Positive psychology is quickly gaining traction, not only with the academic community, but also with the general public. While positive psychology can provide numerous benefits to the public and its widespread awareness is good, there are several misconceptions about this practice that are almost equally widespread.
What Is Positive Psychology?
Positive psychology is the study of the elements of life that make living truly worthwhile. Positive psychology criticizes general psychology for focusing on the dysfunctions of humanity, and asks that scientists place an emphasis on what is good in life as well. By building on what is best in life as well as repairing the worst, people’s lives can become more fulfilling and healthier overall. Positive psychology faces many misconceptions about its study.
Misconception #1: Positive Psychology Is Simply Self-Help
Many people equate positive psychology with positive thinking, associating this area of study with self-help gurus. However, positive psychology is not the same as positive thinking. While both areas emphasize optimism, positive psychology builds on scientific theories and research. Self-help gurus base their findings on personal philosophies.
Misconception #2: Positive Psychology Ignores Negative Emotions
Just because positive psychology emphasizes the positive things in life doesn’t mean that it completely ignores negative facts. Academics have long dug psychology into a hole of negativity, focusing almost completely on the negative phenomena of life. Positive psychology recognizes the importance of negative the aspects of life, but it aims to emphasize that the best aspects of life are worth study too.
Misconception #3: Positive Psychology Wants to Replace General Psychology
Positive psychology does not ignore its roots in humanistic and general psychology. Like all academic disciplines, this area of study does not aim to replace what came before it – positive psychology wants to build upon the theories and research of prior psychologists.
Misconception #4: Positive Psychology Acts as a Form of Religion
Many critics believe that positive psychology’s focus on appreciating the benefits of life mirrors the practice of many religions. While some of positive psychology’s tenets do reflect certain religious themes, this does not mean that the field is a religion. In fact, positive psychology is deeply rooted in research and science, unlike religious beliefs.
Misconception #5: Positive Psychology Is Based on Too Little Evidence
Many psychologists and members of the scientific community believe that positive psychology is not research-based or scientifically sound. Like all psychological research, positive psychology is based on controlled, rigorous research. However, positive psychologists are also open to other non-harmful coping methods that make intuitive sense, such as meditation.
Another criticism of positive psychology is that the majority of its evidence is not solid and is merely anecdotal, not scientific. This is not true – solid research backs many foundations of positive psychology. In addition, anecdotal evidence does provide a starting point for many medical and psychological studies that are low-risk, including positive psychology. Once the evidence strengthens, positive psychologists can move on to more solid research.
Positive psychology can provide many benefits to those who are interested in its study, as well as the general public. However, these misconceptions can degrade the field. Through proper education and debunking of these myths, the public can truly reap the benefits of this area of psychology.