What Is Positive Psychology And How Can It Help You?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated June 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Positive psychology is a science-based approach focusing on identifying, understanding, and cultivating positive emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and relationships. By utilizing this evidence-based practice, many people may improve their overall well-being, quality of life, and relationships. 

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Key concepts of positive psychology

Positive psychology aims to nurture an individual’s positive traits and healthy habits to help them improve mental well-being and physical health while fostering a meaningful, fulfilling life.

Positive psychology is a more modern form of psychology theory, but it has significantly impacted how many therapists, individuals, and scientists understand and approach wellness. Positive psychology focuses on the positive aspects of life, such as happiness, gratitude, and joy, rather than negative or challenging aspects. 


One of the fundamental concepts of positive psychology is happiness. Positive psychologists believe that happiness is not a fleeting emotion but a long-term state of being that can be cultivated over time. Promoting these feelings includes developing positive emotions, such as joy and gratitude, and focusing on meaningful relationships and activities. Fostering constructive, affirming emotional states may help alleviate mental health challenges. Research suggests that feelings of happiness are inversely correlated with symptoms of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.  

Character strengths 

Other concepts involved in positive psychology include character, strengths, and virtues. Positive psychologists have identified 24 universal character strengths valued across cultures, including creativity, honesty, and kindness. Focusing on these strengths may contribute to personal development by nurturing a sense of purpose and meaning, helping individuals feel more fulfilled and resilient.


Resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenges and adversity, while a growth mindset is a belief that one can improve and grow, even in the face of setbacks. Research suggests that there is a link between resilience and subjective well-being. Through developing these traits, one may better navigate life's challenges and setbacks. Resilience can also help limit the negative effects of mental illness. In one study, researchers found that athletes with high levels of resilience experienced reduced anxiety

Broaden and build theory 

The broaden-and-build theory is a cornerstone of positive psychology, which suggests that positive emotions help individuals expand their thinking and build long-lasting skills and resources. This theory states that feeling positive emotions helps people think more widely, consider novel ideas, and explore new paths. As a result, they might learn new skills, build valuable resources, and experience long-term growth.

These concepts work together to foster a sense of well-being and satisfaction. Individuals may gain greater insight into their lives and goals by learning to recognize and develop these traits.  

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Significant contributors to positive psychology

Positive psychology has made groundbreaking progress in many individuals' understandings of human behavior and thought. Among the development of the positive psychology movement, the contributions of specific individuals stand out through their scientific research and theories, including the following. 

Martin Seligman 

In the late 1990s, Martin Seligman proposed that psychology could be more than treating disorders, allowing people to focus on what makes life worth living. He became the president of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1996. He developed the PERMA model of well-being, which stands for "Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments."

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 

Another influential positive psychology figure is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who proposed the concept of "flow." Flow is a state where an individual is fully engaged, completely absorbed, and enjoying a task or activity. His work has influenced studies on creativity, performance, mindfulness, and motivation.

Carol Dweck 

Carol Dweck looks at psychology from a mindset perspective. Her research has shown that developing a growth mindset and believing in their abilities can help individuals achieve success and fulfillment. This concept has been applied to education, sports, and the workplace. For example, when students are taught to view failure as an opportunity for learning, their performance and motivation may increase.

Barbara Fredrickson 

Barbara Fredrickson's contributions to positive psychology are centered around the role of positive emotions in well-being. She developed the "broaden-and-build" theory to help explain how positive emotions can open minds to explore new opportunities and build long-lasting resources.

Sonja Lyubomirsky 

Sonja Lyubomirsky has made significant contributions to research on the science of happiness. Her work focuses on the factors that determine happiness and the impact of intentional behavior. In addition, she has identified various strategies individuals can use to increase their happiness levels, including expressing gratitude, engaging in acts of kindness, and savoring positive moments. 

Christopher Peterson 

Christopher Peterson came up with the 24 character strengths theory. He argued that these strengths, such as creativity, bravery, and wisdom, play a vital role in developing one's personality and mental wellness.

How can you benefit from positive psychology?

Positive psychology techniques can be applied in various settings, including your personal life, the workplace, education, healthcare, and the wider community. According to positive psychologists, several factors contribute to human beings’ ability to promote well-being, face challenges, and thrive. Below are a few ways you might benefit from using positive psychology. 

Fostering positive emotions in everyday life

Practicing gratitude exercises or engaging in daily acts of kindness may boost your overall mood and outlook, helping you nurture positive feelings like contentment, enjoyment, and gratitude. Mindfulness activities, such as meditation or yoga, can also be beneficial to cultivating a positive attitude and focus on the present moment. 

Professional life satisfaction

Establishing positive relationships with colleagues and engaging in meaningful conversations may create a pleasant working environment more conducive to productivity. Setting goals for yourself and celebrating your accomplishments can give you a sense of purpose and satisfaction. If you’re in charge of managing others, positive leadership can motivate employees, reduce stress in the workplace, and increase productivity.  

Nurturing an educational environment

Engaging students in activities that foster their character strengths, such as creativity or courage, may cultivate a positive learning environment. Encouraging growth mindset thinking can also help foster resilience and motivation among students. 

This educational approach can apply beyond formal schooling. In an article published in the Journal of Adult Development, the author highlights the crucial role growth plays in human flourishing throughout life. Adults who continue to learn can find new opportunities to build positive skills and habits. 

Improved physical and mental health

Positive psychology research suggests that positive emotions benefit physical health, potentially reducing stress and improving overall well-being. High subjective well-being has also been connected to increased longevity. Additionally, developing an ability to cope with and manage difficult emotions may improve mental health outcomes. Positive psychologists believe that treating mental illness starts by focusing on the enriching aspects of the human experience. In one scientific study, researchers found that promoting mental health through positive psychology helped with reducing depressive symptoms in participants. 

Community and society 

Creating meaningful connections with people in your community may foster a sense of belonging and social support, positively impacting overall well-being. Additionally, engaging in acts of kindness or volunteering for a cause you are passionate about could provide productivity, spread positivity, and cultivate physical and emotional well-being. 

Positive psychology can help individuals lead lives in alignment with their values and beliefs. This term brings awareness to an empirically supported approach to well-being that has the potential to positively impact your life and the lives of those around you. 

Benefitting from positive psychology interventions

Many therapists use positive psychology within their therapeutic modalities. If you're looking for a positive, mindfulness-based approach, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) may be beneficial. You can also try common approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Consult a therapist to find out which modalities are available to you. 

Technological advancements may also provide new platforms that allow individuals to participate in psychological interventions from home. For those who live in remote or culturally diverse areas, this availability could provide a unique quality of care and the option to choose how you want to receive support. Online therapy can help you apply the tools and principles of positive psychology to your own life. 

By offering convenient resources, online therapy can help you reach goals and tap into the power of positivity. A study from 2021 found that individuals who engaged in positive psychology through online therapy experienced a significant increase in their psychological well-being. The study suggests that online therapy can effectively promote overall well-being and cultivate a more positive outlook on life. Specifically, self-compassion was highlighted as a critical factor in achieving greater psychological well-being. By incorporating the principles of positive psychology, online therapy can help you create healthier habits grounded in personal growth and resilience.


Positive psychology can help individuals feel happier, healthier, and more meaningful in their place in the world. Whether you use this method through cultivating relationships with others or engaging in activities that bolster self-confidence, applying positive psychology can have significant benefits. 

This field of study is growing, creating new opportunities to foster positive change in our lives. If you want to learn more about this study, a therapist may help you understand the tools and resources to get started. Consider reaching out for further self-reflection and guidance.

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