What is positive psychology?


Positive Psychology has gotten a lot of buzz in the past few years but what does it really mean and how do you apply it? As a certified positive psychology practitioner, I have experienced the benefits of positive psychology in my own life and have seen the impact on others within my coaching practice. In this blog, we try to give you some key information and tactics so you can apply positive psychology in your life to be less stressed, more fulfilled, and simply happier.

What is positive psychology?

Joy, happiness and all positive experiences is the main focus of positive psychology. The founder, Martin Seligman, describes positive psychology as the, “scientific study of optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive.” In reading this, the word that sticks out for me thrive, which means to flourish and prosper. If focusing on optimal human functioning will enable us to flourish and prosper, then what prevents us from focusing here?

We are hard-wired to protect ourselves. In our early human form (think cavewoman days here), this meant being aware of physical threats so that we don’t die. Nowadays, threats come in many forms. One example might be receiving feedback that you need to improve your communication skills. We leave that feedback session internalizing this threat allowing our brains to go wild, which takes us down the ‘what if’ road. What if I don’t learn this important skill? I will not get that new project, I will not get a promotion, or worse, I will get fired. These are the thoughts that quickly come to mind making that feedback feel like a real threat to our well-being.

Positive Psychology focuses on the positive experiences. If we use the example above, we could use positive psychology to shift our feeling of failure (and doomsday) around our communication skills to a feeling of being capable of improving with the strengths we already have.

While the example above is focused on the individual level, positive psychology can be viewed on a group level as well. Think about how you see your team. Do you praise and celebrate their successes and strengths while also helping them use those collective strengths to make improvements? Maybe this feels like a dream land and you aren’t yet convinced positive psychology works. There are tangible benefits of positive psychology.

What are the benefits of positive psychology?

A main element of positive psychology is the focus on what we do well, or our strengths. A significant amount of data shows that when individuals go through strengths coaching, they become more confident, have a higher energy and enthusiasm for life and ultimately become more resilient. Using assessments such as CliftonStrengths help to identify the areas where we have the greatest potential for building strength. This doesn’t mean we ignore weaknesses or areas of improvement. However, by knowing where we have potential can have significant and long-term impacts on how we approach our work, our teams, and our own personal development. In fact, Gallup found that when people have the opportunity to use their strengths, they are six times as likely to be engaged in their job, six times as likely to strongly agree that they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day and three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life!

Sounds like focusing on strengths make people happier. Guess what? Happiness is also a focus of positive psychology. While there are far too many happiness benefits to list here, let’s take an opportunity to look at some benefits through an organizational lens. Research by Lybomirsky, King and Diener (2005) shows that when people are happy, they are more likely to:

  • Be positively evaluated by supervisors.
  • Have superior performance, productivity.
  • Handle managerial positions better.
  • Get positive ratings from customers.
  • Have less absenteeism, less turnover.
  • Are less likely to experience burnout.
  • Are less likely to quit and be in conflict with others.
  • Like their jobs.
  • Be mentally healthier.
  • Have less hospital visits.
  • Have stronger immune systems.
  • Take less medications.
  • Volunteer more and likely to help others.

Based on this one study, happy people at work results in great benefits for the organization. So, how to we integrate positive psychology in our lives and work so we can reap these benefits?? Read on, my friend!

How can I apply positive psychology?

There are a lot of intentional activities you can do to increase your life satisfaction.

  • Strengths: Find a strengths-based assessment to take so that you know what your strengths are and then determine how you might be using this in your life, professionally and/or personally. As you encounter challenges, ask the question, “How can I leverage my strengths to solve this problem?” If CliftonStrengths isn’t an option for you, VIA Institute on Character offers The VIA Character Strengths Survey for FREE! It’s a great place to start to begin understanding your strengths.
  • Gratitude: In Sonja Lyubmorisky’s book, The How of Happiness, she researched and identified 12 happiness building exercises. Gratitude is one of the happiness-increasing strategies and it’s so accessible that it’s easy to underestimate the impact it can have on our well-being. One easy start is to simply reflect at the end of the day on three things for which you are grateful. Want to do this with your family? Encourage each family member to say out loud one thing they are grateful for in the day. My family has been doing this for years and to hear my kids be grateful for their friends, or the visit they had with their grandparents, or even their video games, is amazing. You can also do this on your team. At CEEK, we do a 15-minute stand up call each morning and we each end our update with what we are grateful for at that time. This one activity allows us to learn more about each other and support each other in ways we couldn’t if we didn’t have this ritual. You can also watch this short video of Sonja Lyubmmorisky talk about how counting your blessing can have a profound impact.

We challenge you this month to take a hard look at whether you focus more on what needs to improve or more on what is going well. If you find yourself focusing more on the former, try to focus on what is going well, what your strengths are and how you can utilize them more in your daily life, and practice gratitude as a way to increase your happiness.

Follow us and/or register to receive these challenges each month in an effort to “CEEK a Better Way!”


Lyubomirsky, S; King, L and Diener, E. (2005). Benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin. 131, 6, 803-855.