What is Positive Psychology and What Is It Used For?

Positive psychology focuses on people's well-being from a scientific approach. We'll analyze it here.
What is Positive Psychology and What Is It Used For?
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 25 June, 2022

“Treatment is not only about fixing what’s broken, but also about nurturing the best in us.” This is one of the central ideas that Martin Seligman, one of the main founders of positive psychology, seeks to transmit.

Positive psychology is all about accompanying people so that they can recognize what their qualities and strengths are. This is the springboard that contributes to their well-being and to better resolve difficulties.

What is positive psychology?

Together with Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Seligman is one of the founders of positive psychology. For them, positive psychology is that which focuses on the development of people’s potential, emphasizing their strengths and virtues. One of its fundamental assumptions is that, by focusing on the resources of the subjects, it’s possible to improve their quality of life.

From there, positive psychology makes a critical position towards the way psychology in general has been working: with an approach based on a deficit or lack, thus becoming a model or synonym of psychopathology instead of reinforcing the potential of human beings.

“Positive psychology is the scientific study of positive experiences, positive individual traits, institutions that facilitate their development, and programs that help improve the quality of life of individuals while preventing or reducing the incidence of psychopathology.”

For Seligman, traditional psychology carries logical consequences of post-war psychology oriented to repairing the damage caused. For this reason, positive psychology instead focuses on strategies oriented to the recognition of strengths and the development of resources to accompany people on the road to a fuller life of well-being and quality. It’s also a way to help them learn to be happy.

The emphasis is placed on the management of emotions in contact with experiences that motivate us and excite us and that fill us with a sense of purpose. Just as it’s important to heal the wounds of the past, positive psychology believes that self-knowledge, self-esteem, resilience, and introspection are equally important.

It’s also key to highlight that positive psychology is a way of tying up loose ends of other theories. Concepts such as Bowlby’s attachment theory, Maslow’s needs theory, and Goleman’s emotional intelligence are some of the ideas that focused more on the optimal and less on psychopathology.

Positive psychology has managed to form a body of scientific ideas and concepts regarding happiness and well-being.

Psicología positiva del bienestar.
To enhance the positive is to promote the best characteristics of people.

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What is positive psychology used for?

Some of the objectives pursued from this approach are the following:

  • To identify our goals and objectives, thus helping us to orient ourselves toward what we desire.
  • To adopt an optimistic and resilient attitude. This means being able to think that things can turn out well. It doesn’t mean being delusional or naïve, but just as we give moments of concern to certain thoughts, we must also take the time to imagine favorable and satisfactory scenarios. At the same time, it implies recognizing opportunity in spite of crisis and considering situations as sources of learning.
  • Being concerned with the here and now. Future-oriented anxiety and past-oriented depression divert us from the time and space in which we can act and be protagonists.

The PERMA model of positive psychology

The model proposed by Seligman includes the following components:

  • Positive emotions: This refers to getting in touch with positive and pleasant emotions such as hope, joy, and gratitude.
  • Engagement is the conjunction between desire and doing. It’s about entering a state that allows us to enter the flow of the present.
  • Relationships focus on the establishment of healthy, respectful, and reciprocal relationships.
  • Meaning is all about being able to give meaning to what we do.
  • Accomplishment is the achievement of results that give us satisfaction and motivate us to move forward. It gives us positive feedback.
Modelo PERMA para la psicología positiva.
The happiness that is sought as an objective with the PERMA model is a personal development towards well-being.

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Positive psychology is not the same as toxic positivity

It’s important to highlight that positive psychology does not promote toxic positivity – that which takes happiness as an uncritical mandate. On the contrary, it promotes working with emotions and with their recognition and management.

People spend a lot of time thinking about how to change their weaknesses but often spend very little time thinking about how to grow from their strengths. This is a good synthesis of what positive psychology promotes.

Happiness is also found in the little things of everyday life. For example, taking a break with a cup of coffee or enjoying a walk with the dog. In this sense, each person comes to know how to identify what’s good for them, since there are no universal recipes for happiness.

Positive emotions are a source of health and well-being – hence the importance of connecting with them. In addition to the fact that there’s a growing body of research on the subject, no one today would question the essential role of attitude and positive thoughts in the recovery of a person after an accident or illness.

Finally, it’s worth noting that positive psychology is not a mere declaration of intentions. It has scientific backing and studies that certify its effectiveness. 

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Contreras, Francoise, & Esguerra, Gustavo. (2006). Psicología positiva: una nueva perspectiva en psicología. Diversitas2(2), 311-319. Recuperado em 26 de maio de 2022, de http://pepsic.bvsalud.org/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1794-99982006000200011&lng=pt&tlng=es.
  • Lupano Perugini, María Laura, & Castro Solano, Alejandro. (2010). PSICOLOGÍA POSITIVA: ANÁLISIS DESDE SU SURGIMIENTO. Ciencias Psicológicas4(1), 43-56. Recuperado en 26 de mayo de 2022, de http://www.scielo.edu.uy/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1688-42212010000100005&lng=es&tlng=es.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.