Too often we focus exclusively on what is wrong with our lives. Positive psychology looks at what is right, and builds from there.
It may seem like an obvious statement to say that at any given time in our lives, we will have things going well and things going not so well. When we are feeling bad and suffering, it can be very tempting to focus only on what we are frustrated about, turning a blind eye to aspects of our lives that are actually functioning decently. While it is important to identify and work to remedy problems, focusing too much on what is negative in our lives actually has the effect of making it bigger and more influential in our day-to-day experience.
There is a story about a wise old man speaking with his grandson about the ongoing battle between the two “wolves” within us, one evil, the other good. “And which one wins?” the grandson asks. “The one you feed,” answers his grandfather.
Mainstream psychology has spent much of the last half-century primarily focused on psychopathology, that is, everything that is wrong with the human psyche. In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, announced that it was time to correct that imbalance by studying everything that goes right when humans are happy, thus giving life to “positive psychology.” As outlined by Keyes and Haidt (2004), here are four of the major aims of Positive Psychology:
As explained by the Positive Psychology Institute, “the field is intended to complement, not to replace traditional psychology. It does not seek to deny the importance of studying how things go wrong, but rather to emphasize the importance of using the scientific method to determine how things go right.”
Positive psychology in psychotherapy and counseling is an approach that focuses on fostering positive emotions, strengths, and well-being in individuals. It goes beyond the traditional focus on pathology and aims to enhance mental health and overall life satisfaction.
Positive psychology interventions can benefit clients by promoting resilience, increasing self-esteem, enhancing positive emotions, cultivating healthy relationships, and improving overall well-being. It helps clients develop a more optimistic outlook and empowers them to leverage their strengths to overcome challenges.
Yes, positive psychology can be effectively integrated with various therapeutic approaches. It can complement approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based therapies, and solution-focused brief therapy. Positive psychology interventions can be tailored to fit within the framework of other approaches to enhance treatment outcomes.
Positive psychology interventions can be beneficial for a wide range of individuals, but they might not be suitable for everyone. Some clients may require a different approach if they are dealing with severe mental health conditions or significant trauma. It is important for therapists to assess each client’s unique needs and tailor the interventions accordingly.
Yes, possibly. And so the key is to find the right balance: work on problems, but don’t let them consume you. And be sure to spend time each day in gratitude for what is working well in your life.