Positive psychology is defined in many different ways. The Positive Psychology Institute describes it as the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The positive psychology movement was started by Martin Seligman, also known as the father of positive psychology. Psychology has mainly been focused around treating mental illnesses, however psychology was not really used to help improve the lives of the people who aren’t affected by mental illness and that is what made Seligman and a group of others work on positive psychology.
The main goal of the positive psychology movement was to make psychology focused on not just weakness, but strength and how to make normal life more fulfilling. There are three different types of happiness one can experience. The pleasant life, having as much positive emotion as possible, the life of engagement, in which time stops for you when you are doing what you enjoy and the meaningful life, using your strengths for a bigger cause.
The first type of happiness, the pleasant life, is about seeking happiness with the senses and experiencing as much pleasure as possible, such as having a good meal, going on a fun vacation or buying a new car. It is basically trying to have as many positive experiences as you can. However, there are a couple of setbacks to the pleasant life. One is that positive emotion is 50 percent heritable and not very modifiable. Everyone comes from different walks of life, thus giving them different ideas of happiness and different ways of experiencing happiness, some being able to experience more than others.
Another setback is that positive emotions tend to habituate fairly quickly. For example, someone may have just gotten a new crazy high definition 3D TV, they are very happy with it at first, but after a while they just stop feeling so impressed and just view it as any other TV. The second type of happiness is the life of engagement, also known as the good life.
This life is all about finding your “flow”. Flow is a feeling someone gets when they are absorbed in their own worth. For example, if swimming is someone’s passion, while they are doing laps around the pool, they may feel like time has stopped for them and that they are completely focused on what they are doing and nothing else. The final type of happiness is the meaningful life. The meaningful life is knowing your strengths and using them to contribute to something larger than yourself. It is feeling like your life has a purpose, like you are working toward fulfilling your destiny. Martin Seligman started the positive psychology movement because he felt psychology was focused on treating mental illnesses and the negative side of psychology when in reality it is just as important to help people with and without mental illnesses to find happiness. Positive psychology focuses on people’s strengths rather than their weaknesses.