Positive psychology

Positive psychology is "the scientific study of what makes life most worth living",[1] or "the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life".[2] Positive psychology is concerned with eudaimonia, "the good life", reflection about what holds the greatest value in life – the factors that contribute the most to a well-lived and fulfilling life.

Positive psychology began as a new domain of psychology in 1998 when Martin Seligman chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association.[3][4][5] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Christopher Peterson and Barbara Fredrickson are regarded as co-initiators of this development.[6] It is a reaction against psycho-analysis and behaviorism, which have focused on "mental illness", meanwhile emphasising maladaptive behavior and negative thinking. It builds further on the humanistic movement, which encouraged an emphasis on happiness, well-being, and positivity, thus creating the foundation for what is now known as positive psychology.[5]

Positive psychologists have suggested a number of ways in which individual happiness may be fostered. Social ties with a spouse, family, friends and wider networks through work, clubs or social organisations are of particular importance, while physical exercise and the practice of meditation may also contribute to happiness. Happiness may rise with increasing financial income, though it may plateau or even fall when no further gains are made.[7]

Definition and basic assumptions


Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi define positive psychology as "... the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life."[2] Christopher Peterson defines positive psychology as "... the scientific study of what makes life most worth living".[1]

Basic concepts

Positive psychology is concerned with eudaimonia, "the good life" or flourishing, living according to what holds the greatest value in life – the factors that contribute the most to a well-lived and fulfilling life. While not attempting a strict definition of the good life, positive psychologists agree that one must live a happy, engaged, and meaningful life in order to experience "the good life". Martin Seligman referred to "the good life" as "using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification".[8] According to Christopher Peterson, "eudaimonia trumps hedonism".[1]

Positive psychology complements, without intending to replace or ignore, the traditional areas of psychology. By emphasizing the study of positive human development this field helps to balance other approaches that focus on disorder, and which may produce only limited understanding.[9] Positive psychology has also placed a significant emphasis on fostering positive self-esteem and self-image, though positive psychologists with a less humanist bent are less likely to focus as intently on the matter. [10]

The basic premise of positive psychology is that human beings are often drawn by the future more than they are driven by the past. A change in our orientation to time can dramatically affect how we think about the nature of happiness. Seligman identified other possible goals: families and schools that allow children to grow, workplaces that aim for satisfaction and high productivity, and teaching others about positive psychology.[11]

Those who practice positive psychology attempt psychological interventions that foster positive attitudes toward one's subjective experiences, individual traits, and life events.[12] The goal is to minimize pathological thoughts that may arise in a hopeless mindset, and to, instead, develop a sense of optimism toward life.[12] Positive psychologists seek to encourage acceptance of one's past, excitement and optimism about one's future experiences, and a sense of contentment and well-being in the present.[13]

Related concepts are happiness, well-being, quality of life, contentment,[14] and meaningful life.

Research topics

According to Seligman and Peterson, positive psychology is concerned with three issues: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Positive emotions are concerned with being content with one's past, being happy in the present and having hope for the future. Positive individual traits focus on one's strengths and virtues. Finally, positive institutions are based on strengths to better a community of people.[11]

According to Peterson, positive psychologists are concerned with four topics: (1) positive experiences, (2) enduring psychological traits, (3) positive relationships, and (4) positive institutions.[9] According to Peterson, topics of interest to researchers in the field are: states of pleasure or flow, values, strengths, virtues, talents, as well as the ways that these can be promoted by social systems and institutions.[15]


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To Martin Seligman, psychology (particularly its positive branch) can investigate and promote realistic ways of fostering more well-being in individuals and communities.


The term positive psychology dates back at least to 1954, when Maslow's first edition of Motivation and personality  was published with a final chapter titled "Toward a Positive Psychology."[16] In the second edition (1970), he removed that chapter, saying in the preface that "a  positive psychology is at least available today though not very widely."[16] There have been indications that psychologists since the 1950s have been increasingly focused on the promotion of mental health rather than merely treating mental illness.[17][18]. From the beginning of psychology, the field has addressed the human experience using the "Disease Model," specifically studying and identifying the dysfunction of an individual.

