Positive psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities, and organizations to thrive.
Positive psychology is a discipline within psychology that employs theories and research towards understanding and fostering the positive aspects of human life, rather than focusing on deficiencies and weaknesses as traditional psychology often does.
This approach marks a shift from a problem-focused approach to psychology, which often emphasizes the resolution of mental health issues, towards a strength-based perspective, which places due emphasis on personal growth, resilience, and positivity (Lopez, Pedrotti, & Snyder, 2018).
Examples of Positive Psychology
1. Gratitude Journaling
Gratitude journaling is a popular positive psychology intervention (Reppold et al., 2015). This practice involves spending a few minutes each day writing about things you are grateful for. The effects are profound: researchers have found it can significantly increase levels of happiness and reduce depressive symptoms (Carr et al., 2021). Indeed, the simple act of recording what you are thankful for every day can induce a positive mental state.
2. Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is another example of positive psychology in action. It comprises non-judgmental, moment-to-moment awareness, encouraging participants to stay in the present (Lopez et al., 2018). Regular practice has been linked with numerous benefits, including increased positivity, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved attention and cognition (MacIntyre & Ayers-Glassey, 2021). Thus, mindfulness meditation fosters well-being and psychological resilience.
3. Strengths-Based Counselling
Strengths-based counseling, a therapeutic approach rooted in positive psychology, encourages individuals to discover and capitalize on their strengths. Rather than focusing solely on problems or deficits, it harnesses clients’ virtues and abilities (Wong & Roy, 2017). The method has demonstrated effectiveness in improving clients’ self-esteem, self-efficacy, and promoting a sense of fulfillment and capacity for growth (Ciarrochi et al., 2016). Consequently, it represents a powerful real-world application of positive psychology principles in the context of therapeutic intervention.
4. Positive Education
Positive education is an innovative approach that integrates positive psychology principles into the school curriculum (Ciarrochi et al., 2016). It is not simply about academic learning, but also about helping students develop their character, resilience, and well-being. Positive education has shown promising results by lowering students’ stress levels, improving their achievements, and enhancing overall school climate (Lopez et al., 2018). This application underscores the vital role positive psychology can play in shaping educational systems for the better.
5. Positive Affirmations
Positive affirmations – statements that challenge negative or harmful thoughts and promote self-belief – provide a practical tool grounded in positive psychology (Reppold et al., 2015). These simple, often self-directed sentences are designed to rewire the brain towards a more positive outlook. Studies indicate that consistent use of affirmations can enhance mood, reduce stress, and boost overall well-being (MacIntyre, 2016). Here’s a hint at the transformative power of our thoughts and words nestling within positive psychology practices.
6. Flow Experiences
‘Flow’ is a concept within positive psychology that describes a state of intense concentration where you lose track of time (Csikszentmihalyi, Abuhamdeh & Nakamura, 2014). A flow state happens when you’re fully engaged in an activity that challenges your skills in a balanced way. Evidence suggests that having frequent flow experiences can enhance happiness, creativity, and productivity. Flow is a signature example of positive psychology’s focus on optimal experiences.
Visualization or mental imagery is another technique used in positive psychology (Reppold et al., 2015). It involves creating vivid, positive mental images to achieve a particular goal or outcome. Research has shown that visualization can be powerful in realization of goals, improvement of performance and reduction of anxiety. Hence, visualization harnesses the power of the mind to shape real-life experiences positively.
8. Cultivating Positivity
Cultivating positivity is a broad strategy in positive psychology aimed at increasing positive emotions, thoughts, and experiences in everyday life (Pawelski, 2016). This could be through appreciation of beauty in nature or art, acts of kindness, or nurturing positive relationships. Regularly practicing these actions can significantly enhance a person’s mood, well-being, and resilience. It demonstrates the application of positive psychology in directing attention towards enriching life experiences.
9. Life Crafting
Life Crafting is a method within positive psychology where individuals plan their future around what gives them the most joy and satisfaction (Lopez et al., 2018). Instead of focusing on avoiding negatives or mitigating weaknesses, life crafting encourages plotting a path that plays to one’s strengths and passions. It has proved effective in boosting motivation, satisfaction, and well-being. This practice is noteworthy for its emphatic adoption of strength-based perspective central to positive psychology.
10. Character Strengths Education
Character Strengths Education is a method that involves educating young people about different character strengths such as kindness, bravery, leadership and many more (Ciarrochi et al., 2016). The end goal is for individuals to identify and cultivate their own character strengths. Evidence suggests that this approach enhances students’ self-esteem, resilience and academic achievement. This approach underscores the role of positive psychology in effectively shaping young minds.
