• Positive psychology is the study of human flourishing; in application, one assumes thoughts, feelings, and actions that provide the greatest value to his or her life.
  • Practices of positive psychology include showing your appreciation for your loved ones, building personal strengths, and employing the daily diary method.
  • A researcher, Martin Seligman, founded positive psychology and introduced the world to the movement in 1998 when he was chosen as President of the American Psychological Association.
  • There are many potential benefits of practicing positive psychology including an increase in self-esteem, improved relationships, and a greater outlook on life.
  • Research in the realm of positive psychology has found that gratitude, social connection, and kindness are all important to living our best lives.

Chances are, you’ve heard of a little something called positive psychology… but you might not know exactly what it means. In sum, positive psychology is “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living,” according to Professor of Psychology Christopher Peterson. To go into greater detail, it’s the study of human thoughts, feelings, and behavior, in terms of how each can be adjusted to result in a better life. Anybody—those who are struggling in life and those who are already living well—can put positive psychology into practice and reap great benefits.

Major Elements of the Movement

Positive psychology focuses on, well, positivity; on positive events and influences. These include positive experiences—such as joy, love, and inspiration—as well as positive traits, like gratitude and compassion. In the field of positive psychology, discussions commonly revolve around topics like…

  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Life satisfaction
  • Self-esteem
  • Wellbeing
  • Gratitude
  • Compassion
  • Hope
  • Optimism

The study of these topics and those of the like ultimately help us understand how we can adjust our day to day life to create our very best selves. Analysis of these topics has also helped us identify certain practices rooted in positive psychology that can benefit us, such as employing the daily diary method, expressing your appreciation for your loved ones, and focusing on building personal strengths instead of ruminating over weaknesses.

A Brief Look at the History of Positive Psychology

Martin Seligman, a researcher with ample experience in psychology, cracked the door open on positive psychology with his research on what is now known as learned helplessness. If you aren’t familiar with this theory, it basically says that we can learn to become helpless and in turn feel like we have no control over what happens to us.

Seligman was then motivated to continue his work and saw a need to focus on the positive—as many in the psychological field focused on pain and suffering, trauma and mental illness… yet happiness, wellbeing, and flourishing was rarely discussed. So, after being elected as the President of the American Psychological Association in 1998, he proposed an innovative approach to psychology, one that centered around the good in life: positive psychology.

Benefits of Practicing Positive Psychology

As mentioned earlier, the practice of positive psychology can benefit you greatly. These potential benefits include:

  • Boost in self-esteem
  • Change in perspective
  • Improved relationships
  • Higher productivity
  • Increased success

While we’re not going to delve into each and every one of these benefits (considering there are so many), there is one benefit that we want to explain: and that’s learning, firsthand, the power of perspective. The application of positive psychology can teach you just how important your perspective is. Simply adapting a more positive mindset—or being a little more optimistic rather than pessimistic—can go a long way and work wonders for your life. Now, this doesn’t mean you should ignore all that is negative. But positive psychology says that you should infuse a little positivity into your life wherever you can.

Important Findings in Positive Psychology Research

All of the research into positive psychology provides evidence for how we can maximize our happiness and improve our quality of life. The following provide a brief look into these scientific findings:

  1. One study “Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions” found that gratitude plays a major role in our happiness, ultimately suggesting that the more gratitude we have and the more we show it, the better.
  2. Another study “Empathy toward strangers triggers oxytocin release and subsequent generosity” found that oxytocin may increase trust and empathy. Subsequently, showing physical affection for others (say, giving a hug) can benefit you and boost your overall wellbeing.
  3. A third study “Kindness counts: prompting prosocial behavior in preadolescents boosts peer acceptance and wellbeing” discovered that those who perform acts of kindness experience a boost in wellbeing AND are better liked by the people around them.