Positive psychology began as a new area of psychology in 1998 when Martin Seligman chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association.[3][19] In the first sentence of his book Authentic Happiness, Seligman claimed: "for the last half century psychology has been consumed with a single topic only – mental illness",[20] expanding on Maslow's comments.[a] He urged psychologists to continue the earlier missions of psychology of nurturing talent and improving normal life.[22]


The first positive psychology summit took place in 1999. The First International Conference on Positive Psychology took place in 2002.[22] More attention was given by the general public in 2006 when, using the same framework, a course at Harvard University became particularly popular.[23] In June 2009, the First World Congress on Positive Psychology took place at the University of Pennsylvania.[24]

The International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) is a recently established association that has expanded to thousands of members from 80 different countries. The IPPA's missions include: (1) "further the science of positive psychology across the globe and to ensure that the field continues to rest on this science" (2) "work for the effective and responsible application of positive psychology in diverse areas such as organizational psychology, counselling and clinical psychology, business, health, education, and coaching", (3) "foster education and training in the field".[25]

The field of positive psychology today is most advanced in the United States and Western Europe. Even though positive psychology offers a new approach to the study of positive emotions and behavior, the ideas, theories, research, and motivation to study the positive side of human behavior is as old as humanity.[26]


Several humanistic psychologists, most notably Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Erich Fromm, developed theories and practices pertaining to human happiness and flourishing. More recently, positive psychologists have found empirical support for the humanistic theories of flourishing. In addition, positive psychology has moved ahead in a variety of new directions.

In 1984, Diener published his tripartite model of subjective well-being, positing "three distinct but often related components of wellbeing: frequent positive affect, infrequent negative affect, and cognitive evaluations such as life satisfaction".[27] In this model, cognitive, affective and contextual factors contribute to subjective well-being.[28] According to Diener and Suh, subjective well-being is "...based on the idea that how each person thinks and feels about his or her life is important".[29]

Carol Ryff's Six-factor Model of Psychological Well-being was initially published in 1989, and additional testing of its factors was published in 1995. It postulates six factors which are key for well-being, namely self-acceptance, personal growth, purpose in life, environmental mastery, autonomy, and positive relations with others.[30]

According to Corey Keyes, who collaborated with Carol Ryff and uses the term flourishing as a central concept, mental well-being has three components, namely hedonic (c.q. subjective or emotional[31]), psychological, and social well-being.[32] Hedonic well-being concerns emotional aspects of well-being, whereas psychological and social well-being, c.q eudaimonic well-being, concerns skills, abilities, and optimal functioning.[33] This tripartite model of mental well-being has received extensive empirical support across cultures.[33][31][34][35]

Theory and methods

There is no accepted "gold standard" theory in positive psychology, however the work of Seligman is regularly quoted.[36] So too the work of Csikszentmihalyi and older models of well-being, such as Carol Ryff's Six-factor Model of Psychological Well-being and Diener's tripartite model of subjective well-being.

Initial theory: three paths to happiness

In Authentic Happiness (2002) Seligman proposed three kinds of a happy life which can be investigated:[37][36]

  1. Pleasant life: research into the Pleasant Life, or the "life of enjoyment", examines how people optimally experience, forecast, and savor the positive feelings and emotions that are part of normal and healthy living (e.g., relationships, hobbies, interests, entertainment, etc.). Despite the attention given, Martin Seligman says this most transient element of happiness may be the least important.[38]
  2. Good Life: investigation of the beneficial effects of immersion, absorption, and flow, felt by individuals when optimally engaged with their primary activities, is the study of the Good Life, or the "life of engagement". Flow is experienced when there is a positive match between a person's strength and their current task, i.e., when one feels confident of accomplishing a chosen or assigned task.[b]
  3. Meaningful Life: inquiry into the Meaningful Life, or "life of affiliation", questions how individuals derive a positive sense of well-being, belonging, meaning, and purpose from being part of and contributing back to something larger and more permanent than themselves (e.g., nature, social groups, organizations, movements, traditions, belief systems).


