Positive Psychology is a branch of psychology is often summarized by the phrase “Oh, you think happy thoughts!”… While that description isn’t necessarily wrong, it oversimplifies a powerful form of psychology that can be a powerful tool in improving your overall happiness.
Let’ s unpack what positive psychology has to offer and how we can begin to incorporate it into our life. What is positive psychology beyond thinking happy thoughts?
The Beginning of Positive Psychology
The term “positive psychology” was first coined by a psychologist Abraham Maslow after the second World War. At this time in history, the world of psychology was wrapped up in healing mental illness and treating psychology as a model to heal disease. The focus was on symptoms and dysfunction. Positive psychology broke the status quo as it shifted the focus to positive aspects of human nature. Even better, positive psychology could be utilized by everyday people as a tool to improve their lives.
Where Maslow may have been credited for coining the term positive psychology, Martin Seligman is credited for its growth and development into the positive psychology that is known and practiced today. This is particularly exciting because Seligman is actively authoring books, articles and hosting discussions on his beloved concept of positive psychology. Positive psychology is current, relevant, and growing to fit in with our modern world.
More Than Happy Thoughts
Seligman’s positive psychology operates under the theory that every person has uniquely positive traits. Once you discover these traits, focusing on these strengths will improve your quality of life.
What is it that you can do better than others?
What have you experienced that makes you uniquely qualified?
What makes you special?
The answer to these types of questions gets us closer to the core of positive psychology. It is the study of these personal strengths that allow you to thrive and live a fulfilling, meaningful life. Once we understand what we excel in, we can focus on these strengths to navigate through life’s struggles.
Finding your strength
If you are interested in learning more about your strengths and positive traits, UPenn has a series of questionnaires that can help you find insight into these powerful strengths. You will need to create a log in to begin, but it is a great tool that Seligman himself helped design to help you get your feet wet! These questionnaires measure traits like forgiveness, compassion, gratitude, optimism and even your overall general happiness.
Happiness in the Past, Present and Future
Seligman’s theory approaches dealing with the past with a goal of gratitude and forgiveness. Once you can approach negative emotions of the past with the strategy of forgiving and gratitude, you can begin to build hope and optimism for the future. Seligman uses tools like mindfulness as a tool to slow down and savor the now. The goal is to truly stop and enjoy the present moment.
The Universal Pursuit of Happiness
Religions, philosophers and psychologists have been in a pursuit of happiness for almost 2,500 years, starting with Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, and Aristotle. Eastern and Western great thinkers have more in common about this great idea then you may think. Taking the universal search of happiness and modernizing it into an applicable psychological concept that is easily assessable and useable to us all is one of the greatest benefits of positive psychology.