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9 Research Backed Benefits of Positive Psychology

There are many people who have heard the term positive psychology thrown around on the internet by life coaches and psychologists, but don’t know exactly what it means. It is easy to assume that positive psychology focuses solely on happiness, benefits of being more optimistic, and how to apply various methods of positive thinking into your daily life. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is in fact much more beneath the surface. Below, we discuss 10 research backed benefits of positive psychology.

Understanding Positive Psychology 

Before we discuss the benefits of positive psychology, it is important to understand the definition:

“Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living.” 

(Peterson, 2008)

The Founder

Positive psychology was founded by Martin Seligman, a renowned researcher and psychologist who was elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1998. 

Seligman had earned his renown through his theory of “learned helplessness”. This theory explains that humans have the ability to learn how to become helpless and feel like they have lost control over what happens to them. Seligman linked this phenomena to depression and provided inspiration for treating symptoms of depression and methods to prevent depression. 

After completing his research on learned helplessness, Seligman turned his attention to learned optimism and resilience. 

He had grown frustrated with psychology’s main focus being on the negative aspect of the human experience, such as trauma, mental illness, suffering, and pain, with so little attention to the positive aspects, happiness, well-being, strengths, and flourishing.

As president of the APA, he proposed a new subfield in psychology that focuses on “what is life-giving rather than what is life-depleting”. In 2000, he published the foundational paper of the positive psychology field alongside Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Since then, thousands of thousands of studies have been conducted in this field creating a base for the application of positive psychology into coaching, therapy, business, family, relationships, and in every other area of life.  

The Focus of Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is a scientific approach which focuses on human strengths and what having a good life means. 

It asks the question “What is right with people?” rather than “What is wrong with people?”

Experts in the positive psychology field spend their time thinking about topics such as  optimism, character strengths, happiness, well-being, satisfaction in life, gratitude, compassion, self-esteem, and confidence.

Positive Psychology and Life Coaching

In 2007, Martin Seligman published a paper for the Australian Psychological Society stating that positive psychology can provide a “backbone” for the unregulated life coaching industry.

“Positive psychology can provide coaching with a delimited scope of practice, with interventions and measurements that work, and with a view of adequate qualifications to be a coach.” 

Martin Seligman, 2007

Both positive psychology and life coaching have one main goal in common: to positively impact the client’s life. All other goals that follow feed directly into the main one.

Many believe that the life coaching industry is saturated, but what they are really seeing is a steady growth of the industry stemming from the fact that it is simply working for millions of people.

Positive psychology is also growing in popularity for the very same reason.

I will admit, when I first decided to write this article I did not realize the depth of the subject. I soon lost myself in hours of reading different research that has been done in the field and discovered that the benefits of positive psychology are endless. Since this article cannot be endless, I decided to focus on 9 scientifically backed benefits of positive psychology.

9 Research Backed Benefits of Positive Psychology

1. Happiness is contagious 

Research has shown that those who are surrounded by happy friends and family are more likely to find happiness in the future. If you are happy, those around you will potentially benefit from it as well (Fowler & Christakis, 2008).

2. Wealth does not measure happiness

Too many people believe that finding wealth will lead to happiness, but studies have shown that this is not the case. Rather, focusing less on attaining wealth leads to greater happiness (Aknin, Norton, & Dunn, 2009).

3. Positivity comes from within 

In other words, simply “putting a smile on” through difficult times will not cultivate inner happiness. Putting in effort to feel positivity within will lead to outward expressions of happiness (Scott & Barnes, 2011).

4. Performing acts of kindness 

Those who perform acts of kindness do not only feel a greater sense of well-being within themselves, but they are also more likely to be accepted by their peers as well (Layous, Nelson, Oberle, Schonert-Reichl, & Lyubomirsky, 2012). 

5. Generosity is key

Those who show generosity by spending money on others are happier with themselves (Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008).

6. Material possessions do not make you happy

Research has shown that those who prefer to spend their money on experiences rather than on material possessions are far happier in life (Howell & Hill, 2009).

7. Volunteer work is fulfilling

When you volunteer to work for a cause that you believe in, you feel happier and more fulfilled in life. Studies have also shown that it leads to a reduction in symptoms of depression (Jenkinson et al., 2013).

8. Hugs are healing 

Hugging promotes production of oxytocin in the brain, which leads to feelings of trust, empathy, and morality. Hugging and showing physical affection to the people in your life you care about will boost the well-being of yourself and those around you (Barraza & Zak, 2009).

9. Gratitude will change your life

Last, but certainly not least, is gratitude. Research has proven that when we cultivate feelings of gratitude, we become much happier and satisfied with our lives (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).