What is Positive Psychology?
You have probably heard of the term ‘positive psychology’ on TV, radio or even in fashion magazines. But what is it really? What does it stand for?
Positive psychology is a science of positive aspects of human life, such as happiness, well-being and flourishing. It can be summarized in the words of its founder, Dr. Martin Seligman, as the scientific study of optimal human functioning, aimed to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000)
Psychology has more often than not emphasized the shortcomings of individuals rather than their potentials. Mainstream psychology (sometimes also referred to as ‘psychology as usual’) has been concerned with the negative aspects of human life. There have been pockets of interest in topics such as creativity, optimism and wisdom, but they have not been united behind any grand theory or a broad, over arching framework.
Positive psychology was established about fourteen years ago and it is a rapidly developing field. Its aspiration is to bring solid empirical research into areas such as well-being, flow, personal strengths, wisdom, creativity, psychological health and characteristics of positive groups and institutions.
Three Levels of Positive Psychology
The science of positive psychology operates on three different levels.
The Subjective Level
The individual level and the group level. The subjective level includes the study of positive experiences such as joy, well-being, satisfaction, contentment, happiness, optimism and flow. This level is about feeling good, rather than doing good or being a good person.
At the Individual Level
The aim is to identify the constituents of the good life and the personal qualities that are necessary for being a ‘good person’, through studying human strengths and virtues, future-mindedness, capacity for love, courage, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, wisdom, interpersonal skills and giftedness.
Finally, at the Group or Community Level
The Emphasis is on civic virtues, social responsibilities, nurturance, altruism, civility ethics, positive institutions and other factors that contribute to the development of citizenship and communities and reaching beyond oneself. This level is much more about taking actions or positive behaviours aimed at something larger than ourselves.