What is Positive Psychology?

As Martin Seligman says in his book Flourish “Positive psychology makes people happier”.  So what is “Positive Psychology”?

“Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive.”  University of Pennsylvania

“Positive psychology is a recent branch of psychology whose purpose was summed up in 1998 by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: “We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise, which achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving in individuals, families, and communities.” Positive psychologists seek “to find and nurture genius and talent”, and “to make normal life more fulfilling”, not simply to treat mental illness.”  Wikipedia

“Positive psychology is the study of human thriving. Psychology traditionally focused on dysfunction—on people with mental illness or other psychological problems and how to treat them. Positive psychology, by contrast, is a relatively new field that examines how ordinary people can become happier and more fulfilled.”  Psychology Today

Positive psychology in two words or less, according to Christopher Peterson, is “Other people.”

Is positive psychology just about making people happy? No, it’s more than that.  It’s not just about a smiley face.  It’s about well-being – positive emotions (such as happiness and optimism), engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement.

Is positive psychology the same as positive thinking?  No.  Positive psychology is grounded in scientific study.  Positive thinking urges positivity on us 100% of the time and in every situation, but positive psychology does not. Positive psychology recognizes that in spite of the advantages of positive thinking, there are times when negative or realistic thinking is appropriate.

Is positive psychology just common sense?  No.  Sometimes this common “wisdom” is true, sometimes it is not.  What is common sense to on person, will likely not seem like common sense to the next person.  Positive psychology research is discovering some things that might not be considered common sense by anyone.

Is positive psychology something new?  No. Since Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the “good life” has been the subject of philosophical and religious debate, investigation and speculation. Psychologists have been working in positive psychology for decades – it just hasn’t been called positive psychology.

Want to watch more about positive psychology?

Click on the links below:

Martin Seligman Lecture at Google Zeitgeist 2010

Martin Seligman TED talk on Positive Psychology

Want to learn more about how positive you are, how happy you are or about your strengths?

Try out some of the fascinating questionnaires, surveys, tests and scales at Authentic Happiness.

Want to read more about positive psychology?

Try out these books on positive psychology.


2 responses to “What is Positive Psychology?

  1. Pingback: How to be happy | FitChutney

  2. I love that positive psychology is becoming more well known. I am currently reading a book by Shawn Achor called “The Happiness Advantage”. I highly suggest it, he was also on Ted talks if you did want to check out his video.

    I look forward to learning more about the topic, and thanks for the great book list!

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