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Positive psychology and wellbeing

A further approach to understanding the concept of wellbeing is positive psychology.

Defining positive psychology

Positive psychology is the field of psychology which studies positive experiences and traits that allow individuals to flourish. As with the eudaimonic approach, it is concerned with living a meaningful life.

Three paths to happiness

One of the most prominent theories of positive psychology is three paths to happiness (Seligman 2002). The theory asserts that there are three distinctive types of wellbeing: the pleasant life (pleasures), the good life (engagement) and the meaningful life.

The pleasant life This is achieved if an individual learns to savour and appreciate basic pleasures such as companionship, the world around us and bodily needs (food, shelter, water etc.).
The good life This is achieved through discovering one’s own unique virtues and strengths and employing them creatively to enhance one’s life.
The meaningful life This is achieved when we find a deeper sense of meaning by employing our unique strengths for a purpose greater than ourselves.


The theory was later updated by Seligman (2011) whereby the third stage, the meaningful life, was categorised into five separate components: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and purpose, and accomplishments (PERMA).

Positive emotions

All of the positive emotions that can be experienced by a person, and that are connected to positive outcomes, such as a longer and healthier life.


The experience of being involved in an activity that draws and builds on our interests. This type of engagement is also referred to as flow when a person is in a deep state of effortless involvement in an activity.


This refers to the relationships we have with other people and can range from our children to our work colleagues. Importance is placed on relationships at all times - in times of joy and in times of deep distress.


The meaning we find in our lives, the realisation that there is something greater than one’s self.


This refers to the pursuit of mastery and success and can be applied in many different contexts, such as our personal relationships or our careers.

Your task

Which of the approaches we have covered in this and the previous step, hedonic, eudaimonic or positive pyschology do you consider to be the best in defining wellbeing?

Explain your choice in the comments area. Don’t forget to ‘like’ or reply to posts you find useful or interesting.


Seligman, M. (2003) Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Deep Fulfilment. London: Nicholas Brealey

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This article is from the free online course:

Wellbeing at Work: An Introduction

Coventry University