In 2000 Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi summed up this new field of psychology: “We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise that achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving in individuals, families, and communities.” Psychologists in this field strive to find and nurture talent, and to make life more fulfilling, not to simply treat mental illnes and people with problems. To help people be happy. This approach has created a lot of interest around the subject, and in 2006 a course at Harvard University entitled “Positive Psychology” became the most popular course that semester.
Martin Seligman – who is considered the father of the modern psychology movement – chose it as a theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association in 1998 and new field of psychology began in the from of positive psychology, though the term originates with Abraham Maslow, in his book Motivation and Personality. Seligman pointed out that for the half century clinical psychology “has been consumed by a single topic only – mental illness”, echoing Maslow’s comments. Seligman urged psychologists to continue the earlier endeavours of psychology of nurturing talent and improving normal life.
Positive Psychology can be categorised into three overlapping areas of research:
- Research into the Pleasant Life, or the “life of enjoyment”, examines how people optimally experience, forecast, and savour the positive feelings and emotions that are part of normal and healthy living (e.g. relationships, hobbies, interests, entertainment, etc.).
- The study of the Good Life, or the “life of engagement”, investigates the beneficial affects of immersion, absorption, and flow that individuals feel when optimally engaged with their primary activities. These states are experienced when there is a positive match between a person’s strength and the task they are doing, i.e. when they feel confident that they can accomplish the tasks they face.
- Inquiry into the Meaningful Life, or “life of affiliation”, questions how individuals derive a positive sense of well-being, belonging, meaning, and purpose from being part of and contributing back to something larger and more permanent than themselves (e.g. nature, social groups, organizations, movements, traditions, belief systems).
These categories appear to be neither widely disputed nor adopted by researchers across the 12 years that this academic area has been in existence.