In Flourish (2011) Seligman argued that the last category of his proposed three kinds of a happy life, "meaningful life", can be considered as 3 different categories. The resulting acronym is PERMA: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishments.[39] It is a mnemonic for the five elements of Martin Seligman's well-being theory:[36][40]

  • Positive emotions include a wide range of feelings, not just happiness and joy.[41] Included are emotions like excitement, satisfaction, pride and awe, amongst others. These emotions are frequently seen as connected to positive outcomes, such as longer life and healthier social relationships.[42]
  • Engagement refers to involvement in activities that draws and builds upon one's interests. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains true engagement as flow, a state of deep effortless involvement,[39] feeling of intensity that leads to a sense of ecstasy and clarity.[43] The task being done needs to call upon higher skill and be a bit difficult and challenging yet still possible. Engagement involves passion for and concentration on the task at hand and is assessed subjectively as to whether the person engaged was completely absorbed, losing self-consciousness.[41]
  • Relationships are essential in fueling positive emotions[44], whether they are work-related, familial, romantic, or platonic. As Christopher Peterson puts it simply, "Other people matter."[45] Humans receive, share, and spread positivity to others through relationships. They are important not only in bad times, but good times as well. In fact, relationships can be strengthened by reacting to one another positively. It is typical that most positive things take place in the presence of other people.[46]
  • Meaning is also known as purpose, and prompts the question of "why". Discovering and figuring out a clear "why" puts everything into context from work to relationships to other parts of life.[47] Finding meaning is learning that there is something greater than one's self. Despite potential challenges, working with meaning drives people to continue striving for a desirable goal.
  • Accomplishments are the pursuit of success and mastery.[41] Unlike the other parts of PERMA, they are sometimes pursued even when accomplishments do not result in positive emotions, meaning, or relationships. That being noted, accomplishments can activate the other elements of PERMA, such as pride, under positive emotion.[48] Accomplishments can be individual or community-based, fun- or work-based.

Each of the five PERMA elements was selected according to three criteria:

  1. It contributes to well-being.
  2. It is pursued for its own sake.
  3. It is defined and measured independently of the other elements.

Character Strengths and Virtues

The development of the Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) handbook (2004) represented the first attempt by Seligman and Peterson to identify and classify positive psychological traits of human beings. Much like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of general psychology, the CSV provided a theoretical framework to assist in understanding strengths and virtues and for developing practical applications for positive psychology. This manual identified 6 classes of virtues (i.e., "core virtues"), underlying 24 measurable character strengths.[49]

The CSV suggested these 6 virtues have a historical basis in the vast majority of cultures; in addition, these virtues and strengths can lead to increased happiness when built upon. Notwithstanding numerous cautions and caveats, this suggestion of universality hints threefold: 1. The study of positive human qualities broadens the scope of psychological research to include mental wellness, 2. the leaders of the positive psychology movement are challenging moral relativism, suggesting people are "evolutionarily predisposed" toward certain virtues, and 3. virtue has a biological basis.[50]

The organization of the 6 virtues and 24 strengths is as follows:

  1. Wisdom and knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, innovation
  2. Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality, zest
  3. Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
  4. Justice: citizenship, fairness, leadership
  5. Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, humility, prudence, self control
  6. Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality

Recent research challenged the need for 6 virtues. Instead, researchers suggested the 24 strengths are more accurately grouped into just 3 or 4 categories: Intellectual Strengths, Interpersonal Strengths, and Temperance Strengths[51] or alternatively, Interpersonal Strengths, Fortitude, Vitality, and Cautiousness[52] These strengths, and their classifications, have emerged independently elsewhere in literature on values. Paul Thagard described examples; these included Jeff Shrager's workshops to discover the habits of highly creative people.[53] Some research indicates that well-being effects that appear to be due to spirituality are actually better described as due to virtue.[54]


In the 1970s Csikszentmihalyi's began studying flow, a state of absorption where one's abilities are well-matched to the demands at-hand. Flow is characterized by intense concentration, loss of self-awareness, a feeling of being perfectly challenged (neither bored nor overwhelmed), and a sense that "time is flying". Flow is intrinsically rewarding; it can also assist in the achievement of goals (e.g., winning a game) or improving skills (e.g., becoming a better chess player).[55] Anyone can experience flow, in different domains, such as play, creativity, and work. Flow is achieved when the challenge of the situation meets one's personal abilities. A mismatch of challenge for someone of low skills results in a state of anxiety; insufficient challenge for someone highly skilled results in boredom.[55]

