The Master’s degree program I am finishing up specializes in Positive Psychology and Life Coaching. A lot of people ask me what positive psychology actually is. I decided to create a post that explains what it is and how you can use the concepts and theories in positive psychology to improve your life.
What is Positive Psychology
When most people think of psychology they think about the traditional approach to psychology which looks at abnormalities and mental illness. In traditional psychology, the goal is to take people with a mental disorder and bring them up to baseline or “normal” mental and emotional health. It is based on a disease model where the focus is on fixing and curing rather than preventing and improving.
Positive Psychology takes the opposite approach. Instead of focusing on what is wrong with people, the goal is to look at what is right and how to make the good, better. This type of psychology seeks to focus on what is working and what makes life good and discover ways to expand these experiences. The intention is to focus on areas of strength and help make those areas even better.
In short, positive psychology is the “scientific study of what makes life worth living” (Christopher Peterson).
How Did Positive Psychology Get It’s Start
The founder of positive psychology is considered to be Martin Seligman. In 1998 Marty became frustrated with psychology’s overwhelming focus on the negative parts of life like trauma, suffering, abnormality, disease, and pain. He believed there was value to be found in studying happiness, well-being, strengths, and exceptionalities.
Imagine you were an architect wanting to design a new building. You likely wouldn’t spend all of your time studying crumbled, dilapidated old buildings. Instead, you would find strong buildings that have stood the test of time and proven themselves to be sturdy and long-lasting. This is the approach of positive psychology. We know a lot about what can go wrong with individuals, but what can we learn about how humans flourish? What can we learn by studying exceptional individuals? Positive Psychology studies the people who are flourishing and who are the happiest and works to use that knowledge to create pathways for others to improve their lives.
Positive Psychology focuses on an individual’s strengths and virtues to use what is already good about that person to chart a course to a better lived-experience. It does not concern itself with what is wrong with people or allow individuals to get stuck in victim mentalities that keep them trapped in negative cycles. Instead, positive psychology uses optimism and hope to press people forward into their potential.
It is important to note that the goal of positive psychology is not to replace traditional psychology. There will always be suffering and illness in our world and it is important to continue to research and find solutions to help people through life’s challenges. However, positive psychology seeks to complement traditional psychology by offering a more balanced approach, recognizing that life is filled with both good and bad. We need both approaches to psychology.
How Can Positive Psychology Benefit My Life
It is impossible to list all of the research and benefits from positive psychology in this one post. Much of the focus of Working Mom’s Balance going forward will be on concepts coming out of this field of research. However, I want to share a few of the major ideas in the field to help you understand how positive psychology can improve your life.
One of the main goals of positive psychology is to help us shift our perspective. Our brains are naturally inclined to focus on the negative aspects of life. This focus on the negative can lead us to a place of defeat, hopelessness, helplessness, anxiety, and depression. These are all pretty common feelings these days. By applying positive psychology research and practices, however, we can begin to make small shifts in our thinking that will help change our perspective. We can begin noticing, appreciating, and working with the positive aspects of life to help us live better.
One of the major concepts in positive psychology is Martin Seligman’s PERMA model which helps us better understand how to achieve well-being in life. PERMA is an acronym for the five facets that make up a life of well-being and flourishing. The five facets include:
P – positive experiences and emotions: While there will always be negative parts of life and negative (uncomfortable) emotions can be helpful, it is important to have a balance. A good life must include positive emotions and an appreciation of positive experiences.
E – engagement: You know that feeling when you are so focused on a task that you lose all track of time and the world around you? This is known as engagement or flow. Discovering how you can use your strengths and skills to engage in your work and activities is incredibly valuable for a satisfying life.
R – (positive) relationships: We are created for meaningful connections with other humans. Strong relationships are essential for our well-being.
M – meaning: Using our gifts and talents in service of something greater than ourselves helps to provide us with a sense of meaning and purpose in life. This is vital to flourishing.
A – accomplishment: It is a human need to be continually growing and achieving our goals. Without experiencing a sense of accomplishment we will not be able to thrive in life.
Today’s Action Step
The purpose of this post was to provide an overview of what positive psychology is to help you become more familiar with the term. As I mentioned, I will be providing more research and practical strategies for applying positive psychology to your life in the future. We will use evidence-based practices to make the changes in our lives necessary to flourish.
Positive psychology is all about focusing on strengths, virtues, purpose, and positivity. We aren’t trying to deny or ignore the negative parts of life, instead, we will shift our focus to the good to see how it can help us overcome challenges, improve circumstances, and live better in spite of the hard parts in life. Today, consider one positive aspect of your life that you are grateful for. Take some time to appreciate the good you already have.