What is Positive Psychology Anyway?

What is Positive Psychology Anyway?
By Jill Driver, Senior UG Student in Positive Psychology

In 1998, Dr. Martin Seligman coined the term positive psychology. He proposed a shift in focus from the negative aspects of humanity to the positive aspects (Baumgardner & Crothers, 2009). People know what not to do, but do they know what is good to do? Negative emotions may hinder growth, but do positive emotions accelerate it? Negative thoughts may perpetuate depression and helplessness, but do positive thoughts and affirmations lead to empowerment? Research investigates why marriages fail, but does research explore why marriages succeed? These questions are at the center of positive psychology. This new perspective of psychology is a call to equip society with the knowledge and tools to lead more meaningful and fulfilling lives, not just to avoid unwanted outcomes. Positive psychology suggests it is just as important to know what is beneficial and healing; in addition, to knowing what is detrimental and harmful. Even more, people know what will harm them and what to avoid, but they lack the understanding of what will also strengthen them.

In addition, positive psychology does not entirely ignore the negatives, it simply embraces a more genuine and balanced view of human behavior that includes strengths and virtues. Often in health sciences like psychology, the medical community is consumed with defining disease, whereas, the positive psychology community shifts the motivation towards defining healthiness. In other words, positive psychologists attempt to define concepts like well-being, happiness, fulfillment, meaning, and joy. Instead of asking what makes someone abnormal, a positive psychologist asks what makes someone healthy and whole.

Lastly, a vitalistic perspective maintains that the organism is self-healing, self- maintaining, and can thrive when placed in the proper environment with adequate resources. Positive psychology also suggests that individuals are innately equipped with strength and resilience. Positive psychologist, coaches, chiropractors, and other professionals can work together to promote these vitalistic, positive perspectives to the community. This shift in focus can pave the way for individuals to reach their full potential not only in health but in life as a whole.

Baumgardner, S. R., & Crothers, M. K. (2009). Positive Psychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

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