Applications and research findings

Research in positive psychology, well-being, eudaimonia and happiness, and the theories of Diener, Ryff, Keyes and Seligman cover a broad range of topics including "the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life".[2] A meta-analysis on 49 studies in 2009 showed that Positive Psychology Interventions (PPI) produced improvements in well-being and lower depression levels, the PPIs studied included writing gratitude letters, learning optimistic thinking, replaying positive life experiences and socializing with others.[56] In a later meta-analysis of 39 studies with 6,139 participants in 2012, the outcomes were positive. Three to six months after a PPI the effects for subjective well-being and psychological well-being were still significant. However the positive effect was weaker than in the 2009 meta analysis, the authors concluded that this was because they only used higher quality studies. The PPIs they considered included counting blessings, kindness practices, making personal goals, showing gratitude and focusing on personal strengths.[57]

Ilona Boniwell, in her book Positive Psychology in a Nutshell, provided the following summary of the current research. Wellbeing is related to optimism, extraversion, social connections (i.e. close friendships), being married, having engaging work, religion or spirituality, leisure, good sleep and exercise, social class (through lifestyle differences and better coping methods) and subjective health (what you think about your health). Wellbeing is not related to age, physical attractiveness, money (once basic needs are met), gender (women are more often depressed but also more often joyful), educational level, having children (although they add meaning to life), moving to a sunnier climate, crime prevention, housing and objective health (what doctors say).[58]

Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book The How Of Happiness, says that to improve happiness individuals should create new habits; they can seek out new emotions, use variety and timing to prevent hedonic adaptation and enlist others to motivate and support during the creation of those new habits.[59] Lyubomirsky gives 12 happiness activities such as savouring life, learning to forgive and living in the present, each of which could become the basis for a new habit.

In Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness, the authors Compton and Hoffman give the "Top Down Predictors" of wellbeing as high self esteem, optimism, self efficacy, a sense of meaning in life and positive relationships with others. The personality traits most associated with well being are extraversion, agreeability and low levels of neuroticism.[60]

In the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, Kreutzer and Mills argue for the principles of positive psychology to be implemented to assist those recovering from traumatic brain injury (TBR). They make the case that TBI rehabilitation practices rely on the betterment of the individual through engaging in everyday practices, a practice significantly related to tenets of positive psychology.[61] Their proposal to connect positive psychology with TBI vocational rehabilitation (VR) also looks at happiness and its correlation with improvements in mental health, including increased confidence and productivity, as well as others.[61] While the authors point out that empirical evidence for positive psychology is limited, they clarify that positive psychology's focus on small successes, optimism and prosocial behaviour is promising for improvements in the social and emotional well-being of TBI patients.[61]


According to Kirk Schneider, positive psychology fails to explain past heinous behaviors such as those perpetrated by the Nazi party, Stalinist marches and Klan gatherings, to identify but a few. Furthermore, Schneider pointed to a body of research showing high positivity correlates with positive illusion, which effectively distorts reality.[62] The extent of the downfall of high positivity (also known as flourishing) is one could become incapable of psychological growth, unable to self-reflect, and tend to hold racial biases. By contrast, negativity, sometimes evidenced in mild to moderate depression, is correlated with less distortion of reality. Therefore, negativity might play an important role within the dynamics of human flourishing. To illustrate, conflict engagement and acknowledgement of appropriate negativity, including certain negative emotions like guilt, might better promote flourishing.[63] Overall, Schneider provided perspective: "perhaps genuine happiness is not something you aim at, but is a by-product of a life well lived – and a life well lived does not settle on the programmed or neatly calibrated."[64] Seligman has acknowledged in his work the point about positive illusion,[65] and is also a critic of merely feeling good about oneself apart from reality and recognises the importance of negativity / dysphoria.[66]

Ian Sample, writing for The Guardian, noted that, "Positive psychologists also stand accused of burying their heads in the sand and ignoring that depressed, even merely unhappy people, have real problems that need dealing with." Sample also quoted Steven Wolin, a clinical psychiatrist at George Washington University, as saying that the study of positive psychology is just a reiteration of older ways of thinking, and that there is not much scientific research to support the efficacy of this method.[67] Gable responds to criticism on their pollyanna view on the world by saying that they are just bringing a balance to a side of psychology that is glaringly understudied.[68] To defend his point, Gable points to the imbalances favouring research into negative psychological wellbeing in cognitive psychology, health psychology, and social psychology.[69]

