We all want to live happier, more engaging and more meaningful lives.

The science of positive psychology contributes new insights and proven strategies to increase wellbeing in individuals, workplaces and communities.

Positive psychology has changed mainstream psychology. After years classifying and repairing the worst of human experience, positive psychology emerged to build on the best. Spearheaded by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1998, positive psychology focused on exploring and expanding what makes life worthwhile, productive and fulfilling, in all it’s complexity. This rich and flourishing field now spans many areas, building on philosophies and practices from Aristotle to Maslow.

Happiness leads to success in nearly every life domain, from health and longevity to workplace performance, creativity and relationships. This is the finding of a landmark meta-study by leading positive psychologists Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King and Ed Diener, who brought together over 200 studies conducted on 275,000 people worldwide.

For example, research shows that happier people—those with higher levels of wellbeing—are:

  • Healthier
  • Live longer
  • Less accident prone
  • More successful
  • More productive
  • More creative
  • Faster thinking
  • Harder-working
  • Higher earning
  • More caring and altruistic
  • More socially engaged

These are just a few of the findings of researchers in this fast-growing field.

“Positivity transforms us for the better. By opening our hearts and minds positive emotions allow us to discover and build new skills, new ties, new knowledge and new way of being.”
Barbara Fredrickson

People who feel happy, valued and satisfied at work typically do far better than those who do not. Happy employees are more engaged and likely go beyond their job requirements to give their best effort, working harder, more productively and more collaboratively than less satisfied peers. This translates directly into greater organisational productivity, better business performance and financial results that are sustainable over time.

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, makes a compelling case that the greatest competitive advantage in today’s economy is a happy and engaged workforce. Some of the business outcomes he cites in an HBR blog are increasing sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and accuracy on tasks by 19%. A recent issue of the Harvard Business Review dedicated to happiness at work agrees: “emerging research makes the link between a thriving workforce and better business performance absolutely clear. Happiness can have an impact at both the company and the country level.“

By understanding the science of positive psychology and how to apply it, businesses can take a far more targeted approach to performance and engagement. For example, a global study by the Corporate Leadership Council of almost 20,000 people across multiple organisations, industries and countries found that when people were encouraged to focus on their strengths, their performance rose a massive 36%. When they focused on weaknesses, performance dropped by 27%. Strengths use is a core predictor of workplace engagement—the most engaged employees are the ones who use their strengths at work most of the time. This engagement in turn predicts a range of business outcomes. Consider the tangible impact of using positive, strengths-based approaches to get the best from people.

“The evidence is overwhelming that experiencing and expressing positive emotions and moods tends to enhance performance at individual, group and organisation levels.”
Barsade and Gibson, 2007

What is positive psychology?

Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi define positive psychology as “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels.”

While positive psychology researchers and practitioners have explored a gamut of topics from mindfulness to strengths, Psychological Capital to Positive Organisational Scholarship, most have focused on maximising the benefits of five critical factors: positive emotions, engagement, meaning, relationships and accomplishment. Together these areas encapsulate two aspects of individual wellbeing:

  • Subjective wellbeing (SWB)—hedonic experience, happiness, satisfaction and positive emotions in the moment
  • Psychological wellbeing (PWB)—eudaimonic experience, the more enduring sense of fulfillment we get from personal relationships, living a meaningful life and developing as a person.
Frequent positive emotions is one of the hallmarks of happiness and wellbeing. When we feel good, we are more able to perform at our best. We think more flexibly and creatively. We are more willing to try new strategies, reach out to others, and spread positivity to others.

According to Barbara Fredrickson, who developed the Broaden and Build Theory, positive emotions expand people’s repertoire for effective thinking and action, helping us build psychological and social resources. Importantly, these resources outlast transient emotional states, propelling us in ‘upward spirals’ toward optimal performance, growth and wellbeing.

To maximise the power of positive emotions, focus on increasing the duration and intensity of the ups (positive emotions) and decreasing the duration and intensity of the downs (negative emotions). Interventions to boost positive emotions include savouring, gratitude and humour.

Engagement can be described as the connection one has to an activity or environment.

Studies in a range of contexts link higher levels of engagement with performance, enjoyment, sense of connection and wellbeing. The more engaged we are, the more likely we are to perform better, or reap greater rewards for our efforts. Two clear routes to feeling more engaged at work and in life are strengths and flow.

Strengths energise people, enabling them to be their best self. Research shows that when people use their strengths they feel happier and more confident, are less stressed, more resilient, and more engaged in their work and life. There are many ways to discover and develop people’s strengths, from spotting strengths in every day life to formal strengths assessment and coaching. Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman catalogued 24 “character strengths” in the VIA (Values in Action) Inventory, advising people to use their top five signature strengths in new ways every day. Strengths Finder is another popular tool developed by Donald Clifton at Gallup. We recommend Realise2, a next-generation tool from Alex Linley and his team that is build on the latest research. Realise2 measures how often people use their strengths and how energised they feel, as well as how well they perform them. This enables people to access the energy that fuels their strengths, and create strategies to optimise the way they use their strengths and grow their potential.

