Positive psychology

Positive psychology is "the scientific study of what makes life most worth living",[1] or "the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life".[2] Positive psychology is concerned with eudaimonia, "the good life", reflection about what holds the greatest value in life – the factors that contribute the most to a well-lived and fulfilling life.

Positive psychology began as a new domain of psychology in 1998 when Martin Seligman chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association.[3][4][5] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Christopher Peterson and Barbara Fredrickson are regarded as co-initiators of this development.[6] It is a reaction against psycho-analysis and behaviorism, which have focused on "mental illness", meanwhile emphasising maladaptive behavior and negative thinking. It builds further on the humanistic movement, which encouraged an emphasis on happiness, well-being, and positivity, thus creating the foundation for what is now known as positive psychology.[5]

Positive psychologists have suggested a number of ways in which individual happiness may be fostered. Social ties with a spouse, family, friends and wider networks through work, clubs or social organisations are of particular importance, while physical exercise and the practice of meditation may also contribute to happiness. Happiness may rise with increasing financial income, though it may plateau or even fall when no further gains are made.[7]

Definition and basic assumptions

Definition

Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi define positive psychology as "... the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life."[2] Christopher Peterson defines positive psychology as "... the scientific study of what makes life most worth living".[1]

Basic concepts

Positive psychology is concerned with eudaimonia, "the good life" or flourishing, living according to what holds the greatest value in life – the factors that contribute the most to a well-lived and fulfilling life. While not attempting a strict definition of the good life, positive psychologists agree that one must live a happy, engaged, and meaningful life in order to experience "the good life". Martin Seligman referred to "the good life" as "using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification".[8] According to Christopher Peterson, "eudaimonia trumps hedonism".[1]

Positive psychology complements, without intending to replace or ignore, the traditional areas of psychology. By emphasizing the study of positive human development this field helps to balance other approaches that focus on disorder, and which may produce only limited understanding.[9] Positive psychology has also placed a significant emphasis on fostering positive self-esteem and self-image, though positive psychologists with a less humanist bent are less likely to focus as intently on the matter. [10]

The basic premise of positive psychology is that human beings are often drawn by the future more than they are driven by the past. A change in our orientation to time can dramatically affect how we think about the nature of happiness. Seligman identified other possible goals: families and schools that allow children to grow, workplaces that aim for satisfaction and high productivity, and teaching others about positive psychology.[11]

Those who practice positive psychology attempt psychological interventions that foster positive attitudes toward one's subjective experiences, individual traits, and life events.[12] The goal is to minimize pathological thoughts that may arise in a hopeless mindset, and to, instead, develop a sense of optimism toward life.[12] Positive psychologists seek to encourage acceptance of one's past, excitement and optimism about one's future experiences, and a sense of contentment and well-being in the present.[13]

Related concepts are happiness, well-being, quality of life, contentment,[14] and meaningful life.

Research topics

According to Seligman and Peterson, positive psychology is concerned with three issues: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Positive emotions are concerned with being content with one's past, being happy in the present and having hope for the future. Positive individual traits focus on one's strengths and virtues. Finally, positive institutions are based on strengths to better a community of people.[11]

According to Peterson, positive psychologists are concerned with four topics: (1) positive experiences, (2) enduring psychological traits, (3) positive relationships, and (4) positive institutions.[9] According to Peterson, topics of interest to researchers in the field are: states of pleasure or flow, values, strengths, virtues, talents, as well as the ways that these can be promoted by social systems and institutions.[15]


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