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What is Positive Psychology? How To Use It & Examples

Positive Punishment

A relatively new branch of psychology has recently taken the world by storm: positive psychology. There are a plethora of approaches used within psychology. However, in recent years positive psychology has become a booming business. It is based on the concept that personal strengths are what allow an individual to build a meaningful life.

Researchers study ways to improve satisfaction and seek what elements a fulfilling life consists of. What makes the practice so unique, and why are people becoming attracted to it? This article will cover the history and applications of positive psychology, so you can identify if it is the right approach to utilize in your personal growth journey.

What is positive psychology?

Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life fulfilling. A more detailed definition would be defined as the scientific study of the virtues, strengths, and abilities that enable individuals or groups to thrive and flourish.

Furthermore, this approach focuses on an individual’s strengths rather than their weaknesses, also known as a strength-based approach.

Researchers find ways to create a fulfilling life rather than restoring the negative aspects of life. They ensure individuals strive for the best life possible instead of simply trying to get them through their struggles. The approach emphasizes thriving, not surviving.

Utilizing this method means identifying positive influences and conditions. For instance, positive experiences include situations where one feels loved, joyous, inspired, and motivated. Positive traits that an individual has also re-emerge, including gratitude, persistence, compassion, and creativity.

The topics that are explored within positive psychology include, among others, strengths, fulfillment, gratitude, compassion, self-confidence, hope, and innovation. These topics are studied to find ways people can help themselves thrive.

20 benefits of positive psychology

Since there are a near-limitless amount of ways positive psychology can be applied, the results of the approach vary. The longer you practice positive psychology, the higher are chances of improvement. However, many have experienced a tremendous amount of benefits.

Here are just some of the ways positive psychology can positively impact one’s life:

  1. Positive emotions boost productivity. When someone is satisfied and engaged in their work, they will naturally perform better and enjoy their work more. This is particularly true when the positive emotion is related to motivation or creates a sense of meaning toward work.
  2. Even if just one person becomes more positive, a happier environment is created. Since happiness is contagious, many other workers will see the benefits of positivity and will subconsciously become more positive.
  3. The little actions still have an impact on our outlook on life. It is quite simple to create a more positive workplace when small acts of kindness are encouraged. This could be as easy as recognizing someone for working hard.
  4. Positive emotions increase the likelihood of success (2). They fuel our desire to achieve more through motivation and encourage us to do our very best.
  5. The release of Oxytocin, the love hormone, can increase trust, empathy, and compassion in people. So simply showing someone they are loved boosts both individuals’ wellbeing.
  6. The more you express gratitude, the happier you will be (3). Gratitude is one of the most powerful positive emotions fostered by Seligman’s approach.
  7. Being surrounded by happy people makes you more likely to be happy in the future. This is due to the small increases in happiness over long periods of time usually.
  8. Volunteering to a worthy cause helps improve life satisfaction and lessens or even reverses depressive thoughts. This can also be applied to work when someone feels connected to a cause.
  9. Purchasing items for others results in greater happiness for both individuals. This uses the positive personal trait of empathy or compassion to create better outcomes for the client.
  10. Those who randomly perform kind acts are more accepted by their peers and enjoy higher levels of well-being.
  11. Consciously striving for happiness makes natural happiness easier to achieve. Over time, positive behaviors that may seem forced will become more subconscious.
  12. Dollar for dollar, money spent on experiences produces higher levels of happiness when compared to materialistic goods. We adapt quickly to items we buy as we lose interest in them quickly, but experiences are often cherished for years.
  13. Individuals practicing positive psychology have a better sense of what they’d like to achieve in life. Individuals find their passions and what fulfills them and later create goals based on what they need to thrive and feel fulfilled.
  14. Finding your genuine self and authentic strengths leads to you finding meaning and gaining clarity of who you truly are.
  15. This approach does not disavow negative emotions. Instead, it helps individuals feel at peace with a normal level of worry, sadness, or anger. Using positive punishment is one way to decrease the number of times someone feels such emotions through the introduction of unpleasant consequences.
  16. Positive psychology finds ways to add both meaning and happiness into one’s life. To add happiness, accept the generosity of others. To add meaning, try giving back to your community.
  17. It eliminates the fear of failure. Negative situations will still occur in life, but the way you think about such situations allows you to view your “failure” as an opportunity for growth.
  18. Through the focus on strengths, the approach helps people become more confident, energetic, and enthusiastic.
  19. By utilizing a strength-based leadership approach, senior staff and leaders become more resilient and effective, thus increasing the odds of a company’s success.
  20. Positive psychology helps those with mental illness (or anyone going through a crisis) create a greater purpose in life. Combining positive relationships with an individual’s strengths creates the perfect environment for resilience.

