What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is a new school of psychology

Positive psychology is a relatively recent movement in psychology that focuses on the positive side of wellbeing, happiness and fulfilment.

A basic premise is that is large proportion of our happiness is within our control. We can choose what we think, what memories we dwell on and how we speak and these influence our outlook and our happiness.

Positive psychology has its roots in the humanistic psychology of Maslow who discussed self actualisation and the positive thinking aspects of cognitive psychology.

The focus has been on research into such topics as hope and optimism, heroism and also character strengths and virtues with an aim to map out such characteristics and explore their origins.

Positive psychology moved out of purely academic circles and came into popular consciousness with the publication of Authentic Happiness, where one of its founders Martin Seligman outlined some simple keys to happiness.

Positive psychology has many practical applications

Finding meaning in your life

Positive psychology as outlined in Authentic Happiness isn’t as selfish as it might first sound. Seligman doesn’t just look at hedonistic pleasure but also sees the value of contributing to others and finding meaning to your life.

Because it acknowledges the importance of finding purpose and vision for your life this means that positive psychology has a healthy view of spirituality and of the importance of being a positive role model and contributing to the needs of others.

In his more recent book Flourish Seligman discusses how there is more to life than happiness. He points out the importance of finding meaning and purpose in life.

Developing character strengths

Positive psychology is about developing character strengths. Research into character strengths has led to the identification of 24 key character strengths under 6 main headings.

Wisdom and Knowledge that includes

  • curiosity – having an interest in the world
  • love of learning
  • open-mindedness – not making snap judgement but not just accepting everything either rather open-mindedness is about getting the relevant information before making a decision
  • ingenuity – being original and being practical – ‘street smart’
  • social intelligence – understanding people and situations – emotional intelligence
  • perspective – seeing the bigger picture

Courage including

  • valour – being brave i.e. acting when you are scared
  • perseverance – working diligently and working hard – keeping going
  • integrity – being genuine and honest – being authentic
  • zest – enthusiasm and passion


  • kindness – being generous to others
  • loving – caring for others and allowing yourself to be cared for and loved


  • citizenship – loyalty – doing your duty – working as a team
  • fairness – equity
  • leadership


  • self-control
  • prudence – discretion or caution
  • humility – modesty


  • appreciation of beauty – appreciating excellence not just in art or nature but in any area
  • gratitude
  • hope – being optimistic or future minded
  • spirituality –about having a sense a purpose – it doesn’t have to be about religion or faith
  • forgiveness – showing mercy
  • humour

Life coaching

Positive psychology also has had an important influence in the growth of life-coaching. Coaching applies such principles as encouraging people to achieve their goals and to find purpose and meaning to their lives. In this way coaching is different from counselling or therapy that often focuses on solving people’s problems such as their anxieties or addictions.

This has been applied to areas such as education, parenting and management. This focus on positivity has helped many people deal with their stress and it has also helped them develop their character, build more loving relationships, be better parents and find satisfaction in their work.

September 6, 2012Permalink 7 Comments

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