Monday, March 1, 2010

The Science of Happiness

I recently attended a workshop conducted by Christopher Maxwell entitled, Building on Your Strengths: Lessons from Positive Psychology. I’ll be honest; I entered this workshop with skepticism. How can positive psychology be a field? Is it really scientifically based? It seems so, well, soft.
Well, as I learned in this workshop, Positive Psychology continually fights a stigma of being the “happy field” and its founder, Martin Seligman, points out that the practice is evidence-based, meaning that interventions have been scientifically tested to see what works. (Raymond wrote about evidence based therapy here). 

And positive psychology is more than just the study of happiness. The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania defines positive psychology as the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. As I listened to this definition, I realized that I may have misjudged positive psychology. But I thought to myself, what about negative emotions and stress—how does this fit into positive psychology?

Dr. Maxwell must have read my mind because he then talked about how negative emotions promote survival and help us focus. The most interesting part of the workshop was the discussion and research on character strengths, which I’ll talk about in a later post. Positive psychology builds on character strengths to promote well-being.

After attending this workshop, I am intrigued by the positive psychology field. I left thinking that positive psychology is more than just the art of being happy. There is a science to happiness and understanding the impact of positive emotions, traits and institutions can lead to more balance in individuals and communities.

What are your thoughts on positive psychology? What do you do to keep your life positive?

Resources:Seligman and his colleagues reported on the empirical progress of positive psychology interventions in this article from 2005.
Authentic Happiness: learn more about Dr. Seligman's work



  1. Great post, Lisa!

    Reminds me of this TED video:


  2. As I listened to this definition, I realized that I may have misjudged positive psychology.

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