©2018 by the New Zealand Association of Positive Psychology.

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Positive Psychology

"There are two complementary strategies for improving the human condition. One is to relieve what is negative in life; the other is to strengthen what is positive. Mainstream psychology focuses largely on the first strategy; Positive Psychology emphasises the second" - Martin Seligman.

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"Positive psychology is the scientific study of what enables individuals and communities to thrive" - International Positive Psychology Association.

The field of positive psychology was 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. Positive Psychology has three central concerns: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. 

Understanding positive emotions entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Understanding positive individual traits consists of the study of the strengths and virtues, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom. Understanding positive institutions entails the study of the strengths that foster better communities, such as justice, responsibility, civility, parenting, nurturance, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, purpose, and tolerance. 

The diverse range of goals of Positive Psychology include building a science that supports families and schools that allow children to flourish, workplaces that foster satisfaction and high productivity, communities that encourage civic engagement, therapists who identify and nurture their patients' strengths, and the teaching and dissemination of Positive Psychology interventions in organisations and communities.

The best current resource to learn more about positive psychology is the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Centre. If you are new to positive psychology, we suggest reading either Positive Psychology: An Introduction or What (and Why) is Positive Psychology available from the above website. The book A Primer in Positive Psychology by Christopher Peterson is also an easy introduction to the area, as is Kate Hefferon and Ilona Boniwell's Positive psychology: Theory, research and applications. In addition, you can also view a short 23 min video by Martin Seligman on positive psychology on Ted.com

Nine Empirical Research Findings from Positive Psychology Research

  1. Optimistic people are much less likely to die of heart attacks than pessimists, controlling for all known physical risk factors (Giltay et al., 2004). 

  2. Women who display genuine (Duchenne) smiles to the photographer at age eighteen go on to have fewer divorces and more marital satisfaction than those who display fake smiles (Keltner et al., 1999). 

  3. Positive emotion reduces at least some racial biases. For example, although people generally are better at recognizing faces of their own race than faces of other races, putting people in a joyful mood reduces this discrepancy by improving memory for faces of people from other races (Johnson & Fredrickson, 2005). 

  4. Externalities (e.g., weather, money, health, marriage, religion) totaled together account for no more than 15% of the variance in life satisfaction (Diener et al., 1999). 

  5. The pursuit of meaning and engagement are much more predictive of life satisfaction than the pursuit of pleasure (Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2005). 

  6. Self-discipline is twice as good a predictor of high school grades as IQ (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005). 

  7. Happy teenagers go on to earn very substantially more income fifteen years later than less happy teenagers, equating for income, grades, and other obvious factors (Diener et al., 2002). 

  8. How you celebrate good events that happen to your spouse is a better predictor of future love and commitment than how you respond to bad events. (Gable et al., 2004). 

  9. People experience more "flow" at work than at home (Csikszentmihalyi & LeFevre, 1989).

(Above findings provided by Martin Seligman)