The Science of Positive Psychology

This page is dedicated to the science of Positive Psychology. It serves as a source of reliable information for anyone interested in this relatively new branch of broader psychology.

Here is a brief introduction to Positive Psychology.

Positive psychology was first described at the start of the millennium by Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) as the study of positive emotion, positive character, and positive institutions. Since then positive psychologists have examined mental health and well-being using the same scientific methods used to advance the science of mental disorders in psychology. Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson (2005) argue that positive psychology is the study of the other end of the human spectrum i.e. psychology has studied human suffering, weakness and disorder in detail whilst positive psychology focuses on human happiness through the study of positive emotions, character traits and enabling institutions. This presents a more complete and balanced practice of psychology.

Just as the fields of psychology and psychiatry have been grounded by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association (1994), Peterson and Seligman (2004) created the Character Strengths and Virtues Handbook and Classification (CSV) that aim to describe character strengths and virtues that enable human flourishing (Seligman et al, 2005). The CSV currently contains 24 strengths of character based on six virtues ubiquitous with almost every culture in the world (wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence). The CSV can be used as a framework for future research in the field of positive psychology (Seligman et al, 2005).

In their study of happiness (defined as a life containing positive emotion and pleasure, engagement, and meaning), Seligman et al (2005) used the Internet to administer their positive questionnaires. This worked largely in their favour as it removed the potential of human error associated with researchers who physically collect and enter data; the process was very cost-effective once the website was developed; and in terms of sample bias, the participants that took the online tests genuinely wanted to take the tests to learn how to be happier and were not coerced into doing so, thereby making the bias work in Seligman et al’s (2005) favour

The results from Seligman et al’s (2005) happiness study indicated that positive interventions can work in increasing happiness when administered in a package of exercises over a longer period of time. Implications for future research indicate that positive interventions may have a greater effect on individuals already in therapy for various mental disorders and that positive exercises can be used as a supplementary tool during psychotherapy. It is evident that further research is required in the field to create the optimal intervention for different individuals where discussions shift from how to minimize disorders to how to value and build one’s strengths (Seligman et al, 2005).


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Seligman, M.E.P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14.

Seligman, M.E.P., Steen, T.A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.