About Positive Psychology
Here’s a loaded question. How satisfied are you with your life. Be honest with yourself… where would you place yourself on the spectrum of life satisfaction?
For those on the left side in the red zone, traditional psychology diagnoses problems and provide solutions. Vast amounts of research have gone into identifying and understanding mental disorders ranging from mild ailments to severe depression and into the formation and evaluation of psycho-therapeutic treatments.
But what about the people who aren’t depressed, but aren’t fully satisfied either—the people in the yellow zone between red and green. Life is OK – but that’s about all. Do we just accept this middle ground, or is there something we can do to move to the right into the green zone?
For people who are already doing well, are there actions that can move them even further into the green zone?
What does it mean to flourish? How do we achieve the good life?
The Science of Positive Psychology
This is precisely where Positive Psychology fits in. It is the science of what’s right in life. It helps us understand what makes life worth living. It gives us effective ways to make life more fulfilling and satisfying. If traditional psychology is the science for the red zone, positive psychology is the science for the green zone.
It is the science behind Positive Psychology that differentiates this field from the shelves of self-help books and DVDs that promise to turn your life around. Self-help resources are often based on folk-wisdom and/or personal experiences that may or may not work for everyone else. In the short period since Positive Psychology took form while Martin Seligman was president of the American Psychological Association (Martin Seligman bio), leading psychologists around the world have tested and retested many ideas about well-being. They have also run controlled studies to see which suggested actions really do work. It makes sense to work on well-being: studies show that people who are happy are more successful across many domains including careers, romantic relationships, and health(Read more about the origins of Positive Psychology).
The Set Point
Of course, genetics and life circumstances do play a role in determining your lot in life. According to leading psychologist Sonya Lyubormirsky, genetics accounts for about 50% of the variation in happiness across populations, and differences in circumstances account for only about 10% more. The good news is the remaining 40% is accounted for by differences in thought patterns and behaviors, things that are under our control. With effort, persistence and knowledge about what really works, we can build new habits that make us happier. The goal of Positive Psychology is to give people the knowledge to pursue the good life, thus deliberately migrating towards the conditions at the far end of the green zone.
How Does One Achieve the Good Life
There are at least five pathways to happiness that bring people closer to the good life. They all play a major role in increasing and maintaining one’s positivity.
- When you savor the present, are grateful for the past, are hopeful for the future, and love the people around you, you are experiencing positive emotion, the first pathway to happiness.
- When you do what you do best, when you are absorbed in activities that use your strengths and demand that you grow in ability, you are engaged, the second pathway to happiness.
- When you are involved in activities that you believe matter to the world beyond yourself, you are experiencing the third pathway to happiness: your life is full of meaning.
- When you are surrounded by loving and supportive positive relationships, you are experiencing the fourth pathway to happiness.
Underlying each of these is the fifth pathway, that is, the principle of using your strengths and personal values to develop into a full, complex, unique, and contributing individual.
From Positive Psychology, we know that people have the ability to change their lives for the better. It may take effort and persistence, but it is possible. A growing body of empirical evidence identifies the actions that are worth taking because they really do make a difference.
Positive psychology has many benefits. You can learn more about the benefits with a Masters in Applied Psychology.