Positive Psychology – basics

3 types of happiness

(adapted from “A balanced psychology and a full life” https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/sites/ppc.sas.upenn.edu/files/balancedpsychologyarticle.pdf )

A review of the literature led us to identify three constituents of happiness: (i) pleasure (or positive emotion); (ii) flow or engagement; and (iii) meaning.

Pleasure: The first route to greater happiness is hedonic, increasing positive emotion. When people refer in casual conversation to being happy, they are often referring to this route. Within limits, we can increase our positive emotion about the past (e.g. by cultivating gratitude and forgiveness), our positive emotion about the present (e.g. by savouring and mindfulness) and our positive emotion about the future (e.g. by building hope and optimism). However, unlike the other two routes to happiness, the route relying on positive emotions has clear limits. Positive affectivity is heritable, and we speculate that, for important evolutionary reasons, our emotions fluctuate within a genetically determined range. It is possible (and worthwhile) to increase the amount of positive emotion in our lives, but we can boost our hedonics only so high.

Flow: The second route to happiness involves the pursuit of ‘gratification’. The key characteristic of a gratification is that it engages us fully. It absorbs us. Individuals may find gratification in participating in a great conversation, fixing a bike, reading a good book, teaching a child, playing the guitar or accomplishing a difficult task at work. We can take shortcuts to pleasures (e.g. eating ice cream, masturbating, having a massage or using drugs), but no shortcuts exist to gratification. We must involve ourselves fully, and the pursuit of gratifications requires us to draw on character strengths such as creativity, social intelligence, sense of humour, perseverance, and an appreciation of beauty and excellence. Although gratifications are activities that may be enjoyable, they are not necessarily accompanied by positive emotions. We may say afterwards that the concert was ‘fun’, but what we mean is that during it, we were one with music, undistracted by thought or emotion. Indeed, the pursuit of a gratification may be, at times, unpleasant. Consider, for example, the gratification that comes from training for an endurance event such as a marathon. At any given point during the gruelling event, a runner may be discouraged or exhausted or even in physical pain; however, they may describe the overall experience as intensely gratifying. Finding flow in gratifications need not involve anything larger than the self.

Meaning: Although the pursuit of gratifications involves deploying our strengths, a third route to happiness comes from using these strengths to belong to and in the service of something larger than ourselves; something such as knowledge, goodness, family, community, politics, justice or a higher spiritual power. The third route gives life meaning. It satisfies a longing for purpose in life and is the antidote to a ‘fidgeting until we die’ syndrome. Peterson et al. (2005) develop reliable measures for all three routes to happiness and demonstrate that people differ in their tendency to rely on one rather than another.

We call a tendency to pursue happiness by boosting positive emotion, ‘the pleasant life’; the tendency to pursue happiness via the gratifications, ‘the good life’; and the tendency to pursue happiness via using our strengths towards something larger than ourselves, ‘the meaningful life’. A person who uses all three routes to happiness leads the ‘full life’, and recent empirical evidence suggests that those who lead the full life have much the greater life satisfaction (Peterson et al. 2005).


The Positive Psychology – basics is part of online learning tools for personal and professional development of youth workers. The course is developed under the project “ACHIEVE” – innovative methods for training and development of youth workers (2016-2-BG01-KA205-023835) funded by European Erasmus + Programme. The content of the course is based on a literature review.

“There is only one person who could ever make you happy, and that person is you!”

David Burns

In this course you can find out the key elements of positive psychology, the study of happiness.

Being happy is something that all people want, no matter where or how old they are. But are the benefits of happiness a worthwhile goal or is it just about feeling good? A review of the available literature has revealed that happiness does indeed have numerous positive effects, which appear to benefit not only individuals, but also families, communities, and the society at large (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). The benefits of happiness include higher income and better work outcomes (greater productivity and higher quality of work), larger social rewards (stronger social support and richer social interactions), more activity, energy, and flow, and better physical health (a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, and less pain) and even longer life. Happy people are more creative, helpful, charitable, and self-confident, have better self-control, and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities.

The science of happiness has flourished the last 2 decades. It has been applied in various fields of science, in psychology, business, health and more importantly in education. It is called “Positive Education”. Positive education focuses on developing both well-being and social responsibility, without changing its primary goals. It contributes in identifying and developing strengths, nurturing gratitude, and visualizing best possible selves (Seligman et al., 2005; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006). It is proven that it makes people more successful and showed to have a more lasting impact and change on having pro-social behaviour. It increases happiness and reduces depressive symptoms significantly (Sin and Lyubomirksy, 2009). Compared to unhappy learners, happier learners pay better attention, are more creative, and have greater levels of community involvement. It increases engagement, creates more curiosity and helps develop and overall love of learning (Fisher, 2015).

With this course we aim to introduce positive education into youth work and initiate a “Positive Non-Formal Education (NFE)”. Having unhappy youth who focus on the complains and the hassles will not solve the problems of unemployment, inactive participation and social exclusion. Instead, having happy youth will contribute in reinforcing their learning, their personal development, their professional progress, their authentic self, their health state, their sense  of initiative, volunteering and involvement in society and their connection with people and nature. We believe that this time has come!

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