Barbara S. Held argued that while positive psychology makes contributions to the field of psychology, it has its faults. She offered insight into topics including the negative side effects of positive psychology, negativity within the positive psychology movement, and the current division in the field of psychology caused by differing opinions of psychologists on positive psychology. In addition, she noted the movement's lack of consistency regarding the role of negativity. She also raised issues with the simplistic approach taken by some psychologists in the application of positive psychology. A "one size fits all" approach is arguably not beneficial to the advancement of the field of positive psychology; she suggested a need for individual differences to be incorporated into its application.[70]

Martin Jack has also maintained that positive psychology is not unique in its optimistic approach to looking at optimal emotional wellbeing, stating that other forms of psychology, such as counselling and educational psychology, are also interested in positive human fulfillment. He goes on to mention that, while positive psychology has pushed for schools to be more student-centred and able to foster positive self-images in children, he worries that a lack of focus on self-control may prevent children from making full contributions to society. [71]

See also



  1. ^ Maslow wrote:

    The science of psychology has been far more successful on the negative than on the positive side. It has revealed to us much about man’s shortcomings, his illness, his sins, but little about his potentialities, his virtues, his achievable aspirations, or his full psychological height. It is as if psychology has voluntarily restricted itself to only half its rightful jurisdiction, the darker, meaner half.[21]

  2. ^ See related concepts: Self-efficacy and play.



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Compton, William C. (2005). An Introduction to Positive Psychology. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 978-0-534-64453-6.
Held, Barbara S. (2004). "The Negative Side of Positive Psychology". Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 44 (1): 9–41. doi:10.1177/0022167803259645.
Keyes, Corey L. M. (2002). "The Mental Health Continuum: From Languishing to Flourishing in Life". Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 43 (2): 207–222. doi:10.2307/3090197. ISSN 0022-1465. JSTOR 3090197.
Mills, Ana; Kreutzer, Jeffrey (2016). "Theoretical Applications of Positive Psychology to Vocational Rehabilitation after Traumatic Brain Injury". Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation. 26 (1): 20–31. doi:10.1007/s10926-015-9608-z. ISSN 1573-3688. PMID 26373862.
Peterson, Christopher (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-518833-2.
 ———  (2009). "Positive Psychology". Reclaiming Children and Youth. 18 (2): 3–7. ISSN 1089-5701.
Peterson, Christopher; Seligman, Martin E. P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-516701-6.
Seligman, Martin E. P. (1995). The Optimistic Child. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company.
 ———  (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-0-7432-2297-6.
 ———  (2004). "Can Happiness Be Taught?". Daedalus. 133 (2): 80–87. doi:10.1162/001152604323049424. ISSN 1548-6192.
 ———  (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-1-4391-9076-0.
Seligman, Martin E. P.; Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2000). "Positive Psychology: An Introduction". American Psychologist. 55 (1): 5–14. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/0003-066x.55.1.5. PMID 11392865.

Further reading

Argyle, Michael (2001). The Psychology of Happiness. London: Routledge.
Benard, Bonnie (2004). Resiliency: What We Have Learned. San Francisco: WestEd.
Biswas-Diener, Robert; Diener, Ed; Tamir, Maya (2004). "The Psychology of Subjective Well-Being". Daedalus. 133 (2): 18–25. doi:10.1162/001152604323049352. ISSN 1548-6192.
Dalai Lama; Cutler, Howard C. (1998). The Art of Happiness. New York: Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-1-57322-111-5.
Fromm, Eric (1973). The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. New York: New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 978-0-03-007596-4.
Kahneman, Daniel; Diener, Ed; Schwarz, Norbert, eds. (2003). Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Publications. ISBN 978-0-87154-424-7.
Keyes, Corey L. M.; Haidt, Jonathan, eds. (2003). Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-lived. Washington: American Psychological Association. pp. 275–289. ISBN 978-1-55798-930-7.
Kashdan, Todd (2009). Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-166118-1.
McMahon, Darrin M. (2006). Happiness: A History. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 978-0-87113-886-6.
Robbins, Brent Dean (2008). "What Is the Good life? Positive Psychology and the Renaissance of Humanistic Psychology" (PDF). The Humanistic Psychologist. 36 (2): 96–112. doi:10.1080/08873260802110988. ISSN 1547-3333.
Seligman, Martin (1990). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Free Press.
Snyder, C. R.; Lopez, Shane J. (2001). Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press.
Stebbins, R. A. (2015). Leisure and Positive Psychology: Linking Activities with Positiveness. Houndmills, England: Palgrave Macmillan.
Zagano, Phyllis; Gillespie, C. Kevin (2006). "Ignatian Spirituality and Positive Psychology" (PDF). The Way. 45 (4): 41–58. Retrieved 11 July 2018.

