Positive psychology is a term that you have probably come across, but you know little about what it means in practice. If you are wondering ‘what is positive psychology?’ you should know that it is a field of psychology that aims to make life better for people and make sure that they are as mentally healthy as possible.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is one of the latest branches of psychology to emerge established officially in 1998. It is a field of psychology that focuses on helping human beings lead happy, healthy lives and prosper too. While other branches of psychology usually focus on abnormal behaviour and dysfunction, positive psychology focuses on helping people become happier.

Positive psychology suggests that while getting rid of of crime, depression, disability, sickness, and other life problems is important, it is still not enough. People should not just be surviving through life, but rather should thrive and enjoy it. Positive interventions are being introduced in workplaces and schools to help people become more productive and feel good.

General interest in positive psychology has enjoyed tremendous growth in recent years. Today, a growing number of people are looking for information on how to becomes more fulfilled and achieve their full potential. Interest in positive psychology has also increased in University campuses. To understand this field, it is important to learn about its history, misconceptions, and applications.

History of Positive Psychology

Psychology had 3 distinct missions prior to World War II: Making the live of all people more fulfilling and productive, curing mental illness, and identifying and nurturing high talent. Shortly after World War II, there was a shift in the primary focus of psychology to the second priority, which is treating mental illness and abnormal behaviour.

Humanist thinkers such as Abraham Maslow, Erich Fromm, and Carl Rogers helped renew interest in the other two areas in the 1950s by developing theories focusing on happiness as well as the positive aspects of human nature. Martin Seligman was elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1998 and positive psychology became the theme of his tenure.

Seligman is widely viewed today as the father of contemporary positive psychology. The first International Positive Psychology Conference was held in 2002. The first World Congress on Positive Psychology was held in Philadelphia in 2009. The congress featured talks by Philip Zimbardo and Martin Seligman.

Applications of Positive Psychology

Positive psychology usually has a range of real-world applications in areas that include therapy, education, stress management, self-help, and workplace issues. Using the strategies from positive psychology, coaches, teachers, employers, and therapists are able to motivate others and help individuals understand and even develop their personal strengths.

Understanding Positive Psychology

The late Christopher Peterson, a professor at the University of Michigan and author of ‘A Primer in Positive Psychology’ noted in a 2008 article published by Psychology Today, that it is important to understand what positive psychology is all about and what it is not.

Peterson stated that Positive psychology is a call for psychological practice and science to be concerned with both the strength and weakness as interested in building the best things in life and repairing the worst and as concerned with making the lives of regular people as fulfilling as healing pathology.

Peterson noted that positive psychology is not about ignoring the real problems that people face or even the other areas that psychology strives to treat. He also states that the value of positive psychology is complementing and extending the problem-focused psychology that has been dominant for a long time.

Misconceptions about Positive Psychology

One of the major misconceptions about positive psychology is that it is positive thinking, which is the assumption that good thoughts will come about if you think about them. While positive psychology does suggest that expressing optimism about the future is beneficial, good things can only happen if you actually makes things come about. It is all about what people actually do and not just what they think.

Positive psychology focuses on building positive emotions like calmness, contentment, and excitement, but it does not deny the reality of negative experiences and emotions. Emotions are what makes us human. However, the natural tendency is usually to focus too much on the negative aspects of life, which means that there’s value in shifting focus to the positive side.

Positive psychology is not the same as self-help since the techniques it uses are based on in-depth psychological research. Interventions are usually tested first to find out whether they have an impact or not. Still, positive psychology is not a silver bullet. Americans developed and tested most of the interventions and might not necessarily work well for people from other backgrounds and cultures.

Research is still underway to find out what works, for whom, and under what condition. A lot is still not known, so you should be wary of claims about ‘proven ways’ to be happy.

The Bottom Line

What is positive psychology? It is a branch of psychology that focuses on human growth and emphasises the importance of having a sense of satisfaction and meaning in life. It is based on the belief that people aspire to live fulfilling and meaningful lives, to enhance their experiences of work, love, and play, and cultivate what is best within themselves.

Positive psychology benefits people at different stages of the mental health spectrum, but those that are really struggling should get help by talking to friends, family, or medical professionals.