This research study identifies the principles, history and theories of positive psychology. It also analyzes current research on positive psychology. Finally, it shows how these concepts can be used in practice, even in organizations.
Researching the history of positive psychology, Dr Martin Seligman is the happiness professor and the unofficial father of positive psychology, the controversial study of human happiness. Humanistic Abraham Maslow, in his 1954 book about motivation and personality first used the term positive psychology. Martin Seligman made it the theme of his presidency of the American Psychological Association in 1998. He claimed psychology up to then was answering no and I, instead of yes and we. Getting people to be constructive is a better predictor of increased commitment and love than teaching people how to fight. William James argued that in order to study optimal human functioning thoroughly, one has to consider the subjective experience of an individual.
For that belief, in 1906, James is considered, by some psychologists, to be America’s first positive psychologist. Earlier influences on positive psychology came from philosophical and religious sources. The ancient Greeks had many schools of thought. During the Renaissance, individualism started to be valued. Utilitarian philosophers, such as John Stuart Mill, believed that moral actions are those actions that maximize happiness for the most number of people, and that an empirical science of happiness determine which actions are moral. Thomas Jefferson and other democrats believed that Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights, and that it justifies the overthrow of the government. The Romantics valued individual emotional expression and sought their emotional true selves.
According to Dr. Seligman, during hard times, strengths and positive emotions help people get through. Seligman defines a “good life” by using own strengths consistently. Work, leadership, institutions and culture are interrelated and integral to positive psychology. Even if people were financially free, people would still do something with their time, after getting all the fun and travel out of their system. Therefore, happiness at work transfers and contributes to people’s life happiness. Work naturally shapes people’s network or circle of influence, as humans like to group up with people who share commonalities with their work, industry, and professional experiences.
Individuals can also think of times when they were not stimulated at work; their work was repetitive and meaningless. Studies have shown that the workers, who thrive, are the ones who are continuously challenged in meaningful ways, so work can become fun and play. Besides, more and more scholarly articles stress the importance of happiness at work and slowly but surely more organizations are realizing it and make it their goal and mission with employees. To create positive institutions, it is important not to keep secrets, following a mission and have effective conflict resolutions skills. According to Seligman, there are five traits to positive institutions: continue growing, CEO modeled, being bigger than its sums of the parts, empowering to make decisions, and being clear with the mission or purpose. Positive leaders create positive companies and institutions. Again, positively and positive energy is contagious, because, from a quantum physics perspective, everything is energy.
Therefore, people tend to gravitate towards other positive people, positive leaders, positive teams, institutions and positive cultures. The proposed model to link positive psychology and business, to make businesses successful and sustainable, is to center them around the VIA Human Strengths. Institutions or organizations are seen as micro-society and micro-communities that expand outward. Coming from strength or love, versus lack or fear, always produces far better results and outcomes. Change is about strength. All of these principles could be summarized by saying that it is best to see, focus on and bring out the best in people. These principles are true across different cultures worldwide. Optimism for the future reduces anxiety. Hope for life after death helps coping with death, but denial of life after death helps celebrating and appreciating life more. The essence of joy is enjoying the present. The thought of eternity or immortality helps valuing life, as there would be no reason to keep something of no value.