What Is Positive Psychology?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on July 19, 2023
2 min read

Positive psychology is a fairly new branch of psychology. Instead of focusing on the study of problems and issues, it focuses on building mental strength and thinking of your mind as your biggest asset. 

Some therapists use positive psychology as a technique to help you spot your strengths and find happiness in everyday life.  

A theory within positive psychology points to several building blocks for wellbeing: 

Positive Emotion. There’s more to this step than the saying “stay positive.” The idea is to try to boost your positive emotions about the different stages of your life. You could remember the good times in your past, enjoy the pleasures of today, and think optimistically about the future. 

Engagement. This refers to when you’re interested and engaged with an activity that’s the right match for your skill set. The satisfaction you get when your task and skills are aligned is called “flow”. You can find it flow through hobbies, work, or anything that aligns with your skills. It’s also described as losing self-awareness or time standing still.

Relationships. People are social creatures who rely on relationships with others. Friendship and family are important and can bring a great deal of happiness into your life. They can also give you a much-needed support system when you’re feeling down. Your relationships can bring purpose and meaning to your life.  

Meaning. A sense of meaning or purpose can be connected to a greater good, whatever that means to you. For some, it can mean religion, politics, community, a sense of fulfillment from your work, or social and environmental causes. 

Accomplishment. To be accomplished means something different to everyone. This building block means pursuing accomplishment for its own sake, or for the pure enjoyment of achieving that reward. 

Positive thinking and optimism may be linked to benefits like: 

  • More satisfying relationships
  • Better overall health 
  • Sounder sleep
  • Lower risk of a heart attack
  • More self-control
  • Doing better at work

These links are just links, though. Thinking positively doesn’t guarantee you’ll get all of these perks. We need more research on positive psychology to get a better sense of what benefits it might have.

There are limits to the power of optimism and positive thinking. Some people who believe that practicing positive psychology can help them overcome their illnesses could end up feeling emotional distress or blaming themselves if their health condition doesn’t get better. 

Show Sources


‌GoodTherapy: “Positive Psychology.”

‌Positive psychology: “What is Positive Psychology? A Definition + 3 Levels of Positive Psychology.” 

Positive Psychology Center: “PERMA Theory of Well-Being and PERMA Workshops.” 

‌St. Joseph’s College: “The History of Positive Psychology: Truth Be Told.” 

Science of Story: “History of Positive Psychology.”

Mayo Clinic: “Mayo Clinic Minute: How positivity helps your heart.”

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