External links

Character Strengths and Virtues

Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) is a book by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman (2004) that attempts

to present a measure of humanist ideals of virtue in an empirical, rigorously scientific manner.

In the same way that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is used to assess and facilitate research on mental disorders, CSV is intended to provide a theoretical framework to assist in developing practical applications for positive psychology.


Confidence has a common meaning of a certainty about handling something, such as work, family, social events, or relationships. Some have ascribed confidence as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. Confidence comes from a latin word fidere' which means "to trust"; therefore, having a self-confidence is having trust in one's self. Arrogance or hubris in this comparison is having unmerited confidence – believing something or someone is capable or correct when they are not. Overconfidence or presumptuousness is excessive belief in someone (or something) succeeding, without any regard for failure. Confidence can be a self-fulfilling prophecy as those without it may fail or not try because they lack it and those with it may succeed because they have it rather than because of an innate ability.

Critical positivity ratio

The critical positivity ratio (also known as the Losada ratio or the Losada line) is a largely discredited concept in positive psychology positing an exact ratio of positive to negative emotions which distinguishes "flourishing" people from "languishing" people. The ratio was proposed by Marcial Losada and psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, who identified a ratio of positive to negative affect of exactly 2.9013 as separating flourishing from languishing individuals in a 2005 paper in American Psychologist. The concept of a critical positivity ratio was widely embraced by both academic psychologists and the lay public; Fredrickson and Losada's paper was cited nearly 1,000 times, and Fredrickson wrote a popular book expounding the concept of "the 3-to-1 ratio that will change your life". Fredrickson wrote: "Just as zero degrees Celsius is a special number in thermodynamics, the 3-to-1 positivity ratio may well be a magic number in human psychology."In 2013, the critical positivity ratio aroused the skepticism of Nick Brown, a graduate student in applied positive psychology, who felt that the paper's mathematical claims underlying the critical positivity ratio were fundamentally flawed. Brown collaborated with physicist Alan Sokal and psychologist Harris Friedman on a re-analysis of the paper's data. They found that Fredrickson and Losada's paper contained "numerous fundamental conceptual and mathematical errors", as did Losada's earlier work on positive psychology, which completely invalidated their claims. Losada declined to respond to the criticism, indicating that he was too busy running his consulting business. Fredrickson wrote a response in which she conceded that the mathematical aspects of the critical positivity ratio were "questionable" and that she had "neither the expertise nor the insight" to defend them, but she maintained that the empirical evidence was solid. Brown and colleagues, whose response was published the next year, maintain that there is no evidence for the critical positivity ratio.In response, American Psychologist formally retracted the mathematical modeling elements of Fredrickson & Losada's paper, including the specific critical positivity ratio of 2.9013, as invalid. The fundamental nature of the mathematical errors, which went unnoticed for years despite the widespread publicity surrounding the critical positivity ratio, contributed to a perception that social psychology as a field lacked scientific soundness and rigorous critical thinking. Sokal later stated: "The main claim made by Fredrickson and Losada is so implausible on its face that some red flags ought to have been raised."

Culture and positive psychology

Cultural differences can interact with positive psychology to create great variation, potentially impacting positive psychology interventions. Culture influences how people seek psychological help, their definitions of social structure, and coping strategies.

Flow (psychology)

In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time.

