POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY is the scientific study of optimal functioning, better known as the science of happiness, wellbeing and resilience. This branch of psychology was established in the late 1990s to challenge the prevailing direction of the field, which had lost sight of investigating the positive side of human experience – what makes us happy, what makes us well, what does it take to flourish, what gives life meaning and what are the ingredients of a good life? In a nutshell what it takes for us to feel good and function well so that we can flourish.
Positive psychology covers a broad range of areas. As well as happiness, wellbeing and resilience other core elements include positive emotions, strengths, optimism, emotional intelligence, mindsets, motivation and goals. The good news is that neuroscience shows that it is possible to grow our happiness, develop our strengths and learn optimism. Our minds are more flexible than they are fixed. As a science, it comes with a formula or two! This is the recipe for happiness – SWB = SWL + (PA – NA).
SWB = Subjective Well-being, the scientific term for happiness. Our subjective experience of our well-being.
SWL = Satisfaction with Life, how we think about or rate our lives. Whether there’s a gap between where we are and where we’d like to be.
PA = Positive Affect, the sum of our experience of positive emotions.
NA = Negative Affect, the sum of our negative emotions. Whether someone averages more positive than negative emotions.
It is an applied science and at Positive Psychology Training we take the science and put it into practice through training, coaching, consultancy, speaking and designing well-being programmes as well as offering off-the-peg ones such as the Happiness Habits.
Positive psychology goes beyond the ‘positive thinking’ that it is often mistaken for. Unlike positive thinking, it doesn’t ignore or suppress the negative aspects of life but asks different questions such as how can we find a positive in the negative (reframing), how can we bounce back from tough times (resilience) and how can we find meaning in life-altering experiences (post-traumatic growth).
The goal of therapy is to reduce suffering by focusing on getting to an absence of symptoms (reaching ‘neutral’). Positive psychology, on the other hand, works in the health model with a goal of moving beyond neutral and into the plus scale of well-being (regardless of starting point). The presence of mental wellbeing is more than the absence of mental disorder. So the focus is on increasing wellbeing by using scientifically proven to build the positives and increase wellbeing. A case of ‘what you focus on is what you get’. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that working in the health model is an effective approach to not only raise but also recover wellbeing.
Here’s a 5-minute animated summary of positive psychology. The diagram below (from www.positivepsychologynews.com) gives you more of an idea of the disease model (or medical model, which is the space that clinical psychology and most therapies operate in) and the health model of positive psychology.