Positive psychology finds its roots in the humanistic psychology of the 20th century, which focused heavily on happiness and fulfillment. Earlier influences on positive psychology came primarily from philosophical and religious sources, as scientific psychology did not take its modern form until the late 19th century. Learned optimism is one of the cornerstones of the positive psychology movement.
Positive psychology is a recent branch of psychology whose purpose was summed up in 2000 by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: "We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise that achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving in individuals, families, and communities.
Positive psychology began as a new area of psychology in 1998 when Martin Seligman, considered the father of the modern positive psychology movement, chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association, though the term originates with Maslow, in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality.
Some researchers in this field posit that positive psychology can be delineated into three overlapping areas of research:
1. Research into the Pleasant Life, or the "life of enjoyment", examines how people optimally experience, forecast, and savor the positive feelings and emotions that are part of normal and healthy living (e.g. relationships, hobbies, interests, entertainment, etc.).
2. The study of the Good Life, or the "life of engagement", investigates the beneficial affects of immersion, absorption, and flow that individuals feel when optimally engaged with their primary activities. These states are experienced when there is a positive match between a person's strength and the task they are doing, i.e. when they feel confident that they can accomplish the tasks they face.
3. Inquiry into the Meaningful Life, or "life of affiliation", questions how individuals derive a positive sense of well-being, belonging, meaning, and purpose from being part of and contributing back to something larger and more permanent than themselves (e.g. nature, social groups, organizations, movements, traditions, belief systems).
What of a challenging life? What of meaning derived from overcoming obstacles, even self imposed tasks, limitations and obstacles?
Theme Zoom co-inventor Russell Wright has suggested that "happiness" and "pleasure" should be viewed more precisely in terms of dopamine, especially in terms of the groundbreaking work of Dr. Gregory Berns as revealed in his groundbreaking book Satisfaction: Sensation Seeking, Novelty, and the Science of Finding True Fulfillment. By reducing happiness and novelty seeking (a cornerstone of the positive psychology and "elevation" movement) to the neurochemical dopamine, we have a more precise chemical marker for human behavior and specific human motivators. This topic is very broad, but an understanding of dopamine will lead us to an adequate understanding of both short term pleasure and long term satisfaction. The principles that connect the two are yet unwritten, but positive psychology is a step in the right direction towards a full understanding of what is means to have a meaningful life. Furthermore, the work of Dr. Gregory S Berns has lead to the creation of The Center For Neuropolicy at Emory University.
"It is only when you understand that your life is leading nowhere that it has meaning." - P.D. Ouspensky