Positive psychology can be defined as the science of psychological well-being, positive development and happiness. Research in positive psychology involves, for example, how to strengthen mental resources and well-being through a focus on personal strengths, positive emotions, engagement and meaning in life and promoting healthy close relationships and compassion for others. A central idea within the positive psychology movement revolves around building mental resources and life skills, as a complement to treating ill-being. Studies in the growing research field of positive psychology have shown that well-being and positive emotions not only prevent anxiety and mental illness, but also promote creativity, and learning.
Studies show that well-being and positive emotions can be taught through interventions that use applied positive psychology and that these skills can be beneficially taught in schools. Increased well-being can prevent marginalization and help students confront challenges to a greater extent. In addition, increased well-being simplifies the transition into further education. Studies also show that mental resources such as psychological flexibility, self-regulation, and self-efficacy interact with academic emotions and affect academic performance in students in higher education. Positive psychology interventions have further been showed to increase well-being of both children, adolescents and adults.
Peter Seligman identified five individual factors that build our well-being. These factors are independently pursued because they are intrinsically motivating and contribute to our well-being. Moreover, these factors are pursued for their own sake and they can be measured independently of each other.
P = Positive emotions concerns feelings such as joy, enthusiasm, love and happiness.
E = Engagement (engagement) concerns being in the present and being absorbed by an activity. You might experience that a sense of time disappears and that you reach a state of flow.
R = Relationships are important to us to the extent that we need a social context and want to feel loved and supported by others.
M = Meaning concerns a sense of having meaning in life, believing that what we do has a greater meaning than ourselves.
A = Accomplishments regards the feeling we get when we set goals and achieve them. It leads to well-being because we can look at our achievements with a sense of pride.
Our well-being cannot be measured by just one of the factors, but they all contribute to our well-being. But by developing them individually, we have the opportunity to influence our well-being.
Within positive psychology, 24 universal character strengths have been developed that fall under 6 different virtues. These strengths are not the same as abilities or talents that we have but they are positive qualities that are reflected in our thoughts, feelings and behavior.
Everyone has all these character strengths to varying degrees. Some of these strengths are the core strengths, those that exist naturally in you and are your authentic self. Our core strengths give us energy and we use them in various life situations.
'Deploying your highest strengths leads to more positive emotions, to more meaning, to more accomplishments and to better relationships.' (Seligman, 2018, 24)
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues : a handbook and classification. American Psychological Association.
Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish : a visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.
VIA Institute on Character. (22.6.2021). All 24 Character Strengths.