What is Positive Psychology?
Positive psychology, originally developed by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihaly in 1998, is based on the theory that scientific studies can measure happiness. This form of psychotherapy focuses on positive emotions, personal strengths and healthy relationships.
The main goal of positive psychologists is to foster your intelligence and talents and help improve the quality of your life. Positive psychologists do not dwell on your mental illness and/or psychological issues, rather they concentrate on trying to uplift you and strengthen your personal attributes. It is important to note that while many traditional psychotherapy approaches focus on dysfunction, mental illnesses and/or abnormal behaviors, positive psychology’s main focus is to help you become a happier and healthier person.
The purpose of positive psychology is to stress the importance of using the empirical studies to improve the quality of your life. In other words, this approach does not focus on all of the things that have (in the past) or are currently going wrong in your life, instead it explores your positive experiences and looks to how to increase and/or maintain those experiences in the future.
Positive psychologists believe that just focusing on your psychological problems or mental disorders prevents you and your therapist from getting to the root of your distress. Treating you solely based on your problems or illnesses, only presents you in a one dimensional light, which ultimately negates the benefits of therapy.
What Happens During Positive Psychology Sessions?
During positive psychology sessions, you therapist may have you complete various assessments. Some of these assessments may include the: Satisfaction with Life Scale (a five-question survey that examines your reaction to your family and friends and detects depression) and/or the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire (a psychological assessment that measures your emotional health and well-being).
Your positive psychologist will examine your results and your reactions to the therapeutic process. He/she may also have you write down your daily experiences (positive and negative) in a journal or diary. When you come to session your therapist will help you find ways to turn your negative experiences into more positive ones in the future.
What Theories Are Associated With Positive Psychology?
- You are typically happy with your life.
- Spending money on other people can actually bring you happiness.
- You can successfully heal from rejection, abandonment and/or disappointment by surrounding yourself with positive people and improving the quality of your relationships.
- Working for a company that empowers you can be beneficial for your mental health and well-being. In addition, feeling like you are a part of the bigger picture at work can increase your level of happiness.
- Happiness tends to be influenced by genetics, but you can learn how to be altruistic and optimistic.
How Do Positive Psychologists Approach Psychological Issues?
Positive psychologists believe that your emotions can significant affect the quality of your life. When you feel good inside – you are more productive at school and/or work, there is an improvement in your mental and/or physical heath, your relationships become stronger and you become more motivated to take risks and hope for a brighter future. Feeling good makes you and those around you feel better, lighter and more optimistic. Making someone smile or laugh can change the way you see yourself and those around you. Once you have a more positive perspective then you can open yourself up to finding positive solutions to your problems.
Positive psychologists believe that the key to resolving your problems and improving the quality of your life is recognizing and fostering your strengths, assets and talents. They believe that once you identify your personal strengths, you are more inclined to feel confident, capable, happy and successful. In addition, they believe that once you feel self-assured and self-reliant, you are more likely to sustain that level of satisfaction. Your therapist helps foster those strengths by helping you improve your self-awareness.
Positive psychologists also believe that while it is important to foster your relationships, it is also important to recognize the difference between healthy relationships and destructive relationships. If your partner is dominating or demeaning then you are in an unhealthy relationship. This dysfunctional relationship may be the cause of the other issues that you are experiencing because it is affects how you see yourself and the world around you.
If your spouse does not appreciate you, you have a difficult time communicating with him/her or he/she does not have time for you then you are in an unhealthy relationship. For a relationship to be healthy you must have balance. In addition, surrounding yourself with friends is not enough to improve a relationship or keep it healthy. You must effective communicate, listen and work to keep your relationships healthy and strong.
Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Practicing positive psychology coaching: Assessments, activities and strategies for success. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Gable, S. & Haidt, J (2005). What (and why) is positive psychology? Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 103–110