Positive Psychology and the Science of Happiness

Positive Psychology and the Science of Happiness

What is Positive Psychology? If you see this expression you probably have a smiley emoji pop in your mind, and you might think that this scientific field can be the study of positive things, the ones that bring joy and happiness into our lives. To tell you the truth, the whole picture has more to it than an emoji. Let’s see what it really means:

Positive Psychology is a young branch of psychology which focuses on happiness, more precisely on developing methods and on describing behaviours that sustain happiness.

’We believe the psychology of positive human activity during its develepoment will meet scientific understanding and it will mean an effective intervention to enrich individulas, families and communities.” Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defined Positive Pschology (Seligman, Martin E.P., Csíkszentmihályi Mihály (2000.) „Positive Psychology: An Introduction”. American Psychologist)

The beginnings

Several humanist psychologists – Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Erich Fromm – studied and developed theries and practices regarding human happiness. They were the so-called pioneer researchers of positive psychology. (The term positive psychology was coined by Abraham Maslow in his book entitled ’Motivation and Personality’ published in 1954)

In the 1950s a new trend started in the field of psychology saying that the role of science is not only to cure disease but also to help people live a happier life.(Dianne Hales ’An Invitation to Health, Brief: Psychological Well-Being ’2010-2011 Edition)

In 1998 two psychologists, Martin Seligman and Michael Frish started to deal with the topic again. They studied it, led research, gave presentations and held trainings on the subject of positive psychology. (Ben-Shahar, Ben ’Happier – Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment’2007)

Research on Well-being

The positive psychology research does not focus on psychological problems it aims to find patterns which can help every person to reach satisfaction and well-being. It states: human psyche should be determined by its ability for happiness and not by its diseases!

Martin Seligman – father of positive psychology- described the good life as ’a life in which we experience authentic happiness and rich joy every day due to our own strengths’.

Martin Seligman on Positive Psychology


Positive Psychology studies the state of joy and flow, human values, strengths, virtues and talents as well as how these are affected by social systems and institutions.

  1. positive experiences
  2. durable features
  3. positive relationships
  4. positive institutions

Happiness embodies different emotional and mental phenomena. Several studies have developed different systems of evaluation, one of the most famous being Ed Diener’s scale of satisfaction.(Wallis, Claudia. „Science of Happiness: New Research on Mood, Satisfaction”, TIME 2005)

Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist has a very unique approach to defining happiness. He studies the difference between the experiencing Self and the remembering Self.

Daniel Kahneman: The Riddle of Experience vs Memory

Daniel Kahneman (winner of Nobel prize) describes the differences between how the experiencing Self and the remembering Self perceives happiness.

Positive psychology studies three questions

Positive psychology studies three questions: positive emotions, positive individual characteristics and positive institutions. The essence of positive emotions is that the individual is satisfied with his past, he is happy in present and he is hopeful about the future. The individual characteristics mean the strengths and virtues of the individual. Positive institutions make society better on the human community level.

Since its 1998 birth Positive Psycholgy has developed a lot: millions of dollars were invested into research, numerous scientific writings were published, several Master and Phd programmes were launched and it affected a lot of scientific innovations. The International Positive Psychology Association is a recently founded organization which has more than a thousand members in 80 countries.

Reasearchers currently studying Positive Psychology: Martin Seligman, Ed Diener, Csíkszentmihályi Mihály, Christopher Peterson, Carol Dweck, Barbara Fredrickson, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon Sheldon, Jonathan Haidt, Shelley Taylor, C. R. Snyder, Robert Biswas-Diener, Albert Bandura, Charles S. Carver, Robert Emmons, Michael McCullough és Phil Zimbardo.


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