Psychology Positive Psychology
Acacia Parks, Thomas Ball
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0083


Positive psychology, despite having been studied for many decades prior, made its debut as a mainstream field of psychological research at the turn of the 21st century. Led by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., the positive psychology movement aimed to supplement clinical psychology, also referred to as “psychology-as-usual,” and the latter’s goal of resolving negative aspects of humanity (e.g., mental illness) by studying positive functioning and that which makes people thrive (e.g., happiness) (see Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi 2000, cited under General Overviews). This call for research inspired a wealth of studies on topics, including definition and measurement of various forms of well-being, personal strengths, and psychological interventions designed to promote happiness. Although some subjects within its purview had been studied long before its inception (e.g., positive emotion), the advent of the positive psychology movement marked a deliberate effort to study ways to improve upon positive aspects of humanity, as opposed to remediating the negative. This article aims to present a collection of articles that best represents the field of positive psychology, despite the relatively short time since its inception.

General Overviews

There are myriad overviews of positive psychology, but none as famous or frequently cited as Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi 2000. Given its accessibility and historical context as the premier article of the field, this would be the best place to start for anyone new to positive psychology; however, being first also means being oldest. For a more recent overview of the field, Snyder and Lopez 2009 might prove useful. For an alternate perspective, Linley, et al. 2006 focuses on positive psychology more as a movement and less as a field of research. The other two articles chosen for this section were selected for their emphasis on the purpose of the field as a whole. First, Sheldon and King 2001 clearly illustrates the differences between positive psychology and psychology-as-usual (i.e., clinical psychology). Second, Gable and Haidt 2005 takes this comparison a step further by not only discussing how positive psychology differs from psychology-as-usual, but also making an argument as to how positive psychology acts as a necessary supplement.

  • Gable, S. L., and J. Haidt. 2005. What (and why) is positive psychology? Review of General Psychology 9:103–110.

    DOI: 10.1037/1089-2680.9.2.103E-mail Citation »

    This article levies arguments for the necessity of positive psychology. The authors also address several criticisms of the field, and discuss its future as an integral part of psychological science that provides insight into the conditions and processes that facilitate optimal human functioning. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Linley, P. A., S. Joseph, S. Harrington, and A. M. Wood. 2006. Positive psychology: Past, present, and (possible) future. Journal of Positive Psychology 1:3–16.

    DOI: 10.1080/17439760500372796E-mail Citation »

    This article can be broken down into roughly four parts: describing the history of the positive psychology movement, establishing a definition for positive psychology, addressing the current state of the field, and speculating about its future. Focuses less on specific research and more on positive psychology as a movement. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Seligman, M. E. P., and M. Csikszentmihalyi. 2000. Positive psychology: An introduction. In Special issue: Positive psychology. Edited by N. B. Anderson. American Psychologist 55:51–82.

    E-mail Citation »

    The authors are among the first to define positive psychology as a field and outline its goals: promoting well-being and preventing psychological disturbances. The article also provides a brief overview of the subjects within the purview of positive psychology, followed by a discussion of positive psychology’s future. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Sheldon, K. M., and L. King. 2001. Why positive psychology is necessary. American Psychologist 56:216–217.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.56.3.216E-mail Citation »

    This overview draws a sharp contrast between positive psychology and psychology-as-usual. In making this contrast, the authors note positive psychology’s comparatively superior prospects in identifying optimal human functioning; this difference is attributed to the negative bias that is inherent to the disease model from which psychology-as-usual operates. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Snyder, C. R. and S. J. Lopez, eds. 2009. Oxford handbook of positive psychology. 2d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Provides an extensive overview of the status and prospects of positive psychology. It opens with past and present perspectives within the field. Subsequent chapters are conveniently arranged into various approaches (e.g., emotional, cognitive). Concludes with remarks regarding overarching goals within the field and its future.

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