For centuries, psychology has primarily focused on understanding and treating mental illness. While this work is crucial, it provides an incomplete picture of the human experience. Enter positive psychology (aka positive psychotherapy) – a scientific approach to understanding and cultivating the factors that enable individuals and communities to thrive[1].

Positive psychology emerged in the late 1990s, spearheaded by psychologists Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. They recognized the need for a more balanced approach to understanding the human psyche, one that explores what makes life worth living[2].

The Concept of Flourishing

At the heart of positive psychology lies the concept of flourishing – a state of optimal well-being that goes beyond the mere absence of mental illness. The PERMA model, developed by Seligman, outlines five key elements of flourishing[3]:

PERMA Positive Psychology Flourishing Mind Health

1. Positive Emotions
2. Engagement
3. Relationships
4. Meaning
5. Accomplishment

When individuals experience high levels of these elements, they are said to be flourishing. This state is not static but a dynamic process of growth and development[4].

The Role of Character Strengths

Positive psychology emphasizes the importance of identifying and harnessing individual character strengths. Research has identified 24 universal character strengths, such as creativity, curiosity, and kindness[5]. By understanding and applying these strengths, individuals can experience greater authenticity, resilience, and personal growth[6].

Building Resilience

Resilience – the ability to bounce back from adversity – is another central focus of positive psychology. Research has shown that resilience can be developed and strengthened over time[7]. Strategies for building resilience include:

1. Reframing challenges as opportunities
2. Practicing self-compassion
3. Fostering strong support networks[8]

The Power of Positive Emotions

Positive emotions serve an important evolutionary purpose. According to the broaden-and-build theory developed by psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, positive emotions broaden our awareness and encourage novel, varied, and exploratory thoughts and actions[9]. Evidence-based practices for cultivating positive emotions include:

1. Gratitude exercises
2. Savoring experiences
3. Mindfulness practices[10]

The journey to flourishing is not always smooth, but what sets flourishing individuals apart is their ability to navigate challenges with grace, wisdom, and strength. They find opportunity in the face of adversity and maintain hope and perspective in difficult times[11].

Becoming an Active Agent in Your Well-being

Positive psychology empowers individuals to take an active role in shaping their own well-being. By intentionally cultivating strengths, nurturing positive emotions, and building meaningful connections, we can shift from surviving to thriving[12].

Key Points:

  • Positive psychology focuses on factors that enable individuals and communities to flourish.
  • The PERMA model outlines five key elements of flourishing: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment.
  • Identifying and leveraging character strengths can lead to greater authenticity and resilience.
  • Resilience can be developed through strategies like reframing challenges and practicing self-compassion.
  • Positive emotions serve important evolutionary purposes and can be cultivated through practices like gratitude and mindfulness.
  • Flourishing is an active process that involves navigating challenges with grace and wisdom.



  1. Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.
  2. Gable, S. L., & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and why) is positive psychology? Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 103-110.
  3. Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Free Press.
  4. Keyes, C. L. M. (2002). The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43(2), 207-222.
  5. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford University Press.
  6. Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for practitioners. Hogrefe Publishing.
  7. Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events? American Psychologist, 59(1), 20-28.
  8. Neff, K. D., & Germer, C. K. (2013). A pilot study and randomized controlled trial of the mindful self‐compassion program. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(1), 28-44.
  9. Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218-226.
  10. Quoidbach, J., Mikolajczak, M., & Gross, J. J. (2015). Positive interventions: An emotion regulation perspective. Psychological Bulletin, 141(3), 655-693.
  11. Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(6), 1069-1081.
  12. Lyubomirsky, S., & Layous, K. (2013). How do simple positive activities increase well-being? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(1), 57-62.