Positive Psychology is a branch of psychology that studies the strengths and virtues that enable a person or community to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives and that the cultivation of the positive experiences of love, work and place are of the utmost importance. There are a number of key theories within positive psychology:
* What is good in life is as genuine as that which is bad, though it is more difficult to define.
* The absence of that which is problematic does not equate to good.
* The good life requires its own explanation and is not just the opposite of a bad life
Positive psychology is a relatively new field of psychology, with the movement considered to have begun in 1998 with Martin Seligman, father of the modern positive psychology movement. He used it as the focus for his term as president of the American Psychological Association. The movement is not so concerned with replacing existing theories of psychology. Instead, it is a complimentary theory that helps to extend the problem-focused psychology to a broader context. The theory does not aim to dismiss existing problems or smooth over psychological disorders that cause significant lifestyle issues such as anxiety or depression.
There are three central concerns to positive psychology: positive emotions, positive individual traits and positive institutions. Positive emotions involves the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present and hope for the future. Positive individual traits is the study of strengths and virtues, such as capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, integrity, self-knowledge and moderation. Understanding positive institutions is the study of what issues make better communities, such as responsibility, teamwork, purpose, leadership and tolerance.
Overriding these concerns are the three main areas of research: pleasant life, engaged life and meaningful life. Each examines what elements encourage a person to live a fulfilling and happy life, and what things fail to motivate a person. A motivated, engaged and fulfilled person tends to report higher levels of happiness for longer periods of time. A person who has short-lived successes, little motivation in their primary job and low levels of identity will report higher levels of unhappiness.
This is a breakdown of the three main areas of research into positive psychology:
* Pleasant Life focuses on how people seek out and enjoy pleasurable emotions throughout normal life. This form of happiness is generally short-lived and is found through things like television, loveless sex, drugs and material items. It is the things that most people assume are going to make them happy, but it is ultimately unsustainable.
* Engaged Life is the relationship between what we do and how we benefit. It is the understanding that when a person is matched with a primary job or task that is matched to their skills and desires, they will be more engaged and more satisfied with their life. Many will be more immersed in their role in the world and have confidence in what they can achieve.
* A Meaningful Life is the relationship between a person and their contribution to a greater life. It is the involvement in social groups, movements, religions, traditions and purpose in life that is greater than a single person. This is the connection that a person has with their local and global community and relates to whether they have feelings of purpose and connection.
Age is found to have a considerable impact on an individual’s happiness, with studies suggesting that most people are happier and more satisfied with their life as they age. However, when a person is between 40 and 50 years old, they are likely to go through a stage of high stress, anger and a reduction in happiness. After 50 yrs old, happiness has been found to increase for a number of different reasons, including improved expectations of the self, greater awareness of self, more motivation to pursue more goals and better social skills including empathy and forgiveness. Some studies suggest that despite more significant and serious health problems with age, most people have fewer problems overall including financial or relationship issues.
Money has been found to make a difference to a persons’ happiness. Research suggests for those people who are poor and who struggle in a life where basic needs are not met, money can buy happiness and satisfaction as it allows people to live with comfort. However, once individuals have money for luxury items and excessive spending, their level of happiness declines. Spending money on material items does not increase a persons’ happiness and it is suggested that those who have access to money should spend it on experiences that will increase happiness rather than on things. In addition to this, it should be noted that those who work in a high paying job do not have greater happiness than those in lower salary jobs. Job satisfaction has been found to be determined by a person’s ability to find a job that they enjoy and that allows them to enjoy social networks, family and relaxation time.
Social networks including family relationships and work peers have been found to influence a persons’ happiness. It is suggested that those who have strong ties with their community or close familial relationships are happier and have more satisfaction in their lives. This may be because they have the knowledge that they have others to support them in the down times and that they can seek comfort when they need it. Additionally, those who have good relationships with others tend to have a more defined identity and stronger goals and aspirations which can alleviate confusion, anxiety and unhappiness.
One branch of positive psychology is the focus on psychotherapy as a tool to deliver therapy to those who are suffering from depression or other related condition. In psychotherapy, therapists may guide a person to appreciate and work on their own positive outlook and switch the focus from what has been done in the past or what may happen in the future to what is occurring in the present. In conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy, a person can be guided to a life that is mindful of others, compassionate, resilient, passionate and positive. It can build on existing strengths and help a person to be able to practice self-control and foster better, more rewarding relationships.
For a person who has experienced a substance abuse problem, positive psychology offers a rewarding and meaningful direction for the future and an acceptance of the negative aspects of their life to date. A person should be grounded in the present and experience the occurring emotional and physical changes. This can help to reduce anxieties and stresses, which can cloud a person’s judgment and dampen efforts to change behaviors.