Positive Psychology

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A branch of psychology that emphasizes increasing happiness rather than directly repairing the symptoms of depression. Researchers in positive psychology have identified three components of happiness: One is positive emotion or “the pleasant life,” which includes feelings of satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment, pride, and serenity about the past; feelings of hope, optimism, faith, trust, and confidence in the future; and savoring pleasant experiences, or “living in the moment,” in the present.

A second component of a happy life, say positive psychologists, is engagement in life, including involvement in work, intimate social relationships, and leisure activities that make time fly and completely capture a person’s attention. A third component of a happy life involves the pursuit of meaning, using one’s personal or “signature” strengths to serve something bigger than oneself, such as religion, politics, family, or community. Positive psychologists suggest that lack of positive emotion, engagement, or meaning in one’s life may contribute to depression.

Positive psychologists have incorporated these ideas into a form of therapy called positive psychotherapy for treating depression and other disorders. The psychotherapy involves exercises that help reinforce these components of a “happy life.” For example, clients get homework assignments that include using their signature strengths; keeping a journal of three good things that happened to them that day; recalling bad memories and the anger associated with them and noting how these memories affect their mood; writing forgiving letters to people who have wronged them; and writing letters of gratitude. Preliminary research suggests that positive psychotherapy can significantly decrease depression.

Originally Published October 30, 2009

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