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Alcohol and Mental Health

What Is Positive Psychology? And How Can We Practice It?

October 29, 2023
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
October 29, 2023
19 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
October 29, 2023
19 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
October 29, 2023
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
October 29, 2023
19 min read

You consider yourself a fairly average person. Normal. You have a steady job, friends and loved ones, and you don’t have any major “issues.” You spend your days fulfilling your duties and responsibilities, and while you’re not exactly miserable, you wouldn’t say that you’re overly happy, either. You’re just sort of … existing. 

But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if your life could be imbued with happiness, joy, and meaning? Positive psychology can give us the tools to learn how to create just such a life. In this post, we’ll explore positive psychology, its benefits, and how you can put it into practice in your own life. Let’s get started!

What Is Positive Psychology? 

For many years, the focus in psychology has been on identifying and treating issues, problems, or disorders related to mental health, such as depression and anxiety. Positive psychology, however, shifts the focus from what is clinically wrong to what can be done to help us live meaningful, happy, and healthy lives. In other words, instead of trying to fix what is “wrong” with people, positive psychology asks how we can help human beings prosper and thrive. 

As one expert explained, “Positive psychology is … a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worse; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology.”

In other words, positive psychology isn’t meant to replace traditional psychology or deny the importance of studying how things go wrong. Rather, it seeks to complement traditional psychology by emphasizing the importance of determining how things go right.

Is Positive Psychology the Same as “Positive Thinking”?

Some people mistakenly assume that positive psychology is all about “positive thinking.” While optimism certainly plays a role, positive psychology is much deeper and more complex: it’s concerned with science-backed methods that help humans flourish. 

While positive thinking is a way of thinking ourselves into better behavior, positive psychology focuses on cultivating character strengths and behaviors that improve life satisfaction and well-being, such as gratitude, generosity, compassion, optimism, self-confidence, and hope.

More specifically, positive psychology focuses on PERMA — an acronym for the five following “pillars” of well-being:

  • Positive emotions: experiencing optimism as well as gratitude about your past, contentment in the present, and hope for the future. 
  • Engagement: achieving “flow” with enjoyable activities and hobbies
  • Relationship: forming social connections with family and friends
  • Meaning: finding a purpose in life larger than you
  • Accomplishments: goals and successes 

The idea is that these five elements can enhance our well-being, enable us to flourish, and contribute to our overall life satisfaction.

What Do We Learn From Positive Psychology? 

One of the biggest benefits of positive psychology is that it teaches us the power of shifting our perspective. Even a relatively small change in perspective can lead to astounding shifts in well-being and quality of life. For instance, research indicates that adding a simple gratitude practice to our daily life can create a significantly more positive outlook on life.

These are a few other major findings from positive psychology: 

  • Money doesn’t necessarily buy well-being, but spending money on others can make people happier.
  • Some of the best ways to combat disappointment and setbacks include strong social relationships and character strengths (i.e. resilience).
  • While happiness is influenced by genetics, people can become happier by developing optimism, gratitude, and altruism (selfless concern for the well-being of others).
  • Gratitude is one of the biggest contributors to happiness; the more we cultivate gratitude, the happier we become.
  • Volunteering time to a cause we believe in improves our well-being and life satisfaction, and it may even reduce symptoms of depression.
  • People who perform acts of kindness towards others not only experience a boost in their mental health, but are also more accepted by their peers.
  • Work can be important to well-being, especially when people engage in work that is purposeful and meaningful.
  • Good days have common features: feeling autonomous, competent, and connected to others.

Interestingly, research shows that positive psychology also lends itself to improvements in the workplace:

  • Positive emotions boost our job performance.
  • Positive emotions in the workplace are contagious; one positive person or team can have a ripple effect that extends throughout the organization.
  • Small, simple actions can have a big impact on our happiness at work; for instance, buying a cup of coffee for a coworker can be beneficial for you and them.

The bottom line? Positive psychology works! Feeling positive emotions makes us happier — and it actually enhances our well-being. Studies show that positive emotions and life satisfaction leads to better physical health and immune function, and they may even help us live longer.

Who Benefits Most From Positive Psychology? 

One great thing about positive psychology is that it applies to everyone. We can all learn to cultivate and practice certain behaviors or characteristics that enhance our well-being. 

Sometimes, we mistakenly think that we either have a “happy gene” or we don’t. But research suggests that while 50% of our happiness is determined by genes, a whopping 40% is determined by intentional activity (behavioral choices, thinking patterns — i.e., positive psychology!). The other 10% is attributed to life circumstances, such as our sex, ethnicity, income, education, geography, etc.

This is good news because it indicates that by practicing certain skills or behaviors, we can exert a lot of control over our own happiness. However, it isn’t always easy. Just as there’s no shortcut to success, there’s no shortcut to sustained happiness. As with any new skill, it requires effort, practice, and intention. In fact, it’s not that happy people don’t experience hardships like others, they just have developed the skills and strategies to be resilient — and this takes time!

Positive psychology can be tough work, particularly for those of us who may have developed unhealthy patterns of thought or coping mechanisms. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. We can all learn to flourish! 

How Can We Practice Positive Psychology? 

We can practice positive psychology by cultivating the skills, behaviors, and mindsets that are proven to boost our well-being. Here are some of the most beneficial.

