what is Positive Psychology

What is positive psychology?

Positive Psychology is study of what makes people flourish. In a way, it may called the scientific study of happiness.

Positive psychology focuses on how to help human beings prosper and lead healthier & happier lives. While traditional psychology tends to focus on dysfunctions and abnormalities, positive psychology centers around helping people become happier.

The term ‘positive psychology’ was first used by psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality.

In 1998, Martin Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association and he made Positive Psychology the theme of his term. In the first sentence of his book Authentic Happiness, Seligman wrote:

…for the last half century psychology has been consumed with a single topic only – mental illness.

Today, Seligman is widely regarded as the Father of Modern Positive Psychology.

The first Positive Psychology Summit took place in 1999.

In the year 2000, psychologists Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defined positive psychology as “a science of positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions.”

In 2002, the first International Conference on Positive Psychology was held.

In 2006, the Happiness 101 course by Tal Ben-Shahar at the Harvard University became wildly popular.

In 2009, the first World Congress on Positive Psychology took place in Philadelphia.

“We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise that achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving in individuals, families, and communities.” – Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Happiness Pleasure Engagement Meaning

Positive psychology is concerned with three issues: positive emotions, positive traits, and positive institutions. Positive emotions are concerned with being content with one’s past, being happy in the present and having hope for the future. Positive individual traits focus on one’s strengths and virtues. Finally, positive institutions are based on strengths to better a community of people. – Wikipedia.

However, this does not involve ignoring the very real problems that people face and that other areas of psychology strive to treat. “It’s value is to complement and extend the problem-focused psychology that has been dominant for many decades,” as Christopher Peterson, author of A Primer in Positive Psychology, explained in 2008.

And this is what Emilia Lahti, a crusader of SISU and an outspoken anti-domestic violence advocate, writes:

Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life worth living. It is the empirical exploration of how people, institutions and communities flourish, and is based on the premise that mere absence of illness is not conducive to well-being and a fulfilling life.


In order to increase our knowledge of the determinants of ‘the good life’, positive psychology seeks to understand all the domains of human experience related to our well-being, and is relentlessly pursuing new channels through which to do so. It rests soundly within the field of psychology and is best acknowledged for its contribution in focusing attention and resources to the study of topics such as hope, wisdom, creativity, future-mindedness, courage, spirituality, responsibility, resilience and perseverance. Positive psychology strives to discover what well-being and happiness are, not merely in terms of positive emotion and pleasure, but in term of living a good life.

Positive psychology is not about fake smiles, telling people to ‘just be happy’ and to deny the existence of genuine hardships. What positive psychology does tell us is that when (not if) we encounter challenges or extreme hardship, we do not need to be unarmed and unprepared for the trial ahead. We can educate ourselves about what makes us more resilient, mentally strong and optimistic, and cultivate response models which enable us to meet adversity with mindful observation and contemplation. The science and wisdom of positive psychology is about using your strengths and the knowledge acquired through past experiences to push through the turbulence, and to even harness it to elevate you up to higher altitudes. Nobody lives only to be free of anxiety and illness. A life well lived consists of other elements than those which contribute to merely surviving, and these are the matters which positive psychology seeks to understand.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in increasing your well-being, you can find instructions on how to apply positive psychology interventions online at the University of Pennsylvania’s site Authentic Happiness.

  1. Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania
  2. Positive Psychology UK
  3. International Positive Psychology Association

A Video: What Is Positive Psychology?

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