Do you know what ‘positive psychology’ means?
Positive psychology as a term can be a little misleading. It might sound like encouraging you to “just be positive” and “cheer up”. However, this is not what positive psychology is about, and it should not, by all means, be confused with pop-culture self-help books and motivational speakers. Whilst the latter can be useful in other situations, they suit a different purpose.
For a long time, psychology as a field focused on negative aspects of human life, on people’s shortcomings and pathology. The main question was: “What is wrong?” However, about two decades ago, Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, proposed a new approach that asks: “What is right?”.
The Science of Happiness
Positive psychology is a science of positive aspects of human life. Its goal is to, using scientific methods, find and promote factors that increase our wellbeing. Hence, it puts a spotlight on topics such as happiness, creativity, meaning, wisdom, personal strengths, core values, resilience. Nevertheless, this does not mean that positive psychology neglects to repair what is ‘wrong’; it just emphasizes that building strength is equally important. It is intended to fulfill, not to replace traditional psychology.
Positive psychology proposes three kinds of a happy life:
- Pleasant Life (“Life of enjoyment”) – Focused on experiencing positive emotions. This is how happiness is most often viewed in everyday life and popular culture.
- Good Life (“Life of engagement”) – Focused on personal strengths, immersion in activities that have a purpose for us, and accomplishing goals. We derive happiness from being optimally engaged and from “getting lost” in activities we love. This state of being absorbed in the activity we enjoy and are skilled at is referred to as a state of “flow”.
- Meaningful Life (“Life of affiliation”) – Aimed toward a higher purpose, how we derive a sense of meaning and belonging when we are contributing to a greater cause.
Positive psychology is a wide area encompassing a variety of different techniques that aim to encourage people to identify and further develop their positive traits, experiences, and emotions. It teaches us how to function optimally from the place of authenticity and inner fulfillment.
According to research, there are 5 pillars that contribute to positive well-being, the model known as PERMA:
1. Positive emotion
We all like to feel good, to experience joy, gratitude, optimism, etc. Positive psychology believes that positive emotions are more than just smiling; they reflect the ability to remain hopeful, optimistic, and creative in the face of setbacks and challenges.
Our sense of well-being increases when we pursue activities that stretch our skills and in which we “lose ourselves” so that time seems to fly by. This kind of intense immersion in the activity is, as mentioned before, known as “flow”. It can be anything, from playing an instrument or a sport to solving an intellectual task or engaging in a hobby we love.
We are social creatures, and connections with other people play an incredible role in our positive well-being. We derive a sense of meaning and happiness from healthy relationships, from feeling safe, loved, and nurtured, and providing those feelings for other people.
A great sense of fulfillment comes from the feeling that our personal and professional endeavours have a purpose, that they contribute to a greater cause. Knowing why we do what we do leads to the feeling that our lives matter, which is a big source of life satisfaction.
Having realistic goals and ambitions and working toward them is a significant part of positive well-being. Accomplishing a goal that required utilizing our skills and investing notable effort boosts our motivation and gives us a sense of pride and moving forward.
Positive psychology teaches us how to flourish and thrive. Its empirical findings are proof that normal life doesn’t have to be extraordinary to be good.
How do YOU show up in those five areas of your life? What does a good life mean to you? We would love to hear from you in the comment section below. Also, if you find this article interesting, please be free to share it on your social media.
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Ackerman, C. (2018). What Is Positive Psychology & Why Is It Important? Positive Psychology. Online HERE
PERMA Theory of Wellbeing and PERMA Workshops. Positive Psychology Center, Penn Arts & Sciences, University of Pensilvania. Online HERE