3 Common Myths About Positive Psychology

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I originally wrote this for my regular Generation Next Column Banksy Yellow Lines Sunflower

In my work with schools, I’m finding more and more interest arising in the area of Positive Psychology and its offshoot Positive Education.

And as the interest around these grow, so do some of the more common misconceptions.

I’ve found some teachers to be a little cynical, and why wouldn’t we be? After all it seems we get told a new way, a better way of teaching on an almost weekly basis. Or we’re being told that what we are doing is – quite simply – not good enough. We’re not good enough. Just look at what they’re doing in Finland or China.

So believe me… I get it.


There are 3 misconceptions that I am seeing more and more regularly both in journal articles, the mainstream press or online:

1. Positive Psychology is all about positive thinking, ignoring negative emotions and putting a smiley face on it all. Turn that frown upside down! It’s a kind of uber-self-help movement.

In short, this is the most damaging of all beliefs around Positive Psychology. Nowhere in any of the literature does it suggest we should be ‘happy’ all the time – that in itself would be a mental condition. And on the contrary, rather than ignoring negative emotions, the literature suggests we need to recognise them for what they are – an essential part of being human. One of my favourite authors, Tal Ben-Shahar calls this, Giving yourself permission to be human.

What positive psychology is about is finding what enables us to be at our best more often. Why wouldn’t you want to explore that?

Maybe it’s because…

2. It’s just another thing we have to do in school.

Embedding positive psychology into how you work and live is not about box ticking, doing more stuff, or having a policy for it. Rather it is a way of living your life and working. In truth many of us would incorporate aspects of positive psychology into what we do without even realizing it. The key is to realize when we do and make that the norm rather than the exception.

Yes but isnt’…

3. Positive Education only for the richest independent schools.

Whilst schools like Geelong Grammar, St Peter’s in SA and Knox Grammar in NSW have led the charge with positive education in Australia, it should not be seen as only something for the elite. Whilst these schools may well have engaged some of the world’s most renowned thinkers in the field at significant cost, you don’t have to. Many of these schools are now sharing what they have learnt, and if I’m being honest the fundamentals of positive psychology and positive education do not require big budgets to be lived, understood and embedded in school.

If you’d like to explore Positive Psychology and/or Positive Education in a little more detail drop me a line…

0 Comments on “3 Common Myths About Positive Psychology

  1. Love this blog post, Dan! I have encountered the same scepticism from time to time, when I tell people I’m ‘The Happiness Speaker’. Hopefully with all the work happening in the field of positive psychology and advocates like you, Gretchen Rubin, Shawn Achor and so many others (including lil’ ole me), this perception will change and there will be a greater understanding of the usefulness – and necessity – of positive psychology. And schools is where it should start.
    Incidentally, I stumbled upon your post shortly after publishing mine along the same lines (small world, eh?). Here it is, if you’re interested in having a look: http://frederikaroberts.co.uk/2014/02/27/acknowledging-pain-overcoming-adversity/

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