The actual theory behind positive psychology was defined in 1998 by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and looks at all aspects of a person’s being. It does not discount traditional psychology, nor supersede it. Rather than viewing psychology purely as a treatment for the malign, however, it looks at how to make someone not just "be" but "flourish". Psychology has always been interested in where people’s lives have gone wrong, and what has resulted because of it. Positive Psychology brings scientific tools to the study of what makes people flourish, and the impact upon them of experiencing positive emotions. It looks at happiness as something we gain from having meaning and purpose in our lives, feeling that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, also known as "eudaimonism". This is unlike hedonic pleasure, surrounding yourself with a great lifestyle and material goods which may seem to lead to happiness, however, often times this is transient, it is a momentary status. It is also this basis that creates resilience, the deep understanding of your own strengths, your desires and knowing what is meaningful.
We get more of what we focus on: Training our brain from a young age
Positive Psychology has the understanding that the human brain can be re-wired, this term is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is used to describe a positive patterning in our nervous system allowing us to perform complex tasks more easily (automatically), it works in both ways, positive and negative. Constant input into our nervous system and mind, especially in the formative years birth through age six, can create underlying negative as well as positive patterns. As we age and as our environment (physical, social and emotional) acts upon our conscious and subconscious minds, patterns start to emerge and create neuroplastic pathways or grooves in our nervous systems. These become automatic pathways (you are not conscious of them), hence, in simple terms, if you have been taught to look more at the critical and negative this is the automatic thought process we will take (even without being consciously aware of this), the same is true for the positive thought processes. In other words this means that repetitive positive thought and positive activity can rewire your brain and strengthen brain areas that stimulate positive feelings. In Dr. Normal Doidge's (M.D.) book, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, he states clearly that the brain has the capacity to rewire itself and/or form new neural pathways, if we do the work. Just like exercise, the work requires repetition and activity to reinforce new learning. In the early years we can help our children to wire their brains and to flourish through simple methods to see the positive, to find meaning, to experience positive emotion, seek deep relationships, find a sense of deep engagement (as in play) and feel intrinsic accomplishment.
15 years of research at the University of Pennsylvania, USA has shown that teaching this optimism (seeing the positive) and building resilience can build a buffer, it can protect our children from a young age from depression, anxiety and a host of childhood afflictions. Life will always throw us curve balls. We also live in highly transient age where trends and technology are changing so rapidly, relocation and travel are becoming common place. In this high paced world it is our obligation to arm our children with as much grit and resilience as possible allowing them to face what the world offers, the good and the bad, and to flourish.
Positive psychology makes the basic point that removing weakness is not the same as building strengths. If you draw a line from -5 to +5 then much of education aims to move us from -5 to 0, where 0 represents OK or ‘alright’ or ‘coping’. What it does not do is help us reach +5, the realm of flourishing. The idea is that we get more of what we focus on. If we habitually focus on remedying weaknesses then we will struggle to help children to flourish. Conversely, if we focus on promoting positive habits we will help them to develop even further.
Dr. Seligman, the founding father of Positive Psychology, proposes flourishing to come through five components of what he calls the PERMA model: positive emotion, engagement, relationship, meaning and accomplishment. These five components are the cornerstones of this practice.