Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes people happy and fulfilled. It is a relatively new field that has only been around for about 50 years, but it has already yielded a great deal of knowledge about what contributes to a good life. In this article, we will explore the basics of positive psychology and discuss some of the findings from this area of research.
History of positive psychology
Positive psychology is a relatively modern development. The first positive psychologists were Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. These two researchers met once in 1997 at the University of Pennsylvania, where Seligman was teaching at the time. They realized that most psychologists study pathology – what goes wrong with people – but positive psychology would study what goes right.
Positive psychologists have delved into many different areas in search of the secrets of a good life, including happiness, success, flow, positive relationships, positive institutions, and positive education. Most positive psychologists are university researchers who apply the scientific method to study optimism, creativity, positive emotions, positive character traits, positive parenting, positive schools and workplaces, and more.
Positive psychology is a young field, but it has yielded many insights into the secrets of a good life. The information described in this article will give you a good introduction to positive psychology and provide you with some useful tips for living a happier and more fulfilling life.
What is positive psychology?
Positive psychology is the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing. The positive psychology movement was pioneered by University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman, who wrote the book “Authentic Happiness” in 2002. Seligman has since devoted his career to positive psychology research, teaching, and theory-building.
Positive psychology emerged as an offshoot of another positive movement, positive philosophy. The positive philosophers were European and American thinkers who began writing about positive human potential in the late 1800s. They included theologians such as Henry Drummond and Ralph Waldo Emerson; philosophers such as John Stuart Mill and William James; writers such as Walt Whitman and Thomas Carlyle; and educators such as Friedrich Fröbel.
The positive philosophy movement was a reaction against the predominant thinking of the day, which was mostly pessimistic about human potential. For example, many believed that humans are naturally selfish, so society should be structured with this in mind. Positive philosophy argued that people are not innately selfish – they are innately positive – and it is possible to create positive societies with positive institutions.
Problems arise when people neglect the positive aspects of human nature or fail to cultivate positive human qualities such as love, hope, courage, empathy, creativity, wisdom, self-control, perseverance, integrity, fairness, and leadership. We can live happier lives if we focus positive attention on positive aspects of human nature. Positive psychologists conduct research to learn more about positive human flourishing and positive institutions so that people can live happier lives.
What positive psychology isn’t?
Positive psychology is not the same thing as positive thinking, positive therapy, or positive psychotherapy. Positive psychologists are scientists who use scientific methods to investigate positive human flourishing. They do not tell people how to think positively, they measure positive thinking scientifically, which is very different from positive thinking.
Positive psychologists are also researchers who study positive human flourishing – what “goes right” with people – while positive therapists or counselors are clinicians who help their clients navigate life’s problems – what “goes wrong” with people. Positive psychologists do not study positive thinking or positive therapy, and positive therapists do not conduct positive psychology research.