What is Positive Psychology?
There are many definitions of positive psychology. Martin Seligman, one of the founding fathers of the positive psychology movement describes it as: “The study of what constitutes the pleasant life, the engaged life, and the meaningful life.”
It’s a scientific approach to uncover people’s strengths while studying their thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. The focus is on a person’s strengths rather than their weaknesses. And rather than trying to repair the bad things in your life, you are encouraged to focus on building the good in your life.
This video below provides you with the meaning of positive psychology based on many of the leading experts in the mental health world and specifically in the field of positive psychology.
How does it work?
Briefly, with positive psychology, you would explore the positive experiences and influences in your life. These would include:
- Positive events that made you feel happy, inspired, and loved.
- Positive states and traits such as gratitude, resilience, and compassion.
- Positive institutions that you belong to that apply these positive principles.
Positive psychology spends a lot of time around topics like character strengths, life satisfaction, happiness, optimism, gratitude, self-esteem, wellbeing, hope, self-compassion, and self-confidence.
Seligman was unhappy with how psychology overall focused on the negative; such as trauma, suffering, pain, abnormal psychology, and little attention was being given to happiness, wellbeing, strengths, and flourishing. And so these topics are studied with the goal to help you flourish.
Seligman created the PERMA model to help explain and define wellbeing in greater depth. PERMA is an acronym, representing five facets of wellbeing.
- P – Positive Emotions
- E – Engagement
- R – (Positive) Relationships
- M – Meaning
- A – Accomplishment / Achievement
Focusing on developing these 5 measurable aspects of PERMA can help you develop an overall sense of authentic happiness and wellbeing.
Positive psychology can be integrated with other therapeutic interventions based on your individual needs, traumas, and goals.
Who can it help?
In 2000, Seligman proposed a new subfield of psychology called positive psychology with a focus on what is life-giving rather than life-depleting. The other founding father, Csikszentmihalyi states, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (1990).
Studies and research show that positive psychology teaches us how to apply the power of shifting one’s perspective in order to increase our happiness in the many everyday behaviors we exhibit. PositivePsychology.com provides a few examples of improving the quality of life. To see the full list, click their link.
- People overestimate the impact of money on their happiness by quite a lot. It does have some influence, but not nearly as much as we might think, so focusing less on attaining wealth will likely make you happier (Aknin, Norton, & Dunn, 2009);
- Spending money on experiences provides a bigger boost to happiness than spending money on material possessions (Howell & Hill, 2009);
- Gratitude is a big contributor to happiness in life, suggesting that the more we cultivate gratitude, the happier we will be (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005);
- Oxytocin may provoke greater trust, empathy, and morality in humans, meaning that giving hugs or other shows of physical affection may give you a big boost to your overall wellbeing (and the wellbeing of others; Barraza & Zak, 2009)
In addition, positive emotions can also boost your job performance. Positive energy is very contagious and could cause a positive ripple effect throughout the entire workplace. Often it’s those small and simple gestures that bring the most happiness and can help create a positive work environment. As a result, learning how to cultivate positive emotions increases our ability to be successful.