There is a relatively new segment studying human behaviors, happiness and overall well-being referred to as positive psychology. Defined by the Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, it is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. In other words, focusing on the positive side of the human life experience. 

Who thought of this way of looking at things?

According to the book Character Strengths Matter, How to Live a Full Life, Martin Seligman, PhD known as the father of positive psychology and then president of the American Psychological Association, and psychology professor Christopher Peterson, PhD wanted to collaborate on an effort to advance science and the practice of character. The year was 1999, and until this time, social sciences’ primary focus was on understanding human suffering. Seligman and Peterson thought it was time to look at things through a different lens and introduce a different game plan for the picture of human personal growth. 

I started my professional career in mental health but have worked as a health and life coach for the past decade, so I have seen and practiced this enlightened shift firsthand. Previously, a lot of time was spent focusing on what’s not going right, procrastination due to feelings of inadequacy and worrying about what is wrong with the patient. Practicing positive psychology allows you to coach clients to focus on what is going right for them at the moment, to celebrate strengths, and provide tools that will assist with their success. Realizing your positive strengths is truly a breath of fresh air in human growth potential. For me, there is no doubt that positive psychology proves to be the most effective method. 

How does change from negative to positive occur?

Seligman selected five components individuals seek that involve intrinsic motivation and contribute to overall well-being. He used the acronym PERMA and described these components as “a passion and desire from within with no outside incentive.” 

Positive emotion. Gratitude, smiling, laughing and fulfillment. Increasing positive emotion fuels resilience and reinforces internal joy to self and others, therefore creating better health.

Engagement. Research on engagement found that people who try to use their strengths in new ways each day for a week are happier and less depressed after six months.1 

Relationships. Belonging to something impacts our mind and body and relationships increase our sense of purpose, role and identity as part of a community. Choose relationships wisely, especially remembering you only have so much energy in a day. Thus, you should choose people who provide you energy versus take it.

Meaning. Having a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives is the Holy Grail. It is a question we should all ask ourselves. When you serve others and start to see the art of giving, you can even experience that “helpers high.” 

Achievements. Setting and achieving SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timetable) goals leads to larger gains in well-being than external factors such as money and fame.

How do I determine my strengths?

Character strengths are the positive parts of your personality that impact how you think, feel and behave. The book Character Strengths and Virtues by Peterson and Seligman outlines the results of a three-year project by the authors and identifies 24 character strengths we have the capacity to express. The book is the leading literary resource on positive psychology and their work represents the most significant effort in history to review, assemble, research, and classify positive strengths and traits in human beings. 

The authors and their team have established the VIA Institute of Character, which offers a free self-assessment survey to discover your unique character strengths profile. It is available at

Remember to think positive, get positive and stay positive! Identify your strengths, use them wisely and go after your passions. Get awesome today!

Darrell Price is a Functional Medicine Coaching Academy health coach and life coach with Stone Functional Medicine. He is also a certified workshop facilitator and can be reached at (919) 810.6235 or [email protected] 

1) Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421. 

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