In less than a decade, positive psychology has been gaining attention from academics and the general public alike. The focus is bringing science in to answer questions about topics like happiness, resilience, and hope. Religious leaders and ideas have given insight into these positive psychological topics for ages, but now science is also getting involved. This is a very dynamic movement that is revolutionizing the traditional problem-focused psychology that has been dominant for many decades.
Positive psychology is, in essence, the study of what makes life worth living. It is concerned with building our strengths as well as dealing with our weaknesses in healthy ways. Its focus is to build up the best things in life while repairing the worst. It goes one step further past repairing people’s pathologies–It aims to help make life more fulfilling for them.
Positive psychology was founded by Martin Seligman and his colleagues in the early 2000’s. Seligman has been and continues to do the work of joining science and positive psychology practice together with a goal of helping make people happier. Dr. Seligman is expanding the practice to education, health, and neuroscience, and has applied his research to specialized groups such as teachers and students, the military, athletes, as well as the general public. In Authentic Happiness (2002), Seligman says his discovery of the new field in psychology started off with a study on learned helplessness in dogs. During the course of the study, in spite of numerous situations, some dogs were resilient and did not “learn” helplessness. This inspired him and he began to draw parallels between dogs and learned helplessness and depression in humans. He has since become one of the most often-cited psychologists not only in positive psychology but psychology in general.
The value of positive psychology is to complement and extend traditional psychology, but not necessarily to replace it. Rather, positive psychology is a call to recognize that what is good in life is a real and important as the more negative aspects. Positive psychology recognizes that “good” is more than just the absence of “bad”. It asks us what we can do to develop positive experiences in our lives, no what bad experiences or feelings may exist in our daily lives.
Positive psychology as a science has delved deeper into topics concerning happiness and satisfaction and found some general well-founded trends:
- The psychological ‘good life’ consists of certain things but not others.
- Most people are fundamentally happy.
- Happiness begets more happiness: happy people create and nurture positive relationships and outcomes in their life.
- Most people are resilient and their strength of character can withstand setbacks and disappointments.
- Times of crisis are revealing.
- Social connections, religion, and work have a strong effect on life satisfaction.
- Money makes less of a contribution than most people think. Spending it on other people can increase happiness or satisfaction.
Science also show us that living a good life can be learned. In order to learn it, however, you must trust your ‘heart’ over your ‘head’, and critical thinking is less important than unconditional caring. The ‘good days’ are often defined by feeling autonomous, competent, and socially well-connected.
The common tools used in positive psychology are ones to develop positive self-information. Listing out things we are grateful for, good memories, or counting our kindnesses seem to put a spring in our step. These exercises have been proven to improve our happiness and even decrease depression in some cases. There is still much to learn about positive psychology and how to apply it in therapy, but these tools have revealed positive results and steps in the right direction.
“Authentic Happiness.” Profile of Dr. Martin Seligman. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Dec. 2015.
Biswas-Diener, Robert. “What’s So Positive About Positive Psychology?” Psychology Today. N.p., 17 Aug. 2013. Web. 21 Dec. 2015.
“Martin Seligman.” Pursuit of Happiness. N.p., 25 Mar. 2010. Web. 21 Dec. 2015.
Peterson, Christopher, Ph. D. “What Is Positive Psychology, and What Is It Not?” Psychology Today. N.p., 16 May 2008. Web. 21 Dec. 2015.