Two pioneers of positive psychology are psychologists Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi from Claremont Graduate University. They began to communicate their definition of positive psychology around 1998. From their view, since World War II, psychology had become a science largely about healing mental disorders. It concentrated on repairing damage within a disease model of human functioning. In contrast, the aim of positive psychology is to begin to catalyze a change in the focus of psychology from preoccupation only with repairing the worse things in life to also building positive qualities. Their prediction is that positive psychology in this century will allow psychologists to understand and build those factors that allow individuals, families, and communities to flourish, not just endure and survive. As a side effect of studying positive human traits, science will learn how to buffer against and better prevent mental, as well as some physical, illnesses. For the purpose of this blog entry, I will quickly review the concept of well-being theory that is proposed by positive psychology which can be used as another useful tool for the counselor’s toolbox.
In assessing the overall well-being of an individual, positive psychology uses five measurable factors. The five factors (PERMA) include: positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. According to well-being theory, positive emotions lead to a pleasurable life, engagement (or flow) leads to an engaged life (career or vocation), meaning (a purpose greater than self) leads to a meaningful life, positive relationships lead to good human relationships, and accomplishment leads to a sense of life satisfaction. In short, according to well-being theory, human happiness and life satisfaction can be measured by assessing if a person has high amounts of positive emotion, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment in his/her life. Also, according to well-being theory, well-being cannot just exist in your mind: well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships, and accomplishment.
In conclusion, positive psychology is providing a useful understanding of the factors which promote well-being and resilience. Counselors may find using the five factors (PERMA) of well-being theory as a useful tool for identifying and conceptualizing a client’s concern, developing a client’s goals, and formulating and implementing strategies to help the client achieve his/her goals.
Michael Walters is a high school counselor and a licensed professional counselor. He has a special interest in strengthening family relationships and empowering individuals to reach their goals.