Messages of sin and repentance, saving grace and personal holiness are then reiterated and the Bible teachings are included. Lastly, KOO shared how teaching could help her integrate faith and learning in a secular university.
A common phenomenon in popular culture is to go after happiness. Happiness is defined by the modern culture as success by all means, such as in excitement, wealth and health. KOO pointed out the ironic contrast of this thinking with the Bible teaching which says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blesses are the meek…” (Matthew 5:3-5, New International Bible). She suggested that instead of advocating for “positive illusions” what we really need is to go back to the Bible for “reality orientation” by our judgment and critical thinking.
KOO expounded that the philosophical and psychological conception behind these value qualities is a worldview. She referred to Martin Seligman’s theory of “human flourishing” (See Seligman, Flourish, 2012), saying that positive psychology wants to throw away sin. It is the deception of innate sin which overlooks the fact that man lacks the ability to do what is right, and to love those whom he does not like. “Sin allures us into both wrongdoing and the comforting conclusion that one is spiritually all right as one is.” (quoted from J.I. Packer, 18 Words, p.78). She also pointed out that virtue is not possible without God. Our infused virtue is by God’s gift of faith, hope and love. And it is a virtue when a person can turn an adversity to a blessing in life. Virtue is more important than happiness. Virtue provides a moral map on how we should live a meaningful life. Mother Teresa is a good example of what is really meant by a meaningful life.
Regarding the integration of faith and learning in higher education, KOO adopted the perspectival integration approach which emphasizes the application of Christian worldview to the entire spectrum of education, manifesting the Christian worldview in her own perspective on psychology and contemporary issues. KOO explained the importance of Christian mind to distinguish the difference between happiness and joy. It is the Holy Spirit which enables Christians to live a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Happiness rejects pain, but joy embraces pain as well. It is God’s love and faithfulness which gives us the reason and power for joy, despite our living in a broken world of broken relationships. There is indeed a need to move from brokenness to wholeness - “shalom” by our belief and faith in Jesus who paid it all so that we will be whole, even with life’s warts and all.
Lastly, KOO concluded that happiness has become a cultural obsession today and it should be replaced by “wholeness” in spiritual well-being. The Bible teaches that real joy comes from God and not from human strength; as it says: “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). As a Christian professor, he/she should be able to exemplify that the Christian God is the source of our joy as much as the object of our joy.
高上官賢恩教授(Prof. Grace KOO、高教授) 是菲律賓大學教育心理學的教授。她在哈佛大學的博士後專注有關思維、腦袋和教育的研究。作為一個關注靈性安康的學者，高教授曾分別在五間神學院教學，亦經常被邀請在學術機構及教會活動中演講。
當今世俗文化的一個普遍現象就是追尋『快樂』。『快樂』在現代社會中被定義為是各方面的成功，例如財富、健康和生活享受等。但高教授指出這些價值觀念和聖經的教導之間存在著一個十分諷刺的對比，聖經說:『虛心的人有福了… 哀慟的人有福了…溫柔的人有福了…』(馬太福音5:3-5)。 高教授建議與其是擁護這些『正向心理』的假象，倒不如回歸聖經，運用我們的理性判斷和批判思維尋找出達至成功的『真正源頭』。
高教授又解釋這些價值元素背後的哲學和心理學概念其實是反映出一種世界觀。她引述馬丁∙賽理格曼 (Martin Seligman) 有關『人類興盛』的理論 (2012) ， 提到正向心理學是希望除掉人的罪惡感。這就是人類與生俱來的一種騙術，它忽略了人類缺乏做正確事情的能力和喜歡去愛那些不喜歡的人。罪的誘惑促使我們進入錯誤行為和尋求舒適假象的結論， 以為自己的靈性沒有不妥當的地方 (柏加，18 words，頁78)。她卻指出美善的品德不能沒有神的臨在。我們培育出來的美德其實是神所賜的信望愛。這些美德就是一個人可以將逆境轉化為祝福生命的重要元素。美德比快樂更重要。美德提供一個道德藍圖、讓我們知道應該如何活出一個有意義的生命來。德蘭修女就是一個有意義生命的活見證。