Named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975, the concept has been widely referred to across a variety of fields (and is particularly well recognized in occupational therapy), though the concept has existed for thousands of years under other names, notably in some Eastern religions, for example Buddhism.The flow state shares many characteristics with hyperfocus. However, hyperfocus is not always described in a positive light. Some examples include spending "too much" time playing video games or watching television and getting side-tracked and pleasurably absorbed by one aspect of an assignment or task to the detriment of the overall assignment. In some cases, hyperfocus can "capture" a person, perhaps causing them to appear unfocused or to start several projects, but complete few.


Gratitude, thankfulness, or gratefulness, from the Latin word gratus ‘pleasing, thankful’, is a feeling of appreciation felt by and/or similar positive response shown by the recipient of kindness, gifts, help, favors, or other types of generosity, towards the giver of such gifts.The experience of gratitude has historically been a focus of several world religions. It has also been a topic of interest to ancient, medieval and modern philosophers, and continues to engage contemporary philosophers.The systematic study of gratitude within psychology only began around the year 2000, possibly because psychology traditionally focused more on understanding distress than on understanding positive emotions. The study of gratitude within psychology has focused on the understanding of the short term experience of the emotion of gratitude (state gratitude), individual differences in how frequently people feel gratitude (trait gratitude), and the relationship between these two aspects.


Happiness is used in the context of mental or emotional states, including positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. It is also used in the context of life satisfaction, subjective well-being, eudaimonia, flourishing and well-being.Since the 1960s, happiness research has been conducted in a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including gerontology, social psychology, clinical and medical research and happiness economics.

Hedonic treadmill

The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.

According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. Brickman and Campbell coined the term in their essay "Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society" (1971). During the late 1990s, the concept was modified by Michael Eysenck, a British psychologist, to become the current "hedonic treadmill theory" which compares the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill, who has to keep walking just to stay in the same place. The concept dates back centuries, to such writers as St. Augustine, cited in Robert Burton's 1621 Anatomy of Melancholy: "A true saying it is, Desire hath no rest, is infinite in itself, endless, and as one calls it, a perpetual rack, or horse-mill."The hedonic (or happiness) set point has gained interest throughout the field of positive psychology where it has been developed and revised further. Given that hedonic adaptation generally demonstrates that a person's long-term happiness is not significantly affected by otherwise impacting events, positive psychology has concerned itself with the discovery of things that can lead to lasting changes in happiness levels.

Imaginary friend

Imaginary friends (also known as pretend friends or invisible friends) are a psychological and social phenomenon where a friendship or other interpersonal relationship takes place in the imagination rather than external physical reality. Although they may seem very real to their creators, children usually understand that their imaginary friends are not real. The first studies focusing on imaginary friends are believed to have been conducted during the 1890s. There is little information about the development and the appearance of imaginary friends in children. However, Klausen and Passman (2007) report that imaginary companions were originally described as being supernatural creatures and spirits that were thought to connect people with their past lives. Adults in early historic times had entities such as household gods and guardian angels, and muses that functioned as imaginary companions to provide comfort, guidance and inspiration for creative work. Eventually the phenomenon of imaginary companions passed on to children. The era when children began having imaginary friends is unknown, but it is possible the phenomenon appeared in the mid–20th century when childhood was emphasized as an important time to play and imagine.

Martin Seligman

Martin Elias Pete Seligman (; born August 12, 1942) is an American psychologist, educator, and author of self-help books. Seligman is a strong promoter within the scientific community of his theories of positive psychology and of well-being. His theory of learned helplessness is popular among scientific and clinical psychologists. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Seligman as the 31st most cited psychologist of the 20th century.Seligman is the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology in the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Psychology. He was previously the Director of the Clinical Training Program in the department, and earlier taught at Cornell University. He is the director of the university's Positive Psychology Center. Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association for 1998. He is the founding editor-in-chief of Prevention and Treatment (the APA electronic journal) and is on the board of advisers of Parents magazine.

Seligman has written about positive psychology topics in books such as The Optimistic Child, Child's Play, Learned Optimism, Authentic Happiness and Flourish. His most recent book, The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist's Journey from Helplessness to Optimism, was published in 2018.

Pleasure principle (psychology)

In Freudian psychoanalysis, the pleasure principle (German: Lustprinzip) is the instinctive seeking of pleasure and avoiding of pain to satisfy biological and psychological needs. Specifically, the pleasure principle is the driving force guiding the id.

