Positive psychology is the scientific study of how humans achieve happiness and mental satisfaction, in order to discover how people can lead the most productive lives possible. The movement is different from traditional psychology in that it chooses not to focus on negative life aspects, such as treating mental illnesses or counseling people through life hardships. Positive psychology is based on the principle that all people want to live happy, fulfilled lives. It is intended to build strengths in people to make the world a better place.
Dr. Martin Seligman founded the movement in 2000 as a supplement to traditional psychology, not as a replacement. His objective was to make the field of psychology more well-rounded, because he felt that clinical psychology focused on curing psychological problems but not on what makes people content with their lives on a daily basis. Seligman centralized the concept of positive psychology around three areas of study: positive emotions, positive character traits, and positive institutions.
Emotions are thought by most psychologists to be an indicator of a person’s mental well-being. Positive psychology, however, believes that positive emotions, such as joy or interest, are the actual cause of happiness, not simply an indicator that a person is already happy. To understand positive emotion, psychologists research what makes people have positive feelings about their past, present, and future. Positive psychologists believe that by scientifically researching how to cultivate positive emotions, they may ultimately be able to discover how to help people become happier.
Research on positive character traits and personal virtues is another major part of positive psychology research. Researchers study people’s abilities to love, as well as what makes them more likely to have resilience, courage, and work ethic. They believe that when people apply these positive character traits, it can help them lead more engaged lives. Positive psychology takes these findings and studies them, trying find out what positive character traits most affect people’s happiness and productivity.
Positive institutions are the final concept studied by positive psychologists. Their research on institutions focuses on learning about the qualities that make communities a better place, such as justice, leadership, parental nurturing, and teamwork. These qualities are thought by psychologists to make people happier, because they feel their lives are more meaningful when they live in a positive environment. Findings on positive institutions are generally used in order to discover what makes schools and jobs more satisfying, and therefore more productive.