11. Growth Mindset Cultivation
The cultivation of a growth mindset, the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed, is an essential element within the positive psychology framework (MacIntyre, 2016). This mindset encourages individuals to see challenges and failures as opportunities for growth rather than as insurmountable obstacles. Numerous studies have shown that fostering a growth mindset can improve motivation, effort, and ultimately achievement. Thus, the promotion of a growth mindset epitomizes the transformative potential of positive psychology in personal development.
12. Psychological Capital Development
Psychological capital, or PsyCap, includes four positive psychological resources: hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism (MacIntyre & Ayers-Glassey, 2021). Positive psychology interventions are designed to develop individuals’ psychological capital, leading to improved performance and well-being. The promotion of PsyCap in workplaces has been linked with increased employee satisfaction, commitment, and productivity. Therefore, the investment in psychological capital is a practical example of applying positive psychology in organisational settings.
13. Well-being Therapy
Well-being therapy is a psychological treatment that focuses on enhancing personal happiness and life satisfaction (Wong & Roy, 2017). It integrates concepts from positive psychology like personal strengths, flow, and positive relationships. Studies have found it effective for a range of issues, including depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders. Herein, positive psychology’s emphasis on holistically enhancing well-being is being practically applied in therapeutic intervention.
14. Positive Relationship Building
Positive relationship-building involves developing supportive, satisfying relationships using principles from positive psychology (Lopez et al., 2018). This can include expressing gratitude towards others, practicing active constructive response, or developing empathy and understanding. Research indicates such methods can enhance relationship satisfaction, reduce conflict, and contribute to overall happiness. Thus, positive relationship building substantiates the interrelation between positive psychology and substantial harmonious social interactions.
15. Physical Exercise
Although not exclusively a positive psychology intervention, physical exercise relates to the field because of its well-documented ties to improved mental health (Reppold et al., 2015). Regular exercise can increase feelings of well-being, reduce anxiety and depression, and enhance mood. Also, it brings about long-term benefits like increased self-esteem and stress resistance. Thus, physical exercise serves as a practical example showcasing the mind-body interplay in positive psychology.
16. Loving-Kindness Meditation
The practice of loving-kindness meditation, or metta, is a positive psychology intervention that fosters an attitude of goodwill toward oneself and others (Carr et al., 2021). This method involves silent repetitions of positive phrases wishing well-being and happiness to beings. Studies have reported that this practice enhances positive emotions, empathy, and compassion, as well as reducing stress and increasing feelings of social connection. Thus, loving-kindness meditation showcases positive psychology’s emphasis on cultivating positive emotional states.
17. Forgiveness Therapy
Forgiveness Therapies involve a deliberate and conscious decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance towards an individual or group who has harmed you (Ciarrochi et al., 2016). Positive psychologists utilize this concept to help individuals let go of anger and hostility, leading to increased feelings of peace and well-being. Cumulative data suggests forgiveness therapies effectively foster emotional healing and stress reduction. Significantly, this example highlights positive psychology’s role in facilitating personal growth amidst adversities.
18. Expressive Writing
Expressive writing is a tool used within positive psychology that encourages individuals to write about their experiences intensively (Wong & Roy, 2017). By reflecting on meaningful personal events, expressive writing allows individuals to understand their emotions better, possibly leading to improved mental health. Studies indicate that this method can reduce stress, improve immune system functioning, and enhance mood. In this context, expressive writing validates the therapeutic potential of personal expression within positive psychology.
19. Hope Theory
Hope Theory, as proposed by Snyder, is a cornerstone of positive psychology (MacIntyre & Ayers-Glassey, 2021). It posits that people with high hope set themselves numerous goals, strategize to achieve them, and motivate themselves to implement these strategies. Research suggests that instilling hope can improve outcomes in areas such as health, work, and academics. The implementation of Hope Theory in people’s lives endorses positive psychology’s role in fostering a future-oriented perspective.
20. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy combines traditional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques with mindfulness strategies (Lopez et al., 2018). This approach encourages an awareness and understanding of negative thought processes, facilitating more adaptive reactions to mental health challenges. Research has demonstrated MBCT to be particularly effective in preventing the recurrence of depression. Hence, MBCT exemplifies positive psychology’s contribution in innovatively addressing mental health concerns.
21. Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)
Solution-Focused Brief Therapy is another practical application of positive psychology principles (Reppold et al., 2015). SFBT focuses on finding solutions in the present time and explores one’s hope for the future to find quicker resolution of one’s problems. Practitioners of this method note its efficacy in helping clients effectively overcome a range of issues. The application of SFBT substantiates the effectiveness of a forward-looking, solution-oriented perspective in positive psychology.
