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What is Positive Psychology? Definition, Theory and Practice

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 around the concept that personal strengths are what allows 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.

Positive Punishment

Top Questions About Positive Psychology (click to view the answer)

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. 

What Positive Psychology Focuses on in a Nutshell

In a nutshell, positive psychology focuses on ways to utilize an individual’s strengths and positive experiences to create a more meaningful life.

Individuals are encouraged to find positive character traits, like resilience, and positive environments as well. The approach allows clients to thrive, not just survive.

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 wellbeing, 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.

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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What is Positive Psychology? Definition and in Practice

While there are many ways to define positive psychology, the commonly accepted definition is the scientific study of what makes life fulfilling.

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.

Positive Punishment and Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Theory

B.F. Skinner Photo from: VeryWell Mind

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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. 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 wellbeing (4).
  11. Consciously striving for happiness makes natural happiness easier to achieve. Over time, positive behaviors which 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 they 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) with creating a greater purpose in life. Combining positive relationships with an individual’s strengths creates the perfect environment for resilience.

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5 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 which you are grateful for daily. After just a week, you should start to see a rise in gratitude and wellbeing.

Wellbeing therapy, a treatment which 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 appreciated them. This involves finding someone you are grateful for and expressing it in a 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 is essentially wellbeing therapy with the addition of several new exercises. It focuses on maintains positive emotions, building strengths, and adding meaning into an individual’s life.

This therapy helps clients find practices which increase wellbeing and ways to improve their lives.

PERMA and Positive Psychology

Positive Punishment Schedules - When Is Positive Punishment Most Effective

The father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, proposed three parts of a happy life. Pleasant life is a life rich in enjoyable experiences, savoring positive emotions, 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 which 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 which 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.

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Levels of Positive Psychology

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

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

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.

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

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