What Is Positive Psychology?

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The term ‘positive psychology’ is a relatively new form of psychology. It emphasises the positive influences in an individual’s life. These could include character strengths, optimistic emotions as well as constructive institutions.

This theory is founded on the belief that happiness is derived from both emotional in addition to mental factors. Positive psychology seeks to help individuals identify happiness from moment to moment. It emphasises this over just appreciating happy moments when looking back on them.

Individuals looking to enter into therapy – who want to experience a greater sense of joy and liberation from their current circumstances – may find this approach useful. Many find it simpler to focus on positive emotions that they experience in the present after treatment has ended.

What Positive Psychology Concentrates On

Positive psychology concentrates on the positive events and influences in life. This includes:

  • Positive experiences (such as happiness, joy, inspiration as well as love).
  • Character strengths and virtues: Positive psychology seeks to identify and promote character strengths and virtues that contribute to happiness, fulfilment, and success, such as courage, kindness, and wisdom.
  • Positive states and traits (such as gratitude, resilience as well as compassion).
  • Positive relationships: Positive psychology recognizes the importance of positive social connections and relationships in promoting well-being and happiness.
  • Positive institutions (applying positive principles within entire organisations as well as institutions).
  • Positive emotions: Positive psychology emphasizes the importance of experiencing positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, and love, and the role these emotions play in promoting overall well-being.
  • Meaning and purpose: Positive psychology highlights the importance of finding meaning and purpose in life, and how these factors can contribute to a sense of fulfilment and well-being.
  • Positive institutions: Positive psychology recognises the role that institutions and organisations can play in promoting positive experiences and outcomes, and how they can be designed and structured to facilitate positive outcomes.

As a field, positive psychology spends a lot of its time thinking about topics such as character strengths, optimism, life fulfilment, happiness, well-being, gratitude, empathy (in addition to self-compassion), self-esteem and self-confidence, hope, and elevation.

What Are The Levels Of Positive Psychology?

The field of positive psychology is frequently referred to as having three different levels:

  1. Subjective Level: The subjective level of positive psychology focuses on subjective experiences of well-being, positive emotions, and life satisfaction. This level involves studying factors such as happiness, pleasure, and meaning in life. Researchers in this area use a variety of tools to assess individual’s subjective experiences, including surveys, questionnaires, and interviews. They also explore the factors that contribute to individual differences in subjective well-being, such as personality, life circumstances, and cultural values.


  1. Individual Level: The individual level of positive psychology focuses on the psychological traits, characteristics, and behaviours that contribute to positive outcomes. This level includes topics such as character strengths, positive relationships, personal growth, resilience, and creativity. Researchers at this level explore how individuals can cultivate these traits and behaviours to enhance their well-being and achieve their goals. They also study how these factors can be nurtured in different contexts, such as in schools, workplaces, and communities.


  1. Societal Level: The societal level of positive psychology examines the broader social, cultural, and environmental factors that contribute to human well-being and flourishing. This level includes exploring topics such as social support, civic engagement, cultural values, and institutional structures that support positive outcomes. Researchers in this area aim to identify the social and cultural factors that promote positive outcomes, as well as the examples of how they can be nurtured and sustained.


What Is The Evidence Base For Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is grounded in empirical research and evidence-based practice. Over the past few decades, a large and growing body of research has emerged supporting the principles and interventions of positive psychology. Here are some key points about the evidence base for positive psychology:

  • Research methods: Positive psychology research uses a variety of research methods, including experimental studies, longitudinal studies, surveys, and case studies, to explore the factors that contribute to well-being, resilience, and positive outcomes.
  • Validated measures: Positive psychology researchers have developed a range of validated measures and scales to assess constructs such as character strengths, positive emotions, and well-being, providing reliable and valid tools for measuring positive outcomes.
  • Replication studies: Positive psychology findings have been replicated in multiple studies and across diverse populations, providing further evidence of their validity and generalizability.
  • Intervention studies: Positive psychology interventions have been shown to produce positive outcomes in controlled studies and randomized controlled trials (RCTs), demonstrating their efficacy and effectiveness.
  • Meta-analyses: Meta-analyses of positive psychology interventions have shown consistent and significant effects on outcomes such as well-being, happiness, and life satisfaction, further supporting their efficacy.
  • Practical applications: Positive psychology principles and interventions have been successfully applied in a range of settings, such as schools, workplaces, and healthcare settings, providing practical evidence of their real-world impact.

The Founder Of Positive Psychology – Martin Seligman

If you had not heard of the positive psychology movement until reading this article, you still could have heard his name at some point or other in your life. Seligman’s research in the 1960s to 70s laid the foundation for the well-known psychological theory which is called “learned helplessness”.

