Positive psychology is one of the most recent trends of psychology, and it is not surprising that it has generated a lot of interest. It is based on the study of the experiences and positive traits of individuals, as well as their strengths, virtues, motivations and abilities; how these contribute to improving their quality of life and developing human potential.
Psychological theories generally focus on pathologies and negative behaviors. In contrast, positive psychology offers strategies for reaching and optimizing people’s strengths. Thus, he proposes to focus more on prevention than on treatment.
Below we will see in detail what are the foundations of positive psychology, How it appeared and what objectives it proposes.
This is how positive psychology appeared
The antecedents of positive psychology can be traced back to the 1920s and 1930s in the work of Terman and Watson, who already mentioned some important concepts and topics such as student talent, childcare, and psychological factors involved in marital happiness.
Before World War II, psychologists focused on actions that helped make individuals’ lives more productive and better. they identified and strengthened the talents and strengths of patients to deal with various situations.
However, in the aftermath of the war, the general approach of psychology was changed to focus on assessing mental disorders and attempting to alleviate human suffering. In opposition to this pathology-centric trend, authors such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow in the humanist stream worked on certain ideas of human strength and happiness, setting a precedent from which positive psychology would emerge later.
In the late 1990s, Martin Seligman, an American psychologist and educator, decided to reverse the dominant approach and presented his proposal for positive psychology for the first time at the ceremony in which he was appointed president of the The American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 1998. At this stage, many researchers have focused their work on studying the psychological potential of humans.
Positive flows, forces and emotions
Another important author is Mihaly CsikszentmihalyiA Hungarian psychologist who proposed the term “flow” as a positive mental state also studied the factors that contribute to the motivation, challenge and success of individuals.
One of the key elements of the theory is temperament, as it is considered to be one of the most important predictors of the levels of positive experiences a person will experience. There are also the strengths of character, Which are psychological traits or characteristics that arise in different situations over time and their consequences are generally positive. Some are: optimism, interpersonal skills, faith, ethical work, hope, honesty, persistence and the ability to move.
In addition, positive psychology a categorization of positive emotions has been made, Depending on the time in which they are visualized: in the present they are joy, tranquility, euphoria, pleasure and optimal experience; those of the past are satisfaction, complacency, personal development, pride and serenity; and in the future there is optimism, hope, faith and confidence.
There is currently a lot of evidence that positive emotions promote individual health, personal growth, and well-being. They increase the intellectual, physical and social resources of people so that they can react in the best way when unexpected or difficult situations arise.
The conquest of happiness, according to Seligman
On the other hand, Seligman proposed the model “The three paths to happiness” (1999) which were:
- A pleasant life
- Committed life
- An important life
Several years later, he modifies his proposal a little and creates the PERMA model (For its acronym in English), with the 5 components that are present in people who say they are happy. With this, he changed his object of study, from happiness to well-being. Each element must meet 3 properties to be considered in the theory:
- It contributes to well-being.
- Let a lot of people choose it for their own good, not just to get one of the other variables.
- That it be defined and measured independently of the other variables of the model.
Here are the components:
1. Positive emotions
Recognize the benefits of positive emotions in all aspects of an individual’s life.
Commit to ourselves, focus on our strengths and seek to live optimal experiences. Generation of pleasure derived from the commitment to efficient work and the ability to experience flow.
3. Positive relationships
Increase our social skills to interact with other people.
Find the meaning, meaning and purpose of our life.
Personal agency that enables the growth and development of human capacities.
Another theory of positive psychology is the theory of flows, proposed by Csikszentmihalyi. Flow, in simple terms, is the state in which the person devotes himself entirely to a pleasure activityEverything flows and time flies. This usually happens when a balance is struck between the challenges posed by the task and the individual’s skills to solve it.
Barbara Fredrickson and enlargement – Construction proposal
Another theory is the Extension – Construction proposal, by Dra. Barbara fredrickson, Social psychologist. The main idea is that positive emotions cause changes in cognitive activity, expand possibilities for action and improve physical resources. According to this model, there are 3 sequential effects of positive emotions:
- extension: They expand the tendencies of thought and action.
- construction: The construction of personal resources to face difficult or problematic situations is favored.
- transformation: The individual becomes more creative, shows a deeper knowledge of situations, is more resilient to difficulties and better integrated socially. An upward spiral is reached which leads to the experimentation of new positive emotions.
This new experimentation based on positive psychology increases personal resources, which can be used in a variety of contexts and under other emotional states. Traditional models of psychology, focusing on negative emotions, deal with how negative emotions function to activate basic defense mechanisms for survival. Instead, this pattern exhibits positive emotions like personal growth engines and building up different thoughts and actions, which can be used depending on the current situation.
Its use as a psychological intervention
The main fields of application of the proposal are clinical, health and educational. In the field of clinic and health, what is sought after is the generation of strategies for the prevention and treatment of problems resulting from negative emotions, mainly depression, stress and anxiety. It is proven that patients with emotional and anxiety disorders perform less well with daily tasks and have much more difficulty solving problems. The aim is to promote positive emotions to create a barrier against psychological disorders.
Within education, it focuses on the extrinsic motivation of students, Academic motivation, generation and optimization of strengths. This encourages students to react to the situations they are confronted with. In addition, in institutions that promote the achievement of goals for rewards, they increase motivation and reduce conflicting attitudes of children and young people.
currently it is starting to be implemented in the organizational area; the objective is to provide tools to generate strategies to improve the working environment and therefore the efficiency of processes and greater productivity for some of the employees.
And to learn more about positive psychology …
Here are some recommendations of books whose main theme revolves around positive psychology:
“Flow”: a psychology of happiness, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
“True Happiness”, by Martin EP Seligman.
“The science of well-being: foundations of a positive psychology”, by Carmelo Vázquez and Gonzalo Hervás.
“Intelligent Optimism: The Psychology of Positive Emotions”, several authors.
“Overcoming Adversity: The Power of Resilience”, by Luis Rojas Marcos.
“Flowing in Business”, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
“Is Your Cube Full? Strategies to Stimulate Your Positive Emotions”, by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton.
“Positive psychology: the scientific and practical explorations of human forces”, several authors.
“The Science of Happiness”, by Sonja Lyubomirsky.
“The uselessness of suffering”, by Maria Jesús Àlaba Reis.
“The Flowering Life”, by Martin EP Seligman.
“Psychologically speaking”, several authors.
“The Happiness Trap”, by Russ Harris.
“Habits of a Happy Brain,” by Loretta Graziano.
“Positive Psychology: The Awareness of Happiness”, by Alan Carr.