Positive Psychology: a (very) brief introduction & history


Positive psychology is a recent branch of scientific psychology that studies the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities, who are not experiencing significant levels of distress, to thrive. The advantage of positive psychology is that it unites scattered and disparate lines of theory and research about what makes life worth living and provides a theoretical backbone for coaching psychology.

According to Martin Seligman, President of the American Psychological society and arguably the strongest proponent of Positive Psychology, positive psychology can be delineated into three overlapping areas of research referred to as “the Pleasant Life,”related to enjoyment, “the Good Life,” related to engagement and “the Meaningful Life,” related to affiliation. Seligman contends that for life coaching psychologists, practicing exactly these three endeavors may bring some order into chaos by limiting coaching’s  scope of practice and providing the solid research base with a strong theoretical backbone that coaching psychology desperately needs.

Clearly these three areas are directly relevant to both the work and life counterparts of the work / life balance.  The development of the Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) handbook by Peterson and Seligman in 1994  represents the first attempt on the part of the research community to identify and classify the positive psychological traits of human beings. Much like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of general psychology, the CSV provides a theoretical framework to assist in developing practical applications for positive psychology. This manual identifies six classes of virtue (i.e. “core virtues”), made up of twenty-four measurable character strengths. The core virtues include wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. 

Paramount to scientific practice and theory is the growing empirical evidence for Positive Psychology. Though it is  growing rapidly, a new theory or concept takes time to built a body of empirical evidence,  informed by a knowledge base constructed from relevant theory, research and practice.

Richard Moore



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