Positive psychology: what is it?

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Positive psychology is currently fashionable, as seen by the amount of publications with the phrase "happy" in their titles. Studies on issues such as well-being, thankfulness, and resilience are no longer common in academic publications, despite the fact that over 200 colleges and institutions in the United States offer courses in these areas.

This predicament is a strong evidence of the extraordinary transformation that has occurred in the field of psychology. For many years, the primary focus, including psychological practice and theory, has been on pathology, dysfunction, and emotion damage modifications.  In 1998, Martin Seligman, who was a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, as the American Psychological Associations’ president, initiated the scientific study of happiness and flourishing on a later stage (McLeod, 2017)

Despite the fact that Martin Seligman is greatly remembered for his efforts to coin the term positive psychology, the psychology idea of looking at what is right with us and not what is wrong with us is credited to Abraham Maslow, who was a psychologist forty years before his work (McLeod, 2017). Until now, Abraham Maslow is remembered for his initial and crucial studies of motivation and personality, and he introduced important concepts such as peak-experience, synergy, and self-actualization which are currently part of the current language (McLeod, 2017)


Abraham Maslow was born in 1908 in New York to poor parents of Russian-Jewish parents (McLeod, 2017). After being unsuccessful at two colleges in New York, in 1928, he moved to the University of Wisconsin. It was at this college that he recovered academic foot and opted to major in psychology now that he considered it as being socially and practically useful. Abraham Maslow was a career where he would help in changing the world as he continued to believe that he could achieve this goal through social science (McLeod, 2017)

Abraham Maslow developed his influential inborn needs hierarchy in the 1940s. Serving in the position of a professor, he was out to understand as well as give explanations on all motivations surrounding humans through the integration of all the approaches that were already in existence such as cognitive-gestalt, and Freudian into a single meta-theory that was cohesive enough.

His main argument was that each of these approaches could be attributed to their respective valid points but they were still not good enough to encompass the larger personality picture. He came up with a theory that human beings are normally motivated by their personal needs and went ahead to put this in a concept that included five main levels. The five levels entailed physiological needs that are most basic up to the higher psychological needs (McLeod, 2017)

During the Second World War period, Abraham Maslow is remembered as to have assumed the lead in different areas of psychology which were the study of men and women how were healthy and achieved high and he went ahead to refer to this kind of people as being self-actualizing. He began by examining the characters of Ruth Benedict, who was his beloved mentor, and Max Wertheimer, and became more involved in investigations. In his diary, he once wrote that according to him, a man who is self-actualized is not one who is a normal man with additional traits but a normal man that you cannot take anything from and that an average man is a person that has powers but have been inhibited and dampened (McLeod, 2017)

In an effort to learn more about the areas of psychology that he was interested in, he interviewed many people who at that time were regarded as high achievers and from the interviews he was shocked to realize that in most cases they used to report to have peak-experiences in their respective lives and this happened mainly in times of great satisfaction and joy.

They appear to be healthier psychologically most of the time. One thing that stood out about his interviews was that they were not conventionally religious. However, in most cases, they still used language that seemed to be almost mystical when it came to describing moments of great happiness and normally associated the feelings of family life or what they accomplish in life (Tay and Diener, 2011).

Abraham Maslow, in 1954, published a book that is considered by many as a landmark book focusing on personality and motivation. In the book, he deeply analyzed almost fifteen-years of the nature of human nature theory and it propelled him international recognition. Full of confidence and firm tone, the science of psychology is seen to have been more successful negatively than having a positive impact.

The book highlighted more about the illness, shortcomings, and sins about man and addressed very little about the virtues, potentialities, psychological health, and aspirations that are achievable by man (Tay and Diener, 2011). Particularly in this line of growth, some of the practical fields that include business management and education, the optimistic view that Abraham Maslow assumed of the nature of man as well as creative attracted to a lot of interest. When he was acting as the head of new psychology department in Brandeis University, Abraham Maslow also had a remarkable international influence when he invited people like ST Suzuki and Victor Frankl to lecture his students and faculty (Tay and Diener, 2011)


Abraham Maslow emerged as one of the driving forces and founders of the idea termed humanistic psychology in the 1950s. He came up with theories such as the self-actualization, hierarchy of needs, and peak experienced which stood out as important subjects in relation to humanist movement. The self-actualization process, in particular, played a very significant role in his theory. He looked at this tendency as the complete exploitation and use of capacities, talents, and potentialities.

This is to mean that man is constantly pushing to meet their full potential and that it should not be considered as the destination or endpoint. It should be a process that is ongoing where man continues to push their limits and attain the best levels possible of creativity, well-being, and fulfillment (Tay and Diener, 2011).Abraham Maslow was for the idea that self-actualization people show some outstanding characteristics such as spontaneity, independence, self-acceptance, and have peak experiences (Tay and Diener, 2011)

It was until the 1960s that the career of Abraham Maslow blossomed. During this period, even entrepreneurs approached him for advice in relation to how to motivate employees in their respective business. When it came to the West Coast where new ideas were referred to enlightened management, his ideas were the main focus in the high-tech field. Abraham Maslow employees’ management approach had a specific positive impact (Tay and Diener, 2011).

During this period, Abraham Maslow made popular the term synergy in his efforts to describe teams of work where the whole was regarded as being greater as compared to the different sections of the teams coming together. According to Abraham Maslow, having employees encouraged to work as a team so as to maximize their individual strengths by taking on interesting and challenging tasks, they were likely to have soar innovation and productivity (Tay and Diener, 2011).

Abraham Maslow came to be known as the period in history where the work of most psychologists was focused on human nature aspects that were regarded as not being normal. He came and introduced a new perspective in psychology where he focused on the positives of mental health. The interest that he developed in the potential of human beings, always going for the best possible experiences and improving mental health through focusing on personal growth has had an influence that still lasts in the field of psychology.

Abraham Maslow was right in most of his theories and approaches in psychology and this is evident following the fact that even after his death in 1970, following a heart attack, his ideas did not die with him as they continue to greatly impact as well as inspire millions across the globe. He is honored as to have played a significant role in psychology with his theories and approaches especially self-actualization.

While some of the work by Maslow was not appreciated by some of the academic psychologists with some of them coming out strongly suggesting that hierarchy needed to be updated, most of his theories are still enjoying resurgence following the increasing interest in positive psychology.


McLeod, S. A. (2017). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Tay, L., & Diener, E. (2011). Needs and subjective well-being around the world. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(2), 354.

April 26, 2023

Psychology Education



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