What is Positive Psychology?

Positive Psychology focuses on how to improve quality of life and optimal individual functioning, in order to create personal and social change. Whereas traditional psychology typically focuses on people's social-emotional difficulties and seeks to alleviate their psychological symptoms and suffering, Positive Psychology goes beyond alleviation of symptoms by promoting self-realization, human happiness, fulfillment and a sense of meaning.


With roots in Maslow’s and Rogers’ Humanistic Psychology in the 1950’s and 60’s, the positive psychology approach has significantly developed over the past decade, emphasizing optimal human functioning. A major turning point was in 1998, when the head of the American Psychological Association at the time, Dr. Martin Seligman, announced the establishment of the new field of research in psychology, which he called Positive Psychology.


Like the humanistic psychology at the time, positive psychology focuses on human growth, emphasizing the importance of having a sense of meaning and satisfaction in life. It is based on the belief that people naturally aspire to live meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. Positive psychology focuses on three central themes:

​Positive emotions focuses on contentment with the past, happiness in the present,
and hope for the future.
​2. Positive individual traits refers to people's strengths, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom.
​3. Positive institutions looks at the strengths that foster better communities, such as justice, responsibility, good parenting, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, purpose, and tolerance.
Recommended Reading
Ben-Shahar, T. (2007). Happier: Learn the secrets to daily joy and lasting fulfillment. New York: McGraw Hill
Csikszentmihalyi, C. (1999). If We Are So Rich Why Aren’t We Happy? American Psychologist, 821-827.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology: The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.
Gable, S. L. & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and Why) Is Positive Psychology? Review of General Psychology, 9, 103-110
Seligman, M. E. P. & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive Psychology. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14.
Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N. & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.


Toward a Psychology of Being by Abraham Maslow

A Primer in Positive Psychology by Christopher Peterson

Handbook of Positive Psychology by Charles Snyder and Shane Lopez

Happiness by Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener

Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson

Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman

Flourish by Martin Seligman

Mindfulness by Ellen Langer

The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte

Pygmalion in the Classroom by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson

Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Tal Ben-Shahar