The millennium issue of the American Psychologist magazine was devoted entirely to positive psychology.
Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi who wrote the introduction to this issue define positive psychology as the science of positive subjective experiences, positive personal qualities and positive institutions that aim to improve the quality of life and counteract pathologies when life feels fruitless and meaningless.
Furthermore, they note that psychology as a science and profession pursued three distinct missions before World War II: curing mental illness, making people’s lives more productive, and nurturing talent.
After the Second World War, the focus of psychology and psychologists is directed towards researching and dealing with pathologies often caused by external stimuli, e.g. divorce and death. The psychologists devoted themselves to repairing damage: damaged habits, damaged drives, damaged childhoods and damaged brains.
This brought great benefits to being able to map and manage several severe mental disorders at the expense of the other fundamental missions of psychology namely to contribute to the improvement of human life and to nurture genius.
A decade later, humanistic psychology was introduced by Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and others, which brought a new perspective that later turned into self-help movements, which focused primarily on the individual and denigrated the collective well-being.
Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi believe that psychology is a greater science than only the research and treatment of pathologies, weaknesses and injuries, but through positive psychology also strengths and virtues. Treatment is not only about fixing what is broken, but also nurturing the human strengths. It has been mapped that certain strengths have a preventive effect against mental illnesses. Examples of these strengths are courage, optimism, work ethic, hope, honesty and capacity for insight.
It is outdated to see individuals as passive containers that respond to various stimuli without individuals being decision makers with choices, preferences and the opportunity to develop into masterful and efficient or helpless and hopeless individuals. This kind of approach to human can counteract emotional illnesses and contribute to physical health through mental well-being. This type of psychology returns to psychology’s previously forgotten mission, namely to help normal people become stronger and take advantage of genius human potential.
Reference: Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5–14.