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What is positive psychology and does it actually work?

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Positive psychology is the study of optimal experiences and positive functioning in humans, groups and institutions across different situations, roles and environments.

While positive psychology has been described in different ways and words, a commonly accepted definition of the discipline should read as:

Positive psychology is the scientific study of human thoughts and feelings, which focuses on strength instead of weakness,to take the lives of all people to new heights.

Is positive psychology proven?

It definitely works, as positive psychology works on the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies and your own beliefs and principles that can influence your behavior and shape your life. For example, if your aim in life is to succeed, then you are likely to take only those actions which can contribute to your success.

Positive psychologists believe that identifying the character strengths of a person, such as courage ,justice and others ,are the first important steps on the path of leading a good and meaningful life.

Positive psychology can also be used to strengthen relationships at home, school and also by leaders and supervisors to help create a better working environment.

Benefits of positive psychology

While positive psychology is not a one-size-fits all cure, positive thinking has shown some tangible benefits.

Positive thinking can induce better coping skills that can lead to better physical health by decreasing the harmful effects of stress from the body

Simple techniques like practicing gratitude can boost both social and emotional well-being as a growing body of studies reveal about the research of the complex relationship between gratitude and health.

Positive psychology has also shown benefits to developing certain character strengths and positive emotions and instill a sense of purpose that could eventually lead to positive life outcomes.

This can lead to reduced stress levels, a positive mindset and an optimistic outlook that can improve overall health, happiness and success.

Research in the field of positive psychology has discovered that people who have a purpose in life tend to live longer. Additionally, their immune system is better and they have control over factors relating to lifestyle, personality and longevity (Schippers.2017).

Some key takeaways of positive psychology on the influence on events in life include;

  • Applying positive principles within institutions and organizations
  • Impart positive experiences like inspiration, joy and love
  • Develop positive traits like gratitude, compassion and resilience

When it is not useful

The interventions and conceptions of positive psychology are limited by cultural diversity, in as much they are often rooted in Western values which may not be applicable to different social contexts and cultures. This is evidenced by the field being predominantly U.S based and popular through online platforms.

Critics further argue that this unrealistic approach to well-being has an influence on the historic and socioeconomic factors of human psychology.

Further they say that there should be a better holistic approach to well-being which should incorporate social justice and improve the ability of the individual to thrive.

  •  Overemphasis on positivity

Positive psychology critics aver that the field fails to address the emotional and mental health concerns adequately by focusing only on positive traits and experiences and neglecting mental health issues like depression, trauma and anxiety.

They consider negative emotions just as important as the positive emotions,but positive psychology has overlooked this important aspect.

  • Lack of diversity in studies

One valid criticism of positive psychology is that there is little diversity in the field of research,both in the individuals who conducted the research as well as the participants involved in the study.

Moreover, critics further argue that positive psychology does not take into account the experience of the people involved with regards to cultural background, socioeconomic status and gender identities.

  • Relies only on self-report measures

On the other hand,critics of positive psychology argue that it makes false claims and exaggerates findings e.g. extending the longevity of terminal cancer patients and labels it as a pseudoscience.

Creating such unrealistic expectations can have a negative impact on the individuals and make them feel guilty or inadequate by mistakenly believing that they should always be happy.

The discipline also faces challenges with respect to confirmation bias and poor replication and transparency to support its scientific findings.

  • Lacks in critical analysis

Finally critics are of the opinion that the field does not do any critical analysis of its own theories and assumptions and a thorough critical self-examination can only be the answer to improve the quality of research in positive psychology.

Positive psychology is not designed to help those in a crisis situation,though the concepts of this discipline can be used in the aftermath of any mental health issue to help instil well-being or overcome other health challenges.

Also positive psychology is not designed to help those who are experiencing psychosis or other serious mental ailments such as dissociation as its application in personality disorders is severely limited because it has not been extensively studied.

Types of therapy and treatment required

Positive psychology,when complemented with traditional psychotherapy can help overcome many obstacles and help people alleviate their problems.It is often used with cognitive behavioral therapy CBT or acceptance and commitment therapy ACT or other therapies for best results.

Other therapeutic approaches vary in how they support clients,but in keeping with the principles of positive psychology they also work to boost well-being and better life:

Positive psychotherapy

Positive psychotherapy, like positive psychology, works on psychodynamic models of psychology to emphasize self-development using personal strengths to overcome the difficult emotions.

It adopts different approaches from therapeutic traditions like narratives,storytelling and metaphors to create a novel view about mental health and its importance to the client.

(Note that positive psychology should not be used as a replacement for traditional therapy,but instead as a valuable supplement for treatment)

In a nutshell

Today, positive psychology is one of the fastest growing disciplines of psychology and has firmly established itself as a transdisciplinary science that has developed conditions necessary for individuals to thrive.

With applications ranging from architecture to neuroscience and from criminology to climate change,this scientific study of positive traits and behavior has made quality of life flourish.

What is positive psychology and does it actually work?
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