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What is Positive Psychology?

Simply put, positive psychology is the psychology of happiness and purpose. It's awareness of oneself that is deep enough to not only understand that you have a deeper purpose, but what that purpose is for you. The "godfather" of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, believed that there are three paths to happiness:

  • The Pleasant Life

  • The Good Life

  • The Meaningful Life

The Pleasant Life is characterized by that overall contentment that everything is good. Consider this as that Hollywood movie ending type of a life wherein everything just kind of works out. I think Hallmark movies exemplify this perfectly. Even when things aren't going right, there are these undertones of, "everything will work out".

The Good Life is being true to and sticking with what you're good at. This makes me think of those "Life is good" shirts that were really popular about ten years ago. People wore them hiking, golfing, biking or whenever they were engaging in those hobby-type activities they were good at. The good life means taking a job that plays to your strengths so you're really "living that good life".

The Meaningful Life comes along once you've found your deeper purpose. You may be playing to your strengths but it's to do something that has a deeper meaning. Maybe you've started a charity or you're teaching underprivileged kids. Whatever it may be, there is this underlying feeling that you are fulfilling some deeper purpose.

This Meaningful Life path is consistent with self-actualization in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It's that final step to enlightenment in some eastern cultures. Though there are many ways to achieve happiness, this seems to be the one with the most meaning not only for you, but for the world. Positive psychology helps us to achieve this. According to Psychology Today, studies show that finding our purpose, or meaning, in life leads to greater overall life satisfaction.

Positive psychology helps us understand these different types of happiness and gives us the tools to achieve a meaningful life as described by Seligman. There are various exercises one can do to help uncover and begin practicing their deeper purpose in life. To learn more, contact a positive psychologist or use Psychology Today's website as a jumping off point for your own research.