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  • Writer's pictureKirsti Gwynn

What is Positive Psychology?

If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I really love positive psychology. It is my passion in the fullest sense of the word.

Chances are, you’ve heard of psychology, but the concept of positive psychology might be new to you.

So, what is positive psychology?

Let’s start first with what it isn’t…

Positive psychology is not positive thinking.

Despite its simple name, positive psychology is far removed from what you might know as “positive thinking”.

While in positive thinking you might try simply to swap out any negative thoughts for more positive ones (“I can do this!”) positive psychology targets the cause of the negative thoughts so you feel less inclined to have them in the first place.

One of my favourite 10-minutes-a-day exercises, for example, activates the brain’s “hope circuit” and in doing so trains your brain to be, and feel, more optimistic. That means you really believe things will work out more often, so you have less fear… and so fewer fearful, negative thoughts.

But that doesn’t mean positive psychology only targets the positive aspects of the human experience. Not at all.

Positive psychologists have sought to discover what makes “the good life”. Sometimes, the good life includes dealing with challenging obstacles or finding a sense of purpose from negative experiences.

The good life is much more than just lighthearted fun: it’s a positive perspective. A deep sense of inner peace about the fact that life does have inevitable ups and downs, building the resilience to deal with those ups and downs, and a journey of authentic learning and growth.

Surprisingly, “normal” psychology hasn’t been focusing on this.

It seems shocking that until 20 years ago, psychology as a field had placed its focus almost entirely on the negatives.

In fact, Freud even said, “The best that we can hope for is to be free from suffering” (which, well, isn’t very hopeful).

Conventional psychology’s expertise lay in helping people move from a metaphorical -5 to 0, but it wasn’t until clinical psychologist Dr Martin Seligman became frustrated at his lack of knowing how to develop his clients’ well-being that psychology expanded its focus to taking people to +5.

Dr Seligman knew that psychologists had to start learning from people who were truly flourishing in life.

Research studies began to consider the questions, How do optimistic people think? How do resilient people cope with their fears and stresses? What leads us to feel content with who we are and what we’ve achieved?

Largely from this research, we now know that 40% of our happiness comes just from our way of thinking and perceiving the world. So, rather than being something we’re born with, this is something we all have the power to change for the better.

And positive psychology gives us ways of doing that.


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