Positive Psychology

Understanding positive psychology

What is positive psychology?

Positive psychology is a branch of the conventional psychological theory which has a big focus on well-being. Sometimes described as the study of what makes a life good, it aims to deal with individuals and societies on an equal footing to ensure that positivity is maintained in all situations. It is often seen as a reaction to psychoanalytical techniques and so-called behaviourism which tend to have much of their focus applied to psychological problems and mental health conditions. Instead, the principle is to find out what makes people happy and content and to place much more of an emphasis in such areas. To some, it is the study of eudaimonia – a Greek word – that roughly translates as happiness or welfare.

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 Who founded positive psychology?

Martin Seligman is usually ascribed as the major pioneer of positive psychology. He was made the president of the American Psychological Association in the late 1990s and decided to highlight it during his time in that role. Nevertheless, Seligman was building on the work of humanist psychologists that had come earlier, such as Abraham Maslow and Erich Fromm. In fact, Maslow is often regarded to have coined the term positive psychology in his book, Motivation and Personality, which was first published in 1954.

How can you apply positive psychology in your life?

There are three main concepts to take on board if you want to apply this theory in your life. The first of these is to engage in a pleasant life which centres on enjoying things. Examples include taking part in hobbies, enjoying entertainment and having a significant relationship. The next is called the good life, which means achieving flow – or a sense of absorption – in what you are doing in any given task. Finally, developing a meaningful life is the last aspect of positive psychology. This means doing something that is larger than ourselves, such as getting involved in a social group, taking part in activism or volunteering.

Is positive psychology evidence-based?

One of the significant criticisms of positive psychology is that it is not very evidence-based, certainly compared to other therapeutic and well-being methodologies. That said, because it has many examples of success, it is widely defended by its practitioners from case studies. According to some research, people who are involved in it for between three and six months tend to enjoy the greatest well-being outcomes.

How can positive psychology help in the treatment of depression?

An academic analysis produced in 2009 showed that positive psychology was particularly effective at dealing with lower levels of depression. This study found that activities such as writing gratitude letters, reliving positive experiences and socialising more could help in this regard effectively. That said, some clinical psychologists remain critical because, in their view, it does not adequately address all of the life problems some depressed people face and that its focus on positivity can sometimes be illusory.

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