This theory, which has been backed up by decades of research, explains the way in which humans and animals are able to learn to become helpless and feel that they have lost control over what happens to them. Seligman connected this phenomenon with depression and noted that many people suffering from depression feel as if they are helpless. His work on the subject offered inspiration, ideas as well as evidence in order to back up many therapies for depressive symptoms, as well as strategies for preventing depression.

While this is sufficiently impressive on its own, Seligman knew that he had more to provide the psychology community in addition to the world at large — specifically, more research on the positive, the uplifting and the inspiring. After he had made quite a name for himself with learned helplessness, Seligman turned his attention to other traits, characteristics as well as perspectives which could be learned.

Seligman found what he was looking for in resilience and learned about optimism. He found that became the foundation for his widely administered resilience programmes for children as well as members of the military, among others.

Seligman became frustrated with psychology’s overly narrow concentration on the negative. Thus, much attention was paid to mental illness, abnormal psychology, trauma, suffering and pain. Seligman’s work received relatively little attention was given to happiness, well-being, exceptionalism, strengths and flourishing.

When Seligman was elected as president of the American Psychological Association in 1998, he altered the direction of the field from such a prominent position. Seligman proposed a new subfield of psychology that has a focus on what is life-giving as opposed to what is life-depleting.

Since 2000, Seligman’s call for an increased focus on the positive in life has been responded to by thousands of researchers around the globe. It’s provoked tens of thousands of studies on positive phenomena as well as establishing a base for the application of positive aspects to coaching, teaching, relationships, the working environment as well as every other life domain.

What Are The Benefits Of Psychology?

Positive psychology has been associated with a range of benefits for individuals and communities. Here are a number of the key benefits of positive psychology:

  • Improved well-being: Positive psychology interventions have been found to increase overall well-being and life satisfaction, as well as decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Greater resilience: Positive psychology interventions can help individuals develop improved resilience in the face of adversity, allowing them to cope with stress and bounce back from setbacks more effectively.
  • Increased happiness: Positive psychology interventions have been shown to increase positive emotions such as happiness, joy, and contentment.
  • Improved relationships: Positive psychology interventions can help individuals build stronger and core positive relationships with others, improving social support and connection.
  • Better physical health: Positive psychology interventions have been linked with improved physical health outcomes, such as lower blood pressure and better immune function.
  • Increased success: Positive psychology interventions can help individuals develop a growth mindset, perseverance, and optimism, leading to greater success in areas such as education, career, and personal goals.

How Does Positive Psychology Relate To Other Fields?

Positive psychology has interdisciplinary connections with various fields, including neuroscience, education, business, and health care. Here are some examples of how positive psychology relates to other fields:

  • Neuroscience: Positive psychology and neuroscience intersect in the study of positive emotions, which can be measured using neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI. Positive psychology research has contributed to our understanding of the neural correlates of positive emotions as well as how these emotions can be cultivated through various interventions.
  • Education: Positive psychology interventions have been applied in educational settings to improve student well-being, motivation, and academic performance. Positive education, which is based on the principles of positive psychology, promotes a holistic approach to education that focuses on the development of character strengths and positive relationships.
  • Business: Positive psychology has been applied in business settings to improve employee well-being, engagement, and productivity. Positive leadership, which is based on the principles of positive psychology, emphasises the importance of leaders who cultivate positive emotions, build positive relationships, and promote a growth mindset.
  • Health care: Positive psychology interventions have been applied in healthcare settings to improve patient well-being, adherence to treatment, and recovery. Positive health, which is based on the principles of positive psychology, promotes a holistic approach to health that focuses on the promotion of positive emotions, social support, and health behaviours.


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Frequently Asked Questions

How is positive psychology different from traditional psychology?

Positive psychology differs from traditional psychology in its focus on positive outcomes, rather than pathology or dysfunction. Positive psychology also emphasises the importance of strengths and positive emotions, rather than just identifying and treating problems.

What are some practical applications of positive psychology?

Positive psychology interventions can be applied in a range of settings, such as education, healthcare, business, and personal development, to improve well-being, resilience, and positive outcomes.

Can anyone benefit from positive psychology?

Yes, positive psychology interventions can be beneficial for individuals of all ages and backgrounds, regardless of their current level of well-being or mental health.

What are some examples of positive psychology interventions?

Examples of positive psychology interventions include gratitude journaling, mindfulness meditation, character strengths assessments, and positive reframing of negative events.

Is positive psychology just about being happy all the time?

No, positive psychology does not promote the idea that individuals should strive to be happy all the time. Instead, positive psychology acknowledges that negative emotions and experiences are a natural part of life, but that individuals can cultivate positive emotions and build resilience to cope with them more effectively.