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Positive Psychology: A Brief Introduction

Psychology has three distinct missions: “(1) curing mental illness, (2) making the lives of all people more productive and fulfilling, and (3) identifying and nurturing high talent” (Seligman, 2002, p.4). However, when some people think of what psychology aims to do, they may think that it’s all about understanding and curing mental illnesses and disorders. People may think that the main goal of psychology is to address people’s mental health issues. So, what happened to the other two missions? This is where positive psychology comes in.


Defining Positive Psychology

Positive psychology, as the name suggests, is a study on the positive aspects of human functioning and experience. It is about the qualities and traits people have that can help them flourish into their best selves and how these positive aspects are related to negative aspects. It also aims to understand the internal and external factors, both positive and negative, that facilitate one’s pursuit of a good life and what characterizes a good life (Linley et al., 2006).


Positive psychology covers a wide range of topics from the innermost to the outermost layer of human functioning and experience. There are topics about subjective experiences like well-being, flow, happiness, hope, and faith. There are also studies on personal traits like love, vocation, courage, aesthetic, perseverance, and wisdom. There are even studies on group traits like responsibility, citizenship, moderation, civic virtues, and altruism (Seligman, 2002).


The Origins of Positive Psychology

After World War II, the world was focused on healing from the aftermaths of the war, and so psychology became a discipline devoted to healing. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) was also created around this time. At the time, more funding was given to research dedicated to studying pathology, and so researchers made more studies on the subject. This brought about strides in research about understanding and treating mental illnesses; however, this also made psychologists adopt a disease model of human functioning (Seligman, 2002). They focused on identifying what was wrong in people and how to fix them and saw humans as passive beings to their circumstances.


Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, first thought of the idea after talking to his 5-year-old daughter, Nikki. His daughter talked about how she used to whine all the time, but she eventually decided to control herself and learn to stop whining. If she could stop whining by herself, then he can learn to stop being a grouch. This conversation made Seligman realize that for people to become better, it’s not just about fixing their negative qualities. It is also about nurturing their positive qualities (Seligman, 2002).


The Purpose of Positive Psychology

Positive psychology aims to remind academics and masses alike that the field has been deformed. In the pursuit of learning how to cure mental illnesses, people have forgotten the other two missions of psychology: improving people’s lives and nurturing talent. Positive psychology brings these two missions back into focus and aims to find balance in studying the positive and negative aspects of human functioning and experience (Linley et al., 2006; Seligman, 2002).


Positive psychology also aims to understand and nurture positive human traits. People have strengths and virtues like future mindedness, courage, optimism, and more. By cultivating these positive qualities, they can not only achieve optimal functioning and live a good life, but they can also be protected from mental illnesses. Positive traits and strengths can become a buffer against psychopathology, preventing mental illnesses from developing in the first place (Seligman, 2002). People, rather than being passive beings, can be active individuals that can do something for themselves no matter their circumstances.


What Comes Next?

Positive psychology has redirected the field back towards its three distinct missions. Several studies have been done under this field such as factors related to emotions, happiness, life outlook, and relationships, and how these relate to people’s well-being, performance, health, relationship quality and other aspects of their lives. However, there are still more ways for positive psychology as a discipline to improve such as refining measurements of well-being, understanding how positive qualities are related to qualities like greed, indifference, and stupidity, and conducting more interdisciplinary studies (Ryff, 2022). Regardless, positive psychology has helped people see themselves and psychology as a whole in a new, brighter light.


We at Fidecita wish you the best in your mental health endeavors. Click here to know more about Fidecita HR Advisory’s Mental Health Care services.


Linley, P. A., Joseph, S., Harrington, S., & Wood, A. M. (2006). Positive psychology: Past, present, and (possible) future. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(1), 3-16.

Ryff, C. D. (2022). Positive psychology: Looking back and looking forward. Frontiers in Psychology, 13, 840062.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Positive psychology, positive prevention, and positive therapy. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 3–9). Oxford University Press.

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