For many years psychology has focused on illness, taking a perspective of alleviating sickness as opposed to helping people reach their true potential and optimal level of functioning.
As Sigmund Freud has been quoted saying:
“I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash.”
I don’t know your perspective or attitude toward people and society, but this is clearly about as pessimistic and cynical as it gets.
Thinking of psychology through a mental illness lens limits the scope of how the world can become a better place, and how we as individuals can reach our full potential.
Fortunately, scholars recognized that psychology had become far too negative, and that it was time to focus more on the positive traits, experiences, and values that could lead to greater happiness, success, and achievement in the individual person and world at large.
From this realization, the positive psychology movement was born, and research started to examine the full range of human behavior.
A pioneering figure in the contemporary support of positive psychology is Martin Seligman, whom is known as the father of positive psychology. He directs the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, developing clinical tools and training the next generation of positive psychologists.
Martin Seligman visited TED in 2004 to share powerful new insight into positive psychology. Check out the video here for more details.
How Can Positive Psychology Help?
This positive shift has implications in many areas of life. This includes parenting, business management, and personal health and well-being. Research with adults has demonstrated that positive affect relates to success in many life domains, including marriage, friendships, income, vocational success, and physical and mental health.
Three main areas of exploring positive psychology:
1) Positive emotions: Psychologists study positive emotions, focusing on how to increase subjective well-being, positive affect, and overall life satisfaction in different domains like family and work. As well as examining how to lessen negative emotions and negative affect.
2) Positive traits: The study of positive traits can lead us to understand more about how to improve overall relationships and human interaction. This comes from examining positive character traits like altruism, compassion, work ethic, and citizenship.
3) Positive institutions: Positive psychology seeks to improve social infrastructures and instill positive and strengths based approaches in schools, corporations, and family systems.
These three areas provide a framework to begin shaping the way people live and improving the world they live in.
Positive psychology is not a pie-in-the-sky idealistic discipline of psychology. There is much research that is beginning to reveal how normal everyday people can have greater life satisfaction and begin reaching for greater heights in their lifestyle, relationships, and work.
Studying the full-range of human behavior includes more than mental illness. It involves viewing peoples’ strengths and greater capacities, and how these can be development and cultivated.
Positive psychology offers us valuable insight into this realm.