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Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is an area of psychology that studies and concentrates on personality and psychological traits and behaviors in people, which can lead to a meaningful and purposeful life. It helps a human being go from surviving to truly thriving in life.


What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology explainedThe main goal behind positive psychology research is to find out what makes human life the most enjoyable experience possible. After World War II, many psychologists wanted to find the key to human flourishing. The people behind the research of this topic distinguish it from other types of psychology due to its “focus on positive relationships and positive thinking rather than negative emotions and character weaknesses”.

Psychologists believe that identifying positive aspects of a person’s personality can influence them greatly and lead to greater life satisfaction, positive well-being, and positive outcomes daily. They state that by identifying these positive emotions and completing positive psychology interventions, mental illness is less prominent, and these people can lead a meaningful life and overall mental wellness.


Positive Psychologists

The term “positive psychology” was originally fabricated by Abraham Maslow, a psychologist from the 20th century. The creation of positive psychology itself and its’ ideologies can be greatly attributed to Martin Seligman, who is considered a pioneer of this field.

Martin Seligman is renowned for his research and exploration of happiness by identifying that happiness comes from one’s ability to recognize their own strengths and positive character traits. Through research and multiple questionnaires, he determined that life satisfaction comes from a combination of three domains; the pleasant life, the good life, and the meaningful life. 


Positive Psychology Research

As mentioned, research and scientific study in the field of positive psychology done by Martin Seligman focused on figuring out human behavior and how to define well being. He focused on what makes life enjoyable and fulfilling for humans. He concluded that human flourishing comes from what he calls a pleasant, good, and meaningful life.


Theories Behind Positive Psychology

theories behind positive psychologyThere exist many theories behind positive psychology. Some of the most popular ones come from Martin Selinger and others like Carol Ryff. These psychologists have worked to determine what steps humans can take to live fulfilling lives with positive relationships and positive experiences.


Three Paths to Happiness

One of the most popular theories behind positive psychology is the three paths to happiness coined by Martin Seligman. This theory explains the main three components and the path to a fulfilling human existence.

The pleasant life is the component in which humans should learn to find happiness and enjoyment in everyday events and pleasures; good relationships with friends and family, a good cup of coffee in the morning, and a nice day of weather.

Moving from the pleasant life to the good life is a choice made by individuals and is done by identifying their own positive emotions, personal strengths, and character strengths.

Although difficult and a skill many have difficulty mastering, it can only be done by oneself with the ability to recognize their positive traits. One has to realize how good life is on their own, they cannot believe it unless they realize it themselves. 

Finally, the meaningful life is the last component of Seligman’s theory; people use these character traits and personal strengths and put these toward a greater purpose. Having a purpose and using personal strengths to their greatest potential is the best way to ensure complete fulfillment and happiness in the personal life.


Seligman’s PERMA acronym

Seligman developed the PERMA acronym, or PERMA theory, to explain the basics of human thriving. The goal is not just to survive this life but rather to flourish.

The PERMA acronym gives the five notions behind subjective well-being. The ‘P’ represents positive emotion. Individuals can cultivate more positive emotions in daily life through gratitude and forgiveness. Recognizing the little positives in everyday life is one of the surest ways to increase positive emotions and, in turn, well-being.

The next letter in the acronym, ‘E,’ signifies engagement. This uses character strengths, skills, and knowledge and concentrates on challenges and difficult tasks. Engagement lets one recognize their strengths and individual traits and overall increases happiness. Using focus to absorb oneself into a task fully is known to increase overall presence and well-being.

The ‘R’ is for relationships, one of the most important things to develop happiness and a fulfilling life. The human experience is often amplified when these events are experienced together. Joy, excitement, and fulfillment all feel better when there is someone who shares these same feelings. Not only does it make life's ups better, but it can also help through the downtimes. Having relationships that are supportive and have true connections can help a person get through the harder times in life and permit them to flourish.

In the PERMA theory, the ‘M’ represents meaning. It is common knowledge that life improves when one develops meaning within it. People spend their childhoods dreaming of what they wish to become, hoping to develop meaning and a greater purpose. Meaning can come from a life’s work, religion, family, scientific beliefs, politics, and many more aspects. One of life's greatest secrets is finding own beliefs and fulfillment. 

Finally, the ‘A’ is for accomplishment. Feeling accomplished in work, relationships, personal hobbies, and other aspects of life is a great way to lead a good life and increase personal well being.


Character Strength and Virtues

Similar to ‘engagement’ from Seligman’s theory, identifying character strengths and virtues are ways to increase well-being, self-esteem, confidence, and happiness and ultimately lead a longer life full of happiness.

A good way to incorporate this in daily life is to write down character strengths, whether that be resilience, optimism, being a good person to friends and family, etc. Recognizing and applying these to daily life have decreased negative emotions.

