How does the field of positive psychology relate to the prodigal son parable in the bible?
As you may know, this blog pertains to the foundations of well-being from a perspective of positive psychology. I strongly believe in several findings from the field of positive psychology in questioning what it means to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. Martin Seligman’s PERMA theory is one of my favorite theories to apply to several components of my life. I also am fascinated by the intersection between this theory and my christian faith, which is why I would like to start a new segment on this blog called “Parables and Positive Psychology.”
The purpose of these posts is relatively simple; I would like to examine parables from the bible and demonstrate how it could tie into Martin Seligman’s PERMA theory of well-being. This acronym stands for positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment (Seligman, 2011). I find messages from the bible to be complementary to the scientific findings of positive psychology. So, without further ado, here is the first segment of “Parables and Positive Psychology.” I hope you enjoy!
“For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to make merry,” (Luke 15:24).
This excerpt is based on a son who once strayed away from his father by spending all of his money and making poor life decisions. After a sustained amount of time away from his home, the son came back to his father asking to be brought back into the home and for forgiveness of his past actions. While many would expect the father to be upset with the son for the wrongdoing he had done for so long, the father instead welcomed him back with open arms. On top of this, the father even threw him a large feast with several friends to celebrate his homecoming!
There are two components of Seligman’s PERMA theory that especially stand out to me. First off, several positive emotions are demonstrated in the parable. These include the forgiveness of the father, the gratitude of the son, and the joy brought to all the family and friends (outside of the brother, who initially expressed jealousy and resentment over the situation). These positive emotions are probably included among several others from the parable, so feel free to leave any contributions in the comments section of any others you can think of!
A sense of meaning can also be derived from this parable. The father demonstrates his commitment to contributing to the well-being of his son, even when he was lost for a while. The father seems to have a strong sense of meaning in doing this in his own life even through times of difficulty. It can also be argued that the son was unsure of his meaning in life until he was away from his family for a while. After he had left, he was able to finally be grateful for where he was placed in his life by being a part of that family. Therefore, even though the son had strayed away, the experience really helped him realize how grateful he should be to have his family, and to understand that his family contributes to a strong sense of meaning in his life.
Lastly, it is pretty evident from the parable that the father represents God, and that the son represents anyone who feels they have drifted away from God. So to wrap up with the meaning component of Seligman’s PERMA theory, someone who comes back to God after drifting away for a long time may find that their sense of meaning in their lives is stronger than it was before. Please feel free to share your own personal experience if you feel that you can relate to this situation!
Thank you all for reading. I really enjoy writing my thoughts about these topics as I am fascinated by the intersections between psychology and religion. I welcome any contributions that you may have to the content (even if you respectfully disagree!). As always, I hope their is something of substance that you derive from these writings, and I hope you are all doing well!