Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on understanding and enhancing human well-being and happiness. It emphasizes the study of positive emotions, strengths, and virtues that contribute to a fulfilling life.

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Through research-based interventions and practices, Positive Psychology aims to cultivate positive emotions, foster resilience, and promote personal growth. By shifting the focus from solely addressing mental illness to emphasizing individual strengths and positive experiences, Positive Psychology offers valuable insights to help individuals thrive and lead more fulfilling lives.

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What is Positive Psychology?

For decades, psychology has focused on finding solutions to mental health conditions. Positive psychology breaks the mold by challenging the existing application of psychology in everyday life. It asserts that mental health is an aspect of life that can be continually and consistently improved upon. Rather than focusing on fixes, it highlights the need to elevate one’s mental health to achieve happiness and well-being in unique ways. By addressing the need to create a positive state of mind, it broadens the horizons of psychology and provides opportunities to enrich mental health for all. 

The Basics of Positive Psychology

Positive psychology empowers individuals by analyzing their positive characteristics and helping them utilize it to achieve a meaningful life. While positive psychology works with guidance from an expert, it can also be practiced from home, including practicing gratitude and other positive reinforcement techniques. While there are certain simple general actions that are considered beneficial, positive psychology takes the unique aspects of what each person approaches as a positive way to improve their own life and provides guidance accordingly. It is important to remember that positive psychology does not assume that negative thoughts or circumstances don’t affect an individual. It does not ignore the negative aspects of a person’s life and helps a person achieve long term fulfillment with a holistic lens. 

How is Positive Psychology Different From the Rest of Psychology?

Traditional psychology focuses largely on diagnosing and treating mental health related issues or conditions. Positive psychology on the other hand aims to promote positive aspects of human well-being such as happiness, resilience and social relationships by thoroughly understanding and working on traits, behaviors and experiences. Instead of centering around issues, it aims to help a person flourish in various aspects of life. This brand of psychology highlights the importance of prevention over treatment in the long run.

Who Created Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology was founded by psychologist Martin Seligman in 1998, who was then the  president of the American Psychological Association. His inclination towards a positive brand of psychology began with his research on depression in animals. Instead of highlighting the causes, symptoms and treatments for existing mental health issues, he was determined to make breakthroughs in finding concrete metrics to understand indicators of happiness and wellbeing including positive emotions, satisfactory relationships, accomplishments and more. 

What Are the Elements of a Good Life, According to Positive Psychology?

While characteristics of what is a good life varies based on the goals of an individual, positive psychology considers factors such as meaning and purpose, personal and professional accomplishments, positive emotions, strength and resilience, healthy relationships to determine what comprises a good life. By focusing on these elements of mental health, positive psychology takes a long-term approach to achieving better mental health. 

Goals of Positive Psychology

One of the key goals of positive psychology is to shift the focus from addressing negative aspects of mental health to understanding how a person can achieve long term wellbeing. Rather than looking for fixes, it aims to enhance the condition of human beings on an everyday basis, irrespective of existing mental health conditions. It seeks to promote happiness and personal satisfaction. By exploring various facets of human experiences, it looks to create balance and prevent any future mental health problems. 

What Are the Three Levels of Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology functions on three basic levels that focus on diverse factors that shape the human experience. 

Subjective Level

This level of positive psychology focuses on subjective aspects of human emotions such as happiness, well-being and contentment. It recognises that different things provide hope and optimism to different people. Feelings that provide joy are unique and diverse for each person and thus, being able to identify these subjective factors becomes a core component of this level. 

Individual Level

On this level, positive psychology looks to understand how a person combines their subjective level feelings with established virtues and characteristics such as forgiveness, love and courage. These are values that are normally accepted to make a person better regarded. By studying the amalgamation of these values with subjective feelings, the individual level of positive psychology empowers a person to become a well-rounded individual. 

Group Level

The group level of positive psychology emphasizes on values that are critical to a person’s relationship with their community. These include social responsibility, altruism and other ways through which a person is not only providing for the community, but also actively connecting with them. It analyzes how each person creates social bonds through either charitable acts or by other positive community activities. 

Positive Psychology and the PERMA Model

Since nurturing well-being is the goal of positive psychology, founder Martin Seligman created the PERMA model, which aims to explain what constitutes well-being among people in a broad sense. Based on research, certain factors such as enhanced productivity, an extended lifespan, and increased fulfillment in interpersonal connections were linked to well-being. PERMA is thus an acronym for the 5 elements of well-being: 

P - Positive Emotion

Positive emotion encapsulates emotions such as happiness, hope, compassion, amusement, pride, gratitude, love and other related emotions. It ventures beyond just a feeling of happiness and attempts to identify various emotions that can trigger a positive reaction in a person. Experiencing such emotions have shown to boost short and long term wellness. The goal is to integrate mechanisms that trigger positive emotions in everyday life, making it a habit. These emotions could be felt from things as simple as being grateful or optimistic about things or amusement felt from taking part in something of interest. 