What are the cons and watch-outs of positive psychology?

Positive psychology, while offering significant benefits, also presents potential drawbacks that should be carefully considered:

Reality distortion

Positive psychology emphasizes the value of positive illusions, where individuals maintain unrealistically optimistic views about themselves and their circumstances. Initially thought to enhance well-being by shielding individuals from negative feedback, further research indicates that such illusions can lead to psychological maladaptation, including poor social relationships and expressions of narcissism.

High levels of positivity might also hinder psychological growth, impair self-reflection, and maintain biases, as they can prevent individuals from seeing reality as it is. This distortion suggests that some negativity, acknowledging flaws and errors, could actually enhance personal growth and realistic self-assessment.

Narrow focus

Critics argue that positive psychology may overlook the complexities of mental states by focusing predominantly on positive aspects. This focus might lead to neglecting the genuine struggles individuals face, particularly those who are unhappy or suffering from mental health issues.

The approach has been accused of being a reiteration of older psychological theories without substantial new scientific support, emphasizing the need for a balanced perspective that includes the benefits of understanding negative emotions and experiences.

Role of negativity

The role of negativity in psychological well-being is often underestimated in positive psychology. Negativity can play a critical role in personal development by fostering conflict resolution and reality acknowledgment. Ignoring or suppressing negative emotions can lead to a lack of necessary coping mechanisms and may prevent individuals from experiencing genuine personal growth and understanding.

Toxic positivity

The concept of toxic positivity refers to the overemphasis on positive emotions and dismissing negative emotions as merely obstructive. This approach can lead to the denial of genuine emotional responses and the suppression of necessary emotional processing. Toxic positivity can stigmatize normal emotional responses like sadness or anger, leading to further psychological issues.

It promotes an unrealistic standard of constant positivity, which can prevent individuals from dealing with the realities of their emotional landscape, potentially leading to detrimental physical and psychological effects.

Incorporating a more balanced view that acknowledges both the positive and negative aspects of human experience can enhance the applicability and effectiveness of positive psychology. Embracing this balance can lead to a more nuanced understanding of human emotions and behaviors.

How to use and apply positive psychology?

To effectively apply positive psychology in your life, consider these concise, actionable steps:

  • Identify strengths and virtues: Focus on understanding your strengths and virtues. Tools like the HIGH5 strengths test can help you identify what you are naturally good at and what energizes you.
  • Set positive goals: Set goals that align with your strengths. These should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that focus on enhancing your well-being and happiness.
  • Practice gratitude: Maintain a gratitude journal where you note things you are grateful for daily. This practice can increase awareness of positive aspects of your life, enhancing overall happiness.
  • Foster positive relationships: Invest time and effort in building supportive and nurturing relationships. Sharing positive experiences and supporting each other in times of need boosts collective and individual well-being.
  • Engage in flow activities: Find and engage in activities that challenge your skills and abilities, leading to a state of ‘flow’. These activities should be absorbing and enjoyable, keeping you engaged and focused.
  • Volunteer and contribute: Engage in volunteer work or contribute to causes you care about. Helping others can provide a sense of purpose and increase your life satisfaction.
  • Celebrate accomplishments: Take time to celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. This can boost your self-esteem and motivation.

By incorporating these steps into your daily life, you can build a more fulfilling and positive life that leverages your personal strengths and enhances your mental well-being.

4 examples of positive psychology in practice


Journaling can be a great way to apply the principles of positive psychology. A gratitude journal, specifically, helps you reflect upon and identify all the positive influences around you.

Some find a more structured approach to journaling to be helpful, such as writing down three things that you are grateful for daily. After just a week, you should start to see a rise in gratitude and well-being.

Wellbeing Therapy

Wellbeing therapy, a treatment that is similar to cognitive behavior therapy, helps promote positivity in a person’s life. It is modeled around six core principles: personal development, finding purpose, autonomy, self-acceptance, positive relationships, and mastery of one’s environment.


Make a gratitude visit to show someone you appreciate them. This involves finding someone you are grateful for and expressing it in the form of a letter. Writing letters, visiting loved ones, or even calling those the client cares about are all ways to use the principle of gratitude from positive psychology.

