What if psychology stopped focusing on what goes wrong with life, and instead researched what goes right? What if it put happiness, flourishing, resilience, and character to the test of science? And what if the outcomes were applied through counselling and coaching? Well in the late 1990s some leading psychologists asked such questions, and positive psychology was born.
From the time I discovered this field I knew I was among friends. Having studied and taught philosophy I was doing a masters in social science for my counselling work, and I recognised that here was the perfect marriage between philosophy and science. Philosophy articulates a vision of life, expressing what is meaningful and good, and positive psychology researches how to make that vision real.
From both philosophy and positive psychology we can say that there are two things in particular which you need to cultivate, to make your life go better and to have more meaning. These things are within you: they are your strengths and values.
Your strengths enable you to find your place in the world and to make it work for you. They are the means by which you can flourish. Where your strengths meet the world's need, then you have found your calling. When your strengths make life better for those you love, then you have found your deeper happiness.
But strengths are not enough. Put simply, it's not enough to be strong or successful, we have to be good. We need to be able to love better, to find beauty in life, to leave our small patch of the world better through having been here. If your strengths enable you to find your direction, your values enable you to find your deeper purpose. What do you really care about? What would you die for? What really gives value and meaning to your life? What else is calling out to you?
Positive psychology studies how to recognise and increase our strengths and values. Its ultimate focus is not theory but practice, which is why there are people like myself who use it in counselling and coaching. We use the guidance of such science to help people to become more resilient, to succeed and flourish, and to develop their character.