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Five Things Positive Psychology Wants You To Know

happiness photoThe virtues of actively cultivating the components of positive thinking were extolled, the widespread benefits of engaging one’s strengths toward something larger and more meaningful than the self were highlighted, and the ways in which a positive bend actually combats several symptoms of distress were pinpointed. So the 2016 Canadian Positive Psychology Conference began.

And while positive psychology has often been described as simply “happyology”, when Martin Seligman – widely recognized as the father of positive psychology – was elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1998, his aim was not just to make the world happier.

Instead, Seligman wanted to shift to the traditional focus of psychology – one that had been defined by studying, diagnosing, and treating what is wrong with a person. What Seligman most wanted to study is what is right about people – that is, what makes people feel at the best, their most fulfilled, and indeed, their happiest.

As the field has evolved over the years, just how to cultivate the mindset that leads to what Seligman calls the “good life” has become ever more clear – from gratitude lists, acts of kindness, and activation of strengths – we now have a multitude of ways to feel better. And yet, positive psychology isn’t just about feeling happy. Here are five things positive psychology also wants you to know.

Positivity is not an absolute. One of the things positive psychology has uncovered quite well is that people can’t simply be told to feel more positive. For one thing, life itself isn’t simply all positive. And people’s moods don’t work that way either. While the day may start great, we may hit traffic, arrive at the office to a mountain of work, only to be surprised with a gift and flowers at the end of the day. The takeaway? What is more important that trying to feel positive all the time is trying to increase the frequency of positive moments. While these moments may last ten minutes or ten seconds – I call these “micromoments” – when you increase their frequency over time, you create a habit of scanning your environment for opportunities to feel good, as well as shifting the balance toward the positive – without the pressure to feel good all the time.

Being present isn’t just about being present. Being present – while seemingly sound advice – is not the cure all it is often purported to be. The problem is that even when we are present, we still have the past and the future – and more importantly our attitude toward them. And if we are in the moment, and yet our past haunts us, or the future worries us, being present won’t help much. Our orientation toward our past and future – just how we make peace with our past decisions, accomplishments, and losses, and the possibility of future ones, defines how we sit in the moment. The takeaway? Be here now, but make peace with where you have been, and where you are going.

Positivity is contagious. While trying to get yourself to think and feel more positively can sometimes feel like a selfish pursuit, boosting your mood actually improves the moods of those around you. When people are exposed to acts of gratitude, optimistic thinking, and the happiness of others, it tends to prime their mood toward positivity too. And because positivity exists in a positive feedback loop, by improving the moods of those around us, we further improve our own. What can this lead to? Groups who are more optimistic report less conflict, less stress, improved health, and better feelings about those around them. The takeaway? Positive psychology isn’t just about your positive mental health, it affects everyone around you.

Growth consists of both positive and negative. Positive psychology encourages us to improve the way we think, act, and feel, but it doesn’t promise that the path will be easy. Instead growth – which is often exhibited in how we deal with difficult life events – positive psychology tells us, consists of both positive and negative symptoms. Because when we are most challenged, we are also most called upon to rise, and while we may suffer from self-doubt, worry, or even tremendous sadness, we may also find extraordinary strength within ourselves to endure, continue forward, and ultimately arrive on the other side – with a new perspective. The takeaway? Feeling better isn’t about simply thinking more positively. It’s about growth, which is sometimes painful.

Adversity is part of positivity. It would be easy to think that adversity has no part in positive psychology, however, those in the field call this simply “positive fantasy”. The reality is that adversity is as much a part of life as positivity, and the role of positive psychology is not to avoid adversity, but rather, to transform it. Adversity, while it may be uncomfortable, is the shortest route to mental toughness. It is the opportunity to uncover strengths we didn’t know we had, and find possibility where we thought none existed. But thinking positively has a powerful effect on just how we deal with adversity. When we are more optimistic, we tend to use the very multifaceted thinking that allows us to find novel solutions to the complex problems adversity presents us with. The takeaway? Cultivate positive thinking not to eliminate adversity, but to deal with it better.

Claire Dorotik-Nana is the author of Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards. For more information on Claire or her work, just visit

Photo by Moyan_Brenn

Five Things Positive Psychology Wants You To Know

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2016). Five Things Positive Psychology Wants You To Know. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Jun 2016
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