When picturing a psychologist you may ask yourself, “what exactly do psychologists do?” Often when we think of psychologists we think only of the ones who treat people with mental illnesses. Is this still the case today?  

It was until recently. Then, in the late 1990s, a scholar named Martin Seligman became president of the American Psychological Association (APA), one of the largest psychology associations in the world. Seligman was previously known for his work on the topic of depression, however, during his tenure he began actively promoting an entirely new field: Positive Psychology.  

What is Positive Psychology? Is it just a rebrand of “old” psychology? Not quite. Positive Psychology is not a break from traditional psychology, and it’s certainly not meant to replace it; it’s simply about shifting focus from the negative and asking questions in a new way.

Breaking new ground 

Up until this point in time, psychology had mainly been concerned with treating patients with mental illnesses and those who did not have a mental illness were not a focus for psychologists of the times. Greatly influenced by the Second World War, the goal of psychology was primarily to heal. This worked quite well and as a result, today, many mental illnesses are treatable or even curable. Early psychology laid the groundwork for us to understand concepts that were previously incomprehensible, such as alcoholism.

So, why does Positive Psychology exist when prior psychology was and continues to be successful in treating people? Why is it important? While focusing on mental illnesses and their cures, the beauty and happiness of life weren’t a central focus. In short, by focusing on the negative aspects of life, psychology ignored the positive ones.  

That was until 1998 when Seligman introduced Positive Psychology as a serious direction of study within the field of psychology. With this, he asked an important question: What makes life worth living? 

Fun Fact

The term Positive Psychology existed before Seligman, – American psychologist Maslow, best known for his hierarchy of needs, used it far earlier; but without the field gaining much recognition back then. Sorry, Maslow. To answer this question Seligman and other psychologists began focusing their studies on the positive aspects of the human psyche.  As such, feelings such as gratitude, admiration, and happiness play an important role in Positive Psychology. 

Can anyone join in? Absolutely! Positive Psychology has something for everyone.  

The basis behind Positive Psychology is the assumption that all people want to further develop their positive qualities to benefit society. The goal is to guide people toward happiness and in turn help bring their strengths to the forefront. 

What is happiness? Why are some people happier than others? How can subjective feelings such as happiness and well-being be increased in our lives? Until now, such questions were only posed by philosophers, but now psychologists are asking these questions too.  The key to Positive Psychology is not to ignore the negative things that happen to us but rather to highlight the positive aspects and events of life.   

At the end of the 1990s, Seligman further developed his theories and approaches and in turn, introduced the idea of “flourishing”. This became a central component in Positive Psychology, summarized in the PERMA model.

If there is Positive Psychology does that mean that the other fields of psychology are negative psychology? This is a common misconception and was neither Maslow’s nor Seligman’s intention when introducing the concept; it should be understood as a necessary complement to psychology. 

Sounds interesting? 

We are glad to hear it! Positive Psychology is a core component of Azoa and we have plenty of it. Our experts on this blog are researchers in the field and are looking forward to sharing their knowledge with you on a variety of topics. 

Want to learn more about Azoa or new things about the world of Positive Psychology and surrounding fields? You’re in the right place! From mental strength to nutrition and sleep, topics from every aspect of life are covered. Let’s face it.…a little more happiness and well-being in life never hurt nobody!

With this in mind, stay tuned!