Positive psychology is a relatively new and ground-breaking branch of psychology which has emerged over the past 15 years. Unlike traditional psychology, which focuses almost exclusively on pathology, positive psychology instead looks at what makes people happy. It examines the elements which decide whether or not you are satisfied with your life, and how to bring more positive elements into your life. In other words, it’s the scientific study of happiness.
The Five Key Elements
The basic premise of positive psychology is that there are five key areas that influence happiness. The more robust these areas, the happier you are. These areas are:
- Positive emotions: Not just happiness or joy, but inclusive of all positive emotions, from love to awe to excitement or pride. The more positive emotions you experience, the happier you are; the happier you are, the more positive you feel.
- Engagement, or flow: We tend to spend too much time planning for the future and dwelling on the past, rather than being truly connected to what’s going on in the present. The more mindful you are (the more engaged with the people and activities around you), the more likely you are to be happy.
- Relationships: Having positive relationships in your life is essential to your happiness. This is not limited to romance, but all relationships, from close friendships to good interactions with co-workers.
- Meaning: Those who are the happiest also feel that they have a purpose in life.
- Accomplishments: This goes hand-in-hand with meaning. Feeling like you have achieved or are achieving something concrete contributes to your level of happiness. Setting goals is important; even if you don’t achieve them, you can gain meaning from striving for them.
Positivity in Practice
Positivity is more than simply seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty. Putting positive psychology to work for you may mean breaking old habits or changing outworn thought patterns. The good news is that increasing positivity in one area positively affects all the others. The five areas mentioned here are interconnected, and as you build a strong foundation in one area, the others become stronger too.
Building Your Foundation
How do you begin building this foundation?
- Avoid putting yourself in negative situations whenever possible. When you do find yourself in such a position, don’t dwell on it. Do, however, look for the silver lining; even the worst circumstances sometimes have a bright spot.
- Be mindful, and strive to be present and engaged in the moment.
- Reduce external negativity wherever you can, especially in relationships.
- Set goals — and make sure they have meaning for you.
- Don’t despair if you fail to reach those goals; instead, congratulate yourself for having tried at all.