Positive Psychology


Pursuing what holds greatest value in life

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … functioning
  • Knowing is … flourishing
  • Learner is … feeling-driven agent
  • Learning is … meaning-making
  • Teaching is … orienting




Positive Psychology is the scientific study of “the good life” – phrased variously as “flourishing,” “happiness,” “positivity,” “well-being,” “positive functioning,” “quality of life,” “meaningful life,” “well-lived and fulfilling life,” “life worth living,” and “what holds greatest value in life.” It is sometimes described as a reaction to Psychoanalytic Theories and Behaviorisms, which are seen as negative, focused on maladaptive behavior, and driven by the past. In contrast, Positive Psychology looks to the future as it focuses on such qualities as positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, purpose, and accomplishments across biological, psychological, social, institutional, cultural, and ecological domains. Prominent subdiscourses include:
  • Appreciative Learning (David Cooperrider & Diana Whitney, 2000s) – invoking two meanings of “appreciation” – as both awareness of positive value and growth in worth – Appreciative Learning emphasizes both quiet recognition of and active efforts to strengthen one's objects of appreciation.
  • Benefit Finding (Benefit Finding and Growth; BFG) – the emergence of (and/or quest for) positive outcomes to adverse events
  • Grit – (Angela Duckworth, 2000s) – both a personality trait and a psychological discourse, the notion describes long-term determination, motivation, and focus.
  • Positive Education (Positive Learning) (Jie-Qi Chen, 2010s) – a student-centered, well-being focused approach to formal education
  • Positive Youth Development (William Damon, 2000s) – a prosocial, community-based program aimed at supporting individual strengths, healthy relationships, and leadership skills


Some see Positive Psychology as naïve, and perhaps even deliberately ignorant, in its decision to turn away from the darker side of humanity. A few commentators claim to have evidence that questing only for the positive can distort one’s reality and stunt emotional growth and critical thinking. Others have asserted that a future-focus can be damaging to those who need to deal with crushing issues from the past. Constructs associated with such criticisms include:
  • Toxic Positivity (Positive Toxicity) – the deliberate-but-dysfunctional disregard or silencing of negative emotions, often associated with a conviction that such emotions are better ignored or suppressed

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Martin Seligman; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; Christopher Peterson; Barbara Fredrickson

Status as a Theory of Learning

Positive Psychology can be construed as a theory of learning, as it is concerned with structuring one’s being in positive, productive, possibility-oriented ways.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Positive Psychology says very little about teaching – beyond the advice or orienting learners to future possibilities.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Proponents assert that there is a substantial body of evidence to support Positive Psychology, and critics claim there’s substantial evidence to demonstrate its shortcomings. Both appear to be justified.


  • Appreciative Learning
  • Benefit Finding (Benefit Finding and Growth; BFG)
  • Grit
  • Positive Education (Positive Learning)
  • Positive Youth Development
  • Toxic Positivity (Positive Toxicity)

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Positive Psychology” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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