Positive psychology is a new branch of psychology that just recently emerged in 1998, being founded by psychologist Martin Seligman. According to Seligman, psychology has focused too much on just mental diseases and what is wrong with people and has forgotten about “improving normal lives and high talent.” Positive psychology different from traditional psychology because instead of looking at the negatives, it looks at the positives (hence the name.)
Positive psychology focuses on three specific things. The first is being concerned with people's strengths as opposed to their weaknesses, the second is trying to build and improve people's lives instead of just trying to focusing on and fixing the negatives, and trying to make the lives of normal people just overall happier. Positive psychology also focuses on asking the question, “What make extremely happy people happy?” There was a correlation found between people that were very happy and people that were very social and people that were in a romantic relationship. While those are only correlations, Martin Seligman describes three specific “happy lives” that can be achieved.
The first happy life is called “the pleasant life.” In the pleasant life, one would have as much positive emotion and pleasures as possible. There are three known drawbacks to “the pleasant life.” The first drawback is that the experience of positive emotion appears to be 50% heritable and not very modifiable. The second is that the positive emotion tends to habituate, and the third is that it does not have the ability to go through adaptive change. The second life, called “the good life,” is a life built on being engaged in one thing or another that is thoroughly enjoyed such as a job, an activity, etc. to the point where one experiences something called “flow.” Flow is different from pleasure as pleasure can be felt and noticed. Pleasure is something that is tangible and can be identified, while flow can not be felt. Flow is something that makes “time seem to stop,” when you're immersed in extreme concentration. In order to achieve “the good life,” one must know what their highest strengths are, and then reforming their life in order to utilize their highest strengths as much as possible. The third life, called “the meaningful life,”is similar to “the good life” in that one must again realize where their highest strengths are. However, where in “the good life” these strengths were used for personal reasons, in “the meaningful life,” one must utilize those high strengths to service something “larger than themselves” such as a charity or another great cause.
To see if there are any things that can make long-term and positive changes to those lives. Martin Seligman believes that there are things that can do just that, proven by random assignment, placebo controlled, long term studies that seem to prove that specific things can make people both happier and less depressed. Studies have also been done to see which of the lives seems to have the largest impact on people. The results seem to say that the pursuit of pleasure has the least impact, and both engagement and meaning have a large impact. Seligman states that pleasure will matter the most where both engagement and meaning are present.