Positive psychology is a recent branch of psychology whose purpose was summed up in 1998 by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: "We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise, which achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving individuals, families, and communities." Positive psychologists seek "to find and nurture genius and talent" and "to make normal life more fulfilling", rather than merely treating mental illness. Positive psychology is primarily concerned with using the psychological theory, research and intervention techniques to understand the positive, adaptive, creative and emotionally fulfilling aspects of human behavior.
The "positive" branch complements, with no intention to replace or ignore, the traditional areas of psychology. By adding an important emphasis to use the scientific method to study and determine positive human development, this area of psychology fits well with the investigation of how human development can falter. This field brings attention to the possibility that focusing only on disorder could result in a partial, and limited, understanding of a person's condition.
The words, "the good life" are derived from speculation about what holds the greatest value in life - the factors that contribute the most to a well-lived and fulfilling life. Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, referred to the good life as "using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification."
Topics of interest to researchers in the field are: states of pleasure or flow, values, strengths, virtues, talents, as well as the ways that these can be promoted by social systems and institutions. Positive psychologists are concerned with four topics: (1) positive experiences, (2) enduring psychological traits, (3) positive relationships and (4) positive institutions. Some thinkers and researchers, like Seligman, have collected data to support the development of guiding theories (e.g. "P.E.R.M.A.", or The Handbook on Character Strengths and Virtues).
Research from this branch of psychology has seen various practical applications.The basic premise of positive psychology is that human beings are often, perhaps more often, drawn by the future than they are driven by the past. Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi define positive psychology as "the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life." L.M. Keyes and Shane Lopez illustrate the four typologies of mental health functioning: flourishing, struggling, floundering and languishing. However, complete mental health is a combination of high emotional well-being, high psychological well-being, and high social well-being, along with low mental illness.