What if, instead of focusing on our mental weaknesses, psychologists helped build our capacity for happiness? That's the goal of positive psychology, according to Shambhala Sun (Nov. 2005).
It's more than a turn-that-frown-upside-down approach -- psychologist Martin Seligman and colleagues craft scientific measures of human fulfillment. By understanding exactly how and why we achieve happiness, these researchers hope to help us get there more easily.
In 2004 Seligman co-published Character Strengths and Virtues (Oxford University Press), a research-based book that gives gold stars to 24 human strengths like authenticity, persistence, kindness, gratitude, hope, and humor. The book defines each virtue and suggests ways to build it.
Seligman's early partner in positive psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, studies 'flow,' the feeling of satisfaction you get when you're totally engrossed in work or play. Other researchers are studying the contentment that comes from an ability to forgive or to feel gratitude.
Last fall, the University of Pennsylvania launched the first-ever master's degree program in applied positive psychology. And in what may be the definitive work in the field, Seligman is working on a bright-side counterpart to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the mental health profession's tome of illnesses. You can measure your signature strengths at www.authentichappiness.org.