Psychology is the “scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those functions affecting a certain behaviour in a given context”. Or in other words, it’s the study of the mind, feelings, thoughts and behaviours, both in the consciousness and the unconsciousness.
Often, many aspects of psychology focus on negative thought processes, dysfunctional behaviour and poor mental wellbeing – which certainly has its place in unravelling the human mind.
But what if we could use psychology to instead focus on a positive mindset, happiness and good mental wellbeing? It turns out, we can, with what’s rather aptly named, positive psychology.
But what is this relatively new branch of psychology and how can it be used to benefit us so that we can live a life worth living?
What Exactly is Positive Psychology?
Imagine a tool that could help us, as human beings, quiet the noise and draw our attention to the simple, yet good things in life? Happiness, wellbeing, nurturing relationships and thriving? Well, that tool exists, and it’s positive psychology.
It was developed in the late 1990s by psychologist Martin Seligman who summarises the concept as,
“The scientific study of optimal human functioning that aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive”. 
Positive psychology focuses on an individual’s potential, rather than their downfalls. Unlike some forms of mental health support, it isn’t designed to correct certain issues or negatives. Instead, it focuses on exploring all the things an individual might have or is exposed to, that make their life enjoyable and prosperous.
Put like that, it’s pretty simple really, and almost astonishing that it’s only a recently developed science. After all, focusing on the positives in what we have has its roots in many Eastern philosophies and religions.
That said, we must remember however, that positive psychology is an actual science, unlike some other, unproven, methods of self-help we might find elsewhere or on the internet. Seeking positive psychology help from a trained professional or receiving bona fide coaching in the system is therefore the key to getting it right.
Also, it’s not to say that positive psychology completely ignores real life problems or situations people might find themselves in. Rather, it can be used in conjunction with other psychological practices if necessary. Just like traditional or complementary medical techniques such as Ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture might work alongside modern, conventional medicine. Or, it can simply be used on its own to increase the fulfilment and enjoyment of an individuals’ life.
What Are the Three Levels of Positive Psychology?
Most proponents of positive psychology accept that there are three different levels, or constants, to positive psychology. They are:
- The subjective level – this focuses on positive emotions, such as happiness, looking forward to things and healthy emotional wellbeing, and how these positives impact our everyday lives
- The individual level – this levels combines the subjective level of positive psychology with positive traits including bravery, compassion and forgiveness
- The group level – this includes strengthening our social connections with the people in our tribes and wider communities through selflessness and feelings of social responsibility
What is the PERMA Model of Positive Psychology?
Defining the term “wellbeing” is a tricky one. Positive Psychology developer, Martin Seligman, knew that he needed an accepted way of defining the term as then, as it is now, wellbeing is a catch all for the health and wellness of our physical body and our emotions.
So, he created the PERMA model – an acronym for his five pillars of wellbeing:
P – Positive emotions – including gratitude for past experiences, satisfaction and fulfilment from the present and positive anticipation for the future
E – Engagement – being fully in the present when taking part in nourishing activities
R – Relationships – forming solid, positive and healthy social connections with family, loved ones, friends, colleagues and acquaintances
M – Meaning – discovering purpose and direction in life
A – Accomplishments – identifying and reaching goals and celebrating successes
How is Positive Psychology Beneficial?
Gratitude, mindfulness, resilience, positive thinking and optimism all play an important role in positive psychology. Perhaps in 1998 when this science was in its infancy, these concepts weren’t practised by everyday folk. But certainly now, it would be uncommon to find someone who hadn’t at least heard of them. Many of us have practised them.
In today’s world, as we as the human race continue to realise that we’re all pretty much hardwired to focus on the negative, these kinds of practices are becoming more mainstream. When we practice them, we reap the benefits of being more connected to the world, more in the here and now, less stressed and crucially, happier.
So, it stands to reason therefore, that positive psychology can have significant benefits to our emotional wellbeing.
Positive psychology forces us to look at our strong points – our character strengths and virtues as well as all that we have. Some of us might feel a little “self-obsessed” in doing so, but once we do, and we not only accept these beautiful traits, possessions, safety nets and experiences, but we celebrate them, we can welcome in the benefits of positive psychology.
What Does the Science Say About Positive Psychology?
There have been some major studies that have looked at the impact of positive psychology. One concluded that whilst having money doesn’t necessarily buy us our happiness, how we spend it is important to our emotional wellbeing. The act of using our money to make the lives of others more fulfilled, either cherished loved ones or through the act of giving to charity, makes us happy. 
The study even found that such “prosocial spending” can promote a “warm glow of giving” even in toddlers. Presumably by sharing their toys or snacks, but the act is still the same.
Such altruism certainly gives us a warm glow as adults as does practising gratitude, or being thankful for the people and the things that surround us, and being optimistic and hopeful for the future.
Other studies have found that our jobs are important to our emotional health, especially so when our jobs make us feel we have a purpose and a meaningful role in life. 
Another set of research concluded that dealing with setbacks and disappointment can be made significantly easier by having resilience and heathy social relationships. 
So, let’s embrace the power of positive psychology, and add more meaning and purpose to our existence, so that we can live a life worth living. How will you begin?
1) Seligman, M. and Csikszentmihaly, M., 2000. Positive Psychology: An introduction. APA PsycNet, 2000, 55(1):5-14 [Accessed 22 January 2022].
2) Dunn, E., Aknin, L. and Norton, M., 2014. Prosocial Spending and Happiness. Current Directions in Psychological Science. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2014, 23(1):41-47 [Accessed 22 January 2022].
3) Martel, F. and Pessi, A., 2018. Significant Work Is About Self-Realization and Broader Purpose: Defining the Key Dimensions of Meaningful Work. Frontiers in Psychology, 2018, 9:363 [Accessed 22 January 2022].
4) Harzer, C. and Ruch, W., 2015. The relationships of character strengths with coping, work-related stress, and job satisfaction. Frontiers in Psychology, 2015, 6:165 [Accessed 22 January 2022].