Positive Psychotherapy

Positive psychotherapy is essentially well-being therapy with the addition of several new exercises. It focuses on maintaining positive emotions, building strengths, and adding meaning to an individual’s life. This therapy helps clients find practices that increase well-being and ways to improve their lives.

PERMA and positive psychology

The father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, proposed three parts of a happy life. A pleasant life is a life rich in enjoyable experiences, savoring positive emotions, and experiencing relationships and hobbies.

The good life is an engaged life when a person’s strengths match their tasks and they feel confident they can accomplish their goals. Finally, there is the meaningful life which encompasses a person’s sense of belonging and purpose.

The meaningful life can be further broken into 3 categories. The acronym PERMA displays the five elements of the well-being theory: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishments.

Positive emotions include happiness, joy, pride, satisfaction, empathy, pride, awe, and compassion. They are associated with positive health and social outcomes, like a longer lifespan and deeper social connections.

Engagement is when an individual is involved in projects and hobbies that feed their curiosity and satisfy their interests. True engagement is sometimes referred to as flow, which is when a task is just hard enough to produce ecstasy and clarity when it is accomplished.

Relationships are vital for fostering positive emotions in family, work, and romantic life. We share and spread positivity through our relationships with others. The people surrounding us can help us in times of need as well. Most of the time, positive life events are celebrated in the presence of others.

Meaning or purpose helps individuals find out their mission in life. When someone discovers their meaning, they realize they are a part of something larger than themselves. Meaning allows people to keep fighting for their goals. Accomplishments are what contribute to our ultimate success. They may be pursued even if they do not increase the presence of positive emotions.

However, accomplishments often trigger pride which helps with one’s self-confidence. All accomplishments (including those that are hobby, work, or team-based) make up this theory. These five elements were selected based on the following criteria: it must increase quality of life, it can be pursued alone, and it can be defined independently from other elements.

Levels in positive psychology

Typically, positive psychology can be broken into three distinct levels: the subjective level, the individual level, and the group or community level.

Subjective Level

The subjective level centers around the study of positive experiences. This includes well-being, joy, fulfillment, happiness, optimism, and flow. At this level, the focus is on helping others feel good, not doing good.

Individual Level

At the individual level, the aim becomes identifying aspects of the “good life” and what is necessary for one to be a good person. This occurs through the study of strengths, virtues, love, courage, persistence, knowledge, creativity, compassion, empathy, interpersonal skills, and giftedness.

New behaviors can be learned by utilizing a combination of an individual’s strengths and a technique known as positive reinforcement, which provides clients with a reward upon completion of the desired task.

Group Level

Lastly, the group or community level emphasizes social responsibilities, civic virtues, altruism, tolerance, work ethic, and positive institutions to create positive communities and citizens. These positive interactions strengthen ties within a community to strengthen it.

Positive psychology FAQ

Positive psychology for teachers

Schools often only focus on achievement and discipline when parents desire kids to be happy and confident. To solve this, utilize positive education. Focus on mental health instead of academic achievement and use some of the positive psychology application methods to create a stable learning environment.

How does positive psychology enhance mental health?

Positive psychology enhances mental health by promoting positive behavior and encouraging individuals to be placed in a positive environment. It works to foster strength within a person and allows one to feel motivated, resilient, happy, satisfied, and proud. All of this contributes to an increase in well-being, quality of life, and self-esteem.

Can positive psychology make us happier?

Yes, positive psychology works to increase happiness in clients. This is done in a variety of ways, one of which is through the use of gratitude or other positive trait-building measures.

It has been proven that those who are grateful tend to be more accepted within their communities and are more successful. Thus, positive psychology increases the odds of success and furthers relationships, ultimately making clients happier.

Positive psychology as a field could potentially impact the lives of millions of people across the globe. Already, leaders across almost every industry have been applying the principles first outlined by Martin Seligman in their own lives.

How is positive psychology different from the rest of psychology?

Positive psychology differs from traditional psychology by focusing primarily on enhancing well-being and human strengths rather than treating mental illness.

Who created positive psychology?

Positive psychology was primarily developed by Martin Seligman, often regarded as the founder, who formally introduced the concept in 1998.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.


If you are interested in being at the cutting edge of psychology and would like to improve your relationships or business, look no further than positive psychology. It may be the best approach toward finding a more fulfilling, meaningful, and joyous life.

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