Positive Psychology vs. Toxic Positivity

The term Positive Psychology is often misunderstood, it’s not about being positive all the time. Being forced to always think positively is what we call Toxic Positivity.

Patrick Heller
3 min readMar 1, 2023

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In my previous articles, I’ve been talking about psychological therapy. Therapy is usually focused on helping people overcome problems. On a positive note — pun intended — there’s this thing called Positive Psychology. You can see the term popping up in social media left and right, but it is often either misused or misinterpreted.

American psychologist Martin Seligman is the father of Positive Psychology. What he noticed was that psychology has always been about helping out and dealing with people who were somehow mentally deficient — there was something wrong with them. Seligman took into consideration that this is only a small percentage of the entire population and thought about all those other people that are mentally normal and healthy. He wondered what psychology could do for them.

This gave birth to Positive Psychology. The name itself is often misunderstood — it is not about being positive all the time and getting rid of gloomy feelings. We all have an inner mood baseline. We will be happier at times, and sadder at others, but in general, we return to a certain baseline level. The baseline level will differ from person to person. Some are more inclined to be gloomy while others always see the positive side of things.

The name Positive Psychology is derived from the idea that people with psychological disorders need help to get from a subzero state to their zero baseline. Positive Psychology focuses instead on helping people rise from their baseline upwards — into the positive.

Seligman had thus entered new markets, much bigger markets than those of people with disorders. That’s probably one of the main reasons for the rise in popularity of Positive Psychology over the last few decades.

Even though the results achieved with Positive Psychology are significant — meaning, they make a noticeable difference, albeit rather small — one should be careful out in the wild about adopting methods and ideas that from the surface seem to be related to…

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