How positive psychology can help you focus on the strengths and virtues that help people thrive, such as courage, gratitude, compassion, resilience, and creativity. 

Most forms of psychotherapy are based on discussing and analyzing negative thoughts and feelings. But some experts say this approach overlooks a larger issue: how to use psychology to emphasize the positive and increase happiness, not just fix problems.

Renewing Courage, Hope & Strength - MasterfileWhile alleviating the symptoms of mental disorders is certainly essential, proponents of this relatively new movement called positive psychology argue that the search for mental health shouldn't end there. As Martin Seligman, Ph.D., one of the leading researchers in positive psychology explains, current treatment aims to bring people from –5 to 0 (on a scale of –5 to +5); ideally, psychology should help us get from 0 to +5. In other words, the absence of mental illness is not the same thing as good mental health.

In recent years, dozens of conferences, seminars, and journal articles have been devoted to this burgeoning field. While positive psychology was developed as a way to develop greater happiness in healthy people, it is now being advocated as a supplement to traditional forms of therapy for those with depression and other mood disorders.

How Positive Psychology Works

Positive psychology involves more than just thinking happy thoughts. It focuses on the strengths and virtues that help people thrive, such as courage, gratitude, compassion, resilience, and creativity. While most therapists attempt to "fix what's wrong," positive psychologists also want to "build what's strong."

Therapists who practice positive psychology help individuals see their strengths and virtues and find ways to foster them. They also help people identify positive experiences and the circumstances that brought them about, as well as encourage behaviors that give life a sense of meaning and purpose. By dwelling on more than just the problem at hand, these techniques can help individuals see the positive impact they can have on their own emotions and the world around them.

Publication Review By: Karen L. Swartz, M.D.

Published: 03 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 21 Aug 2013