What is Positive Psychology?

What is Positive Psychology?


In short, Positive Psychology is the study of the traits, institutions and experiences that make life enjoyable and fulfilling. If you take a look at the history of psychological study and theory, so much emphasis has been placed on disorder and dysfunction. The objective has largely been to learn how to classify, study and treat pathologies of the mind. Positive psychologists aim to create greater balance by further investigating the positive traits, strengths and characteristics that facilitate happiness, well-being, meaning, gratitude, joy, trust and other pillars of life satisfaction. The ultimate goal is authentic happiness, and happiness is not simply the absence of negative symptoms but also the presence of many wonderful traits and experiences that create a rewarding life. The focus is on thriving, rather than simply getting by. In addition to helping us create a rewarding life, these positive traits and experiences can build our resilience and act as a form of protection to help us face adversities in the future. According to Positive Psychological theory, the experience of true happiness and fulfillment can be deconstructed into three components: the pleasant life, the engaged life and the meaningful life.


The pleasant life refers to to a life filled with positive emotion and pleasure. The goal is to amplify the intensity and prolong the experience of positive emotions about the past, present and future. Positive emotions about the past include feelings of growth, satisfaction, pride, forgiveness and gratitude. Positive emotions about the present, refers primarily to savoring current pleasures and living presently in the moment. Some examples of positive emotions about the future include optimism, hope, faith, trust and confidence.


The engaged life pursues involvement and absorption in work, intimate relationships and leisure.

Flow is the psychological state that accompanies highly engaging activities (during episodes of flow, time passes quickly and attention is focused). One way to improve engagement and increase flow is to identify one’s signature strengths (most prominent strengths) and find opportunities to use them.

Example: An individual who possesses the signature strength of creativity may find great value in discovering opportunities to utilize his or her creativity within relationships, work and leisure.


The meaningful life is one in which the individual uses their signature strengths to serve something that they believe is bigger than the self. Engaging in something meaningful creates a sense of satisfaction and a belief that one has lived well. Individuals who achieve the most benefits are those who use meaning to transform the perceptions of their circumstances from unfortunate to meaningful. Finding greater meaning can sometimes include participation and involvement in positive institutions that an individual values deeply. Some examples of positive institutions are education, family, community, politics, religion and philanthropy.   


Strengths play a major role in Positive Psychology. The thought is that people can achieve greatest fulfillment if they are able to utilize their positive character traits as often as possible. Often in the practice of Positive Psychology, it is important to identify one’s signature strengths so that this information can be utilized in activities, interventions and planning. If you are interested in discovering your signature strengths, you can take the free online survey simply, by registering here: https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/register


If you want to learn more about the principles of Positive Psychology and how they may apply to you, there are a wide variety of surveys at https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/testcenter.

Survey topics include things like gratitude, authentic happiness, optimism, forgiveness, meaning and many more. After completion of each survey, interpretation of scores is not available since these questionnaires continue to be utilized as an active research project. However, you are provided with a score and an indication of how your score measures up to others who have completed the survey. This information can be helpful for self assessment. Maybe you discover that you thrive in optimism, but struggle with forgiveness. Don’t fret, that’s wonderful knowledge! Identifying areas that are not as strong as others is a specific opportunity for personal growth and greater life satisfaction. The more you get to know about yourself, your strengths and your growth edges, the more information you have about how to design the most fulfilling life for you.



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Gable, S. L., & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and why) is positive psychology?. Review Of General Psychology, 9(2), 103-110. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.9.2.103

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9 Steps to Create and Sustain a Healthy Life Balance

9 Steps to Create and Sustain a Healthy Life Balance