What is Positive Psychology? A refresher.

Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on the strengths, virtues, and talents that contribute to successful functioning and enable individuals and communities to flourish. It is concerned with the scientific study of wellbeing and the ‘good life’. Some of the core topics of positive psychology include happiness, resilience, wellbeing, and states of flow and engagement.

Positive psychology emerged as a formal discipline in the late 1990s, when Martin Seligman, a former president of the American Psychological Association, proposed a new vision for psychology that would emphasize the positive aspects of human nature and experience, rather than the negative ones. Seligman was inspired by his prior work on learned helplessness, which showed that people can become passive and depressed when they face uncontrollable negative events. He wondered if the opposite was also true: could people learn to be optimistic and resilient when they face positive events and opportunities?

Seligman and other pioneers of positive psychology argued that psychology had neglected the study of optimal human functioning and had focused too much on the treatment of mental illness and the reduction of suffering. They wanted to create a science of human flourishing that would complement the existing science of human distress. They also wanted to apply the findings of positive psychology to enhance the wellbeing of individuals, groups, and societies.

Positive psychology has since become a popular and influential movement that has attracted many researchers and practitioners from different fields and disciplines. It has also generated a large body of empirical evidence on what makes life worth living and how to increase happiness and wellbeing. Some of the key findings from the science of positive psychology are:

  • Most people are happy.
  • Happiness is a cause of good things in life and not simply a result of success or good outcomes. Happy people make good things happen.
  • Political conservatives are happier than political liberals.
  • Most people are resilient.
  • Happiness can be increased by practicing gratitude, forgiveness, and kindness.
  • Happiness is influenced by genetic, environmental, and intentional factors.
  • Happiness is not a single state, but a complex and dynamic construct that involves positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment.
  • Happiness varies across cultures and contexts.
  • Happiness is not the only or the ultimate goal of life. Other values and virtues, such as wisdom, courage, justice, and transcendence, are also important for human flourishing.
  • Happiness and wellbeing can be measured and assessed using various methods and tools.

For advanced training in Positive Psychology, the International Institute of Positive Psychology offers both short-term and long-term distance learning programs.