Positive Psychology

San Jose Counseling and Psychotherapy

Positive psychology studies the conditions that support the optimal functioning of the mind. Positive psychologists focus on the character strengths and behaviors that allow individuals to build a life of meaning and purpose and to move beyond surviving to flourishing.

Positive psychology was first developed in 1998 by psychologist Martin Seligman. He wanted to create a more strength-based approach to therapy that drew the humanistic movement of Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, and Carl Rogers, which encourages an emphasis on happiness, well-being, and positivity. However, the term “positive psychology” dates back to at least to 1954, when Abraham Maslow’s published “Toward a Positive Psychology.” Maslow and other humanistic psychologists focused on promoting mental health rather than merely treating mental illness.

Positive psychologists study the conditions and processes that contribute to flourishing, subjective well-being, and happiness, and often using these terms interchangeably. Based on a large body of research, these psychologists suggest a number of factors that they believe contribute to happiness and subjective well-being, such as social ties with a spouse, family, friends, colleagues, and wider networks as well as membership in clubs or social organizations, physical exercise, and the practice of meditation. Other sources of increased well-being include spiritual practice and/or religious commitment. In terms of finances, happiness may rise with increasing income, but it appears to plateau or even fall when no additional gains are made or after a specific cut-off amount.

Positive Psychotherapy

In positive psychotherapy the therapist holds that a person can best promote their well-being by nurturing their character strengths. A basic premise of positive psychology is that human actions arise from our anticipations about the future and that these anticipations are informed by our past experiences.
Those who practice positive psychology attempt psychological interventions that foster positive attitudes toward one’s subjective experiences, individual traits, and life events. The goal is to minimize pathological thoughts that contribute to a hopeless mindset and to develop a sense of optimism toward life. Positive psychologists encourage am acceptance of one’s past, excitement and optimism about one’s future, and a sense of contentment and well-being in the present.


In his book Flourish (2011), Seligman said that there are specific aspects of a happy life; positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and purpose, and accomplishments.

Positive emotions include a wide range of feelings, not just happiness and joy, but also excitement, satisfaction, pride, and awe, amongst others. These are connected to positive outcomes, such as longer life and healthier social relationships.

Engagement refers to involvement in activities that draw and build upon one’s interests. This has been described as a state of flow or deep effortless involvement, and a feeling of intensity that leads to a sense of ecstasy and clarity. The task being done calls upon a particular skill and it should be possible while being a little bit challenging. Engagement involves passion for and concentration on the task at hand and complete absorption and loss of self-consciousness.

Relationships are essential in fueling positive emotions, whether they are work-related, familial, romantic, or platonic. Individuals receive, share, and spread positivity to others through relationships. Relationships are important in bad times and good times. Relationships can be strengthened by reacting to one another positively. Typically positive things take place in the presence of other people.

Meaning is also known as purpose, and answers the question of “why?” Discovering a clear “why” puts everything into context from work to relationships to other parts of life. Finding meaning is learning that there is something greater than oneself. Working with meaning drives people to continue striving for a desirable goal.

Accomplishments are the pursuit of success and mastery and are sometimes pursued even when they do not result in positive emotions, meaning, or relationships. Accomplishments can be individual or community-based, fun-based, or work-based.

Exercises in Positive Psychotherapy

Positive psychology is not unique in its optimistic approach to emotional well-being. Other forms of psychology, such as counseling and educational psychology, are also interested in positive human fulfillment. Most of the interventions and methods used in positive psychotherapy are from other approaches.

One example is the use of gratitude exercises, which ask individuals to focus on the good aspects of their life and express gratitude for them. This approach helps individuals to cultivate a focused mindset and can lead to increased feelings of well-being and happiness. Therapists have assigned gratitude lists to their clients since the inception of therapy. Other such examples of broadly used interventions used in positive psychotherapy include writing a self-esteem journal and mindfulness practices such as meditation.

As a therapist, I focus on helping individuals build resilience, cultivate positive emotions, and find meaning in their lives. If you are looking for a therapy that is focused on strengths and improving overall well-being, positive psychology may be the right choice for you.

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