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Positive Psychology

A closeup of a person laughing with their eyes closed in an outdoor tropical setting

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is “the scientific study of optimal human functioning and what makes life with living (Grenville-Cleave, 2012). Understanding what goes right for everyone is just as vital as knowing what goes wrong or what went wrong. These days we turn on the tv, the radio or look at our social media feeds and see the negative events unfolding around us. It is much more advantageous for us all to focus on positive than negative to help us become the best person, community member or force in the world we can be.

Life is not fair. We have horrible things happen to us all the time whether it be illness, financial stress or just even a really bad day. Positive psychology redirects our thinking and provides the thought that how we deal with it that will either improve our way of thinking or decrease our thoughts to negativity and hopelessness. Which sounds more attractive to you? Leading a healthy, life able to handle negativity or leading a life full of doubt, being stuck, and never-ending thinking there is nothing you can do about your problems.

The PERMA Model

In his book Flourish, Martin Seligman, one of the founding fathers of the positive psychology movement, describes his model (PERMA): Positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments. These five elements, according to Seligman, will provide balance and increase our individual happiness. Without these elements, individuals will witness lack of self-control, material purchases to feel better, social comparisons, pay more attention to negative emotions and finally, believe negative events happen more to them.

Let’s look at ways to achieve “PERMA.” The first element, Positive Emotion, is a happy, safe, comfortable feeling. When we do activities that bring us joy such as helping another person, wearing comfortable clothes or spending time with a special person we notice we become happier and feel more optimistic. This brings about positive emotions such as happiness and joy.

Engagement is somewhat more complicated. It can be explained as “being in the zone.” In order for us to achieve “Engagement”, we will need to have clear goals, have balance, and be actively involved. This recipe for engagement will contribute to our enjoyment of the task and/or activity.

Relationships and Psychology

Research has shown that our connections with others contribute to our physical and mental health. Relationships are very important for our individual growth as well as central to our well being. John Gottman believes that we need a relationship ratio which is 5 to 1 whereas positive psychology founders believe the ratio could be 3 to 1. This ratio means that there should be three times more positive emotion in the relationship than negative emotion. For example, how many times did you tell your child how much you appreciate and care for them compared to how many times you told them negative things such as how you were upset by something they had done? Couples that are in healthy, happy relationships experience five times more than positive emotion than negative emotion, according to Gottman. You can increase the ratio in any relationship by performing acts of kindness, make others feel good, talking positive, responding positively, and keep in touch with your partner, friend, family member by knowing more about them. This builds healthy, happy and strong relationships.

Meaning and purpose are so important to us because these two provide our foundation and direction. Sometimes we discover our purpose through keeping at it and doing various activities or going through life events that bring us closer to what we feel is our purpose. Other times we have a life event that will change our purpose in life. Finally, we learn what our purpose is through our environment and being around others that we admire or decide that is what we would like to do. It helps us be curious about our life, others and about life in general.


Accomplishment means achievement, competence, and success. Remember the last time you set a goal and achieved it? How did you feel? How did it make you feel about yourself? Hopefully, it was a positive emotion that increased your well being in that moment as well as future moments knowing how hard you had worked and were successful. Small goals are much more realistic and easier to obtain. If we make several small goals and work our way up to a bigger goal we feel more confident and satisfied with ourselves rather than making a huge goal that is very difficult to obtain. Cultivating goals can be a very, positive and healthy experience.

So, in short, Positive Psychology is just that. We live and breathe positivity which in turn will help us feel positive about ourselves and the world around us. It is difficult for some to become uncomfortable with positive thoughts, actions or behaviors but remember this is how change can begin. A new, fresh, healthy change that will improve your life.

Grenville-Cleave, B., (2012). Positive Psychology. MJF Books. New York.
Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish. Atria Books.