What is Positive Psychology?


“It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.” – Lucille Ball

Positive psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing, and an applied approach to optimal functioning. It has also been defined as the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities and organisations to thrive (Gable & Haidt, 2005, Sheldon & King, 2001). It is a way to increase well-being in life using your strengths, and not just your deficits.

So often, people wander into a health professional’s office to fix what is “wrong” with them. They get their diagnosis and then integrate it into the truth about who they are, often to the exclusion of their more outstanding qualities. At times, the person becomes the illness, the addiction, and the disability to the professional. The professional then treats the symptoms to the best of their ability but the diagnosis will remain as an “unfixable” and predominant quality.  Eventually this label integrates itself into the core of who they are, becomes a main focus in their life, and the client then becomes dependent on the professional for ongoing treatment.

Positive Psychology is different. It assists the individual with living life from their strengths. The labels, diagnosis, disability and illness then becomes secondary to the truth of who they are. This opens up the possibility for the professional to not only treat symptoms, but allow people the skills to live from their strengths and increase their overall well-being. People are not only handicapped, addicted, disabled, anxious, traumatized, autistic, or whatever else they have been labeled, they are also, and more so, compassionate, capable, helpful, intelligent, fun, and amazing at achieving what ever they put their minds to. When we seek to fix a deficit, we can only come from the idea that something is broken and wrong with us. When we seek to find a path to well-being through our strengths, we bring out the best in ourselves and allow the flow of success and an increase in well-being to come naturally.

“Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. It is a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology.

Nowhere does this definition say or imply that psychology should ignore or dismiss the very real problems that people experience. Nowhere does it say or imply that the rest of psychology needs to be discarded or replaced. The value of positive psychology is to complement and extend the problem-focused psychology that has been dominant for many decades.” – Christopher Peterson Ph.D.

pos’itive [poz-i-tiv] a. constructive in intention or attitude; showing optimism and confidence; measured or moving forward or in a direction of improvement or progress n. a good, affirmative, or constructive quality or attribute

psychol’ogy [sahy-kol-uh-jee] n.the study of the mind and behavioral characteristics typical of an individual or group in relation to a particular field of knowledge or activity.

Positive psychology is not about ignoring your deficits either, it is about working with your positive attributes and achieving a higher quality of life. It is not a self-help movement, a fad, or the latest way to manifest the life of your dreams. It is not completely made up of self-affirmations and the power of positive thinking speeches delivered by self made spiritual gurus. Although all that stuff has it’s place in an individual’s belief system, positive psychology is a science. It is the science of the mind. It is the science of happiness.

“Positive Psychology is a science that brings the many virtues of science – replication, controlled causal studies, peer review, representative sampling (to name a few) – to bear on the question of how and when people flourish.” (Robert Biswas-Diener, 2008).