Over the past 11 years, the field of psychology has been on a new mission, one of identifying, researching and teaching the skills that lead to well-being and resilience. Called "Positive Psychology," it's a rapidly growing branch of scientific psychology that studies the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive.

In 1998, Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania was elected President of the American Psychological Association (APA). At the time, Dr. Seligman was famous in the world of research for his work on Learned Helplessness and Optimism. As President of the APA, he designated Positive Psychology as the theme for his term.

In many of his presentations to psychologists and others, Professor Seligman reviewed the field of psychology in the 20th century from a historical perspective. He pointed out that before World War II, psychology espoused three missions: curing mental illness, making the lives of all people more fulfilling, and identifying and nurturing talent and genius. A number of famous psychologists dedicated their work to promising theories of happiness but without the empirical research to support them.

After the war, two events changed the focus of psychology. In 1946, the Veteran's Administration was created, and practicing psychologists found they could make a living treating mental illness. Then in 1947, the National Institute of Mental Health was formed, and academic psychologists discovered they could obtain grants for research on mental illness. Thus, the major, almost exclusive emphasis in psychology was on mental illness. And the effort has been very effective in bringing both greater understanding of psychopathology and many more effective treatments.

A little over a decade ago, however, Professor Seligman believed it was time for psychology to learn what it is that makes life worth living, what helps people bounce back when adversity occurs, what makes their lives more enjoyable and meaningful, what communities and institutions can do to promote well-being. He declared it was time to find what's right in people -- rather than only what's wrong with them.

What has occurred in the period from 1998 until now is nothing short of spectacular. Research is being done on Positive Psychology in just about every corner of the world. The findings are being applied in therapy, coaching, schools, institutions, corporations and communities. So much has been discovered about happiness and its pursuit. Interestingly enough, some of the results have been counterintuitive, that is, they are not what would be expected by most of us.

The field of Positive Psychology holds dear the goal of preparing people to handle all the difficulties and curve balls that life so often throws our way. When Seligman asked one of his heroes, Dr. Jonas Salk, the American biologist and physician famous for the first effective polio vaccine, what he would do if he were a young scientist today, Dr. Salk said, "I would do immunization, but instead of doing it physically, I'd do it psychologically."

Author's Bio: 

Sharon Esonis, Ph.D., has spent the better part of three decades helping individuals live their dreams through her work as a licensed psychologist, life coach and author.

An expert in human behavior and motivation, Dr. Esonis specializes in the burgeoning field of Positive Psychology, the scientific study of optimal human functioning and the core strengths that can lead to the achievement of one's personally-defined goals – what we call "the good life."

Dr. Esonis earned her Bachelor and Masters degrees at Ohio University and her doctoral degree at Boston College. While at BC, she studied under a preeminent psychologist who was renowned in the field of Cognitive Behavior Therapy and was an early proponent of the Positive Psychology movement. Dr. Esonis is licensed in psychology in Arizona and Massachusetts, and in addition to her many years of private practice as a clinician and life coach, she supervised masters and doctoral students in their clinical work at Arizona State University.

She has served as a hospital staff psychologist and has lectured on topics ranging from stress management, meditation and relaxation training to assertiveness and sleep management. Today, her private practice in San Diego is dedicated exclusively to Positive Psychology Coaching.

Her first book, "It's Your Little Red Wagon… 6 Core Strengths for Navigating Your Path to the Good Life," was Dr. Esonis’ initial contribution to the field of Positive Psychology, presenting proven success factors and strength-building techniques that can lead individuals to a life of purpose, motivation and personally-defined happiness.

In "8 Crazy Beliefs That Screw Up Your Life -- Change These Beliefs and Become a Healthier, Happier Person," Dr. Esonis identifies eight “Thematic Belief Systems” that, in her experience as a psychologist and life coach for over 30 years, prevent individuals from building healthy, long-lasting relationships and extracting maximum happiness from life. She examines these “crazy beliefs” with all their negative implications and offers practical, persuasive arguments for why – and how – they can be replaced with healthy alternatives.

Dr. Esonis is a member of the Association for Behavior and Cognitive Therapy (ABCT), the San Diego Professionals Coaches Alliance (SDPCA) and is a Founding Member of the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP).