What is Positive Psychology?

“The scientific study of human flourishing and an applied approach to optimal functioning… the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities and organisations to thrive”

Positive Psychology Institute

The theory and science of positive psychology supposes that human strengths act as buffers against mental illness. it shifts the focus from what is clinically wrong to the promotion of wellbeing and the creation of a satisfying life filled with meaning, pleasure and accomplishment.

What Positive Psychology is not

  • Positive thinking (a branch of popular psychology relating to personal development)
  • A “quick fix” or band-aid solution to life’s challenges
  • “Putting it out to the universe” (The Secret)
  • Being happy all of the time
  • Having an easy life


Let’s do a “back of the napkin” assessment:

How happy are you right now in life?

What would you pay / give / do / sacrifice / commit to in order to be, on average, one point happier?

10 – Extremely happy

9 –   Very happy

8 –   Pretty happy

7 –   Mildly happy

6 –   Slightly happy

5 –   Neutral

4 –   Slightly unhappy

3 –   Mildly unhappy

2 –   Pretty unhappy

1 –   Very unhappy

0 –   Extremely unhappy

What is mental health?

Having good mental health is not the same as being happy. Mental health is defined as:

“…a state of wellbeing in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community”

World Health Organisation

Mental health is something we all have, to a greater or lesser degree. Depending on our genetics and what happens to us in life, we shift back and forth along a continuum of wellness. The science of Positive Psychology aims to promote human flourishing, not just an absence of mental illness.

Professor Martin Seligman conceptualised the PERMA Positive Psychology framework in his theory of Authentic Happiness which asserts that there are 3 pathways to “the good life” or positive mental health and wellbeing:

David Lykken, from the University of Minnesota, studied the role of genes in determining satisfaction in life. He gathered information on 4000 sets of twins and found that about 50% of one’s satisfaction with life comes from genetic predisposition (Lykken & Tellegen, 1996). However, neuroscientists have learnt that the brain is highly plastic and can rewire and change itself in response to life experiences. We have a large amount to work with to improve our wellbeing and happiness.

Happiness drivers