Motivation and emotion/Tutorials/Positive psychology

Tutorial 11: Positive psychology

Resource type: this resource contains a tutorial or tutorial notes.

This is the eleventh tutorial for the motivation and emotion unit of study.


This tutorial is about assumptions of positive psychology, characteristics of self-actualisation, and types of happiness.

Take-home messages: Positive psychology assumes we 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 get what you want.


Growth psychology is a broad term which encompasses:

  • Humanistic psychology (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 psyHuchological 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)

Humanistic psychology: Characteristics of self-actualisationEdit

  1. Self-actualising is the process of fulfilling your potential.
  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. 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?
  4. Review class responses

Positive psychology: Science of happinessEdit

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). Limitiations:
      • 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

Watch: The surprising science of happiness (Dan Gilbert, 2004, 21:05, 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 alsoEdit

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.

External linksEdit