What is positive psychology?

What is positive psychology?

The field of psychology often focuses on abnormal psychology, studying unusual patterns of behavior and psychopathology. But in the last few decades, the interest in positive psychology has grown.

Positive psychology examines the positive aspects of human life, such as fulfillment, well-being and meaning, says Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed, CEAP, RYT, CHC, a life and wellness coach at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. It is considered a complement to, not a replacement for, clinical psychology.

“Positive psychology is important because researchers have been able to show that cultivating certain positive characteristics can improve the quality and length of your life,” he explains. “Positive psychology can help you to grow in your capacity for love, forgiveness and learning, which can help you feel better and live longer.”

Having a more positive outlook can also improve your relationships, leading to increased social support and less isolation.

Applying principles of positive psychology

The field emphasizes meaning, not fleeting positive emotions. You can cultivate positive psychology principles in your life by:

  • Being mindful of your thoughts. “You really have to catch how you are thinking,” says Buttimer. “How you think is going to generate the feeling state you experience, whether it’s positive or negative.”

  • Practicing gratitude. By recognizing and honoring what is going well in your life, you can experience a greater sense of optimism, joy and contentment.

  • Setting positive intentions. Buttimer suggests setting a positive intention about a challenging area in your life, such as your health, relationships or learning a new skill. “Intentions are very meaningful in terms of your happiness level,” he explains.

  • Recognizing your strengths. By paying attention to and strengthening the positive aspects of your character, you can find more meaning and joy in life. Celebrate what makes you “you,” such as having a great sense of humor, being a good listener or showing empathy for others. 

  • Cultivating optimism. Your outlook on life affects everything from your mental state to your relationships. If you have a positive view of your marriage, for example, it is more likely to thrive than if you don’t, says Buttimer.

“I’m seeing more people thrive and even live longer when they refocus their mind on what is positive about their life and cultivate gratitude instead of pessimism,” he says. “If you can find your own positive truth about your life, you’ll likely be better off health- and relationship-wise.”

Learn more ways to reduce stress and improve your well-being.


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