By recognizing strengths, one can automatically focus on the positives and ultimately forget any negative, intrusive thoughts they may have about oneself. This is similar to gratitude; by looking at the positive, we are more likely to continue to do this and forget many negative thoughts.


Flow State

Again, like engagement, the flow state is the state in which one is fully focused and immersed in whatever activity is being done. By focusing strictly on the task at hand, time seems to stop. We forget time as an objective thing and are completely in the moment. This is similar to meditation, which increases happiness and well-being.

By being completely present, self-awareness disappears; focus is only on the task at hand. This habit can be practiced during any activity throughout the day. Even concentrating solely on unloading the dishwasher can help with being more present and forgetting negative emotions.


Psychiatry and Positive Psychology

Psychiatry and positive psychologyPsychiatry has been known as the practice of identifying and treating mental illnesses. Treating mental illnesses through psychiatry is often done with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), prescription psychiatric medications, counseling, support groups, and many more techniques.

Only recently, psychiatrists believe that incorporating positive psychology into their practice could benefit those prone to or suffering from mental conditions, such as depression.

Research has shown that positive psychiatry includes four major components; positive mental health outcomes, positive psychosocial characteristics that include psychological traits like resilience, optimism, compassion, and more, the biology of positive psychiatry constructs and positive psychiatry interventions.

The goal of positive psychiatry is to induce positive mental health outcomes. These can include personal well-being, low perceived stress, successful psychosocial aging, post-traumatic growth, recovery, and prevention of mental illness.

To achieve these positive outcomes, psychiatrists will help their clients by undertaking various positive psychology interventions. Interventions such as setting personal goals, practicing optimism, and identifying and using strengths in daily life have been known to help treat mental disorders.


Positive Psychology Movement

The movement of positive psychology was a huge breakthrough in its field. Martin Seligman, the main psychologist in the positive psychology movement, was the one who determined that personal well-being can be defined, measured, and taught. 

This was so groundbreaking because, for a long period, mental health and its’ disorders were severely misunderstood and were often mistreated. Putting a measurable, concrete idea to mental health problems was a big step towards treating and properly managing these conditions.

By defining what it takes to have a positive and fulfilling life, people can understand the necessary steps to take and make more progress than ever before.

Another reason for its’ huge impact on the psychiatry field is the research done behind these theories. Martin Seligman spent many years conducting real-life research. He conducted meta-analyses, case studies, brain imaging, surveys, and longitudinal studies to determine the formula for a happy life. With all of the concrete proof available, it is hard to argue with his logic.


Benefits of Positive Psychology

Positive psychology has been shown to produce many benefits for its participants. It has produced higher self-esteem, better relationships and a more positive outlook on life.

Positive psychology encourages people to recognize their strengths and positive character traits. Humans have often only remembered and recognized the negative events, emotions, and thoughts associated with their lives. This can cause a clouded vision and make one believe that positivity is incompatible with their life.

Through positive psychology, individuals are almost forced to recognize the positive and, therefore, can come to realize that positivity and good things are all around. By fixating mostly on the good, one forgets the bad and, in turn, increases self-esteem and confidence. Knowing and seeing real-time examples of strength, compassion, and goodwill can bring a whole new level of confidence to life.

Better relationships come when one realizes what they can add to the lives of other people and use these more in everyday encounters with loved ones. By identifying the ability to be selfless, humble, honest, and kind to others, a person becomes inclined to practice this more frequently. This leads to fulfilling personal relationships that are bound to last.

One more great benefit of positive psychology is written in its name; positivity. In this field of psychology, its participants are left with a more positive outlook on life. Individuals are encouraged to practice gratitude, recognizing the positives in everyday life. These positives accumulate and switch a mindset from negative-focused to positive-focused. Gratitude itself has been researched and shown to increase happiness and positivity.


Positive Emotions

Positive emotions are at the core of positive psychology. The main goal of this ideology is to increase positive emotions in daily life, ultimately leading to a more positive life. Positive emotions can be increased through gratitude practice, positive relationships with others, recognizing one’s strengths and positive character traits, and using these to practice self-control and happiness.


Frequently Asked Questions


Why is positive psychology important?

Positive psychology is important because it can help psychologists understand the key to a fulfilling life where humans do more than just survive; they thrive. By doing this and determining the necessary steps, psychologists can help many people reach positive mental health outcomes, reduce the chance of developing mental disorders, and lead a happy life with a sense of purpose. 


What are the three pillars of positive psychology?

Martin Seligman developed the three pillars of positive psychology, a world renown psychologist. These pillars include positive experiences, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Individuals can increase well-being and improve happiness by having these three components in their day-to-day life and recognizing and identifying them.


Positive Psychiatry: Its Time Has Come - PMC - NCBI

Abraham Maslow and the Hierarchy of Happiness 

Martin Seligman & Positive Psychology: Theory and Practice

Positive Psychology

PERMA™ Theory of Well-Being and PERMA™ Workshops

Martin Seligman and the Rise of Positive Psychology

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