Positive psychology in the workplace

Implementing positive psychology in the workplace means creating an environment that is relatively enjoyable and productive. This also means creating a work schedule that does not lead to emotional and physical distress.


Self-acceptance is acceptance of self.


Sisu is a Finnish concept described as stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience, and hardiness and is held by Finns themselves to express their national character. It is generally considered not to have a literal equivalent in English.

Stiff upper lip

A person who is said to have a stiff upper lip displays fortitude and stoicism in the face of adversity, or exercises great self-restraint in the expression of emotion. The phrase is most commonly heard as part of the idiom "keep a stiff upper lip", and has traditionally been used to describe an attribute of British people in remaining resolute and unemotional when faced with adversity. A sign of weakness is trembling of the upper lip, hence the saying keep a stiff upper lip. When a person's upper lip begins to tremble, it is one of the first signs that the person is scared or shaken by experiencing deep emotion.

Subjective well-being

Subjective well-being (SWB) is a self-reported measure of well-being, typically obtained by questionnaire.Ed Diener developed a tripartite model of subjective well-being in 1984, which describes how people experience the quality of their lives and includes both emotional reactions and cognitive judgments. It posits "three distinct but often related components of wellbeing: frequent positive affect, infrequent negative affect, and cognitive evaluations such as life satisfaction."SWB therefore encompasses moods and emotions as well as evaluations of one's satisfaction with general and specific areas of one's life. Concepts encompassed by SWB include happiness.

SWB tends to be stable over time and is strongly related to personality traits. There is evidence that health and SWB may mutually influence each other, as good health tends to be associated with greater happiness, and a number of studies have found that positive emotions and optimism can have a beneficial influence on health.

Temperance (virtue)

Temperance is defined as moderation or voluntary self-restraint. It is typically described in terms of what an individual voluntarily refrains from doing. This includes restraint from retaliation in the form of non-violence and forgiveness, restraint from arrogance in the form of humility and modesty, restraint from excesses such as splurging now in the form of prudence, and restraint from excessive anger or craving for something in the form of calmness and self-control.Temperance has been described as a virtue by religious thinkers, philosophers, and more recently, psychologists, particularly in the positive psychology movement. In classical iconography, the virtue is often depicted as a woman holding two vessels transferring water from one to another. It was one of the cardinal virtues in western thought found in Greek philosophy and Christianity, as well as eastern traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism.

Temperance is one of the six virtues in the positive psychology classification, included with wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, and transcendence. It is generally characterized as the control over excess, and expressed through characteristics such as chastity, modesty, humility, self-regulation, hospitality, decorum, abstinence, forgiveness and mercy; each of these involves restraining an excess of some impulse, such as sexual desire, vanity, or anger.

The term "temperance" can also refer to the abstention from alcohol (teetotalism), especially with reference to the temperance movement.


Well-being, wellbeing, or wellness is the condition of an individual or group. A high level of well-being means that in some sense the individual's or group's condition is positive.

Zest (positive psychology)

In positive psychology, zest is one of the 24 strengths possessed by humanity. As a component of the virtue of courage, zest is defined as living life with a sense of excitement, anticipation, and energy. Approaching life as an adventure; such that one has "motivation in challenging situations or tasks". Zest is essentially a concept of courage, and involves acquiring the motivation to complete challenging situations and tasks. Those who have zest exude enthusiasm, excitement and energy while approaching tasks in life. Hence, the concept of zest involves performing tasks wholeheartedly, whilst also being adventurous, vivacious and energetic. It discourages the focus on the negative views of psychology. It embraces a notion that one must observe people that "live well" in order to truly understand positive psychology. (For example, a Buddhist monk would be a preferred subject of observation compared to a college student.) Zestful people simply enjoy things more than people low in zestfulness. Zest is a positive trait reflecting a person's approach to life with anticipation, energy, enthusiasm and excitement.Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman developed terminology to describe human strengths. They developed a descriptive list of six human virtues (Wisdom and Knowledge, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, and Transcendence) comprising 24 strengths. Zest is one of the four strengths that combine to make up the virtue of courage, as defined by this system.

Basic psychology
Applied psychology

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