In the last two posts, we reported on the European Conference on Positive Psychology. We emphasised that Positive Psychology is NOT positive thinking. Positive Psychology is NOT Happiology. It is much more. In his TED Talk, one of the founders of the Positive Psychology movement, Professor Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania, explains what Positive Psychology is and why it is more than Happiology.
Martin Seligman says that until some ten years ago, psychology was about finding what is wrong with you, it was a science of mental illness. Research in the field resulted in our ability to make miserable people less miserable. But we forgot about normal people and improving their lives. This is where Positive Psychology attempts to fill in. So what is Positive Psychology? According to Professor Seligman, it has three aims:
Psychology should be:
- as concerned with strength as with weakness
- as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst
- as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling and with nurturing high talent as with healing pathology.
According to Professor Seligman, there are three happy lives:
- The Pleasant Life: having as many positive emotions as possible
- The Good Life (Engagement): experiencing flow (being one with what you are doing, forgetting time)
- The Meaningful Life: knowing your strengths and using them in the service of something that is larger than you
So life satisfaction is the sum of positive affect, engagement and meaning. But positive affect is the weakest contributor of the three to life satisfaction! Furthermore, extremely happy people differ from less happy people in that they are extremely social – another factor of a positive life.
This means that there are many ways of living a fulfilling life and of obtaining personal well-being. If you don’t experience a lot of positive emotions, you have other options to be satisfied with your life, and these factors seem to be even stronger predictors of well-being than the amount of pleasure in life we experience. There are interventions that help us improve in all three domains of Positive Psychology, so many options of making our lives more fulfilling and helping us flourish. And if this is not positive news, we don’t know what else could be!