[I]n the last ten years, we've seen the beginnings of a science of positive psychology, a science of what makes life worth living.– Martin Seligman
When you think about psychology, what comes to mind? Perhaps a therapist or marriage counselor helping patients work through emotional and relationship issues or a licensed psychiatrist prescribing an antidepressant to a clinically diagnosed patient. Maybe you imagine a cognitive behavioral therapist treating someone's crippling social phobia or post-traumatic stress disorder. Common to all these impressions is this: The focus is predominantly on correcting a negative psychological state and alleviating mental and emotional suffering. Psychology, it would seem, is all about identifying and eliminating mental afflictions, negative emotions, and disruptive, destructive behaviors – attempting through various techniques and medications to bring abnormality back to normality.
But why this preoccupation with negativity? Negative disorders. Negative behaviors. Depression. Anxiety. Phobias and traumas. After all, humans possess many, many strengths – positives. We are curious, creative, brave, kind, and loving – we can actively care. We appreciate integrity, wisdom, gratitude, mindfulness, and fair play. We seek out and celebrate warm, nurturing social relationships; we inspire others and are inspired in return. Plus, we are resilient; we can sustain hope through many trials and tribulations. We genuinely care for the well-being and the safety and health of people who are close to us – even strangers we know nothing about. And within us and for others we have the capacity to activate and nurture these strengths just as a gardener waters seeds and watches them bloom.
The truth is psychology is about both sides of the human condition and fulfilling lives as well as curing people of mental and emotional suffering. As the twenty-first century began, a few researchers sought to revive a genuine, scientific interest in promoting the positive dimensions of psychology. They began foundational work in the domain known today as positive psychology. This is not to say positive psychology suddenly became a new field, bursting out of nowhere. Applied behavioral science (ABS) focused on the application of positive over negative consequences to improve behavior for many years before the evolution of this “new” positive psychology. As a subfield of psychology, positive psychology attempts to identify interventions to support positive psychological growth – emotional fulfillment and happiness.