Academically Speaking

“The field of positive psychology at the individual level, is about positive individual traits: the capacity for love and vocational courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high talent and wisdom. At the group level, it is about the civic virtues and the institutions that move individuals toward better citizenship: responsibility, nurturance, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethic.” (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, American Psychologist: 2000)

Martin Seligman, professor at Penn State University, is considered the father of Positive Psychology along with Milaly Csiksztmihalyi and Ray Fowler (Seligman, 2002). The Positive Psychology Center at Penn State, directed by Seligman, is currently engaged in extensive research in areas such as Learned Optimism, Positive Psychology as a treatment for depression, what constitutes a Good Day and what constitutes Positive Interventions. The Positive Psychology Network, directed by Seligman, manages The Positive Emotions Center, The Positive Character Center and other projects including annual summits like the International Summit on Positive Psychology and the Summit on the History of Strengths. (Seligman, Positive Psychology Center, Penn State University)

Dr. Seligman's Penn State University web page, Authentic Happiness, is found at You'll find a list of research projects you can participate in on-line as well as several self-informative questionnaires related to various aspects of compassion and emotion. The site presents Dr. Seligman's updated ideas on Positive Psychology, The Theory Well-Being – PERMA: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Purpose, Accomplishment. His new book Flourish is a discussion on The Theory of Well-Being, and you can hear him speak on the topic at the following link.

Positive Psychology and Mental Health Care

Instead of concentrating on pathology and how to fix an individual, family or group suffering from mental-emotional disturbance, stress and strain, positive psychology focuses on prevention and the enhancement of the strengths and virtues present when the individual or group first seeks help.

( Traditionally, mental health treatment has focused on a diagnostic model and the behaviors, thoughts and attitudes characteristic of a specific diagnosis. Therapy has traditionally centered on the various symptoms, feelings and beliefs bothering the client and the repair work needed to correct the issues. Using traditional ideas, success means the client has fewer and less severe symptoms and is able to be more functional across significant environments: within the family, within the school room, on the job, in social situations.

Positive psychology, acting as a support system for the individual, points to coping skills already developed and encourages the individual to acknowledge positive feelings and beliefs. With positive support, and the idea that optimism can be learned, the client continue to grow and evolve. While diagnosis and care of acute symptoms are important, the client is a positive part of the treatment team and is never criticized or judged. There is a sense of acceptance between the therapist and the client and therapeutic outcomes focus on self efficacy, self-love, an overall sense of well-being and the ability to thrive.

The Impact of Positive Psychology on Our Schools and Work Environments

• Increased production
• Increased loyalty through the development of
positive relationships
• Increased personal energy and health
• Prediction of an increased life-span
• Greater levels of creativity and cognition
• Fewer cases of student or employee depression
• Emphasis on flourishing rather than measuring up

Positive Psychology is part of mindfulness philosophy which encourages us to think and live in a positive, aware and conscious manner and encourages the development of ancient virtues such as wisdom, kindness, courage, love, justice, productivity, and transcendence. American companies like Best Buy and David's Bridal are implementing positive psychology programs for their employees and the Gallop Organization has hosted positive psychology summits. Research shows that businesses emphasizing goal setting as a way of influencing greater productivity are succeeding as are those who emphasize positive employee relationships. Positive approaches foster a higher level of job contentment and a greater degree of company loyalty. Employee stress is reduced, creating an environment where individuals are encouraged to be creative and collaborative. (Building a foundation for Positive Psychology in Schools, Fisher and Shearon, 2006)

Just as positive psychology asks the mental health profession to turn away from the diagnose and fix model, it is asking education to turn away from the fix and blame model we now function within. To do this, school systems begin emphasizing their educational strengths and build upon them rather than try to fix the aspects of their system that are outdated and broken. School faculties are asked to focus on a collective efficiency which strengthens the belief in a group (teachers and students) to succeed. Educators are asked to focus on collaboration and the willingness to accept teaching challenges as well as the idea of the student flourishing rather than the old focus of the student measuring up to set standards. Depression among students is less and students are more likely to achieve when they experience a positive belief system and faculty and staff support. (Building a foundation for Positive Psychology in Schools, Fisher and Shearon, 2006)

Barbara Fredrickson and UNC Chapel Hill's PEP Lab
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has an excellent Positive Psychology research program. Barbara Fredrickson, a professor at UNC Chapel Hill, is principal investigator and director at the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory (PEP Lab). She has identified a "prescription" for attaining balance between our positive and negative feelings, and the amount of each people need to flourish. On average, "we all need at least three positive emotions to lift us up for every negative emotion that drags us down." She says that this "positivity ratio" arose from work she and a colleague published in 2005, and people who are truly in the "flourishing zone" surpass that mark, although most of us clock in at 2 to 1 or even lower. (Lindsay Lyon @

Fredrickson has a positive emotions website where you can track your positive – negative emotions ratio and know how you are doing in the positive thought department. You can find this site at For more information on her work and the science of The Art of Living read her new book Positivity or stop by her Psychology Today blog

How Positive Psychology Influences our Daily Lives
The best news for all of us is “we can learn to be happy.” I'll leave you with some wisdom that Positive Psychology research has documented as true.

Happiness is a cause of the good things in life
rather than the result
Happiness, strength of character, and good social
relationships are buffers against the damaging
effects of disappointments and setbacks.
• Crisis reveals character
• Other people matter if we want to be happy
Religion matters
• Work matters and provides meaning in life
• The heart matters more than the head
• Good days share the following characteristics:
feeling autonomous, competent and connected
to others
• The good life can be taught (Learned Optimism)
(Peterson, Christopher: Psychology Today 2011)

Author's Bio: 

Janet Nestor is a Self-Empowerment Guide, Diplomat in Energy Psychology, and Mental Health Therapist who practices holistically. You can find her Facebook Pathways to Wholeness Mindfulness Discussion page at

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