Motivation and emotion/Tutorials/Positive psychology

Tutorial 11: Positive psychology
This is the eleventh tutorial for the motivation and emotion unit of study.



This tutorial:

  • considers assumptions of positive psychology
  • discusses characteristics of self-actualisation
  • explores types of happiness

Take-home messages:

  • Positive psychology assumes that people have a natural motive towards personal growth
  • Several characteristics are exhibited are people who are self-actualised (higher values, autonomy, deep engagement, and quality interpersonal relationships)
  • Happiness can be counter-intuitive – sometimes is it better to not get what you want



Growth psychology is a broad term which encompasses:

  • Humanistic psychology (1950s-1960s)
  • Positive psychology (1990s-)

To what extent do you agree with the underlying assumptions of growth psychology?

Not sure?

Consider these questions :

  1. Do you think that "evil" (or anti-social) behaviour is:
    • inherent in human nature?
    • a product of a sick culture?
  2. How does learning best occur? Does it follow from:
    • well-developed curricula and expert teaching?
    • having one’s interests identified, facilitated, and supported?
  3. Does psychological therapy work best by:
    • fixing what is broken?
    • nurturing what is best?
  4. Which answers correspond to positive psychology paradigms? (the 2nd answer in each case)

Characteristics of self-actualisation

  1. What is self-actualisation? (Self-actualisation is the fulfillment of your potential; self-actualising in the process of becoming self-actualised).
  2. Maslow identified 16 characteristics of self-actualised people which can be grouped into 4 categories:
    1. Priority of values like truth, love, and happiness
    2. Internally controlled
    3. High involvement, productivity, and happiness
    4. High quality interpersonal relationships
  3. The last three categories map closely to self-determination theory (autonomy, competence, and relatedness). The first category relates to meaning/purpose.
  4. Complete this Self-evaluation of self-actualisation (Google Form).
    1. Before submitting, make note of:
      1. What are you doing particularly well that is helping you towards self-actualisation?
      2. What could you improve to better promote your growth towards self-actualisation?
      3. What self-actualisation characteristic(s) would you like to share or learn more about?
  5. Review class responses

Science of happiness


Since the emergence of positive psychology in the 1990s, there has been a renewed focus on psychological theory and research about happiness.

  1. Martin Seligman suggests three components of happiness which he calls the:
    1. Pleasant life: Dealing with past, optimism about future, happiness in present (hedonic pleasure and the skills to amplify pleasure). Limitations:
      • 50% heritable
      • short-lived, subject to the hedonic treadmill (i.e., pleasure wears off quickly).
    2. Good life: Engagement (flow, absorption) or Eudaimonia;
    3. Meaningful life: Connection to a higher purpose
  2. Dan Gilbert suggests two types of happiness:
    1. Natural happiness: What we feel when we get what we want
    2. Synthetic happiness: What we feel when we learn to like what we get (instead of what we wanted)

Watch: The surprising science of happiness (Dan Gilbert, 2004, 21:00 mins, YouTube, TED Talk)

Take-home message: The science of happiness is counter-intuitive. People are subject to many biases, including the "impact bias" (i.e., we overestimate the hedonic impact of good and bad events) which undermines our decision-making about how to be happy. But we have a "psychological immune system" which "synthesises happiness" when we don't get what we want.



See also

Additional tutorial material
Book chapters
Lectures and tutorials


Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(8), 917–927.

Gilbert, D. (2009). Stumbling on happiness. Vintage.[1]

Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2005). Affective forecasting: Knowing what to want. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(3), 131–134.