How To Use Positive Psychology for Stress Management

What Is Positive Psychology and How Can It Help?

Positive psychology can help you create a life of greater happiness and less stress.. Digital Vision/ Getty Images

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive Psychology is a newer and increasingly popular branch of psychology that seeks to focus not on pathology, but on what contributes to human happiness and emotional health. It focuses on strengths, virtues, and factors that help people thrive and achieve a sense of fulfillment, as well as more effectively manage stress.

History of Positive Psychology

The Positive Psychology movement has its roots in the work of humanistic psychologists such as Abraham Maslow, who tried to focus more on healthy human development and less on pathology, but really came into being as we know it around 1998.

It was primarily founded by psychologist Martin Seligman, who made it the focus of his American Psychological Association presidency and inspired others to contribute to this growing area of study. For Seligman, it became clear that there must be a new branch of psychology when he thought of how he wanted to raise his young daughter. He knew much more about what causes pathology and how to correct that, than he knew about how to nurture strength, resilience and emotional health. This had been a greatly under-studied area of research, so it became his primary focus.

Focus of Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology aims to discover what makes us thrive. It looks at questions like, ‘What contributes to happiness?’, ‘What are the health effects of positive emotions?’ and, ‘What habits and actions can build personal resilience?’

So far, they’ve found some wonderful things. For example, it’s well-documented that negative emotions like anger, anxiety, and sadness can impact our health in negative ways, such as triggering our stress response and contributing to chronic stress, making us more susceptible to cardiovascular disease.

But Positive Psychology research has now found that positive emotions can aid health by undoing the physical reactivity that can lead to these problems.

Using Positive Psychology for Stress Management

Positive Psychology has so far identified several positive emotional states that can contribute to greater emotional resilience, health and fulfillment.

Some are listed below. Click on each to learn more about them and start adding them to your life.


Appreciating what one has in life can lead to more satisfaction and happiness. Both having what you want and wanting what you have can lead to a sense of gratitude, as can specific exercises such as maintaining a gratitude journal. Gratitude-promoting activities can lead to greater feelings of abundance and life satisfaction as well as lifting your mood.


We tend to have a natural tendency toward optimism or pessimism, but that’s just part of our potential. We can work on developing more of a tendency toward optimism if we choose. And, given that optimists see many benefits in life, this is something to work toward!


Losing track of time when you’re absorbed in fulfilling work or another engaging activity, ‘flow’ is a familiar state for most of us. This is what happens when you get deeply involved in a hobby, in learning something new, or in performing an activity that supplies just the right mix of challenge and ease.



A state of being characterized by being fully present in the ‘now’, without trying to make anything different, mindfulness takes some practice for most people, but brings wonderful benefits as well.  


Whatever the path, a focus on spirituality can lead to a greater sense of meaning in life, as well as greater resilience in the face of stress.  Prayer and meditation can be a great way to become more centered, and getting involved with a spiritual community can provide excellent social support.  There are many benefits to a spiritual path.

Using Positive Psychology: Next Steps

Applying these principles to your life is a great next step for effective stress management.  A simple strategy is to add more pleasures to your life to increase your level of positive affect.  For a more in-depth approach, see this article on the positive psychology approach to stress relief.

Fredrickson, B.; Mancuso, R.; Branigan, C.; Tugade, M. The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions. Motivation and Emotion, Vol. 24, No. 4, 2000.
Lopez, Shane,PhD. The Emergence of Positive Psychology: The Building of a Field of Dreams. APAGS Newsletter, Summer 2000.

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