Wednesday, 27 February 2013

On Positive Psychology

I am often asked by my patients about the term Positive Psychology. Many confuse it with the concept of Positive Thinking. I certainly appreciate Positive Thinking, in fact one of my favorite books is "A Thousand Names for Joy" by Katie Byron and Stephen Mitchell. Yet, it has little to do with Positive Psychology. I was about to write a blog post about Positive Psychology, when I recalled reading an excellent article by Dr. Christopher Peterson, who was a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. Christopher Peterson is one of the most respected psychologists of our time and I was shocked to learn about his untimely death last October. The article I want to present here was published in Psychology Today in 2008, I still haven't seen better review of Positive Psychology. Below, I quote my favorite part of the article:

Positive psychology is psychology--psychology is science--and science require checking theories against evidence. Accordingly, positive psychology is not to be confused with untested self-help, footless affirmation, or secular religion-no matter how good these may make us feel. Positive psychology is neither a recycled version of the power of positive thinking nor a sequel to the secret.

Positive psychology will rise or fall on the science on which it is based. So far, the science is impressive. Consider what has been learned in recent years about the psychological good life, none of which was mentioned in any of the psychology courses I took a few decades ago:

•  Most people are happy.
•  Happiness is a cause of good things in life and not simply along for the happy ride. People who are satisfied with life eventually have even more reason to be satisfied, because happiness leads to desirable outcomes at school and work, to fulfilling social relationships, and even to good health and long life.
•  Most people are resilient.
•  Happiness, strengths of character, and good social relationships are buffers against the damaging effects of disappointments and setbacks.
•  Crisis reveals character.
•  Other people matter mightily if we want to understand what makes like most worth living.
•  Religion matters.
•  And work matters as well if it engages the worker and provides meaning and purpose.
•  Money makes an ever-diminishing contribution to well-being, but money can buy happiness if it is spent on other people.
•  As a route to a satisfying life, eudaimonia trumps hedonism.
•  The "heart" matters more than the "head." Schools explicitly teach critical thinking; they should also teach unconditional caring.
•  Good days have common features: feeling autonomous, competent, and connected to others.
•  The good life can be taught.

This latter point is especially important because it means that happiness is not simply the result of a fortunate spin of the genetic roulette wheel. There are things that people can do to lead better lives, although I hasten to say that all require that we live (behave) differently ... permanently. The good life is hard work, and there are no shortcuts to sustained happiness...

If you liked this extract I suggest reading entire article at Psychology Today.


  1. Happiness is also a choice. I have met so many people who have been in situations that no one could imagine being in and some of them have still managed to be happy. So it is a mindset and a choice.

  2. Good point Tina. This is very true, it is all about perception.

  3. Happiness has nothing do with outside circumstances. It all comes within.