What is positive psychology?

Why is there so much talk these days about positive psychology – where did it all start?

Positive psychology is the scientific study of:

  • – The pleasant life – having positive experiences
  • – The engaged life – using your strengths in what you do to create a sense of ‘flow’
  • – The meaningful life – contributing to something that gives your life purpose.

Interest in happiness and fulfillment dates back centuries, and research spans decades. But Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi really put the positive into positive psychology when they introduced a special issue of the journal American Psychologist in 2000. They urged readers (mostly psychologists) to go beyond the ‘exclusive focus on pathology that has dominated so much of our discipline’ (p. 5). This was a fair assessment of psychology up to that time – since WWII psychologists had dwelled on psychological disorder with little thought about what made people happier.

The call was heeded: In the seven years since that intro there’s been an explosion in positive psychology research and theory, leading to heaps of new books, journals and university programs.

Positive psychology has expanded psychology’s interest beyond simply diagnosing and treating problems – now there’s also a healthy focus on understanding and promoting well-being.

Image by José Miguel Serrano  under Creative Commons.

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