What is positive psychology?

So, what IS positive psychology?

The widely agreed definition of positive psychology is that of Christopher Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and a researcher of positive psychology: “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living”.

The three pillars of positive psychology study are positive emotions, positive traits and positive institutions, focusing on topics like life satisfaction, wellbeing, character strengths, optimism, gratitude, purpose, hope, self-confidence, compassion and self-compassion.

(To discover how you can get support from me to apply positive psychology to your life take a look at this page.)

How does positive psychology differ from traditional psychology?

Traditionally psychology focuses on mental ill health, on helping people who feel, on the scale of life, they are struggling at -10 to get up to an ‘ordinary’ 0. Or, if we take a swimming analogy, traditional psychology focuses on helping people who are sinking to keeping their heads above water.

Positive psychology studies human thoughts, feeling and behaviour with a focus on strengths instead of weakness. It focuses on how to help people flourish by moving from an ‘ordinary’ 0 upwards towards a thriving 10. Instead of focusing on how a person can be less miserable it focuses on how they can become more fulfilled, resilient, optimistic and joyful. So with the swimming analogy positive psychology focuses on helping people who are treading water to get swimming and strengthen their variety of strokes.

Where does positive psychology come from?

Following election in 1998 as President of the American Psychological Association Martin Seligman proposed the new sub-field, publishing a paper in 2000 with Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi called ‘Positive Psychology: An Introduction’ which became the foundation of this new field of positive psychology.

What difference can positive psychology make to us?

The findings and learnings from the study of positive psychology can, very simply, make our lives better – more fulfilling, more joyful.

By developing greater meaning and purpose in our lives we’ll find greater fulfilment and satisfaction. By expressing gratitude, demonstrating compassion and kindness (to others and ourselves), strengthening connections and gaining perspective we’ll build resilience, self-confidence, self-belief and self-worth, experience more contentment, peace, optimism and joy.

What is positive psychology NOT?

It’s not pseudo science or positive thinking, it’s a science, a sub-field of psychology. It’s not about the pursuit of hedonism or surface pleasure, it values eudaimonic happiness – a deeper, more durable form of contentment and satisfaction. It’s not about ignoring the difficulties or shadow side of life (spiritual bypassing) or about feeling happy all the time (toxic positivity). 

How can I get support to apply positive psychology to my life?

Take a look at this page to discover how I can support you through individual coaching, with a positive psychology perspective, to thrive and flourish in your calm and joyful life.

about gabrielle treanor
gabrielle april 2021
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