22. The “Three Good Things” Exercise
The “Three Good Things” exercise is a simple but potent practice in positive psychology (MacIntyre, 2016). It involves noting down three positive experiences from your day, every day. Regularly focusing on positive experiences in this way has been found to significantly increase happiness and decrease depressive symptoms. This exercise underscores the power of gratitude and positive reflection as tenets of positive psychology.
23. Humor and Laughter Therapy
Humor and Laughter Therapy is a therapeutic approach that uses the natural physiological process of laughter to help relieve physical or emotional stress or discomfort (Carr et al., 2021). An example of positive psychology in action, this method is known to reduce stress and increase happiness and optimism. Recent studies indicate its effectiveness as a supplementary treatment for a variety of conditions. Thus, humor and laughter therapy showcase positive affect’s reparative role within positive psychology.
24. Self-Compassion Practices
Self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness and understanding during instances of perceived failure or suffering (Pawelski, 2016). Positive psychology has contributed to developing practices that cultivate self-compassion. These include meditative practices and cognitive exercises aimed at challenging self-critical thoughts. Such practices have been found to foster emotional resilience and overall psychological well-being. Herein, self-compassion fully embodies the self-affirmative essence of positive psychology.
25. Positive Aging
Positive aging refers to the process of maintaining a positive attitude, feeling good about yourself, keeping fit and healthy, and engaging fully in life as you age (MacIntyre & Ayers-Glassey, 2021). Techniques supporting positive aging can include maintaining contact with a social network, exercise, and pursuing activities that bring joy. Research suggests that these practices contribute to improved health, happiness, productivity, and personal meaning in later life. This approach demonstrates the application of positive psychological principles across diverse life stages.
About Positive Psychology
The term “positive psychology” originates from work in the late 20th century. The year was 1998, and a significant figure was stepping onto this new terrain: Dr. Martin Seligman.
As president of the American Psychological Association, he asserted his innovative vision for a psychology that thoroughly examines the positive aspects of the human experience (Seligman, 2019).
The stream of scholarship and research on positive human functioning and flourishing gained momentum and captured the interests of academics and practitioners alike.
Key Concepts and Pillars
- Positive emotions: Positive emotions, including experiences like joy, gratitude, and serenity, form a significant pillar in positive psychology. These emotions provide us with a sense of satisfaction and contentment (Pawelski, 2016).
- Engagement: The concept of engagement refers to the deep connection that an individual can have with their activities. Flow—the state of intense absorption and enjoyment in an activity—falls under this category (MacIntyre, 2016).
- Relationships: Good relationships contribute significantly to our well-being, fostering support, intimacy, and a sense of belonging (MacIntyre & Ayers-Glassey, 2021).
- Meaning: Meaning in life gives us a sense of purpose, linking our everyday activities to a much larger framework (Carr et al., 2021).
- Achievement: The positive psychology literature recognizes achievement as essential for maintaining positive mental states. Ambitions, goals, and the drive for accomplishment provide motivation, reward, and fulfillment in our lives (Ciarrochi et al., 2016).
Applications of Positive Psychology
The application of positive psychology ranges from individual therapy to broad-based community interventions. In the realm of therapy, it helps individuals tap into their strengths and resources, promoting recovery and resilience.
In educational settings—often referred to as “positive education”—it nurtures student wellbeing and cultivates a conducive learning environment (Ciarrochi et al., 2016).
At work, positive psychology bolsters employee well-being and productivity, fostering a positive organisational culture (Lopez et al., 2018).
In communities, targeted interventions can enhance collective well-being, fostering societal resilience and positivity (Seligman, 2019).
Criticisms and Limitations
Although positive psychology has been well-received and has borne significant results, critics warn of several risks.
One is the potential to overlook severe psychological issues, promoting a simplistic “just think positive” approach to complex difficulties (Wong & Roy, 2017). This can lead to “toxic positivity”, where people feel compelled to present a cheerful disposition, undermining genuine emotional processing (Wong & Roy, 2017).
It’s crucial to maintain a balanced perspective, acknowledging that while positivity is beneficial, it must coincide with a realistic understanding of life’s complexities and hardships (MacIntyre & Ayers-Glassey, 2021).
As we continue striving for a better understanding of human psychology, it becomes increasingly clear that focusing on strengths, virtues, and the positive aspects of life is a path worth exploring. If you take away anything from this article, let it be an encouragement to investigate these practices. Integrate and experiment with positive psychology in your life, and observe the transformative potential of a strength-based approach towards psychological wellness.
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Wong, P. T., & Roy, S. (2017). Critique of positive psychology and positive interventions 1. In The Routledge international handbook of critical positive psychology (pp. 142-160). Routledge.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]