What is Positive Psychology?

Version 2

Positive Psychology is the study of what makes people thrive and flourish. Who are the people who thrive and flourish? Those who live their lives with a positive resilience that leads to living life happier and with meaning and purpose. Back in 1952, Abraham Maslow was the first to write a chapter in his book called, “Toward a New Positive Psychology”. To many, Maslow is considered a grandfather of positive psychology. He proposed that we study those who excel at what they do whether a sport, business, art, writing, etc. and those who are happy and living successful, fulfilling lives in order to learn from them.

Positive psychology became a branch of the larger field of Psychology in 1998 by Martin Seligman, the head of the American Psychological Association. Martin Seligman is the author of ‘Learned Optimism’ and ‘Flourish’. His work, as well as many others, has looked closely and done much research about what makes some people flourish, live happy, live life fully with meaning and purpose, and have a strong sense of resilience – the way we move through challenge and into opportunities. In other words, those who look at their glass as half full vs. those who look at their glass as half empty.

My own studies began in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s in the field of Humanistic Education and, more recently, with Tal Ben-Shahar, Megan Mcdonough, and Maria Sirois through the Whole Being Institute. For the past five years, I have immersed myself in learning, living, and teaching positive psychology. Of course, my dream is that we all learn to live more in harmony with one another and reach for living more fulfilling and happy lives.

The field of psychology has been quite successful in helping many people, including myself, overcome and/or live with anxiety and depression as well as heal from trauma and abuse. I acknowledge that there are times in many of our lives that seeking help from a therapist is needed. What positive psychology does is study the other end of the continuum — those people who excel at what they do and live happier than most people — so that we all can learn to thrive and excel ourselves.

My latest interest and the inspiration for this blog is the blending of happiness and health in order to live at our best while being both happy and healthy.

The next question that is often asked is, “Does this mean we should be happy all the time?” Well, no! All of our emotions are essential for living a full life. There are times when life is difficult, when there is loss, and when other emotions take front and center. We are all our emotions — angry, sad, frustrated, joyful, happy, overwhelmed, etc. — and positive psychology is about feeling all of them as they are present. The more fully we feel one emotion, the more fully we feel all of them. We are all human. A premise of Positive Psychology that I learned from Tal Ben-Shahar is ‘the permission to be human’. This is acknowledging that all emotions are part of living a full life and when we give ourselves permission to be human, we are also giving ourselves the permission to feel the feelings that are present in the moment.

We can learn to live more fulfilling and happier lives through practice. Barbara Fredrickson, the author of ‘Positivity’ and one of the pillars of positive psychology talks about building our positivity ratio — our ratio of positive experiences to negative experiences. The ideal is around three positive experiences to one negative experience on a regular basis to find our life moving in an upward spiral of increased happiness and fulfillment (I wrote of this in an earlier post, ‘Collecting Happy’). What this blog is about is offering regular exercises that we can practice to build our cache of positive experiences to balance out the negative in our lives.

You see, I like looking at my glass as half full! I choose to fill my days with practices that lead me to being happier and building my resilience for those times of challenge. Am I happy all the time? Of course not, though the more I practice, the happier I am overall. I hope you will join me!

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