The Science of Positive Psychology and Its Influence on Health

Positive psychology aims to understand human strengths and virtues like hope, humility, creativity, courage, spirituality and responsibility. While acknowledging negative emotions or experiences as legitimate ones, positive psychology offers another viewpoint on them.

Research has established that psychological health assets, including positive emotions, life satisfaction, optimism, positive relationships and sense of purpose, are directly associated with improved physical health.

1. Positive Psychology is a Science

Positive psychology seeks to understand how people can thrive and flourish through topics such as character strengths, optimism, well-being, flow, gratitude, compassion (including self-compassion) and hope.

Psychology for years focused exclusively on human suffering and mental illness. Though considerable progress was made in understanding and treating psychological disorders, this narrow view left psychologists without much to contribute to our collective discussion about what makes life worthwhile.

Positive psychology is founded on the principle that people desire more than just an end to suffering; their goal should be enhancing what makes life worthwhile. This philosophy has led to changes in research questions being asked by psychologists; instead of psychoanalysis or behaviorism-oriented inquiries, positive psychology researchers now inquire more into people’s best virtues and aspirations instead of any depravities they identify in them. While this new approach has its detractors — Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Bright-Sided as just one example — its proponents often don’t see eye-to-eye with its new approach despite being an innovator herself in her field of positive psychology research questions being asked by researchers about people rather than depravities they commit.

2. Positive Psychology is a Practice

Though progress has been made in treating psychological damage and alleviating suffering, positive psychology emphasizes what makes life worth living, builds upon our strengths, and promotes flourishing individuals and communities.

Positive psychology has received criticisms over its focus on strengths rather than weaknesses or deficits, its preference of happiness over other emotions, and its use of self-report data as its primary measure. Yet more research is being conducted into its effectiveness across diverse clinical settings and population groups.

Researchers are also engaging with healthcare providers to promote the integration of positive psychology into daily healthcare practices, such as including gratitude practice and other positive psychology activities into clinical care routines, while also training providers how to incorporate these interventions in treatment plans for maximum holistic benefits to physical, mental, and social well-being.

3. Positive Psychology is a Way of Life

Positive psychology differs from traditional psychological approaches in that it focuses on what’s working well in your life, helping identify character strengths and virtues while teaching you how to leverage those characteristics to increase well-being.

PERMA (positive emotions, relationships, meaning and achievement) models serve as the cornerstone of much of positive psychology research and interventions. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was one of the early proponents of positive psychology and one of its founding fathers; his study of flow led to a novel theory of happiness which goes beyond traditional hedonic theories to focus on engaging in activities which provide meaning in life rather than simply enjoying physical pleasures.

Studies demonstrate that individuals living meaningful lives tend to enjoy better health, less depression and anxiety. They’re better able to overcome adversity and manage stressful or negative emotions when they arise; our programs emphasize cultivating character strengths and virtues for a more fulfilling existence.

4. Positive Psychology is a Mindset

Though psychology has made great strides in understanding, treating, and even preventing psychological disorders like depression and anxiety, positive psychology provides a way for us to discover meaning in life by exploring what makes life worth living while healing any psychological damage that may exist.

Practitioners of Positive Psychology promote self-growth and well-being by looking at character strengths, gratitude, compassion (including self-compassion), hope, optimism, resilience and optimism. Some critics, however, claim that its focus on individual well-being can lead to victim-blaming or excuse those responsible for systemic problems such as economic inequality or war.

Researchers have also raised concerns over “toxic positivity”, where individuals become preoccupied with positive thinking to the exclusion of unpleasant emotions like anger and sadness; this may result in people suppressing or denying natural emotional reactions such as these which could potentially have long-term physical health implications. Yet positive psychology does have the power to affect health positively despite criticism.

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