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Positive Psychology and Catholicism


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By: Chris Kelm, Columnist

We are told as children to treat others as we would want to be treated. As Catholics, we see the same idea repeated constantly in the Bible. We read it over and over again, but in reality we all tend to struggle with putting this into practice. In my life, I thought that not liking someone was a sin because I would want to be liked. As I grew older I began to realize more and more what this actually meant. It was not until I reached college that I truly figured out how to treat others while still being in line with our Catholic faith.

Positive psychology is an idea in psychology that focuses on human flourishing. In other words, if there is something holding you back, you get rid of it. There is no limit to what you should get rid of; it could be big or small. This seems to create a problem with Catholicism when in reference to people. In positive psychology, if we come across a toxic person, it is clear that we should remove them from our life. I always saw this as clashing with Catholicism. I believed that I should not just remove a person from my life because I would not want this happening to me if the circumstances were reversed. I wanted to incorporate positive psychology into my life, but feared that this went against the beliefs that I had known all my life. At this point, I was stuck.

Recently, I became unstuck. St. Teresa of Avila wrote, “damned be the friendship that keeps you from God.” In this quote, I found my answer. We can cut people out of our lives as we see necessary. If someone is keeping us from God, we do not have to keep them in our lives. This also stays in accordance with the truths we see in the Bible. Matthew 5:44 says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Reading this through the perspective of St. Teresa of Avila and positive psychology, we can see it in a new light. This quote is telling us that we should uphold the dignity that each human is created with from the moment of conception.

Catholics have received a stereotype that we all love everyone because we have to in order to reach Heaven. This is far from true. We should love everyone, simply because it is right and promotes the love of Christ in our hearts and in the hearts of each person we meet. This is why we should live by the rule of treating others as we want to be treated. It does not mean that we have to like everyone in the world. The only thing that we should do is uphold the dignity of all humans that God created alongside us. I would want others to know the dignity that I have as a person and to treat me with that dignity. In return, the only thing I can do is uphold their dignity.

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