On Positivity: What is positive psychology?


In October I was fortunate enough to share my story at Testbash Manchester of how I turned my frown upside down.

The talk is now on The Dojo of the Ministry of Testing alongside all the other awesome talks. Check them out!

During my research for the talk I decided that I will explore this a bit further and apply it to testing and maybe even evolve my talk in the future.

To help myself with that I decided to do a small series based on interesting articles, books, podcasts, talks or videos I have seen while researching my talk and since.

I have also had some great and insightful feedback full of suggestions of side topics and other materials to explore.

Hopefully you will join me in this research and find it useful for yourself.

Note: If you are interested in what each talk of Testbash Manchester was about there is a great summary of the day here.

Let’s get into the series.

Introduction: Why I chose this topic

When I started testing I think I was good, because I loved pointing out problems and faults, not only in the systems I was testing but also in my everyday life. I was almost naturally wired to look for the negatives (which actually we all are, some more or some less.)


I lived a life all about problems, finding and ranting about the negatives in every situation.

Nevertheless in my opinion, I did ok in my career with this approach even though I did fulfill the stereotype of the moaning tester, one with a martyr complex that hated people (not great when you are meant to be a team player).

This may have been a side effect of the waterfall projects I was involved in, or just my personality at the time.

But everything changed when I joined (supposedly) agile teams and realised I needed to communicate in more ways than just with a negative connotation. I therefore decided to try and turn my frown upside down.

In this series I want to explore my uses of positive psychology techniques in my own personal journey but also link it back to testing and software teams in later posts.

Intro: What is Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing rather than the decline, and has looks for and suggests approaches to increase human functioning. Instead of asking what is wrong and dwelling on this, positive psychology looks at how we can be the best we are able to be.

“It has also been defined as the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities and organisations to thrive. Positive Psychology is grounded in the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within them, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play (Positive Psychology Center, 2016).”

However this does not mean that positive psychology is not interested in how and why things may go wrong or the importance of understanding this, but it is intended to complement more traditional psychological approaches. The idea is to place an importance on using scientific methods to determine how things do go right and how we can apply this more widely.

The positive psychology movement in a way, is credited to have been started by Martin Seligman, American Psychological Association President, who in 1998, “…suggested that psychology turn toward understanding and building human strengths to complement the traditional emphasis on healing damage. Psychology had neglected the positive side of life, having spent much of the last half century primarily concerned with psychopathology. As a result, psychologists and psychiatrists can now measure with considerable precision, and effectively treat, a number of major mental illnesses. However, this progress came at a cost. Relieving life’s miseries made building the states that make life worth living less of a priority (Seligman, 2002).”

Positive psychology, in a nutshell, seeks to emphasise the origins and the effects of psychological wellness, such as positive emotions, positive experiences, positive environments, and human strengths and virtues (Lyubomirsky, 2007).

This was a short intro to Positive psychology. Let me know if this does not make sense or what else you would like to know.

I am making the series up on the fly, but I think next I will look at how other people have evolved the field and based their research on these initials proposals of positive psychology.