10 Nov What is Positive Psychology (And Why Should You Care?)
I first heard about the field of Positive Psychology a few years ago when a participant in one of my workshops mentioned it to me. I was immediately skeptical. I thought, “positive psychology? Seriously? That sounds like ‘happiology’. What, smile a lot and things will get better?”
Fortunately, when I got home, I learned that my initial skepticism was merely an assumption. I dug deeper and learned that Positive Psychology is a legitimate field of research-based study. Unlike many trends in popular self-help that promise happiness through untested methods and patterns of thought, Positive Psychology is a true science devoted to increasing human well-being through rigorously tested activities.
I’m happy to report that I’m now enrolled in a 6 month program that will culminate in a Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology and I’m really excited to bring this exciting field into my work with workshop and keynote address clients.
What Is Positive Psychology?
Put simply, positive psychology is the scientific field devoted to human flourishing. This means that it focuses on things like happiness and well-being, rather than only on negative things like mood disorders or emotional shortcomings.
Martin Seligman, who founded the field in the early 90s, defines it like this:
‘[Positive psychology is] the scientific study of optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive’.
In other words, positive psychology studies the things that make human life better.
The field was founded on the premise that traditional psychology was too focused on studying and treating disorders, while leaving the roots of wellness and happiness unexplored.
If we think of psychological wellness as a numerical scale, with -10 being on the verge of suicide and 0 being the absence of any psychological problems (such as anxiety or depression), then traditional psychology’s goal has been to move a patient from, say, -8 up to -2 (or in rare fortunate cases, up to a 0). Once you’re at 0, you’re on your own.
On the other hand, positive psychology doesn’t just want to move people from a negative state to neutral, it also offers techniques and tools that allow people to move “north of neutral”. Positive psychology practitioners help their clients (individuals or organizations) identify and implement the skills and activities that can move a -5 to a +3, or a 0 to a +8.
In short, positive psychology wants people to not only survive, but thrive.
What Positive Psychology is NOT
Self-help books, spiritual gurus, and religious advisors — while potentially helpful — do not speak on behalf of the field of positive psychology.
That’s because positive psychology is a science, and as such, only focuses on evidence-based conclusions and quantifiable results as it explores the things that make life better.
In short, as Dr. Christopher Peterson so succinctly puts it: “positive psychology is not to be confused with untested self-help, footless affirmation, or secular religion-no matter how good these may make us feel.”
Some Key Discoveries of Positive Psychology
As a growing scientific field, one of positive psychology’s main benefits is its ability to empirically prove or disprove things that we consider to be common wisdom, such as the idea that gratitude makes us happier, or that happy people live longer, for example.
Sometimes these bits of common “wisdom” are proved to be true, sometimes they’re proven to be false. Positive psychology is only interested in what’s proven to work. Here are some of the most interesting discoveries* that positive psychology has made in recent years:
- Wealth is only weakly related to happiness both within and across nations, particularly when income is above the poverty level.
- Activities that make people happy in small doses – such as shopping, good food and making money – do not lead to fulfillment in the long term, indicating that these have quickly diminishing returns.
- People who express gratitude on a regular basis have better physical health, optimism, progress toward goals, well-being, and help others more.
- People who witness others perform good deeds experience an emotion called ‘elevation’ and this motivates them to perform their own good deeds.
- Optimism can protect people from mental and physical illness.
- People who are optimistic or happy have better performance in work, school and sports, are less depressed, have fewer physical health problems, and have better relationships with other people. Further, optimism can be measured and it can be learned.
- People who report more positive emotions in young adulthood live longer and healthier lives.
How Positive Psychology Can Change Your Life (And Your Business)
Positive psychology has the potential to be truly transformative.
Because it studies the things that help us live more fulfilling lives, its findings can provide insight that guide us to be happier and more productive. Similarly, working with professionals who study positive psychology and use its various findings to inform their strategies, can help improve our lives and our businesses.
Here are 5 ways positive psychology can change your life (and your business):
1. Increased Self-Understanding
Positive psychology draws on several key elements, such as dimensions of personality, that can help us better understand who we are, what motivates us, and why we act the way we do. This information is invaluable for personal and professional growth, and can help guide us through our lives.
2. Interacting With Our Nature
One of positive psychology’s main goals, according to its founder Martin Seligman, is to identify the universal attributes that constitute a “good life”. This exploration has led to fascinating insights on the nature of humanity, including how we interact with some of our most basic survival mechanisms. Understanding this relationship allows us to go beyond merely overcoming basic urges, and allows us to control them and use them for growth.
3. Understanding Motivation and Improving Goal-Setting
Gaining insight into what motivates us and knowing what we can do to make ourselves happier and more fulfilled is a way to improve our goal-setting skills. In this way, positive psychology allows us to learn how to accomplish great things, and provides insight into why we strive for the outcomes and goals that we do.
4. Improved Empathy
Understanding the key elements of positive psychology is a great way to get to know others too. This helps us become more empathetic, which is central to becoming a better person and a better professional.
5. Greater Satisfaction in Life and Work
Positive psychology focuses on topics such as happiness, forgiveness and gratitude. Learning how these concepts interact with each other and how to effectively implement them in our lives make us better people. And this personal fulfilment — as positive psychology has proven — makes us better professionals.
Positive Psychology Hacks Can You Implement
Make sure you check out 5 Powerful Positive Psychology Hacks To Transform Your Team for some great techniques that you can use to help you create a more positive mindset, life, and business.