A flow state is achieved “when the challenge of an activity is perfectly matched to the ability of the participant”, according to Csikszentmihalyi. It can happen any time someone’s skills are so involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so that the state itself becomes a magnet for stretching and learning new skills.

Positive psychology is not just about being happy; in fact, single-minded pursuit of personal happiness and success will not create a sustaining, fulfilling life. People with higher levels of wellbeing find a sense of meaning and purpose in their life. Whether it is linked to family or religion, the work people do or what they contribute to others, meaning tends to involve living in line with personal values and pursuing worthwhile goals.

Paul Wong, a noted positive psychologist and President of the Meaning-Centered Counselling Institute, advocates cultivating a balanced life because meaning comes from several sources, such as achievement, relationships, altruism, spirituality and social justice.

Human beings are social animals and the relationships we cultivate can have a profound effect on our wellbeing. Good relationships are the building blocks on which flourishing futures are built from our earliest moments. Positive connection continues throughout life to be a major factor in our ability to thrive and grow—as individuals, in our families, our workplaces and our communities.

If we can increase the positive influence of our relationships, we can increase the positive emotions we experience, regulate our emotions more effectively and become more resilient. One way to do this is to increase the ratio of positive to negative interactions. While researchers differ about the math, a Positivity Ratio of 3:1 may be considered a wellbeing tipping point.

As teleological beings goals are important to us and contribute to our sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy. We are naturally geared to search for something to aim for and move toward a purpose. We feel motivated when our goals are congruent with our values and interests. The more we understand our own drivers for positive emotion, positive engagement, positive meaning and positive relationships, the better motivated we are to achieving our own level of success.

Goal theory is made up of many research areas, from Self-Determination Theory to Growth Mindset. Robert Biswas-Diener proposed a framework for conceptualising goals that raise people’s levels of happiness and wellbeing, based on their orientation, content and motivation. Positively oriented goals—known as approach goals—have a greater impact than negatively oriented goals. Goals about intimacy, generativity and spirituality are better than those about power and position. And goals that are intrinsically motivated are inherently more satisfying and fulfilling than those that are extrinsically motivated.

Positive psychology model

Positive psychology case study

Our partnership with Camp Quality, a not-for-profit organisation helping children living with cancer, has helped transform them from an organisation in emotional despair and financial jeopardy to an optimistic, flourishing organisation that embraces laughter as the best medicine. This turnaround has demonstrated the power positive psychology interventions can have on organisational culture – and the bottom line.

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Want to start applying positive psychology?

Consulting and capability building

Consulting services

We work with organisations to apply positive psychology to increase engagement, performance, collaboration, positive culture and wellbeing. We can design solutions that suit your business and help you get the most from this powerful science.

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Strengths assessment

Would you like to realise more about your strengths and start developing them so you can be your best? We offer individual online Strengths Profile assessment and strengths reports debriefed with one of our qualified experts.

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Diploma of positive psychology

Qualifications in positive psychology

Become a qualified positive psychology practitioner and learn to increase individual, business and collective wellbeing. The Langley Group Institute delivers the world’s first government recognised Diploma in Positive Psychology and Wellbeing.

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Training and accreditation

Would you like to learn how to assess or develop strengths in your team members, organisation or clients? We train leaders and accredit HR, business leaders and coaches in strengths tools. Inhouse and open programs are available.

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Positive psychology tools

Positive psychology tools

Bring positive psychology and strengths to life with our Inspire Action Cards, Emotions Cards, Intensity Cards, Values Cards, Goal Me Cards, VIA Strengths cards and Realise2 Strengths Cards. Ideal for coaches, facilitators and teachers.

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Positive psychology articles

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The Power of Possibility with Ellen Langer

April 29th, 2017|Comments Off on The Power of Possibility with Ellen Langer

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Mindfulness Over Matter with Ellen Langer

April 29th, 2017|Comments Off on Mindfulness Over Matter with Ellen Langer

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Creating a Positive Culture at Work: What Positive Psychology Can Teach Us

September 11th, 2015|Comments Off on Creating a Positive Culture at Work: What Positive Psychology Can Teach Us

A positive workplace culture can go a long way toward helping people feel happy, engaged and committed at work. Priming people for the positive is important if we want to overcome the inbuilt bias of our brains toward the negative.

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What Every Manager Needs to Know About Engagement: Focus on People’s Strengths

July 22nd, 2015|Comments Off on What Every Manager Needs to Know About Engagement: Focus on People’s Strengths

Focusing on strengths is one of the greatest differences you can make to get the best from people and organisations. Sue Langley's recent LinkedIn blog explains why.

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