Positive Psychology Terms and Concepts

MBV   June 25, 2016

Positive Psychology Terms

What causes people to live a life fueled by excitement and a lasting sense of fulfillment? These are the characteristics that help us transcend challenge and limitation to attain a meaningful lifes filled with motivation, inspiration, and energy.

Positive psychology is an extension of traditional psychology that aims to enhance these optimal experiences in life. It can also be defined as the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities and organisations to thrive.

This holistic approach to mental, spiritual, and relational well-being is about nurturing these positive qualities and allowing them to  flourish.

Dr. Maureen Gaffney, a leading psychologist, international consultant, and author of Flourishing would say that real happiness arises from overcoming adversity and learning to master our emotions. These components are essential when it comes to maximizing our potential to enjoy life.

Her thesis is a mathematical ratio: The relationship between a person’s positive and negative internal commentary translates to their external behavior and overall happiness.

Three factors that affect internal commentary:

  • Nature – inherited traits deliver roughly half of the capacity to be positive or negative.

  • Nurture – the level of negativity that surrounds you when you’re young affects the outcome of your internal commentary.

  • Personal decision – How you decide to think – are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you want to change? The willingness to follow and implement strategies to build the positive and lessen the negative.

  • Read Maureen Gaffney’s main strategies here.

Below is a more detailed guide to some common positive psychology terms and concepts.

Positive emotions:
Joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, curiosity, fascination, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, and love. These emotions feed off of each other, and when the energy of these powerful feelings are associated with a memory or intention, an individual is much more capable of sustaining positive behavior.


  • The Greek word for “human flourishing”
  • Aristotle’s term for “doing well and living well”
  • Refers to a reflective state that cultivates psychological well-being through virtues and reasoning
  • Shawn Achor, founder of the Institute of Positive Research, GoodThink Inc. and author of The Happiness Advantage uses this term to refer to the joy we feel after we strive for our true potential.
  • An optimal state of being rather than a fleeting emotion of pleasure.


Dr. Martin Seligman (pioneer of Positive Psychology) concludes that happiness has three main dimensions that can be cultivated

  • The Pleasant Life – we savor and appreciate the basic pleasures of companionship, the natural environment and our bodily needs.

  • The Good Life – our ability to discover our unique virtues and strength and use them to enhance our lives.

  • The Meaningful Life – taking our deep sense of fulfilment and employing the unique strengths we have cultivated to find a purpose greater than ourselves.

Read the History of Happiness here.

Tony Hseih, CEO of Zappos and author of Delivering Happiness believes framework of happiness stems from pleasure and chasing the next “high”, also known as flow. This engagement and dedication to the task at hand comes with the benefits of:

  • Perceived control
  • Perceived progress
  • Connectedness
  • Vision and Meaning (being a part of something bigger than yourself)

Watch his short presentation here.

Positive Psychology Terms

Meditation: A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Subjective Well-Being:

SWB refers to how people experience the quality of their lives by including both emotional reactions and cognitive judgments. The affective element refers to emotions, moods and feelings.

Affect is considered positive when the emotions, moods and feelings experienced are pleasant such as joy, euphoria, etc. Affect is deemed negative, though, when the emotions, moods and feelings experienced are unpleasant. A person who has a high level of satisfaction with their life, and who experiences a greater positive affect and less negative affect, would be deemed to have a high level of subjective well-being. 

Individual meaning and self-realization is the extent to which a person can fully integrate this into his or her life.  When measuring how people think and feel about their lives, there are three components of subjective well-being:

  • Life satisfaction
  • Positive affect  
  • Negative affect 

These factores are independent factors that should be measured and studied separately.

Ed Diener, writer, professor and psychologist coined this term which looks at happiness, life satisfaction and positive affect through three key areas:

  • Measurement – Psychometric data of single-item and multi-item well-being scales

  • Causal Factors – such as health, social contact, activity and personality

  • Theory – conceptions, approaches, models are used to explain his ideas

Read the Subjective Well-Being Full Text

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