Positive Psychology and Happiness

Positive psychology can be defined as focusing on what is right with people as opposed to focusing on what is wrong, or negative.  In the opinion of positive psychologist, there are three paths to happiness: pleasurable life (enjoyment), engagement (good life) where we face challenges, and meaning (affiliation), where we service others.  Some quotes from the pioneers of positive psychology: The good life is a process, not a state of being.  It is a direction, not a destination – Carl Rogers, and One’s only rival is one’s own potentialities. One’s only failure is to live up to one’s own possibilities.  In this sense, every man can be king, and must therefore be treated like a king – Abraham Maslow.  Don’t look back, focus on your strengths and solutions, not the problems, and build on things from there.

What is positive psychology?

In it’s simplest form, the term means focusing on what is right with people rather than on what is wrong with them.

The field of psychology, and psychologists alike, have been criticized for many years for focusing mainly on mental illness and disorders rather than on the mental health or wellness of people. Positive psychology has answered that criticism as it has centered on a person’s strengths and virtues.

As described by the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania:

“This field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.”

It’s easy to see what all of this has to do with happiness.

According to Positive Psychologists, there are three paths to happiness:

A Pleasurable Life (or Enjoyment): This is what we encounter when we engage in pleasurable activities like purchasing new things, enjoying time with our family, breaking bread with those we hold dearly, or going on vacation.

A Life of Engagement (or Good Life): When we understand and use our personal resources, gifts, and talents in everyday life. This comes through deep engagement in any goings-on that one finds challenging and rewarding. This could be found in one’s work, leisure, or family life. When we experience this immersion and interest, we are in flow – a consuming mental state when we’re fully immersed in what we’re doing; we’re energized, focused, fully involved, and committed to the success of a project.

A Life of Meaning (or Affiliation): When we use our strengths and virtues for something greater than one’s own self. This comes from being of service to others. It may consist of focusing one’s attention on his family, volunteer activities, or one’s career.

As a person moves from he Good Life to Affiliation, his/her sense of satisfaction and fulfillment enlarges.

How can we make this simpler? Try these 3 simple equations:

Positive Emotions = Enjoyment

Using Your Strengths To Meet a Challenge = Engaged

Serving Others = Meaning

These concepts certainly aren’t new, but they are relatively refreshing and innovative to the field of psychology. As a matter of fact, three “humanistic” psychologists are recognized as having pioneered the current positive psychology field:

Abraham Maslow:

“One’s only rival is one’s own potentialities. One’s
only failure is failing to live up to one’s own possibilities. In this
sense, every man can be a king, and must therefore be treated like a
king.”

Carl Rogers:

The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination.”

Erich Fromm:

“As long as anyone believes that his ideal and purpose is outside him, that it is above the clouds, in the past or in the future, he will go outside himself and seek fulfillment where it cannot be found. He will look for solutions and answers at every point except where they can be found–in himself.”

So what simple lessons can we learn from positive psychology?

  • Don’t look back – Start where you are today.
  • Focus on your strengths and solutions, not the problems.
  • Build on things from there.

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