When I tell people I am passionate about positive psychology, raised eyebrows are not an uncommon response. This reaction is often accompanied by questions such as: What is positive psychology? What do you mean “positive” – is the rest of the psychology negative? Oh, isn’t this the field with the yellow smiley face as its logo? In my first post on this blog, then, I shall share my perspective on these questions, based on what I have learned in the past year as a part of the MAPP program.
Let’s begin with a thought experiment. Imagine that all the problems from your life have vanished. You have perfect relationships, all the money you could have asked for, a job you love, a boss from heaven, and there is nothing that is not working in your life. No challenges, nothing to strive for, everything taken care of. How would that be? Would you like to lead such a life?
If you are anything like me, you will be bored to death just by imagining such perfection.
The good news is, that is NOT what positive psychology is about.
Now, imagine that your life is filled with failures, challenges, and pain. Nothing good ever happens to you. You are miserable all the time. How does that sound for a life?
Terrible? Of course.
Thankfully, that is also not what positive psychology is about.
The truth is: life is messy, but it is also wonderful. We are awful at certain things, but excel at others. We are often driven by fear, but also have the capacity for enormous love. Positive psychology is the scientific study of how human beings can live their wonderful, messy lives in the best possible way. It is not just about the yellow smiley face. It is not a field of study as opposed to “negative” psychology. It is a new branch of psychology that complements traditional psychology by focusing on the good things in life…human strengths, virtues, hope, optimism, resilience, and much more. The field attempts to answer questions such as what makes life worth living, and what actions can we take to lead better lives. And it does it using scientific methods.
Does positive psychology have answers to all the life’s questions? Not really. It is a relatively new but growing field of study, and there is a long road ahead of it. But I think it is a worthy endeavor and I love being a part of it.