E – Engagement

Engagement is seen as another way to create well-being in a person. When an individual is completely immersed in an activity or enjoys performing something they are interested in, it is bound to produce happiness. Positive psychology regards this experience as “flow”, a sensation a person feels when they use their key strengths in the best way possible. The sense of flow is also associated with the level of challenge an activity poses to a person. When individuals can use their strengths in new ways everyday by participating in enjoyable activities, it is said to create a healthy state of flow in the long run. 

R – Relationships

Positive psychology recognises that humans are social beings and that building meaningful connections with those around them is crucial for a person’s happiness. In some cases, people rely on their interpersonal relationships to derive support and meaning. Relationships that bring about positive emotions can range from family, friends, colleagues to the larger community. When a person receives love, motivation and support from those around them, they are much more likely to also focus on other personal aspects of happiness as well. 

M - Meaning

While positive emotions are a core part of what provides well-being for an individual, positive psychology understands the intrinsic need of a person to search for a larger meaning and purpose in life. Human beings are said to be happier when they use their strengths to elevate not just themselves, but the community around them. Having a greater purpose allows a person to stay driven and motivated. Meaning can be found on endeavors that revolve around societal work, political or spiritual advancement, or creative contributions. 

A - Achievements

Achievements are a key component of how an individual perceives themselves and their progress. Milestones provide a sense of accomplishment in a person and a belief that their hard work and commitment were worth it. This allows them to push forward with a sense of pride. Positive psychology associates values such as passion and perseverance as important aspects of happiness. These accomplishments can be either intrinsic personal goals or extrinsic measurable achievements. Celebrating these milestones further creates happiness. 

How Can Positive Psychology Help?

Simply put, positive psychology provides people the tools they need to enhance their happiness and well-being. It emphasizes on helping people pursue and enjoy activities they are inclined towards and empowering them to achieve their goals. It looks to guide people in combining diverse aspects of what constitutes happiness. This could include motivating people to choose the right career paths, encouraging people to take part in enjoyable experiences, guiding them towards positive values such as optimism and gratitude, and providing positive reinforcement for people to excel in their interests. 

Why Positive Psychology is Important 

Positive psychology is crucial as it drives attention away from the typical problem-solution oriented psychology and aims to enhance well-being and fulfillment in an individual. By offering practical tools to improve one’s quality of life, it explores another dimension of mental health, which is often ignored. The emphasis on identifying personal strengths, producing positive emotions through various means and creating meaningful experiences adds tremendous value to one’s life. On one hand, it helps cultivate positive values, connections and goals in life and on other hand, it is a monumental step towards a holistic understanding of mental health beyond psychological conditions. 

How is Positive Psychology Applied?

The first step that a positive psychologist takes is identifying a person’s strengths, interests and aspirations. This is very important as they help plan the road ahead to a meaningful life along with the person. Among various positive psychology practices include gratitude exercises, where a person notes down things they are grateful about. These have shown to affect a person’s outlook over a period of time. Other than that, there is great emphasis on how one can use their strengths to positively impact themselves and those around them. A positive psychologist aims to frame challenges in a person’s life in a positive way, and allows them to focus on their goals. It is important to remember that positive psychology compliments other forms of psychology to holistically tackle various facets of a person’s mental health. 

What Are Some of the Benefits of Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology has been instrumental in studying what happiness means to each individual and boosting emotional and social well-being among people. By thoroughly analyzing the characteristic strengths and positive emotions in a person, positive psychology enables them to utilize it to achieve their personal and professional goals. It helps people identify their meaning in life, both in the short and long term. Further, it provides deeper insight into what contributes to happiness, whether it is through enjoyable activities, engagement, achievements, relationships and more. A positive psychologist enables a person to nurture these elements and create a cycle of positive reinforcement. A comprehensive understanding of positive emotions is also highly beneficial for future studies to be conducted on the subject, creating a path for even more substantial mental health progress.  

FAQs

What is flow?

Flow can be described as a state of complete engagement in an activity where individuals use their key strengths, experience a sense of enjoyment, and are challenged at an optimal level, leading to a rewarding and fulfilling experience.

What are some criticisms of positive psychology?

Positive psychology has been criticized for choosing to neglect negative aspects of life in favor of an overtly positive outlook. It has also been questioned for its subjective nature. However, most psychologists see it as a complimentary branch of psychology that goes hand in hand with other psychological approaches. 

What is happiness in positive psychology?

While the means to achieve happiness varies from person to person, positive psychology states that positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievements are key factors behind attaining happiness. 

Can positive psychology help anxiety?

While positive psychology does not directly aim to help against psychological issues, it can help with anxiety by focusing on building resilience through positive emotions in the long run. 

Is positive psychology basic or applied?

Positive psychology can be both basic and applied, as it looks to enhance the understanding of happiness and well-being, while also helping apply personal characteristic strengths to help improve fulfillment in personal life, professional life and relationships. 

How is positive psychology used in education?

Teachers can use positive psychology as a means to motivate their students and help them identify and develop their personal strengths. It focuses on resilience, character building and relationship building among students. 

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