In pursuit of happiness: History and present of Positive Psychology

From Aristotle to current scientific approaches based on the strengths of the person. Positive Psychology has advanced in history thanks to the study of the variables that influence the well-being of the human being.

Although many centuries ago, it was not called “Positive Psychology,” the antecedents that gave rise to this scientific method go back to one of the fathers of philosophy and thought.

Indeed, Aristotle devoted much of his work to analyzing “eudaimonia,” a Greek term that refers to happiness. Therefore, and given that Positive Psychology seeks to alleviate emotional pain by removing the focus from what causes us discomfort, these studies could be understood as the oldest origin of Positive Psychology.

In the twentieth century, psychologists such as Abraham Maslow or Carl Rogers continued to advance through what is now considered a prelude to Positive Psychology, that is, humanistic psychology.

But it was around 1990 when Martin Seligman proposed the creation of Positive Psychology as a specific current within Psychology, highlighting the need to continue investigating healthy and positive aspects of the human being.

Positive Psychology Today: Scientific Methods and Shifts in Focus

The European Institute of Positive Psychology ( ) is a reference in Spain on this science. Its concepts, workshops, therapies, and courses, allow us to enter into the most essential and updated of Positive Psychology.

According to these experts, Positive Psychology “helps to alleviate emotional pain by focusing on the resources you do have and not only on what causes you discomfort,” they begin to explain. “You will be able to develop new coping skills in just a few sessions and enjoy life despite difficulties,” they say.

One method used is that created by the same Seligman, called PERMA, for its acronym in English: Positive emotions ( Emotions positive), Engagement (Commitment), Relationships (Positive Relationships), meaning (sense), and Accomplishment (Achievement).

The IEPP, for its part, proposes a method called FORTE that measures strengths, puts its emphasis on balancing, and evaluates improvement to measure the impact of exercises.

In search of authentic happiness and well-being

In the history of Positive Psychology, the foundations laid by Martin Seligman have marked a before and after.

At the beginning of the 21st century, this American psychologist and writer proposed a combination of three aspects to have happiness: a pleasant, committed, and meaningful life. It is about looking for feelings of positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, and inspiration. Finding them satisfactory leads us to commit ourselves to a specific goal and put ourselves at the service of something greater than ourselves.

However, “Positive Psychology does not deny negative emotions or force you to be happy, “synthesizes Dafne Cataluña from the IEPP, but “focuses on what you have to improve psychological well-being.”

The Theory of Well-being is also a historical milestone for the advancement of Positive Psychology and took place in 2011 as an evolution of the theory of authentic happiness, in which Seligman concludes that there are five elements for well-being. It concentrates on the PRISMA model: Positivity, Positive Relationships, Involvement, Meaning, and Goals achieved.

Positive Psychology and personal development

From its antecedents in the philosophers of antiquity, through its cornerstones in the 20th and 21st centuries and reaching our days, this scientific method has constantly advanced.

Currently, it is closely linked to methods and techniques that seek personal development based on the person’s strengths. In this sense, the IEPP, with a multidisciplinary team of 50 professionals, nine delegations in three countries, and more than a decade of experience, has been a pioneer in using Positive Psychology techniques in their centers.

They carry out different in-person and online programs, addressing Trust, Self-esteem, Mindfulness, Emotional Management, and free workshops.

Also, in professional and business fields.

The advances in Positive Psychology are applied in individual therapies and professional coaching, and the business environment.

As those responsible for the IEPP, professional coaching “consists of a continuous professional relationship that helps obtain extraordinary results in people’s lives, profession, company or businesses.” Through the coaching process, the person deepens their knowledge, increases performance, and, ultimately, improves their quality of life.

Learn from negative experiences

Although during its historical evolution Positive Psychology has been linked to concepts such as happiness and well-being, “it does not radically deny the negative, nor is it against negative emotions as the Taliban would do in the middle of a war, far from it, we can say that from Positive Psychology we work on improving what we like least and emphasizing and enhancing our strengths, what we do well,” indicates Sonia Castro, IEPP psychologist.

A good part of the studies and analysis of Positive Psychology throughout the centuries have been oriented to reorient people’s lives after traumatic situations, from a favorable construction of it, but without ignoring negative emotions.

“People who have suffered traumas, significant problems, adversities, and great difficulties to deal with, explain to us all the learning they have obtained from it. Empirical research on this aspect is progressing more and more, showing that post-traumatic growth occurs in large part of people who suffer trauma”, adds Castro.

In short, this scientific method has evolved and adapted to the essential human conflicts of yesterday, today, and forever.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.