What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is the scientific study of optimal human functioning, happiness, well-being and success — the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities and organizations to thrive. Traditional psychology’s focus is primarily on a disease model of treating mental illness; positive psychology focuses on a wellness model. What is it that sets apart people who are thriving and flourishing?

Put simply, positive psychology in not about fixing what is wrong with you, it’s about building and enhancing what is right.


In the late 1990s, Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the field's founding fathers, brought positive psychology to the forefront during his time as President of the American Psychology Association.

His PERMA™ theory of well-being suggests that there are five key pathways that enable flourishing:

Positive Emotion – cultivating joy, mindfulness, optimism, gratitude & awe
Engagement – feeling engaged with our world, our activities, our work & our inner strengths
Relationships – establishing & fostering quality relationships
Meaning – finding purpose and meaning
Accomplishment – achieving goals and ambitions

The Flourishing Center, offering the world’s leading positive psychology certification program, updates this model to PERMA-V™, adding in Vitality, as the importance of our physical well-being is paramount in a flourishing life. 

Vitality – getting proper sleep, nutrition & physical activity 

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Positive Psychology Myths

Just as important as what positive psychology is, it is important to understand what it is not:

  • It is not the same as positive thinking or manifesting
    (made popular in the book “The Secret”).
  • It is not a self-help movement; it is a scientific field of study.
  • It is not about being happy all the time; it is about experiencing
    a full range of human emotions.
  • It is not about denying the negatives in life but increasing
    optimism, and in turn, our opportunity.
  • It is not a modality for treating psychological disorders or meant to replace psychotherapy.

What Can Positive Psychology Do for You?

Practices rooted in positive psychology theory aim to increase the quality of our lives and our well-being.  Research shows that increased well-being not only feels good, it leads to:

  • Better work performance and productivity
  • Stronger immune functioning
  • More satisfying relationships
  • Lower levels of burn out
  • More self-regulation and resilience
  • Longer lives, including reduced cardiovascular mortality

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