For newcomers to Psychological discourse, Positive Psychology is often considered a bogus science, a new age development. Just the sound of the two words gives one the image of annoyingly cheery people telling you to think positive, to stay strong, to will your illness away.. all of that useless stuff. Books such as The Secret and its various counterparts have given the Positive Psychology a bad rep with their lack of empirical data, from which Psychologists are desperately trying to recover.
The debate goes something like this; on one side there are these people, who think that Positive Psychology is bogus; an unscientific excuse of a field. And then there’s the other side, which speaks of the practical applications of Positive Psychology, trying frantically to support their claims and convince us they’re not delusional. Let’s once and for all try to understand this debate.
The truth is, Positive Psychology isn’t simply a means by which people spread the ‘positive thinking’ bug, with no real substantial data backing up its usefulness. It’s not just airy fairy promises at quick fix happiness or a means to ‘wish away your illnesses’. It’s not as simple as “If you’re happy, you’re healthy”.
Positive Psychology was formally defined in 1998 by Martin Seligman, as branch of Psychology which looks at all aspects of a person’s psychology. Its principles are clear; it recognises the inevitability of negative aspects in a person’s experiences, but also uses these negative experiences as a learning opportunity, from which positive results can be achieved. Not only this, it studies the manner in which people benefit from positivity and use these findings to cater to others.
Its large scope is quite evident. Since the establishment of Psychology as a field of study, the focus of research has been on the negative aspects of people’s lives. Positive Psychology attempts to understand how to take one from a ‘normal’ life to an even better one, rather than focusing on how to bring people from a ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ life to a normal one. It doesn’t attempt to convince people that having a positive mood can cure their illnesses, but tries to establish the fact that a positive mood and demeanour and manner of thinking actually benefits and facilitates a faster recovery process. The proof for these arguments? It’s enormous. There’s tons of research conducted on the ways in which concepts of Positive Psychology acts as a support for people in their lives, however good or normal their lives may be.
Being a relatively new field, Positive Psychology has a large scope for improvement as well, no doubt. Identifying and quantifying something as subjective as happiness and positivity and their effects is no easy task. But it’s time that Positive Psychology receives the respect it deserves; to be taken seriously as a science with far-reaching capacity to benefit all of us, rather than simply a marketing to sell t-shirts with cheesy quotes, or get a book to sell in the millions.