Last updated on October 20th, 2023.
When you think of a psychologist or a psychiatrist you probably picture someone who either studies or works with other people’s internal problems. Positive psychology, however, throws a wrench into that view. So what exactly does positive psychology focus on and how is it different from more traditional approaches?
Positive psychology is a scientific study that focuses on strengths that guide human thought and behavior. Unlike more traditional forms of psychology, positive psychologists are less interested in what’s going wrong for a person, but rather what’s going right.
If you’re interested in positive psychology and what it might be able to teach you not only about the study of positive psychology itself but yourself as well, you’ve come to the right place. In our guide below we will take a deeper dive into what positive psychology is, how it differs from other forms and its various areas of focus. So come along and let’s dive right in!
What is Positive Psychology in Simple Words?
So in simple terms, what exactly is positive psychology?
Positive psychology is the study of what makes human beings lives worth living. It focuses on strengths like a sense of purpose, well-being and happiness from a strictly scientific perspective. This is what separates it from other positive or motivational movements that do not necessarily take a scientific approach.
The term itself was coined in 1998 by professor of Psychology Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and former APA president Martin E.P. Seligman. Since then it has steadily gained traction in the psychology world and become a staple of mental health treatment.
How is Positive Psychology Different From Traditional Approaches?
Unlike traditional approaches to psychology–that focus primarily on what is wrong with a person and how they can be brought back to baseline–positive psychology focuses on what’s right.
Below we’ve broken down some of the major differences between traditional approaches to psychology and positive psychology:
- Traditional approaches seek baseline: Traditional approaches to psychology seek to bring someone to their baseline. With positive psychology on the other hand, the goal is to find meaning and thrive.
- Traditional approaches focus on symptoms of mental health issues: While traditional approaches are more geared towards treating symptoms of mental health problems, positive psychology is focused on what thoughts, emotions and environments make a person excel.
- Traditional approaches focus on what’s going wrong: More often than not, traditional approaches are more focused on what’s going wrong with a patient’s mental health issues. Positive psychology on the other hand, is far more focused on what’s going right and how it can be strengthened. This is why both approaches go well together.
It’s important to note, positive psychology is not meant to be a replacement for more traditional approaches but rather something that can work in conjunction with them. The traditional more negatively focused approaches can help bring someone back from the brink, while positive psychology practices can help them then excel.
What Exactly Does Positive Psychology Focus On?
So far we’ve covered the overall focus of positive psychology. Still, when you get into the nitty gritty, that focus on well being can really be divided into three subgroups.
Below we’ve outlined the three main focuses of positive psychology so you can have a better understanding of what it’s really about on the ground level:
Positive Psychology Focuses on Traits
One of the biggest focuses of positive psychology is the traits that make a person not only get by but do well with their mental health. You’ll find this the consistent focus and them within any Positive Psychology Certificate Program. This can include traits such as resilience, empathy, compassion and so on.
The way these traits influence a person’s sense of meaning and happiness is one of the core focuses of positive psychology.
Positive Psychology Focuses on Experiences
Positive experiences such as connectedness, happiness, a sense of purpose and make up a big part of what positive psychology is all about. The question is how do you strengthen and increase the frequency and intensity of these experiences? That is what positive psychology offers an answer to.
Positive Psychology Focuses on Improving Institutions
Positive psychology is not only concerned with individuals but their environments as well. Principles of positive psychology can be applied to institutions to create a positive growth environment everyone can benefit from.
What are the Benefits of Positive Psychology
Now that we’ve got a good grasp on what positive psychology is focused on, it’s time to ask, what are the benefits of practicing positive psychology and incorporating it’s focus into your life?
Below we’ve outlined some of the biggest benefits to practicing positive psychology both individually and institutionally:
- Positive psychology makes workers more engaged: When practiced institutionally, positive psychology can make workers feel valued and therefore more engaged in what they are doing. This can really foster a positive growth environment where people aren’t competing as much as they are lifting each other up.
- Positive psychology improves self esteem: When you foster the positive aspects of your person your self-esteem will naturally improve. This is one of the biggest benefits individuals receive from positive psychology.
- Positive psychology leads to growth: When you develop the positive aspects of your psyche you will naturally begin to grow as a person. With a growth mindset, challenges that once seemed insurmountable may begin to appear within your grasp.
- Positive psychology leads to greater happiness: This is probably the most important benefit to positive psychology. By increasing traits such as compassion, joy and a sense of meaning, one will attain higher levels of happiness. This is really what it’s all about.
It’s important to note, there are countless more benefits to positive psychology, however, these are some of the most attractive.
Final Thoughts On the Focus of Positive Psychology
The truth is that positive psychology has many focuses. However, they really boil down to how you can further develop positive strategies for approaching life.
Positive psychology focuses on what traits, experiences and environments lead to a greater degree of happiness, resilience and countless other positive states. When coupled with traditional approaches, positive psychology can help someone not only get by, but thrive as well.