Positive Psychology: A Scientific Approach to Well-Being

Positive psychology examines individual and group well-being; through scientific research, it explores the aspects that allow individuals to thrive. The relatively new field is based on philosophical traditions including utilitarianism, virtue, eudaimonia and hedonia (Lambert, Passmore & Holder, 2015), and is centered on the belief that people want to foster their best traits. 

Eudaimonia and hedonia

The Best Within UsAlthough related, eudaimonia and hedonia are distinct. Eudaimonia refers to a way of life in which “an individual strives to be better by developing themselves through their talents and use of virtues, and by generating meaning from the resulting personal growth” (Lambert, Passmore & Holder, 2015). Hedonia, on the other hand, refers to the pursuit of pleasure.

In The Best Within Us: Positive Psychology Perspectives on Eudaimonia, experts explore the role of eudaimonia in psychology (Waterman, 2013). According to the authors, research has shown eudaimonic functioning as “the most reliable basis for life satisfaction”. Individuals whose behaviors reflect eudaimonic functioning have more caring and more intimate personal relationships, and engage more extensively in prosocial activities. In addition, eudaimonic functioning not only increases the quality of life of the individual, it also benefits others in the person’s life and community.

Positive psychology and everyday life

But how do we pursue this state of well-being amid the challenges of everyday life?

In their book Frailty, Suffering, and Vice: Flourishing in the Face of Human Limitations, Fowers and colleagues (2017) examine how to flourish despite everyday limitations. Noting human imperfection, the authors discuss how human dependency, limits, and suffering are not just negatives to be overcome, but rather a part of our journey toward development and thriving.

Positive psychology: A tool for clinicians

Positive psychology has also become an important tool for clinicians. However, a review of positive psychology research found a considerable limitation for Positive Psychology in Racial and Ethnic Groupsclinical practice: an underrepresentation of issues related to diverse populations (Rao & Donaldson, 2015).

In response, Chang et al. (2016) developed Positive Psychology in Racial and Ethnic Groups: Theory, Research, and Practice as a comprehensive reference that focuses specifically on how a culturally-informed approach to positive psychology can help capitalize on the strengths of racial minority groups and have a greater potential to positively impact their psychological well-being. The book is intended to help clinicians use positive psychology to inspire minorities to be effective agents in their environments and communities.

Teaching positive psychology

Students at various levels have also demonstrated interest in the field. Recognizing the breadth of positive psychology alongside potential challenges in designing a course around the topic, Froh and Parks (2012) developed Activities for Teaching Positive Psychology: A Guide for Instructors. The book presents a comprehensive set of interactive classroom activities devised by contributors who are experienced teachers as well as leading scholars in their areas. It is meant as a resource for all teachers of psychology, from novice to experienced instructors.

How to achieve well-being?

Because it is based on several interwoven philosophies, positive psychology is a broad field that entails varying models of well-being. So how can one attempt to achieve well-being? Effectiveness varies by individual, but research points toward some broadly successful strategies. In Creating Well-Being: Four Steps to a Happier, Healthier Life, Dr. Pamela Hays (2013) presents a scientifically-supported, four-step process that has proven successful in her professional clinical psychology practice as well as in her own life. She invites readers to recognize their stressors, avoid negative thought-traps, re-examine their thinking, and taking action wherever possible, using environmental change, better communication skills, social support, and self-care.

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Additional publications on positive psychology:

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