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Positive Psychology, a primer

February 15, 2009

Hey guys. Hopefully everyone is normalizing following the ecstasy or the agony of Valentine’s Day. I’ve had some really good conversation with people following the last post on social grid theory. Thank you for the emails and conversation—keep them coming.

I wanted to use this post to introduce a relatively new field in the social sciences; namely, the positive psychology movement.

Positive psychology is a branch of study that examines what goes right in life. While much of psychological science has been traditionally concerned with pathologies and disorders, positive psychology is interested in the virtues and the excellencies of human life and society.

Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, championed the shift toward positive psychology in 1998 when he was serving a term as president of the American Psychological Association. Positive psychology deals directly with topics related to human happiness, and explores with scientific rigor a matrix of attitudes, phenomena, and behaviors such as gratitude, creative flow, and positive social motivation, to name just a few.

This is an exciting field of investigation for a number of reasons. For starters, it logically follows that by increasing the basic understanding of how excellence, happiness, and positive social engagement occur, we will be able to more effectively cultivate these elements in our own lives and in society generally. Further, for people who want to deliberately cultivate a lifestyle of serving and helping others, positive psychology provides a firm, objective foundation for thinking about quality of life issues that move beyond simple alleviation of suffering (as vitally important as that is)—it enables us to start talking more seriously about the phenomena of joy and thriving.

For more intro to positive psychology, check out the following TED talk by Dr. Seligman:


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One Comment
  1. If you’re interested in more video from Martin Seligman and assessments and tools for measuring, tracking and improving your happiness, please check out my new site at It’s all based on positive psychology and you can register (free!) and jump right into the assessments and tools. I’m really interested in hearing what you think of the site, so please feel free to leave comments in the “contact us” section. Thanks!


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