1. Express Gratitude

Of all the characteristics to cultivate, gratitude might be the most important. In fact, research indicates that practicing gratitude can actually change the way our brains are wired, ultimately increasing our happiness. Research also shows that gratitude may make us live longer. This is because the more grateful we are, the happier we are — and the happier we are, the more healthy we’ll be. 

We can practice gratitude by keeping a gratitude journal and writing down at least 3 things we’re grateful for each day. We can also make it a point to regularly express gratitude to loved ones, telling them what we most appreciate about them. We can even write a gratitude letter to someone who is particularly meaningful to us. 

2. Prioritize Social Connections 

One great thing about positive psychology is that it applies to There’s no denying that humans are wired for connection. Research shows that close friends and healthy relationships are essential components of pleasure and life satisfaction. Interestingly, some studies have shown that the same region of the brain that detects physical pain interprets loneliness as physical pain, demonstrating that our brains cannot differentiate between the two. 

No matter how busy life gets, we should always work at enhancing our social connections. We can do this by making a point to regularly reach out to loved ones, getting involved in our community, or joining a local class to meet people with similar interests. 

3. Be Generous 

It turns out it really is better to give than to receive. Research shows that giving is a powerful pathway toward increased joy and happiness. In fact, giving activates our brain’s reward centers, which releases endorphins and produces what’s commonly referred to as the “helper’s high.” Even just thinking about doing something generous can activate the brain’s regions associated with social connection and happiness. 

There’s no shortage of ways we can give — and no amount of giving is too small. While giving money to charity is one way to flex our giving muscles, we can also volunteer our time for a cause close to our heart. We can also give by donating to a food bank or charity shop. We can even give by complimenting someone or completing a random act of kindness — for instance, buying a stranger a cup of coffee.

4. Practice Self-Compassion 

Most of us are incredibly self-critical and associate being kind or gentle to ourselves with weakness. But studies show that self-compassion leads to improved health, relationships, happiness, and overall well-being. It can even lead to greater resilience to cope with stressful life events, such as divorce, health crises, and academic or career failure. 

One of the best ways to practice self-compassion is to pay attention to our inner dialogue. For instance, if we start berating ourselves for snapping at a loved one, we can pause and say to ourselves, “Just because you snapped at your husband doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. I know you've had a really tough day at work and took your frustration out on him.”

It can be helpful to try to talk to ourselves as we would to a close friend. What would you say to a good friend who came to you and told you they were struggling? Would you criticize or berate them, and tell them they’re a failure? Of course not! You would be loving, encouraging, and supportive. You deserve to treat yourself just as compassionately.

Self-compassion isn’t about denying our imperfections or struggles, but extending ourselves the same grace and compassion we would extend to others. 

5. Create Meaning and Purpose

Living with meaning and purpose is vital for our health and well-being. Research suggests that older adults who consider their lives worthwhile have better physical and mental health. Some studies suggest a sense of purpose may even help us live longer. 

Purpose gives us a sense of direction and allows us to press forward despite our struggles. It also lets us be less distracted by potential stressors. If we feel we have a path in life, we’re less likely to be stressed by the small stuff that often hinders those who don’t have a clear sense of direction. 

Oftentimes, a sense of purpose comes from feeling connected to others or using our gifts and talents in the service of others. Discovering our purpose can be a lifelong journey, but examining our strengths or things we’re good at or enjoy doing can help. Think about a time in your life when you believe you were at your personal best: what were you doing? What personal qualities or attributes were you using at the time? 

For instance, if we’re good at encouraging others, perhaps we can become an unofficial mentor to young people in our community. Or maybe we’re musically inclined and can use our talent to bring live performances to children who might benefit from exposure to the arts.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, positive psychology is concerned with how we can become the best possible version of ourselves. It focuses on cultivating certain skills, behaviors, and characteristics proven to enhance our happiness and overall level of well-being. Gratitude, generosity, and self-compassion are some of the most beneficial positive psychology practices, along with nurturing social connections and creating meaning in our lives. 

If you want to boost your level of happiness and well-being, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and develop healthier, happier lifestyles. 

Summary FAQs

1. What is positive psychology? 

Positive psychology is concerned with helping human beings live meaningful, happy, and healthy lives. It focuses on helping us cultivate certain skills, characteristics, and virtues, such as gratitude, generosity, and compassion.

2. Is positive psychology the same as “positive thinking”?

No. Unlike positive thinking, positive psychology is based on science-backed methods for enhancing our life satisfaction and well-being.

3. What do we learn from positive psychology? 

Positive psychology has made numerous findings that help us understand what helps human beings thrive and flourish. For instance, it has found that gratitude and generosity are two of the biggest contributors to happiness.

4. Who benefits most from positive psychology? 

Positive psychology applies to everyone. We can all learn to cultivate and practice certain behaviors or characteristics that enhance our well-being. 

5. How can we practice positive psychology? 

We can practice positive psychology by cultivating the skills, behaviors, and mindsets that are proven to boost our well-being. For instance, practicing gratitude, generosity, and self-compassion are some of the most beneficial things we can do, along with nurturing social connections and creating meaning in our lives. 

Boost Your Happiness and Well-Being With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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