What is Positive Psychology?

what is positive psychology by Jodie Cooper

What is Positive Psychology?

To answer the question of what is positive psychology, first we must understand traditional psychology. Imagine for a moment that we all reside on a mental wellbeing scale of minus ten to positive ten. Minus ten indicates someone with poor mental health who is struggling to function normally and perhaps plagued by depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses. Positive ten represents someone with great mental health who’s feeling connected to their work, has meaningful relationships, is acomplishing thier goals, feels optimistic about the future and is physically healthy. In the middle, someone aroud zero on our scale is neither experiencing the excitement, love or joy life offers, but nor are they feeling dispear, anger or sadness regularly.

what is positive psychology jodie cooper positive psychology expert

Traditional psychology is very successful at diagnosing and treating individuals with mental illness. Ie, a traditional psychologist assists people to move from the negative up to neutral. Unfortunately though, traditional psychologists don’t understand the nuances of the positive end of the wellbeing spectrum and how to support individuals in going from negative into positive. Many clients I’ve seen have spent years working with psychologists and indeed have improved thier lives considerably. Unfortunately though, we don’t want to be neautral, we want to be happy. To find happiness, joy, optimism, great relationships, vitality and accomplishment we need understand the science of wellbeing. That’s where positive psychology comes in. Positive psychology has been defined as the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities and organisations to thrive (Gable & Haidt, 2005, Sheldon & King, 2001). Essentially we want to learn about the best of mankind in order to replicate it. Here’s a quick video to explain what is positive psychology in more detail.

The role of positive psychology

The role of positive psychology is to assist people to move from neutral to a high positive. Positive Psychology is the science of wellbeing and research into positive subjective experience, positive individual traits and positive institutions. The aim of which is to improve the quality of life, fulfilment and experience for individuals, communities, organisations and intuitions.

The history of positive psychology

In the 1930’s Psychology had three intentions. These included:

1. To cure Mental Illness (This is based on the Disease model)

2. To support the general population to become more productive and be more fulfilled and

3. To study genius and to nurture high talent.

In the 1940’s two key events impacted on these three areas of focus. The first was the influx of war veterans with mental health issues, which saw the founding of the Veterans administration. This meant psychologists could now make a good living by treating mental illness. Secondly, the National institute of mental health was founded, providing grant and research funding into mental illness. Essentially, after the second world war, psychology was driven to achieve only it’s first aim, with the general population and the study of genius almost entirely forgotten. When Martin Seligman became the president of the American Psychological Association in 1997 he said we’ve spent enough time on mental illness, it’s now time to focus on what’s right with human beings and assist people to experience more positive emotions and bring more meaning into their lives.

Understanding the good life

Kennedy in 1968 said “The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” I believe this is the core of what positive psychology is about. Enriching the lives of average people by learning how we can become stronger, wiser, more compassionate, happy and loving individuals. Essentially positive psychology is about nurturing what is best in mankind.

If you’re interested in the theories and practices of positive psychology have a look at the best bits of positive psychology. Or, if you’re curious about how positive psychology changed my life, you’re welcome to read that too.