Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology was founded on the belief that people want more than an end to suffering. They desire meaning in their lives, want to live fulfilling lives, and seek to nurture what is best within themselves, to enrich their life experiences.

Two of the founding fathers of positive psychology,  Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi say: “We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise that achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving in individuals, families, and communities.”[1] Positive psychologists seek “to find and nurture genius and talent”, and “to make normal life more fulfilling”,[2] not simply to treat mental illness.[2]

There are three overlapping considerations in positive psychology that investigators attempt to define:

  1. the Pleasant Life, or the “life of enjoyment”, examines how people optimally experience, forecast, and savor the positive feelings and emotions that are part of normal and healthy living (e.g. relationships, hobbies, interests, entertainment, etc.).
  2. the Good Life, or the “life of engagement”, investigates the beneficial affects of immersion, absorption, and flow that individuals feel when optimally engaged with their primary activities. These states are experienced when there is a positive match between a person’s strength and the task they are doing, i.e. when they feel confident that they can accomplish the tasks they face.
  3. the Meaningful Life, or “life of affiliation”, questions how individuals derive a positive sense of well-being, belonging, meaning, and purpose from being part of and contributing back to something larger and more permanent than themselves (e.g. nature, social groups, organizations, movements, traditions, belief systems).

The development of the Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) handbook represents the first attempt to identify and classify the positive psychological traits of human beings. Much like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the CSV provides a theoretical framework to assist in understanding strengths and virtues.

The CSV contains six classes of virtue (i.e., “core virtues”), made up of twenty-four measurable character strengths:

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, innovation
  2. Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality
  3. Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
  4. Justice: citizenship, fairness, leadership
  5. Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, humility, prudence, self control
  6. Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality

Positive Psychology also identifies several positive experiences, including:

Flow (proposed by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi) the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

Mindfulness: techniques derived from the Buddhist tradition, but here  defined as actively searching for novelty, is also characterized as non-judging, non-striving, accepting, patient, trusting, open, letting go, gentle, generous, empathetic, grateful, and kind. Its benefits include reduction of stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain

Spirituality: In positive psychology, spirituality is not necessarily tied to religion. It is defined as “a search for the sacred, an ever-evolving process of discovering, holding on to, and when necessary, transforming one’s relationship with the sacred” according to Dr. Kenneth Pargament of Bowling Green State University in Ohio

Other common terms in positive psychology include:

Self-efficacy

Self-efficacy is one’s belief in one’s ability to accomplish a task by one’s own efforts. Low self-efficacy is associated with depression; high self-efficacy can help one overcome abuse, overcome eating disorders, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. High self-efficacy also improves the immune system, aids in stress management, and decreases pain.[3]

Learned optimism

Learned optimism is the habit of attributing one’s failures to causes that are external (not personal), variable (not permanent), and specific (limited to a specific situation). For example, an optimistic person attributes his/her failures to external causes (the environment or other people), to variable causes which are not likely to happen again, and to specific causes that will not affect his/her success in other endeavors.

This explanatory style is associated with better performances (academic, athletic, or work productivity), greater satisfaction in interpersonal relationships, better coping, less vulnerability todepression, and better physical health.[3]

Hope

Hope is a learned style of goal-directed thinking in which the person utilizes both pathways thinking (the perceived capacity to find routes to desired goals) and agency thinking (the requisite motivations to use those routes)[3]

  1. Seligman, Martin E.P.; Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2000). “Positive Psychology: An Introduction”. American Psychologist 55 (1): 5-14.
  2. Compton, William C, (2005). “1″. An Introduction to Positive Psychology. Wadsworth Publishing. pp. 1–22. ISBN 0-534-64453-8.
  3. Snyder, C.R.; Lopez, Shane J. (2007), “9″, Positive Psychology, Sage Publications, Inc., ISBN 076192633X